2012 Market Urbanism Meetup


We are going to have a reader meetup on May 5. It will be a format similar to last year. Market Urbanism friend, Sandy Ikeda will be giving a tour of Brooklyn Heights as part of the Jane Jacobs Walk program that celebrate’s the life and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs. Sandy’s tour was so popular last year that he is giving two tours this year. In fact, the tour was so compelling, I moved back to the neighborhood. (well ok, that wasn’t the only reason)

Let’s plan on attending Sandy’s tour from 4:30-6:00 pm on Saturday, May 5th. The tour starts at the steps of the Brooklyn Borough Hall. After the tour, we’ll convene at the Henry Street Ale House at 62 Henry Street, near where the tour ends.

This year, Stephen is a genuine Brooklynite, so you’ll have the opportunity to meet him. Unfortunately, Emily won’t make it to town this year. Sandy will probably also join us.

Last year, I assumed I’d be the only 6′-5″ person there, so that’s how I told people to identify me. However, there was another person about the same height on the tour, so readers said they weren’t sure which one was me. The best way I can assure that doesn’t happen again is to wear a White Sox baseball cap. What are the odds of two of us?…

May 5, 2012
Walking Tour: 4:30 PM at Brooklyn Borough Hall
Meetup Afterwards: 6:00 PM at Henry Street Ale House, 62 Henry Street

Hope you can make it. See you all there!


PS. In case you are interested, there are many other Jane Jacobs Walks that weekend. For example, this year there will be a Jane Jacob’s Walk tour of the area around the Atlantic Yards site given by Norman Oder. That should be interesting for Market Urbanists…

Meetup before Sandy’s Jane’s Walk this Sunday

From the comments and emails I’ve gotten, there will be a pretty decent turnout of Market Urbanists at Sandy Ikeda’s Jane’s Walk on Sunday, “Eye’s on Brooklyn Heights.”

Here are the details from the site;

Date: Sunday May 8, 2011

Time: 1:00pm-2:30pm

Meeting Place: The tour will meet at the steps of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall (2nd stop on the #2/3 subway) and end at the Clark Street station of the #2/3 subway.

One reader suggested we meet for beers beforehand, and recommended The Henry Street Ale House

Let me know how that works for others. Now that I’m thinking about it – we may want to meet closer to Borough Hall where Sandy is starting the walk. O’Keefe’s on Court Street may work better:

I’ll plan for noon – if you plan to be around earlier, shoot me an email.

The best way to spot me is my height: 6′-5″. Or shoot me an email, and I’ll give you my phone number.

More Libertarians on Jane Jacobs

The Ludwig von Mises Institute publishes a podcast performed by Jeff Riggenbach called “The Libertarian Tradition”, which discusses significant figures in the libertarian movement.  The most recent edition is dedicated to Jane Jacobs, who’s ideas are highly regarded by many libertarians, despite the fact that she publicly distanced herself  from being associated with the term or movement.  It’s a great listen, and mentions fellow Market Urbanists and friends of the site, Sandy Ikeda and Thomas Schmidt.  It’s great to see more attention given to Jane Jacobs and urbanism by free market advocates.

Mises Podcast on Jane Jacobs

On a similar note, Market Urbanist, Sandy Ikeda will be hosting a “Jane’s Walk” in honor of Jane Jacobs in Brooklyn Heights.  Here’s a description from the site:

Eyes on Brooklyn Heights

The beautiful and historic neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights offers excellent examples of Jane Jacobs’ principles of urban diversity in action.

Beginning at the steps of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, we will stroll through residential and commercial streets while observing and talking about how the physical environment influences social activity and even economic and cultural development, both for good and for ill. We will be stopping at several points of interest, including the famous Promenade, and end near the #2/3 subway and a nice coffeehouse.

Please wear comfortable footwear and weather-appropriate clothing, and be sure to have lots of questions. See you there!

Date: Sunday May 8, 2011
Time: 1:00pm-2:30pm

Meeting Place: The tour will meet at the steps of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall (2nd stop on the #2/3 subway) and end at the Clark Street station of the #2/3 subway.

Host:Sandy Ikeda

Host Organization: Purchase College

Contact info:

I plan to attend.  It would be great to see some other Market Urbanists there!

