This article was originally posted on Making Christchurch, a group blog set up by Barnaby Bennett in the wake of the 2011 Canterbury Earthquake, at the invitation of Transportblog commenter Brendon Harre. While it’s focused on Christchurch, many of the ideas in the article apply everywhere.
The paradox of the New Zealand economy, to many, is that we are a highly urbanised nation that specialises in trading agricultural commodities. This isn’t a new phenomenon. According to Statistics NZ, New Zealanders have mostly lived in cities for roughly a century:
This has important policy implications. New Zealand’s future economic success will increasingly depend upon what happens in its large cities, Christchurch included. A robust rural economy, while important, is not sufficient to raise our living standards. And, increasingly, the drivers of economic growth in cities are different than the drivers of growth outside cities. Urban economic growth is less about the physical quantity of things being extracted or processed, and more about productivity growth and innovation – doing more different things with fewer inputs.
Agglomeration economies in theory and practice
How does this work?
Economists have used the term “agglomeration economies” as a catch-all description for the economic forces that shape and sustain cities. It describes the productivity gains that arise as a result of urban scale and density. However, the term may conceal as much as it reveals.
Agglomeration is not a single process, but a variety of different types of processes that occur in cities, e.g.:
Geographical concentration allows firms to reduce supply chain costs and access more specialised inputs
Increased accessibility between firms and workers allows better skill matching and growth prospects
Proximity facilitates knowledge spillovers between people with clever ideas to share.
Economies seldom stand still, and agglomeration economies seem to enable them to move forwards faster. That’s backed up by the empirical literature. For example, Graham and Maré (2009) find that when places in New Zealand experience increasing density of employment, they subsequently become more productive. (Other research has also found evidence of bidirectional causality – i.e. productive places also tend to attract more jobs.)
How do cities trade?
A well functioning urban economy – one in which firms can trade with each other, workers can access jobs, and everybody has spaces where they meet and share ideas – will generate new goods and services and proliferate successful innovations widely.
In doing so, cities also rely upon inputs from rural areas and other cities – food, energy, consumer products, investment goods, and so on and so forth. Consequently, they must trade with the outside world. So what do New Zealand cities sell?
One answer is that they export things that are difficult to measure properly. Service exports, for example, tend to be difficult to measure as they leave through fibre optic cables or in the heads of business travellers rather than on container ships. But even acknowledging the measurement difficulties, New Zealand cities don’t seem to directly export that many services. The available data for Auckland suggests that it exports goods and services at about half of the rate of the overall New Zealand economy. Christchurch probably performs similarly.
However, overseas trade is only part of the picture. As the Productivity Commission highlighted in a recent inquiry, urban service firms can play an important role in goods exporters’ value chains. In other words, the cities pay their way in part by “exporting” services to the countryside:
Here’s a quick look at the issue based on the Productivity Commission’s data. Among the service industries, there is a negative correlation between tradability and Christchurch’s share of national employment. Christchurch has a below-average share of employment in highly tradable service industries like finance and insurance and information, media, and telecommunications. On the other hand, it does have an above-average share of employment in manufacturing, a relatively tradable sector.
How is the Christchurch economy evolving?
This is high level industry data and undoubtedly does not capture many of Christchurch’s particular areas of specialisation. But it does suggest that the city may still be working on finding a strong niche in national and international markets. There is definitely a risk that Christchurch remains a large “market town” for the Canterbury Plains.
But how is the Christchurch economy evolving? Is it moving into relatively tradable or knowledge-based industries that may foster stronger agglomeration economies?
We can use detailed industry- and location-specific employment data published by Statistics NZ to examine how local economies have evolved in recent years. While there have been some other broader shifts taking place – manufacturing job losses starting in the mid-2000s and slow growth in retail and distribution sectors – I want to focus on two industries that have experienced significant amounts of change.
The following chart compares employment growth in construction and in professional, scientific, and technical services with overall employment growth in Christchurch. Both have generally grown more rapidly than average over the last decade, and experienced further growth following the Canterbury Earthquakes.
