Thursday, 7 December 2017

No Sadiq, upzoning and densification don't resolve housing costs

You need 'urbanized area expansion' too:
The idea that the Bay Area might build more housing on greenfield sites – single or multifamily – isn’t even contemplated. Nor does the piece cite examples of where large scale infill densification actually rendered housing affordable in the absence of new greenfield construction. I’m not aware of any such cases.

That’s not to say that upzoning or densification are a bad things. I would support upzoning and building more infill in nodes proximate to transit stations. (I also think we should be honest that our intent in this is in fact to change the character of the neighborhood). But if you’re taking urbanized area expansion off the table, don’t ever expect to bring housing prices down materially.
No new building land, no fall in house prices relative to earnings.


Quote of the day: On hanging out

Fast food shops provide a place for kids to hang out:
Having saved the children from the perils of walking to school and active play we are surprised that they are fat. In fact I suspect that half the appeal of fast food joints to schoolchildren is not the food per se; rather it is the chance to hang out with their friends and make minor decisions about what they want to do next without adults looming over them.
At my school we weren't allowed (below sixth form) to leave the grounds at lunchtime. Each day a precious few passes were granted to fifth formers - we could, if we secured one of these passes, go as far as Crown Point (about 400 yards from the school gates) where there was a convenient cafe.

The other part of the quote is just as pertinent - children have few opportunities to be children, everything has to be managed, organised, supervised and monitored. The idea of just going out to play has gone. Worse still, we tend now to treat children just hanging out as pretty much anti-social behaviour.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

Quote of the day: Churchill's eulogy for Chamberlain

Brilliant this:
"It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart—the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned."
The search for peace is sometimes in vain but it is never wrong.


Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The London Plan - building a playground for the elite

Today, the Mayor of London published his "London Plan", a strategic look at development in the world's greatest city (except for Bradford, of course, but we hide our light under a bushel and don't call ourselves a city any more despite being one):
It's a strategic plan which shapes how London evolves and develops. All planning decisions should follow London Plan policies, and it sets a policy framework for local plans across London.
Exciting. And there will be some good analyses of the plan from assorted consultants, lobby groups and academics over the next few months as its consultation plays out. The Mayor - as these sort of people are wont to do - is bigging up the Plan:
“I am using all of the powers at my disposal to tackle the housing crisis head on, removing ineffective constraints on homebuilders so we make the most of precious land in our capital,”
I gather the Mayor went on to talk about "tearing up" planning rules that prevent housing development (while proposing new rules to stop people opening businesses in case children might get tubby). There's going to be 650,000 new homes rammed into an already crowded city, piled up on top of railway stations, stuffed into gardens, perched on top of shopping parades. Densification is the order of the day - London, in housing terms becomes Mr Creosote. After all, even the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England - NIMBY central - think the plan is ace. CRPE tweeted:
We're pleased to see a commitment to protecting and enhancing the Green Belt from @SadiqKhan in his draft London Plan. A protected and thriving Green Belt is just as important for our cities as our countryside.
OK, so they tweeted this with an attached photograph of a view across Windermere - about as far from London as it's possible to be and stay in England - but the CPRE are clearly happy.

The thing is that this is the problem. London isn't so much overheating as burning to a cinder, at least in housing terms. Yet the Mayor smiles saying, 'we won't touch the Green Belt, heavens no, that might cost me votes'. And the result of this is what geographers, Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox call a "playground for elites":
Once exemplars of middle-class advancement, most major American cities are now typified by a “barbell economy,” divided between well-paid professionals and lower-paid service workers. As early as the 1970s, notes the Brookings Institution, middle-income neighborhoods began to shrink more dramatically in inner cities than anywhere else—and the phenomenon has continued. Today, in virtually all U.S. metro areas, the inner cores are more unequal than their corresponding suburbs, observes geographer Daniel Herz.
For London, the sort of middle income places I was brought up in (Addiscombe between Beckenham and Croydon) aren't really middle income places these days. The cramped - for a family of six large and loud people - three-bed semi we lived in would now sell for £400,000 or more, way beyond the means of the sort of people doing a middling sort of job in an insurance company like my Dad did back in the 1960s. These days, couples like my Mum and Dad aren't having families in London because they can't afford it.

What London's Mayor doesn't understand (something he shares with his left of centre mayoral colleagues in Barcelona, New York and San Francisco) is that the policies he thinks, to use a Blairite term, triangulate between the need for housing and the NIMBYs are the very policies that create the rising prices and rising rents, that make for that "barbell economy", and that make a place like London increasingly dysfunctional. Urban containment - zoning restrictions, densification, focus on what the Yanks call transit loci - is the problem not the solution. It's sustained by the fact that those childless younger people having fun in the city can't understand that their loud, brash and busy lives are a fin de si├Ęcle.
The suburbs, consigned to the dustbin of history by many urban boosters, have rebounded from the Great Recession. Demographer Jed Kolko, analyzing the most recent census numbers, suggests that most big cities’ population growth now lags their suburbs, which have accounted for over 80 percent of metropolitan expansion since 2011. Even where the urban-core renaissance has been strongest, ominous signs abound.
For London, those suburbs are no longer Grove Park, Eltham or Chiswick but Milton Keynes, Ashford, Basingstoke and Reading. And:
Nearly 80 percent of all job growth since 2010 has occurred in suburbs and exurbs (see chart, page 45). Most tech growth takes place not in the urban core, as widely suggested, but in dispersed urban environments, from Silicon Valley to Austin to Raleigh. Despite the much-ballyhooed shift in small executive headquarters to some core cities, the most rapid expansion of professional business-service employment continues to happen largely in low-density metropolitan areas...
Put simply, failing to grasp the urban containment nettle will be fine for London short to medium term - it has the advantage of being the world's top financial centre and having the UK government (sort of New York and Washington combined) - but not facing up to this problem will do just what Kotkin and Cox describe in New York, Seattle and San Francisco, create a playground for the rich elite serviced by a low paid population living in a city they can't afford.


