The Zoning History of Barcelona’s Eixample

Server glitch wiped the last few articles, so here’s a repose of the Barcelona one. Also, comments should be working now, should you deign to leave one…

Somehow I managed to visit Barcelona a few years ago and not learn about the history of the city’s Eixample (x pronounced sh in Catalan), or extension/widening (ensanche in Castilian). So to spare you all that fate, I’ve assembled a short history of Barcelona’s Eixample, which has parallels in eixamples/ensanches/zabalgunes (Basque!) across Spain.

So here’s the history, as told by Eduardo Aibar and Wiebe E. Bijker! (.pdf)

It starts in 1714, when Philip V, the Bourbon King of Spain based in Madrid and supported by the Castilians, conquered the Catalan capital of Barcelona, creating modern, unified Spain. Catalan culture and language was suppressed for more than a century, but more relevantly for urbanists…

The technical shape of society was also checked. An enormous military engineering project was launched to put the city under continuous surveillance of the Bourbon troops. A huge pentagonal citadel, designed by the Flemish military engineer Prosper Verboom, was built near the harbor to dominate the city. The army thus could bombard any target within Barcelona with heavy mortars. A high wall, fortified with bastions and fronted by a moat, zigzagged from the western face of the citadel up the north side of the city, around its back, and down south again to the port, meeting the sea at the ancient shipyards. This way, Barcelona became an enormous fort in which the military installations covered almost as much space as the civilian buildings.

The result of Philip V’s project was to enclose Barcelona in a rigid straitjacket of stone that prevented any further civic expansion and industrial development. The walls soon became the main urban problem of Barcelona, and the whole military complex remained a hated symbol of Castilian rule for a long time. The walls were not only a physical obstacle for the city’s extension but also a legal one. Construction was prohibited in the so-called firing range-a series of overlapping semicircles with a radius of some 1.25 km and their centers at different points in the fortifications. This firing range created a no-man’s land outside the walls covering almost 61 percent of the territory within the city limits. In the nineteenth century, with the walls still there, it was impossible to propose any town-planning idea without making simultaneously an implicit political statement. One’s personal attitude toward the walls revealed much of one’s political position.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, living conditions in the city were dreadful. The population density, with 856 inhabitants per hectare, was the highest in Spain and one of the highest in Europe; the average population of Paris was, for instance, under 400 inhabitants per hectare. The average living space for workers was about 10 m2 per person. This extremely high density, a bad water supply, and a poor sewer system made for atrocious conditions of hygiene. Different epidemics broke out in 1834, 1854, 1864, and 1870 – each time killing about 3 percent of the population. Between 1837 and 1847, the average life expectancy of men was 38.3 years among the rich classes and 19.7 among the poor.

Nevertheless, all the different Spanish rulers since 1718 took great care of keeping the walls upright, until they were demolished in 1854-1868.

So here we are in the mid-1800?s, and Catalonia has gone from walled to the heart of Spain’s industrial revolution. The Ciutat Vella, or old walled city, grew in a relatively organic and unregulated fashion, but the advent of rail transit, the sudden expanse of new land, and, perhaps most importantly, the Enlightenment, meant that the expansion of Barcelona outside its old walls – the Eixample – would be much more orderly and controlled. (The old city did not have a grid forced onto it à la Haussmann’s renovation of Paris due to opposition by property owners, though it did have a few straight-ish streets carved through it, the most famous of which is La Rambla.)

Enter Ildefons Cerdà. He proposes a standard gridded street pattern, with the flourish of having the corners cut at 45 degree angles – “chamfered street corners,” they’re apparently called – to afford vehicles a wider turning radius (nowadays they’re mostly used as a place to park cars, as you can see in the first photo below). But he also lays out strict restrictions on bulk, calculated by a weird pseudo-scientific quadratic equation-like formula that he never bothered to explain.