The construction industry plays an important part in cities: it builds (or rebuilds) urban places. Building jobs have doubled in number since the earthquakes, as people migrate in or enter the workforce. But this is a temporary phenomenon – construction employment will subside once the insurance payouts and anchor projects stop.
Professional service firms also play a role in building cities. They provide architectural and planning advice, design transport networks, and assist people in thinking about where and how to invest in the built environment. Furthermore, these firms tend to benefit strongly from agglomeration economies as they often rely upon proximity to customers, competitors, and collaborators. A well-built city is a good place for an innovative professional service firm to be.
What are Christchurch’s future prospects?
Ultimately, it is hard to tell where a city is going from a distance. Individual residents and entrepreneurs are better placed to understand which opportunities are being grasped and which are slipping away.
That being said, it is worth talking about the nature of the opportunities created by the Canterbury Earthquake. The common assumption is that the rebuild will benefit the city in two ways: first, by providing a short-term injection of economic activity; and second, by leaving the city with a set of buildings and places that it can enjoy in the future.
However, the real long-term benefits may lie elsewhere. Rebuilding a city is hard. Not many cities have the capability to manage it themselves: they must import materials and people and ideas from elsewhere to get the job done well. This creates a valuable opportunity for “learning by doing”, as local firms acquire knowledge and test it out themselves.
As the great urbanist Jane Jacobs argued, this process is integral to urban economic growth. Innovation often begins when cities import new goods and services – and then figure out how to make them locally or adapt them to the local context. As she says, “economic life develops by grace of innovating; it expands by grace of import-replacing.”
The rebuild has the potential to encourage this process in Christchurch. So we might ask: what are the builders and professional service firms learning in the process? Are they figuring out how to adapt other cities’ ideas and shape them to fit in the New Zealand context? And when the road works end and the cranes clear out, what will they do next?
In terms of infrastructure priorities, one in five mayors also listed “bicycle friendliness” as a top three area for new infrastructure spending. And when given the opportunity to spend a hypothetical unrestricted small grant on an infrastructure project, bike/pedestrian projects emerged as the top choice—ahead of parks, roads, and city buildings. (For a hypothetical unrestricted large grant, “roads” was the top choice—but, encouragingly, only after “mass transit.”)
While Portland Oregon has been a poster child for progressive, people-first city planning and design the mode share for cycling has been stuck at around 6% for several years now. The city is now taking the sensible step in requiring high quality, separated facilities on streets with more than 3,000 vehicle a day. Michael Andersen, Portland Is First U.S. City to Make Protection Default for All New Bike Lanes, StreetsBlog USA.
The key is to build our system well, to build it to be safe, and to strive for the highest quality bikeways possible.
There is a growing body of research and experience across the U.S., North America and the world demonstrating the effectiveness and desirability of protected bicycle lanes to encourage more bicycle transportation. It is also a key element of our Vision Zero strategy for people when riding bicycles. That is why I am asking our engineers, project managers and planners to make protected bicycle lanes the preferred design on roadways where separation is called for. I am asking for this design standard for retrofits of existing roadways as well as to new construction.
Mayor Sylvester Turner told a told the Texas Transportation Commission that it was time for a “paradigm shift” away from the ineffective approach of widening highways:
This example, and many others in Houston and around the state, have clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.
In October it became illegal to smoke in a car with a child, while Dame Tessa Jowell, runner-up in the Labour mayoral selection contest, made a big thing of her plan to ban smoking in parks. Yet when there is a bad pollution episode no one tells people to stop driving, as the mayor of Paris did last year. Instead, people with asthma are warned not to go out. It’s as if, rather than banning smoking in public places in England in 2007, the government had advised people wishing to avoid lung cancer to stay away from pubs.
Over the past eight years, the proportion of Australians aged 80+ who get behind the wheel has steadily increased—while 18-24 year-olds have become less inclined to drive. For the first time, in 2015 the oldies surpassed the youngsters as the more likely group to drive: 69% of 80+ (up from 59% in 2007) compared with 68% of 18-24 (down from 72%).