(Stupid) Quote of the day: how novelty coffee mugs discriminate against us left-handers

It's a tough life being left handed (allow me to introduce you to scissors) - but some folk seem more traumatised than us more adjusted lefties:
Novelty coffee cups are a waste of time – the funny messages are always written on the wrong side. The cups that have a tray beneath the drinking reservoir in order to conceal biscuits favours the right-hander, meaning you cover yourself in Hobnobs whenever taking a drink of your brew. Personalised pens almost always see the bearer’s name written from the nib outwards, meaning that left-handers have to get used to seeing their names upside down.
Heavens! Yes! Those novelty mugs (not sure about the cups with a tray underneath at all - Room 101 for them definitely). And so many other things...

But. Can any of you right handed people play darts and snooker equally badly with both hands? Bet you can't! I used to play left hand versus right hand as a kid. So there.


Saturday, 25 November 2017

Taylor Swift and The Guardian: It's clickbait but reminds us of the left's nastiness

I appreciate that today's newspapers need clickbait to get enough visitors to satisfy their advertisers. And I also understand that The Guardian would never admit to this, which means I'm going to take their editorial laying into Taylor Swift at face value:
Mr Trump realised it was more effective to target a core group than attempt blanket appeal in his campaign – but Swift worked it out first. For years, she has directed her extraordinary self-promotional skills towards cultivating a dedicated and emotional army of followers, handpicking particularly loyal fans for private listening parties and, on her latest tour, allowing members of the public to buy tickets only once they have proved their allegiance through their purchasing history. Her new album, Reputation, is not available on Spotify – anyone wishing to hear it must buy it.
The reason Ms Swift has attracted the ire of the UK's leading journal of self-righteous left-wing tripe is that she has been insufficiently strident in her criticism of Donald Trump.
Her silence seems to be more wilful: a product of her inward gaze, perhaps, or her pettiness and refusal to concede to critics. Swift seems not simply a product of the age of Trump, but a musical envoy for the president’s values.
So let's look at Ms Swift's failings (as insinuated by The Guardian): having alt-right fans, too few friends who aren't "thin, white and wealthy", being good at marketing, and not releasing her new album free to air from day one. Oh, she also challenged structural racism (the lefty idea that the oppressed can't be racist) as incomprehensible.

Until I'd read this pretty egregious editorial I'd not knowingly listened to anything by Taylor Swift - unsurprisingly I'm not target market and she is (as The Guardian notice) rather good at marketing. So, prompted by the Guardian's ire, I spent an hour listening to Ms Swift's catalogue on Spotify (except for the latest release, of course, as that's not there yet). I can see the appeal - even the bit The Guardian snarks at, saying:
Swift’s songs echo Mr Trump’s obsession with petty score-settling in their repeated references to her celebrity feuds, or report in painstaking detail on her failed romantic relationships (often, there is crossover). The message is quintessentially Trumpian: everyone is out to get me – but I win anyway.
Seems to me that, celebrity references aside, Ms Taylor's music sits right with the interests of her core audience of younger women - tales of unrequited love, snarky stuff about other girls, you really love me don't you. All this is done in a slightly country, upbeat and catchy manner - nothing too hard to listen too, simple tunes and storied lyrics. And I guess it's the stuff Ms Swift likes to sing and that her marketing team knows the audience wants to hear.

And this is great, Taylor Swift seems to be a woman on top of her business. The bit that isn't so great here is that The Guardian cannot comprehend a celebrated singer not wanting to 'do politics', despite the undoubted fact that Ms Swift's fans probably don't pay a great deal of attention to that politics. What's even odder is that The Guardian takes the view that Ms Swift's silence is, in some way, an endorsement of Donald trump - presumably on the 'if you're against him, you're for him' principle. This is really rather unpleasant - going as it does from reporting on Ms Swift saying nothing to inferring that she's only a breath away from joining far right marches. It all suggests that the newly-unpleasant left simply cannot countenance an artist that refuses to join their mob and prefers to just get on with being a rich and successful performer. And god forbid that any writer, singer or actor is conservative.


Friday, 24 November 2017

Would you come and live here if we give you fifty grand?

I mean who wouldn't want to live with your family in an idyllic Swiss village - even though it lacks things that might be useful, like a school, for example:
The Swiss town of Albinen, located in the scenic canton of Valais, wants to pay people 25,000 Swiss francs (£18,900) each to move there.

The council will soon be voting on the new initiative, which aims to repopulate a community that has dwindled to just 240 residents, reports The Local.

Under the scheme, each new adult resident will be paid the fee, with an additional 10,000 Swiss francs (£7,600) per child. For a family of four, that’s more than £53,000.
So you've to build or buy a house and commit to living there for ten years but (and I do hope they've thought this through and have half-way decent broadband) if you're in a business where remote working is easy and are fed up with the hustle and bustle of the big city, why wouldn't you?

This offer masks a bigger issue with Europe's countryside and small towns - people are leaving them unless they're close enough to the city for people to be able to commute. And they're leaving because there's no work, no decent amenities and everything is more expensive. Perhaps the coming world of driverless vehicles, drone deliveries and robots will change things and make it appealing to live in a remote village, but right now it isn't and paying people to become residents is the only way to keep the population levels.