Spring Fever Links

1) Nate Berg at The Atlantic Cities covers new research on the world’s earliest cities. The findings would make Jane Jacobs happy as researchers have uncovered evidence that the earliest urbanization was a case of spontaneous order. Their construction wasn’t directed by kings as some historians previously thought, but rather by bottom-up decision-making.

2) Alex Block had two interesting pieces a while back on the politics of increasing urban density. He points out that the vested interests in urban development complicate the policy prescriptions that we often advocate here of loosening regulations.

3) Charlie Gardner at Old Urbanist points out that we shouldn’t get carried away with hopes for housing prices dropping in expensive cities with increased housing supply. While land use restrictions that Matt Yglesias, Ryan Avent, Ed Glaeser and others have written on force urban housing prices higher than they need to be, infill redevelopment is inherently a costly, slow process. It’s much easier for the price of housing in, say, Houston to stay closer to costs of construction because Houston has available land to build on cheaply and easily. Housing in New York is expensive in large part because of market fundamentals, but density restrictions make it more expensive than it has to be.

4) The case of the successful parking pricing in San Francisco that continues to receive opposition reminds me of this passage from Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty:

The libertarian who wants to replace government by private enterprises in the above areas is thus treated in the same way as he would be if the government had, for various reasons, been supplying shoes as a tax-financed monopoly from time immemorial. If the government and only the government had had a monopoly of the shoe manufacturing and retailing business, how would most of the public treat the libertarian who now came along to advocate that the government get out of the shoe business and throw it open to private enterprise? He would undoubtedly be treated as follows: people would cry, “How could you? You are opposed to the public, and to poor people, wearing shoes!”

Of course the San Francisco case is not nearly so radical, as street parking spaces are still government-owned, but the implementation of Donald Shoup’s market-based prices for parking serves as a step toward allocating spaces to their highest-valued use. The program’s success so far demonstrates that it is possible to move toward a free market allocation of a good that we are used to receiving free from the government, but it will always be a political struggle. Adam previously wrote at length about Rothbard the Urbanist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dankeshet Dan Keshet

    In Austin, some city councillors are considering a proposal to allow businesses to rent out parking places for uses other than parking (e.g. tables for cafes).  Part of the great thing about putting prices on parking spots isn’t just that it helps the parking market work more efficiently, but by discovering the revenue-generating capacity for a particular spot, we can learn whether it would be worth more put to other uses.  See http://www.statesman.com/news/local/city-may-consider-turning-parking-spots-into-shops-2246279.html

  • EDG reppin’ LBC

    The City of Long Beach, CA is testing a program similar to this. Link to the article:  
    http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_19675624

    The funny thing is, the area where this is being tested (Retro Row) has seen real economic development thanks to the efforts of the business owners (not City government). It is a three block area of shops and cafes that really started transforming itself about eight years ago. The local merchants formed a Business Improvement District with no help from the City of LBC. Meanwhile, the Downtown BID, initiated by the City government has cost millions of dollars, over 20 years, and there are more storefront vacancies now, than there were in 2002. 

    So naturally, our civic leaders looked to the one BID that was successfully raising economic activity in the city and started to meddle in their business. Basically, they wait for the Retro Row BID to come up with a creative idea that will work on their street, the city council members will copy the idea, and then try to jam it into other areas of the city. Of course, the city’s efforts are so ham-fisted that they don’t produce the economic results that the Retro Row BID does. But hey, that’s central planning for ya’!

  • Emily Washington

    Thank you both for sharing! I love hearing stories of successful non-government BIDs. Do you know if the restaurants are leasing the “parklets” or what the process was like for them to get permission to use the space?