Removing centrelines make streets safer and slows vehicles. This is well understood and standard practice in the Netherlands. We covered this story a year ago. If safety wasn’t motivation enough, think of how much money could be saved on the routine re-painting of centrelines across Auckland.
The agency is currently testing centerline removal on at least three roads with a speed limit of 30 mph, and the results so far show promise, according to the report. TFL found that drivers slowed down, on average, by five to nine miles per hour. Researchers also observed that speeds were particularly lower when drivers were passing oncoming traffic.
Behind this demarking lies the concept of “shared space” and “naked streets”, developed in the 1990s by the late Dutch engineer, Hans Monderman. He held that traffic was safest when road users were “self-policing” and streets were cleared of controlling clutter. His innovations, now adopted in some 400 towns across Europe, have led to dramatic falls in accidents. Yet for some reason Monderman’s ideas remain starkly uninfluential in the world of “big” health and safety, especially in Britain.
This is part of a series on electric vehicles (here are parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). It’s been 18 months since the last post – I feel like George R. R. Martin, except no one has really been asking me about when the next post is coming. Sorry, anyway, and I promise to get better. Today, I’m looking at the impact of these vehicles on NZ’s power supply. Again, I’ll abbreviate plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to PHEVs, and battery electric vehicles to BEVs – these are the “full” electric vehicles which don’t have an engine for backup.
In part 2 of this series, we saw that EVs are much more energy efficient than “conventional” cars. But instead of the established infrastructure for supplying and fuelling petrol, we’re going to need to rely on our electricity networks. Can the power grid cope?
The government’s Energy Strategy, written in 2007, argues that “switching to electricity as a fuel for our vehicles would make the most of New Zealand’s abundant renewable electricity supplies, particularly if transport was not competing for supply at times of peak demand”.
This might seem like a fair chunk of our nationwide electricity, and it is. But that analysis assumes that every car in the country is replaced by a BEV running only on electricity. In practise, it will take years or even decades for EVs to become firmly established in the market, and PHEVs – which will probably outnumber the “pure” BEVs – will only use electricity for part of their travel, running on petrol or diesel the rest of the time.
Tesla’s Model S. Fully electric, multiple award winning, apparently pretty damn cool, but like other EVs pretty damn expensive. Seen here in its natural habitat of overlooking scenic mountain valleys. Source https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EV_Rally_Trollstigen_Tesla_Model_S.jpg
Additionally, the power companies have scoped out a large number of new plants (mainly renewable – wind and geothermal) which they could build in the future. The only reason they aren’t building them already is that electricity demand has been flat for the last few years. So the industry has plenty of room to boost supply to meet any new demand from electric cars (a number of academic studies have reached the same conclusion).
Overall, the power grid can certainly handle New Zealand’s car fleet being partially or even entirely replaced with electric vehicles.
Feeding power back to the grid?
Potentially, PHEVs and BEVs could even feed power back into the grid. The idea is that during low-demand times – e.g. in the middle of the night – EVs will charge their batteries, and then they’ll stay plugged in and send power back the other way during high-demand times. In theory, this could help to smooth daily fluctuations in power demand, i.e. the daily peak/ trough cycle. At least one paper (Smith, 2009) suggests that EVs could actually reduce New Zealand’s requirements for new diesel and gas peaker plants (which only run during high or “peak” demand periods) as a result.
However, there are a number of issues with using electric vehicles to provide “security of supply” for electricity. These include the slow charge/ discharge times for vehicle batteries, and the energy losses involved in transforming the battery’s energy back into electricity.
The biggest issue is that in New Zealand, our main “security of supply” concerns are for dry years rather than daily demand cycles. Half of our electricity generation comes from hydro, and the problems arise when there’s low rainfall and the lakes and rivers supplying the power plants are depleted. EVs won’t help with this problem, and I tend to agree with Clive Matthew-Wilson that “the times and situations when [advanced vehicles feeding electricity into the grid] would be of much practical help would be few indeed”.