Old Urbanist on the failure of Boston’s newest park

Old Urbanist is one of my favorite urbanist blogs (and not just because of the name), and Charlie’s got a post up about Boston that I think has a good market urbanist lesson in it. He describes how the formerly elevated Central Artery, buried by the Big Dig, was replaced with a park, with nobody seeming to understand that highways’ damaging effects comes from what they demolish – buildings, and lots of them. An excerpt:

With no one able to agree on anything in particular, the environmentalists of the late 1980s stepped in to offer the compelling alternative of nothing, packaged under the name “open space,” and obtained a requirement that 75% of the land above the buried highway be set aside for it.  The realization has only recently sunk in that even “nothing” must be paid for, as the conservancy tasked with maintaining the Greenway has now proposed taxing abutting property owners to raise funds, the largesse of Boston’s citizens, already maintaining several very large parks in close proximity, apparently falling short.  Thus, land that, under private ownership, might have provided millions of dollars in tax revenue to the city, and hosted thousands of jobs and apartments, has become a money pit.

The missed opportunity is even more tragic given that one of the very few neighborhoods in the United States laid out in truly traditional fashion, the North End, with its narrow winding streets and attractive mid-rise architecture, sits right next to the Greenway.  The blank side walls of 19th century townhouses, their adjoining buildings demolished for the Artery in the 1950s, cry out to be extended southwards by new neighbors.  The elusive vision is right there, a reality, not a fantasy, yet somehow it escaped the attention of Boston’s elected officials, planners, architects and the public itself.

On the day I visited, the North End was jammed with tourists snapping photos of the streets, students standing in long lines at pizza parlors, and many residents simply going about their daily business by foot.  The few on the Greenway were walking briskly either toward the North End or back the other way, and indeed, with such an extraordinary neighborhood so close by, the appeal of lying on a shade-less grass lawn between six lanes of roaring traffic loses any appeal it might have otherwise had.

It reminded me of this great comment by Benjamin Hemric on a post last year, in which he quotes Jane Jacobs on parks in Death and Life (emphasis Benjamin’s):

We can already see that city districts with relatively large amounts of generalized park, like Morningside Heights or Harlem in New York, seldom develop intense community focus on a park and intense love for it, such as the people of Boston’s North End have for their little Prado or the people of Greenwich Village have for Washington Square, or the people of [Philadelphia’s] Rittenhouse Square district have for their park. Greatly loved neighborhood parks benefit from a certain rarity value.

Even Jane Jacobs thought Houston doesn’t have zoning

“Houston has no zoning” is a very popular urban planning meme. It has its roots in Houston’s lacks one very specific kind of zoning: Euclidean separation of residential, commercial, and industrial uses. Euclidean zoning happens to be the one kind of planning that people easily understand (the whole meatpacking-plant-in-my-backyard fear), and so the usual panoply of density-inhibiting regulations (parking minimums, minimum lot requirements, FAR restrictions, etc.) is downplayed or even outright ignored, despite Michael Lewyn’s claims that Houston is in many ways more restrictive than even its Sun Belt neighbors.

But still, despite its pervasiveness, I was surprised to hear from commenter Alon Levy that in a 2001 interview with Reason Magazine, even Jane Jacobs was still laboring under the myth:

Reason: When the change comes, if it is an incremental, slowly evolving, uncontrolled sort of natural change, it’s easy for society to accommodate that, isn’t it?

Jacobs: Yes it is. But if all that zoning is kept, that can’t happen.

Reason: This is why I’m one of the few people you’ve met who likes Houston, because it has no zoning.

Jacobs: It has no zoning. But all the same, it looks like all the places that do have zoning. Because the same developers and bankers who deal with places that do have zoning carry their same ideas when they finance or build something in Houston.

Reason: There are not enough Houstons to change the way things are built or developed?

Jacobs: Right.

Maybe I’m just a sadist, but my favorite part of the interview was the first few pages where the interviewer tries to get Jacobs to support the usual libertarian “war on cars” line and she deftly avoids it. Finally, he thinks he’s gotten her when she says something bad about New Urbanism, but then it turns out that her issue seems more to be that New Urbanist communities aren’t really urban enough.

Links, links, links!

1. An bill that would replace New Jersey’s court-mandated patchwork of inclusionary zoning programs with a more uniform 10% affordable housing mandate has left advanced through its Assembly committee after passing the NJ Senate, though Chris Christie promised to veto it.

2. Last month I reported that Obama’s deficit commission may recommend paring back the mortgage-interest tax deduction. Well, the official plan is now out, and – good news! – it looks like completely doing away with the deduction is on the table.

3. The New Yorker reports on a Cooper Union exhibit that models what the area around the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway connecting the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburg Bridge would have looked like if Jane Jacobs had lost and Robert Moses had won.

4. Even with $100 million in cash and hundreds of millions in tax-exempt bonds, Bronx Parking, which operates Yankee Stadium’s perennially under-used parking garage, still can’t turn a profit.

Correction, Reason.org’s Plug, and Glaeser on Jacobs

In the comments of my most recent post, insightful commenter, OldUrbanism pointed out some items that need attention:

The last two factors, legal costs associated with eminent domain and opportunity costs of land, are in fact often included in typical project cost estimates for both public and private projects. The former is fairly straightforward, as it is a project-related cost. The latter, opportunity cost of land, is simply the purchase price of land.