There was some drama with the awarding of the prize for the plan, though, and Cerdà never actually earned any money off of his design, but it was the basis of the urban plan that was eventually enacted for the Eixample.

What’s interesting, though, are the changes that were made. Basically, it was made more dense (something that the authors of the paper, who analyze it in a Marxist framework, seem hostile to)…

Cerdà’s building bylaws were considered very demanding: buildings could not exceed more than 50 percent of the block’s surface (the other 50 percent should be set aside for gardens), they were allowed in only two of the four sides of the block, they should be less than 20 m high, and their maximum depth varied from 15 to 20 m.

After the Royal Decree a slow process of implementation began, in which a large number of small modifications were introduced, eventually resulting in big changes. Even the approved plan (1859) showed remarkable changes compared with the first version (1855). Evidently, Cerdà introduced them to diminish the resistance by his opponents. The average width of the streets was reduced from 35 to 20-30 m; the explicit concern with special housing facilities for workers, as a means of achieving a more egalitarian city, was completely abandoned; the depth of buildings was extended to 20 m in all cases; and the former regular distribution of parks (82.35 hectares) and public facilities was not made obligatory (Grau 1990).

Cerdà’s position as the governor’s expert in charge of the implementation of the extension plan was weakened by the threatening demands of the land owners of the Extension. The land beyond the walls – once cheap and useless-had become, thanks to the extension, an enormous potential source of income as the site for the new city. The owners wanted to control the extension development as much as possible to secure profits. Actually, to promote the building process – deliberately stopped by the land owners during 1861 as a sort of lockout – Cerdà had to give up and accept crucial modifications of his plan: blocks started to be closed (that is, with buildings placed along the four sides); narrow passageways splitting some blocks in two were allowed; and the depth of buildings grew to 24 m, thus reducing the inner garden space.

Regarding the “egalitarian city,” I can’t get access to the original Grau source so I’m not sure if he had other means of achieving mixed-income neighborhoods, but part of Cerdà’s plan was the grid itself: he thought that its uniformity would eliminate class-segregated neighborhoods. In reality, the wealthy clustered their modernisme mansions and apartment buildings by Gaudì and Domenech in certain neighborhoods, like always:

Another important transformation – against the spirit of Cerdà’s plan – took place during the first decades of implementation: a hierarchical [social] structure was superimposed on the regular geometrical grid. The zone around the Passeig de Gràcia was increasingly considered an aristocratic residential space. Land and housing prices were established as a function of their proximity to the Passeig de Gràcia. As a consequence of this slow process, during the 1890s the right (northeast) side of the Eixample had already achieved a higher level of quality than the left side (García 1990a, 1990b). To live in the right side of the Eixample remained for a long time a sign of distinction.

The authors say “was superimposed,” whereas I’d say “emerged,” but anyway, moving on…

But maybe the most important modifications were the ones introduced in the plan’s specifications for the blocks. In that sense, not only was the rejection of Cerdà’s bylaws crucial, but it was particularly remarkable that the land owners were powerful enough to act beyond the limits of the bylaws, with no serious opposition from the city council. In 1872, 90 percent of the buildings in the Eixample (about 1,000) were violating the building bylaws. Already in 1890, buildings occupied 70 percent of the block surface on the average-instead of the original 50 percent. The situation was worsened by successive building bylaws, and in 1958 the building volume of the block, that according to Cerdà’s bylaws should not exceed 67,200 cubic meters, reached 294,771.63 cubic meters.

(New York City has a similar trajectory before the 1916 unified zoning code, with many pre-1916 buildings being in violation of relatively unenforced limits on density.) The authors seem very dismissive of the increased density, although I see it as evidence of the inadequacy of Cerdà’s plan. Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhoods are beautiful, and I can’t imagine thinking they should have their density cut by more than three-quarters, but that was the plan.

These days, we’re much more deferential to urban planners, and property owners wield much less influence. Density is usually reduced from the original plan rather than dramatically increased, and there’s almost always affordable housing set-asides.