This is a NZ-specific issue, so for most countries EVs may be much more useful for feeding power back to the grid. Even in New Zealand, our power generation profile will change over the next few decades, with wind (and maybe solar) becoming more important. The output of wind and solar plants tends to fluctuate, and EVs that can feed electricity back to the grid would be an excellent complement, smoothing out these variations. This could help us kick our dependence on fossil-fuelled electricity – the main advantage those plants have in NZ is that they can scale their production up or down quickly as demand changes. I’ve written previously that New Zealand can get to 100% renewable electricity even with current technology, but better power storage would only make that easier. Batteries for homes, like Tesla’s Powerwall, would help too, although as for EVs there’s a long way to go before they’re cost competitive.
Even in New Zealand, there are advantages to charging EVs outside of peak times; this allows for better use of existing grid capacity. Schafer (2011) cites two studies which suggests that if EVs are charged off-peak, they won’t have much effect on New Zealand’s electricity demand or the need for new power plant capacity. This will of course depend on the number of vehicles, and an all-electric car fleet would probably require some level of increase in capacity. The key takeaway from this post, though, is that the electricity market can definitely handle EVs, even if uptake is fairly rapid.
At a macro level, this decision-process implies that there are two ways to shift more commuters out of single-occupancy vehicles and into other modes of transportation, whether that’s biking, carpooling, walking, or transit. We can incentivize transit by making all of those other options more attractive. Or we can disincentivize driving by making it less so. What’s become increasingly apparent in the United States is that we’ll only get so far playing to the first strategy without incorporating the second…
There are ways to do it. We could reduce parking availability or raise parking rates. We could implement congestion pricing. We could roll back subsidies for gas and highways and public parking garages. We could tie auto-insurance rates or infrastructure taxes to how much people actually drive. All of these “sticks,” to use Piatkowski’s term, would have a real impact on how people chose to get around. And that impact would no doubt be larger than what we get from building new bike lanes, sidewalks, or bus stops.
Goldman didn’t like the idea of its people waiting on long lines to get their lunch. People are capital to Goldman. It wants to use its capital efficiently.
The cafeteria has a set of timed discounts. If you show up in the cafeteria before 11:30 or after 1:30, you get a 25 percent discount on your food. Goldman incentivizes employees to avoid the rush hour.
As it turns out, Goldman folks are both especially attuned to economic incentives and ruthless about capital efficiency. There are some Goldman employees who take pride that they’ve never eaten lunch inside the “cost penalty window,” as one trader referred to the two hours when the discount isn’t in effect.
If you find yourself in the cafeteria sometime around 1:20 pm, you’ll notice that the lines at the pay registers are empty. So are many of the tables.
“There are a lot of people seemingly doing OK on the surface,” says O’Neill. “They might even have employment, they might have even home ownership. But you scratch the surface and there are huge problems and huge challenges that those people are facing.”
A common scenario is a family under significant financial stress travelling long distances to get to work. A lot of women Antonetti talks to are isolated, lonely and depressed. Add to that the stress of not being able to put food on the table. She has referred people for food relief.
A lot of rhetoric we hear about transportation planning involves cars versus bikes. Does transportation have to be zero-sum like that?
I think “cars versus bikes” misses the point. It’s about providing choices for people. It’s not anti-car, it’s pro-choice, and you need to frame it that way. Cars have a role, but we have room for other ways to get around. The car-centric view has led to a lot of unforeseen consequences around the world. What we want is to bring back the balance. That includes safety, and affordable, easy ways to get around and provide better economic development opportunities for small businesses and neighborhoods.
We’re keeping an eye on Houston’s New Bus Network as the design philosophy is the same as Auckland’s New Network. While Houston’s was implemented overnight last August, Auckland’s will be progressively implemented over the next couple of years. The most recent numbers show ridership bouncing back after the change and now growing strongly.
In addition to a challenging economy, the Houston New Bus Network has coincided with the opening of two light rail services (that replaced popular bus routes.) Here’s Jarrett talking about the role of transport technology (mode) in the delivery of transport service.