In the case of this example, where land acquisition costs are assumed as part of the project cost, OldUrbanism is exactly correct. I’m truly embarrassed for being sloppy in that statement and will correct it.

Of course, I still stand by my exposure of the ignorance of land opportunity cost by those who assert that existing highways “pay for themselves.” I invite you to check out the discussion of that matter (and other items) with OldUrbanism in the comments of the post.
The other day, Reason Foundation’s Samuel Staley had some very generous things to say about Market Urbanism:

I just ran across the Market Urbanism web site, and it has a lot of really good analysis and resources available for anyone following urban policy issues. The sub-title of the web site is “Urbanism for Capitalists/Capitalism for Urbanists”. The blog includes lots of references to F.A. Hayek, free markets, and even takes the Cato Institute to task for advocating “socialism for roads.”


This site is well organized and designed. I think it’s a great addition to the debate and discussion, and its refreshing to see a new voice enter into the fray.

Thanks Samuel!! I share Reason’s objective of “Free Minds and Free Markets.”

I just have to admit I found it a little ironic that he had such nice things to say after I blasted reason.org on twitter for their recent pro-government infrastructure pieces (here, here and here).
Ed Glaeser wrote a book review for the New Republic discussing his mixed opinions towards Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. Of course, my opinions of Glaeser’s piece are also mixed: wrong on infrastructure, right on NIMBYism.

Tyler Cowen and Matt Yglesias also chime in.

Rothbard the Urbanist Part 5: Diversity and Discrimination

This 5th installment of the Rothbard Series dovetails well with the most recent post on segregation by guest blogger, Stephen Smith, as well as a post back in July over at Austin Contrarian

If you haven’t kept up with our discussion, Murray Rothbard’s classic For A New Liberty can be downloaded free from Mises.org as pdf, web page, and audio book, and you can read the first four parts:

Rothbard the Urbanist Part 1: Public Education’s Role in Sprawl and Exclusion
Rothbard the Urbanist Part 2: Safe Streets
Rothbard the Urbanist Part 3: Prevention of Blockades
Rothbard the Urbanist Part 4: Policing

In the comments of the first post of this series on public education’s roll in segregation, the discussion delved into the topic of discrimination.  Bill Nelson and I shared our thoughts on discrimination by co-op boards, while another guest inquired about my statement, “elitist institutions often exclude others to their own detriment”  (Rothbard’s words further below make a similar case)  I also referred the guest to a great article on the economics of discrimination and a snippet from an article discussing how private streetcar companies fought discrimination:

The Market Resists Discrimination

The resistance of southern streetcar companies to ordinances requiring them to segregate black passengers vividly illustrates how the market motivates businesses to avoid unfair discrimination. Before the segregation laws were enacted, most streetcar companies voluntarily segregated tobacco users, not black people. Nonsmokers of either race were free to ride where they wished, but smokers were relegated to the rear of the car or to the outside platform. The revenue gains from pleased nonsmokers apparently outweighed any losses from disgruntled smokers.

Streetcar companies refused, however, to discriminate against black people because separate cars would have reduced their profits. They resisted even after the passage of turn-of-the-century laws requiring the segregation of black people. One railroad manager complained that racial discrimination increased costs because it required the company to “haul around a good deal of empty space that is assigned to the colored people and not available to both races.” Racial discrimination also upset some paying customers. Black customers boycotted the streetcar lines and formed competing hack (horsedrawn carriage) companies, and many white customers refused to move to the white section.

In Augusta, Savannah, Atlanta, Mobile, and Jacksonville, streetcar companies responded by refusing to enforce segregation laws for as long as fifteen years after their passage. The Memphis Street Railway “contested bitterly,” and the Houston Electric Railway petitioned the Houston City Council for repeal. A black attorney leading a court battle against the laws provided an ironic measure of the strength of the streetcar companies’ resistance by publicly denying that his group “was in cahoots with the railroad lines in Jacksonville.” As pressure from the government grew, however, the cost of defiance began to outweigh the market penalty on profits. One by one, the streetcar companies succumbed, and the United States stumbled further into the infamous morass of racial segregation.

From Jennifer Roback, “The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars.” Journal of Economic History 56, no. 4 (December 1986): 893–917.