Today’s Eixample is inching back towards Cerdà’s original plan, but only inching. Apparently a law was passed in 1986 that encouraged the courtyards – many of which had been filled in to maximize floorspace and rents, as you can see in the photo below – to be cleared, although I’m not sure how much effect it’s had.

And here you can see the clear division between the Eixample and the Ciutat Vella:
Source: Institut Cartogràfic de Catalunya

Then and now, financial ruin edition

So I bought Richard White’s Railroaded based on the interview Emily blogged about earlier, and so far I’m enjoying it. It can be a bit polemical (“He was an eclectic hater who hated people who often hated one another”) and by page 34 I’ve already gotten lost a few times in railroad finance jargon, but hopefully that’ll ease as I get further in the book.

Anyway, in the beginning the author makes reference to commonalities between today’s financial mess(es) and the intercontinentals. Here’s the first one I saw:

The Central Pacific and other transcontinental railroads, their bankers, and the syndicates together lured investors, who had first ventured into the financial markets during the Civil War, along the financial gangplank one small step at a time. Investors proceeded from government bonds to government-secured railroad bonds, to convertible bonds, to mortgage bonds vouched for by the same people who sold the government bonds, to a whole array of financial instruments, and from there, potentially, into the drink.

Garden apartments and letting go, then and now

In doing research for a post the other day, I stumbled upon this excerpt from a book called A History of Housing in New York City by Richard Plunz that I think has a useful lesson about development and regulation:

The garden apartment would not have emerged unless it was profitable. In this aspect the garden apartment represented a major change in developers’ perceptions of profitability in relation to the issue of coverage for moderate-income housing. Prior to the 1920s, it was always assumed that of reduction of coverage [sic] would increase costs and reduce profits. The arguments for reduced coverage remained exclusively within the realm of social good, or of marketing, in the belief that apartments associated with better conditions for light and air could be expected to demand higher rents. This common wisdom changed, especially with the new accessibility to cheap outer borough land. It became apparent that reduced coverage on low-cost land might reduce costs enough to increase profits, in spite of the lower number of apartments. Thus, the financial imperative in New York City for moderate-income housing evolved from the 25-by-100 food lot mandated by the Tenement House Act of 1879 to the 100-by-100-foot lot of the Tenement House Act of 1901, to the perimeter block of the 1920s. A key these larger-scale developers was the use of a unified open space, with simplified construction detailing and reduced investment costs per room while raising rental rates. Higher tenement densities with less open space were less desirable because they required more complex and expensive spatial organization in order to provide adequate light and ventilation. The new economic formulas applied especially to housing for the arriving middle class, whose space standards were far less stringent than for tenement design. In the developing outer areas, open land and reduced values permitted reduced site coverages.

A garden apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens

The “garden apartment” is essentially a non-rectangular building whose shape, ranging from the modest light court building with hole in the center to more winding designs, allowed it to let in more light than a solid block. It sacrified lot coverage for better light in the apartments and perhaps even a breeze, and filled in the voids with gardens.  While the building changes in 1879 and 1901 were driven by regulation, the garden apartment appeared because people valued light and airand developers could make money off of people’s desires – in other words, it came about through market forces. On the demand side this was facilitated by the poor immigrants who used to call the tenements of lower Manhattan home becoming richer (and was perhaps also abetted by limits on new immigration), and on the supply side builders were allowed by the lax regulatory regime to try to satisfy this demand.