“The real issue with transit is less about mode—bus or rail or ferry or helicopter—and more about service. Does the vehicle, whatever it is, come frequently and reliably so that you can show up to a stop and be sure you’ll be able to board soon? And does it actually provide a way to get to your destination in a reasonable amount of time? If yes, people will ride, whether the wheels are rubber or steel. If no, they won’t.”
“Humans adapt their risk-taking behavior on the basis of perceptions of safety; this risk-compensation phenomenon is typified by people taking increased risks when using protective equipment… In a controlled study in which a helmet, compared with a baseball cap, was used as the head mount for an eye tracker, participants scored significantly higher on laboratory measures of both risk taking and sensation seeking.
Please add additional links in the comments section.
The idea of technological advances in transport captured our imagination in 2015. But besides the introduction of Uber in Auckland, things remain mostly unchanged. My experience with Uber so far has been mixed. In many cases I find myself awkwardly hunting around the city centre to position myself for both a direct pick-up and departure. Once onboard I’ve found the driver navigation system to be underwhelming often choosing slow streets like Queen Street or detouring unnecessarily out of the way. The cost structure does make it appealing in particular for journeys with co-workers and on the weekend with my family.
Uber of course is the placeholder for the driverless car revolution that promises to be either the savior or next villain of the city depending on whom you ask. Transport export Jeff Tumlin makes a useful framework for thinking about driverless cars. He argues that depending on the ownership model (personal ownership or shared), driverless cars will be positive change for cities or a hellish travel inducer. Jarrett Walker provides a great example of how a driverless car would serve a private owner here: “Self-Driving Cars: A Coming Congestion Disaster?”
It’s too early to tell if driverless cars will become the next bicycle for the city or the jetpacks from the 1960s-era Traffic in Towns.
The self-driving car, that cutting-edge creation that’s supposed to lead to a world without accidents, is achieving the exact opposite right now: The vehicles have racked up a crash rate double that of those with human drivers. The glitch?
They obey the law all the time, as in, without exception. This may sound like the right way to program a robot to drive a car, but good luck trying to merge onto a chaotic, jam-packed highway with traffic flying along well above the speed limit. It tends not to work out well. As the accidents have piled up — all minor scrape-ups for now — the arguments among programmers at places like Google Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University are heating up: Should they teach the cars how to commit infractions from time to time to stay out of trouble?
The proposed rules hold motorists responsible for obeying traffic laws, regardless of whether they are at the wheel. Deciding if the car or its occupant is responsible for accidents and other mishaps has been at the center of debates over how to regulate driverless cars.
California’s proposed regulations would require consumers to get a special state-issued driver’s certificate after receiving training from a car company on how to use a driverless vehicle. Autonomous cars also would have to pass a test administered by a third party before being sold. Auto makers would only be allowed to lease driverless cars, as opposed to selling them outright.
They require a driver capable of taking control of the vehicle.
This year Cycle Action Auckland became Bike Auckland. In addition to a swish new graphic re-branding, the communication and stories coming from their social media channels became more inclusive, empathetic and big-picture… Like this great interview with Simon Wilson of Metro Magazine.
You’re a huge champion of Auckland. Where do bikes fit into that vision?
The tipping point theory is relevant. There will be a point where you have so many bikes, the demand will be there to transform roads down to one vehicle lane each way to make more space for bikes and pedestrians. We’re not there yet. Not remotely close, but we’ll get there if we have the courage to keep it going.
I suspect electric bikes may be the key to more adults biking on an ordinary basis. There are hills in Auckland, and you don’t want to arrive where you’re going in a terrible sweat.
Getting kids back into walking and biking to school will be a huge part of it, too. It’s the strategic key, not just because of the inherent value of children walking and cycling, but also because it would take so many damn cars off the road! We’re in a vicious circle, in that parents drive kids to school because there are so many cars on the road that it’s not safe for kids to walk or bike to school. It needs regulation as well as encouragement; you can’t ban people from driving, but you can lower speed limits, make rules about where cars can go around schools, and so on.