So, now we get to hear what Professor Rothbard had to say about discrimination:

Street Rules

One of the undoubted consequences of all land areas in the country being owned by private individuals and companies would be a greater richness and diversity of American neighborhoods. The character of the police protection and the rules applied by the private police would depend on the wishes of the landowners or street owners, the owners of the given area. Thus, suspicious residential neighborhoods would insist that any people or cars entering the area have a prior appointment with a resident, or else be approved by a resident with a phone call from the gate. In short, the same rules for street property would be applied as are now often applied in private apartment buildings or family estates. In other, more raffish areas, everyone would be permitted to enter at will, and there might be varying degrees of surveillance in between. Most probably commercial areas, anxious not to rebuff customers, would be open to all. All this would give full scope to the desires and values of the residents and owners of all the numerous areas in the country.

It might be charged that all this will allow freedom "to discriminate" in housing or use of the streets. There is no question about that. Fundamental to the libertarian creed is every man’s right to choose who shall enter or use his own property, provided of course that the other person is willing.

"Discrimination," in the sense of choosing favorably or unfavorably in accordance with whatever criteria a person may employ, is an integral part of freedom of choice, and hence of a free society. But of course in the free market any such discrimination is costly, and will have to be paid for by the property owner concerned.

Suppose, for example, that someone in a free society is a landlord of a house or a block of houses. He could simply charge the free market rent and let it go at that. But then there are risks; he may choose to discriminate against renting to couples with young children, figuring that there is substantial risk of defacing his property. On the other hand, he may well choose to charge extra rent to compensate for the higher risk, so that the free-market rent for such families will tend to be higher than otherwise. This, in fact, will happen in most cases on the free market. But what of personal, rather than strictly economic, "discrimination" by the landlord? Suppose, for example, that the landlord is a great admirer of six-foot Swedish-Americans, and decides to rent his apartments only to families of such a group. In the free society it would be fully in his right to do so, but he would clearly suffer a [p. 207] large monetary loss as a result. For this means that he would have to turn away tenant after tenant in an endless quest for very tall Swedish-Americans. While this may be considered an extreme example, the effect is exactly the same, though differing in degree, for any sort of personal discrimination in the marketplace. If, for example, the landlord dislikes redheads and determines not to rent his apartments to them, he will suffer losses, although not as severely as in the first example.

In any case, anytime anyone practices such "discrimination" in the free market, he must bear the costs, either of losing profits or of losing services as a consumer. If a consumer decides to boycott goods sold by people he does not like, whether the dislike is justified or not, he then will go without goods or services which he otherwise would have purchased.

All property owners, then, in a free society, would set down the rules for use of, or admission to, their property. The more rigorous the rules the fewer the people who will engage in such use, and the property owner will then have to balance rigor of admission as against loss of income. A landlord might "discriminate," for example, by insisting, as George Pullman did in his "company town" in Illinois in the late nineteenth century, that all his tenants appear at all times dressed in jacket and tie; he might do so, but it is doubtful that many tenants would elect to move into or remain in such a building or development and the landlord would suffer severe losses.

While Rothbard had some good things to say on how the free market enables diversity in terms of racial discrimination and diversity among and within districts, he missed the opportunity to specifically address ideas relating to Jane Jacobs’ generators of diversity within urban districts other than stating, “commercial areas, anxious not to rebuff customers, would be open to all.”  Jacobs generators of diversity:

  1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two.  These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.
  2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
  3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including  a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce.  This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
  4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there.  This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.

Obviously, Jacobs wasn’t referring to racial diversity, and I’m glad she wasn’t because the abuse of the concept has gotten tiresome to me.  She was referring to the types of diversity in the built environment that are necessary to make a urban places vibrant. Nonetheless, Rothbard’s analysis of racial discrimination and diversity could be applied to the built environment, because a landlord would have market incentives to provide as much space as is economically optimal to as many potential tenants as possible, likely forgoing personal preferences and prejudices. Thus, mixing of uses is likely to occur when a landlord is unlikely to discriminate one use over another or give undeserved preference to one type of tenant over another.

I can see a system of fully private ownership emerging into two very distinct patterns: – aglomerative consolidations and bottom-up dispersion of ownership, each existing in certain circumstances.

  • One could argue that Jacobs’ generators of diversity would likely exist within large privately-owned districts, but a landowner would likely need to consolidate a significantly-sized district in order to properly capture the positive externalities associated with diversely mixed uses.  At the same time, large, privately-owned gated communities would likely exist in less centralized locations where private space and separation could meet the desires of those who are willing to pay a premium for the extra space.
  • In other locations it would be optimal for land to be owned by smaller dispersed entities.  In this case, diversity would simply emerge bottom-up through the free-market process, as it had prior to zoning.  I could imagine that, left unhampered by government coercion, diverse patterns that meet people’s specific needs and natural pursuit of interaction would inevitably emerge through dispersed and competitive ownership of smaller parcels.  (See Mathieu Helie’s Emergent Urbanism)

I would think the larger-scale commercial activity and gated communities will occur in the former, and just about everything else, the later.