But when we fast forward to the present day, it doesn’t seem even remotely possible that developers would make such sacrifices for middle-income apartment dwellers in desirable urban areas. Land has simply become too expensive and development too uncertain for developers to not build the maximum floorspace allowed by law, and unsubsidized middle-class new construction in cities is pretty much nonexistent. With no more undeveloped land in the five boroughs and a zoning code that prohibits any significant new vertical expansion, the city is like a balloon being squeezed, with the pressure causing the balloon to expand into any void it can. Unlike the 1916 code, which made room for 55 million people, the modern zoning code barely allowed the city to register any growth at all in the last census. Like a squeezed balloon, buildings in desirable innercity neighborhoods will shoot up wherever the zoning code lets them, overpowering anything that isn’t landmarked down. The effect is illustrated most vividly in downtown DC, where the federally imposed height limit results in the proliferation of boring, glassy boxes, all about 12 stories high, built right up to the zoning envelope – all with the highest office rents in America. However boring Northern Virginia’s glassy new skyscraper patches along the Orange Line are, at least you get some variation in height and shape and occasionally builders have enough money left over to pay for high-quality construction and design. No such luck with downtown DC.

With a balloon, we all know that the way to return it to its natural shape is to just have faith and let go. With urban development, the garden apartments of the 1920s tell the same story – the only way to sustainably house people in a comfortable and affordable way is for the planners and current residents to release their grip on our cities and let them grow to their natural size and shape. We need to go further than the Bloomberg rezonings and allow development until we get to the point where upzoning desirable neighborhoods doesn’t result in an immediate torrent of new development overpowering any neighborhoods in its wake. The progressive instinct is to try to legislate good outcomes into existence, to the extreme of DC’s metro authority dictating that new development on its land must have “meaningful cornices” and 14-foot ground-level ceilings, in addition to the already overburdened panoply of standard zoning tools. Some cities’ planners might make slightly better choices than others and their cities will be slightly nicer, but no amount of enlightened technocracy is going to bring back the vitality of America’s once-great cities. In order to do that, we have to have enough faith in our fellow citizens to just let our cities go.

The irony of preserving that which was intended to destroy

Worth saving?

From the front lines of the New York City preservation wars, one landlord is trying to convince the Landmarks Preservation Commission to allow him to demolish two of his landmarked buildings on the Upper East Side – something the commission has only approved 11 times for the 27,000 landmarks it oversees. The only circumstance in which the commission allows buildings to be torn down is if they are losing money, and the landlord claims to be losing $1 million a year on the buildings, whose apartments have an average rent controlled/stabilized price of $600/mo. He’s offering to move all the current tenants into other units (I assume at the same price), and also redo the interiors of 13 other buildings, but the tenants are putting up a fight.

Architecturally the buildings are completely unremarkable, and in fact the façades were ruined by the landlord right before the buildings were landmarked in a futile attempt to stop it – an unfortunate but legal and unavoidable side effect of the current preservation process. The reason that the buildings are landmarked, though, is actually quite interesting and ironic:

Those buildings along York Avenue in the East 60s, part of a complex of 15 walk-ups built between 1898 and 1915, were designated landmarks in 2006 because they were examples of a Progressive Era effort to improve tenement design for low-wage earners. The tan brick buildings offered snug apartments that overlooked courtyards and let in more air and light than a typical tenement’s railroad flat.

The irony here is that the buildings were models for buildings that were supposed to be built in place of the “tenements” in neighborhoods like the Lower East Side – which back then were dark and dingy, but nowadays have had their interiors refurbished and are far more desirable than the buildings in question. That is to say, the tenements, many of which are now themselves landmarked, were intended to be torn down and replaced with these sorts of buildings, which let in more light and air. Of course now, a century later, skyscrapers with floor-to-ceiling windows soar above other buildings, and even in the most crowded parts of Midtown they let in far more light and air than these six-story walk-ups.

Aside from pointing out this historical irony, it’s worth emphasizing that of the fifteen original buildings, the landlord is only asking to tear down two. In keeping with the complete lack of perspective that characterizes the LPC (which, to be fair, has not yet denied the application), one tenant said five years ago that tearing down two of the buildings would be “akin to designating the Statue of Liberty, but not its torch.”