And the vision is achievable, you reckon?
I’ve always thought this about New Zealand – that it’s probably easier to do something here than anywhere else. Write a novel and get it published; build a weird house; open an unusual business; revolutionise domestic violence laws; redesign a city.
It’s partly a sense of scale, but it’s also that we’re a developed country with a sound economy and highly educated people. We love thinking of ourselves as flexible, and (despite some evidence to the contrary) as liberal. Our heritage is important but we’re not crushed by it.
That relative lack of being cast in a mould gives us such an advantage, especially when it comes to building a better city.
After all, 2015 was the year the Google buses stopped being an ugly joke and went legit, thanks to the Board of Supervisors. It was the year of the tech bro and the $4,000 apartment. It was the year that the fun stuff closed (the 21 Club, the Addition, the Roosevelt Tamale Parlor), while the horrible (Eatsa, Uber, Airbnb’s election team) kept on keeping on.
The difference between now and 2014 is that we all seemed to get used to the status quo. Suddenly your outrage about the latest Monkey Parking-like scheme wasn’t getting those retweets or petitions because, well, everyone had an obnoxious neighbor with a terrible idea. And if you didn’t, it was because you were getting evicted soon.
In 2015 the arcane practice of zoning came into focus as the prime roadblock for the ability of cities to scale effectively to meet the growing demand for proximity. From Krugman to POTUS restrictive residential zoning has become associated with lower productivity, increased inequality, and excessive housing costs.
“In tight housing markets,” they write, “the poor do worse when the rich get richer,” whereas in slack markets, “some evidence suggests that increases in others’ income, holding own income constant, may be beneficial.”
When houses are plentiful, in other words, gentrification can be a win-win — increases in other people’s incomes create new opportunities for the poor. But when houses are scarce, increases in other people’s incomes merely exacerbate scarcity and leave the poor worse off than ever.
The increasing bifurcation of the Auckland economy (and housing market) has revealed a glaring gap in the flat nationwide salary levels of teachers. The extreme cost of living in Auckland has lead to higher teacher turnover and a growing chorus for the the need to provide an extra payment allowance for Auckland teachers.
He loves his job and city life, but knows he will have to leave both in the next few years if he is to ever going to get ahead.
“Here, I’m paying for a fortnight for rent about $600 which is half my pay,” he says.
“Then, on top of that is water, which you don’t have to pay for anywhere else in New Zealand apart from Auckland, and then there’s power on top of that, internet, food and living.
“Basically at the end of my fortnight’s pay I maybe have $5 left, whereas if I was working in the country where I’m from – and I’ve got a friend who’s working in the country who I was talking to the other day – she saves roughly about $600 a pay which is about what I pay for rent.”
In Silicon Valley Facebook is offering employees $10,000 to live closer to work. It’s not clear if the scheme is a cost saving exercise or a productivity play.
Some have suggested the company might be looking to encourage people to spend more time in the office while also cutting the cost of its luxury bus service, whose drivers recently unionised.
Tech workers say the commute is getting worse. What would have been a one-hour commute each way three years ago has stretched to 90 minutes or more as the tech economy has boomed and more cars hit the road.
Still plenty of young techies are willing to endure it. Nilesh Patel is a single technology worker who commutes from San Francisco to a large company almost 40 miles (64 km) away so he can cultivate a rich social life in the city.
“I didn’t want to move into one of those depressing bachelor complexes,” he said about the generic Silicon Valley apartment buildings that often house people like him.
Meanwhile, housing construction has been booming for several years now in Seattle. This, not surprisingly, is starting to make dent in the rental market. An industry insider humorously describes this change as “alarming deterioration”.
Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area have a lot in common — coastal locations, high-tech economies, and relatively high wages. But as California’s Legislative Analysis Office wrote in a recent report, it’s much easier to get permission to build new houses in the Seattle area. Consequently, the Seattle area’s housing stock has grown twice as quickly as the Bay Area’s. The CLAO writes that in recent years, Seattle’s total number of housing units “grew at an average annual rate of 1.4 percent per year while San Francisco and San Jose’s housing stock grew by only 0.7 percent per year.” The main reason for this is that Washington state centralizing more planning functions at the state level, which gives hyperlocalized Not in My Backyard sentiments less when determining what people are going to be allowed to build.
Rachel Aldred. “Disappearing Traffic?“, takes a critical look at the traffic planning industry and its inability to adapt to either policy imperatives or the track record of induced and disappearing traffic.
Yet despite academics, and many practitioners, agreeing that building or widening roads is an expensive and often ineffective solution to congestion, ‘predict and provide’ (predict demand for roads, provide the capacity) continues, even if lip service is paid to sustainable transport. Against all evidence to the contrary, politicians still want to promise that building new roads, or widening existing ones, will ‘clear bottlenecks’ and ‘reduce congestion’. And unfortunately many of the tools still used in transport policy-making still support this position, forecasting incredible benefit-cost ratios for road schemes that in theory save thousands of motorists seconds on their journeys.
Here’s a key note lecture with economist Ed Glaeser and author Adam Greenfield (Everyware, Against the Smart City) from the Disrupting Cities conference. Glaeser’s classification of technology advances being mostly “centrifugal” or “centripetal” is particularly relevant to the discussion of transport technology.
My favorite part of looking for network infrastructure in America is really all the ghosts. Networks tend to follow networks, and telecommunications and transportation networks tend to end up piled on top of each other. The histories of these places isn’t always immediately obvious, but it’s there, forming a kind of infrastructural palimpsest, with new technologies to annihilate space and time inheriting the idealized promise and the political messiness of their predecessors…
Google didn’t come to Council Bluffs because of historical resonance. They came for the fiber, which runs parallel to Iowa’s many railroads and interstates. Rail infrastructure has shaped the language of the network (as noted in David A. Banks’s work on the history of the term “online”), the constellation of companies that form the network (most famously with Sprint emerging from the Southern Pacific Railroad’s internal-communications network), and, most relevant to this story, the actual routes that fiber-optic networks run.
Buildings are less permanent than infrastructure, which is itself less permanent than systems of property rights and land titles. But they are still pretty persistent. Liam Pleven at the Wall Street Journal reports on an American icon in crisis: “Shrinking U.S. Shopping Malls Get Makeovers“:
An era of relentless expansion for American shopping centers is coming to an end as a toxic brew of overbuilding, the rise of e-commerce and a wave of retailer bankruptcies force landlords to reimagine once-lucrative properties.
Some owners are converting struggling malls into apartments, offices and industrial space, while others are turning big chunks of retail space into parks and playgrounds to keep shoppers interested.
“You have to create an environment that people want to come to,” said Tony Ruggeri, who eliminated about 50,000 square feet of retail space to create an open-air plaza at West Manchester Town Center in York, Pa., which reopened last year.
Personally, I don’t enjoy shopping in malls, but I can see how they embody some positive urban tendencies. They testify to the importance of agglomeration economies (colocating shops so that they benefit from spatial spillovers), walk-up retail (cars can’t buy things, so malls were invented to get drivers out of their cars and in front of the shops), and, of course, shared parking facilities. On that last note, I wouldn’t be surprised if minimum parking requirements serve as a handbrake on mall redevelopment. After all, as Streetsblog NYC reports, MPRs don’t do developers or households many favours:
…here are five reminders that a vote for parking minimums is a vote to make housing in New York City less affordable.
1. The Time Building a Project Without Parking Made It More Affordable
Navy Green is an affordable housing project in Fort Greene that consists of 458 homes, 75 percent of which will be affordable to households earning between 30 and 130 percent of the area median income. That level of affordability was possible because the project includes zero parking spots, developer Martin Dunn told Streetsblog.