The little-known history of “light and air”

“Light and air” is a very common excuse that people give for why we must have basic zoning laws, and while nowadays a lot of people mean it simply in an aesthetic sense – another way of saying “I like to be able to look out a window and not see another skyscraper 50 feet away” (though for some reason when said interaction happens on the second or third floor, it’s okay?) – the origins of it are very interesting, and I believe crucial to understanding today’s urban plans. Of course, the ideas that turn-of-the-century planners had about disease and density turned out to be totally incorrect – privacy and being able to look out a window is nice, but the lack thereof is not a great health risk. As Robert Fogelson writes on pages 125-26 of Downtown

Skyscrapers were also a serious menace to public health, advocates of height limits charged. As early as the mid 1880s, they said that tall office buildings were turning the streets below into dark, damp, and gloomy canyons. During the winter they blocked the sun, leaving the cold streets even colder. During the summer, wrote American Architect and Building News, they acted as “storehouses of heat,” driving up the temperature after sunset, making the once cool and refreshing nights unbearable. The skyscrapers also shrouded the nearby buildings in darkness, forcing the office workers to rely on artificial light – which, it was believed, put a strain on the eyes. Worst of all, the skyscrapers deprived both the streets below and the adjacent buildings of fresh air and sunlight. To Americans who still held that disease was a product of the “miasma,” the noxious vapors that permeated the cities, the lack of fresh air was bad enough. To Americans who believed in the new germ theory of disease, the lack of sunlight was even worse. For it was sunlight, described by doctors as “the best disinfectant,” “the best bacteriacide,” and “our greatest sterilizer,” that killed the microbes that caused disease. Sunlight and wind were as vital to public health as pure water, argued a representative of the Chicago Medical Society in 1891; without them “life would be almost impossible in crowded communities.”

From a sanitary viewpoint, skyscrapers were “an outrage,” declared George B. Post, a prominent New York architect. By creating the conditions “in which bacteria and microbes flourish best,” skyscrapers turned the streets into what a Chicago doctor called “the breeding ground for germs.” “To shut off the sunbeams from the earth,” a Chicago businessman added, “Is to encourage the bacteria, to breed fevers, to sap vitality, to make men and women pale cellar plants.” A few skyscrapers here and there would not pose much of a problem, critics conceded. But “if the down-town area were covered with twenty-story buildings,” the Chicago doctor claimed,” There would hardly be enough sunlight and air to support life.” There would be a sharp rise in the incidence of bronchitis, pneumonia, and consumption (or tuberculosis), the so-called white plague. The business district would become as unhealthy as the tenement districts, a grim prospect indeed. Writing at the turn of the century, another opponent of the skyscraper pointed out that some New Yorkers were planning to build a hospital for consumptives at the same time that others were planning to build a thirty-story skyscraper. This made no sense, he declared. “We build hospitals for the poor consumptive, and then we turn around and erect skyscraping structures where consumption may breed.” “We shall not lack for patients,” he said.

This isn’t just a quirky factoid – it’s an integral part of the modern antipathy towards density, as much as the consequences of the intellectually bankrupt racial eugenics of the era still reverberate today. Now, of course today’s planners don’t oppose forests of skyscrapers because they believe in the miasma theory of disease, but it is striking that the profession still accepts its turn-of-the-century health-based reforms as dogma. Nowadays we have a slightly different justifications for why the laws were a good idea, but the planning outcomes remain stubbornly similar. Then again, given that planners have never really faced up to their pre-war history (the rot only started after the war, they always say), I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Socialism and the roads, then and now

I’ve been reading Stephen Goddard’s Getting There: The Epic Struggle between Road and Rail in the American Century, and it’s a great book with lots of excerpable content, but here’s one thing that caught my eye on page 170. I should note that when Goddard talks about “the highwaymen,” he’s talking about the old technocratic highway corps that focused on improving rural roads, which was only a small subset of the overall highway lobby. (The broader highway lobby included politicians looking for Keynesian votes, auto/tire/rubber/oil companies looking for customers, and, increasingly, big city mayors in a misguided attempt to reverse the auto-powered trend towards decentralization.)

Seeing to advance these watershed ideas, yet wary of the power of the highway coalition, FDR set up the urban-oriented Interregional Highway Committee (IHC) in 1941. He borugh traditional engineers and visionaries together and named his osmetime-nemesis MacDonald its chair. Its mix of disciplines led the IHC to the pregnant conclusion that highway building was not merely an end in itself but a way to mold the declining American city while reviving it. At the core of the concept was a twofer: by cutting a selective swath through “cramped, crowded and depreciated” cities and routing downtown highways along river valleys, Washington could eradicate “a long-standing eyesore and blight” while easing gridlock. The autobahns may have inspired the interregional highways, but on one element they differed fundamentally: the German roads sought to serve the cities, while the American roads aimed to change them. The variance would become startingly apparent a generation later.

To the highwaymen, the Roosevelt administration’s visionary proposals were anathema. Michigan Representative Jesse P. Wolcott warned that a “small coterie of individuals who would socialize America” were taking control of American highway policy. A member of the House Roads Committee decried the NRPB’s “cradle to the grave” recommendations, under which Americans’ lives were “mapped out, and planned and controlled and regimented.”

Of course, the old highwaymen were themselves practicing a brand of socialism – the roads they built might have taken in small user fees in the form of gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, and the capital costs of owning an automobile, but they were (and indeed still are) relieved of general tax obligations and much of the land costs, so say nothing of being insulated from the competitive pressures of of opportunity costs by virtue of their socialist allocation.

But the idea of one highway advocate accusing another of socialism reminds me very much of today’s road advocates at places like Cato and the Reason Foundation, who levy the charge of statism (essentially a less politically charged accusation of socialism, or general state interventionism) at New Urbanists and smart growth-inclined planners, while at the same time holding up places like Houston as a paragon of free market urbanism and refusing to acknowledge the massive state intervention in favor of the automobile. Of course, that doesn’t mean the New Urbanists and liberally-inclined planners in general aren’t guilty of much of what they’re accused of – after all, their designs may be different than what we have now, but they’re no less totalitarian.

Joel Kotkin doesn’t know what a “garden city” is, but he knows he loves it

Longtime Market Urbanism readers will know that we’re not huge fans of Joel Kotkin. But his most recent article on megacities (spoiler: the “triumphalism” surrounding them “frankly disturbs me”) sets a new low for sheer factual inaccuracy. I’m speaking specifically of his policy prescription, which appears to be based on the most innovative planning theories of 1911:

One does not have to be a Ghandian idealist to suggest that Ebenezer Howard’s “garden city” concept — conceived as a response to miserable conditions in early 20th Century urban Britain — may be better guide to future urban growth.

Rejecting gigantism for its own sake, “the garden city” promotes, where possible, suburban growth, particularly in land-rich countries. It also can provide a guide to more human-scale approach to  dense urban development. The “garden city” is already a major focus in Singapore, where I serve as a guest lecturer at the Civil Service College. Singaporean planners are embracing bold ideas for decentralizing work, reducing commutes and restoring nearby natural areas.

Singapore: Not a garden city

Singapore: Not a garden city

First of all, Singapore is flat-out not following a garden city model. The garden city is a very specific thing: It’s a turn-of-the-century suburban planning style with small, self-contained towns of relatively low-density buildings segregated with single-use zoning and surrounded by open fields. Singapore, on the other hand, is a typical high-density wealthy East Asian city-state with a strong downtown and a well-used metro system. Kotkin may have gotten the idea from what appears to be a Singaporean parks-building program called “Garden City” (here and here), but it’s of an entirely different magnitude than the traditional garden city, which is dominated open space. Given that Kotkin is a guest lecturer at a university in Singapore, he must visit from time to time, so I’m not quite sure how he could have missed that fact.

But secondly, there in fact is an Asian city that has adopted a real garden city model, and it’s right next door to Singapore: Kuala Lumpur. And unlike Singapore, a developed country, Kuala Lumpur has a middle-income economy similar to the megacities like Mexico City and Manila that Kotkin starts out talking about. Here’s what I wrote about the Malaysian capital last September:

The city was practically brand new when it was made capital of the Federal Malay States in 1895, and as a British protectorate, the Crown sent New Zealand planner Charles Reade to the Malaysian capital in 1921 to head its planning department. Schooled in the methods of the nascent Garden City movement in the UK, Reade made a name for himself by spreading the sprawling, proto-suburban style throughout Australia and New Zealand before his posting in British Malaya. Under Reade’s aegis, Kuala Lumpur became a test case for the movement’s applicability outside of the industrialized West.

Kuala Lumpur: Garden city!

Kuala Lumpur: Garden city!

In other words, Kuala Lumpur took exactly the path that Kotkin is advising for the third-world megacities. And the planners largely achieved what they set out to do: The city is very auto-oriented, and does not have significant rail infrastructure (which Kotkin associates with the slums of our grandparents). But unfortunately for Joel, Kuala Lumpur is roundly criticized as a planning disaster. Though it has the right population size according to Kotkin (he cites Chennai and Hyderabad, which are similar in size to KL, as preferential to Mumbai), its polycentric layout and extremely congested roads make getting around very difficult and time-consuming. In other words, it has the same problems that Kotkin hates so much about cities many times its size. And to make matters worse, not every Malaysian is wealthy enough to own a car yet, so it’s only going to get worse.

If Kotkin truly believes in the suburban, car-oriented model for third-world cities, then he should defend Kuala Lumpur, not Singapore. And if he really thinks Singapore is so great, then he probably shouldn’t be cheering on garden cities. Then again, given his apparent ignorance about what a “garden city” even is, I’m not sure that he’s really qualified to be writing about it at all.

Edit: I forgot possibly the weirdest part of the whole article, where he uses traffic fatalaties to argue for…er, more car-oriented cities?

More serious still, the slum-dwellers face a host of health challenges that recall the degradations of Dickensian London. Residents of mega-cities face enormous risks from such socially caused maladies as AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, urban violence, unsafely built environments, and what has been described as  ”the neglected epidemic” of road-related injuries. According to researchers Tim and Alana Campbell, developing countries now account for 85% of the world’s traffic fatalities.


1. An excellent Wikipedia article about the old DC streetcars. I wish there were more economics, and I’d also like to know about the state-mandated consolidation that they talk about in the mid-1890s. Also note that streetcar use reached its peak in the mid 1910s – when people talk about interstate highways and the Great American Streetcar Conspiracy, they’re starting the story decades too late.

2. A dissenting (heh) view of Ed Glaeser’s book. My criticism of Glaeser would be that sometimes he starts speaking very generally and starts sounding a little whacky (which I think is what the reviewer here is picking up on). Perhaps his work wouldn’t be so popular if not for this tendency to paint in broad strokes, but I would like to see more specific analysis of land use laws and how Glaeser would like to change them. I haven’t read the book, though – does it get more nuanced than the excerpt in the Atlantic?

3. Human Transit publishes a reader comment and gives some great analysis of transit agency’s staffing and frequency. Apparently labor is the biggest constraint on frequency outside of peak hours, but many systems have labor and safety regulations that force transit agencies to overstaff trains. The efforts of unions to keep the unnecessary second man on transit vehicles are almost a century old, despite massive advances in transportation technology that have long since obviated the need.

4. This is cool.

5. DC’s gas stations are not long for this world as the condo onslaught continues. Urban gas stations rarely seem to me to be efficient uses of space (the gas station on Houston Street in Manhattan is the prime example) – does anybody know how rigid the zoning guidelines they fall under generally are? Are they zoned only for gas stations, necessitating a lobbying effort to develop?