2. The NYU Reports That Proved Parking Minimums Distort What Gets Built
Developers in New York don’t build parking because that’s what people are demanding — they build it because they’re forced to. A 2011 report from NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy showed that developers of Queens affordable housing projects were overwhelmingly building the exact minimum number of spots required by law — or fewer, when they could manage a waiver.
Parking requirements, in other words, are compelling builders to construct storage for cars instead of housing for people. In a follow-up report, the Furman Center expanded its research, showing that the distortion caused by parking requirements affects all five boroughs…
But it’s not just MPRs. Perhaps the discipline of transport engineering in general needs an intellectual shake-up. Robert Steuteville (Better Towns and Cities) reports on “The new science of traffic engineering“:
At least since the 1960s, traffic engineers had designed urban thoroughfares on the theory that wide streets, lacking in nearby obstacles like trees, parked cars, and lampposts, are the safest. To the detriment of people and communities, these designs suppressed other uses of urban streets—such as walking, biking, socializing, and transit—but that outcome was either ignored or deemed an acceptable trade-off.
In a 2005 article called “Safe Streets, Livable Streets,” in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Eric Dumbaugh reported how this design theory came out of conjecture, not science. The definitive research in support of this theory was not a scientific analysis at all, but rather a description of crashes in a particular city, writes the Florida Atlantic University associate professor. When data from academic studies and real-world experience like Schwartz’s contradicted the theory, the data was explained away as aberration.
Dumbaugh cited, at the time, at least 10 studies that contradicted the wisdom of the traffic engineering profession on this subject, and he conducted his own study designed to test the theory of what he calls “forgiving design.” Without a doubt, this concept leads to more injury and death in populated areas. All of the data pointed to a better theory: In urban places, obstacles and constrictions make streets safer, because they cause motor vehicle operators to drive more carefully…
As Dumbaugh related, manuals and accepted best practice up to 2005 continued to instruct traffic engineers to remove obstacles and design for the highest practical speed by employing wide roads. While the practice is changing, signs of a major shift in engineers’ ways of doing things are still hard to find on the ground. Streets and intersections in urbanized areas continue to be overbuilt. A definitive study shows the long-term effects of this approach: more than three times the fatalities, three times less walking, four times less transit use, six times less bicycling in a dozen California cities (Garrick and Marshall 2008).
Why do these great planning mistakes happen, and why are they so difficult to unravel? Perhaps it’s another example of Max Planck’s observation that “science advances one funeral at a time” – i.e. when trying to advance a new theory, people trained and socialised in the old theory will resist it, so it’s necessary to wait until they die or retire. (Incidentally, Planck’s observation has recently been put to an empirical test.)
Or perhaps it’s a case of poor management in the discipline – the incentive structures have been set up to encourage people to adhere to conventional wisdom, even if it’s demonstrably wrong. On that topic, NZ economist Donal Curtin reports on a new analysis of New Zealand’s productivity performance: “Poorer management, lower productivity. Makes sense.”
In this latest outing, [LSE economist John Van Reenen] had a go at explaining differences in countries’ total factor productivity (TFP): if you make a plausible assumption about management’s importance in overall TFP, and you have measures of TFP and management expertise, you can estimate how much of countries’ TFP differences is down to differences in management. Often, in these kinds of surveys, New Zealand tends to be among those absent, but for once we’re in the numbers, and here are the results. Differences in TFP are measured as a percentage of the US level. I’ve circled NZ in red.
Now, I think we can all agree that this is somewhere down the more heroic end of estimation, and also that there are the usual issues of correlation and causation. But we can also agree that rough and ready estimates, that are approximately in the right sort of area, are also useful things to have.
And I think there is something to this one. The overall pattern looks realistic: poorer countries at lower levels of development – the ones on the left with, say, less than 20% of America’s TFP – tend to have bigger issues to confront than the relative quality of their management, and sure enough the contribution of management to the development gap tends to be low. But at higher levels of development, where you’ve got higher levels of resources available, how you manage them becomes more important.
On these estimates, 43.5% of the productivity gap between us and the States is down to our relatively weak management capabilities…
Speaking of poor management, here’s the latest on how the Government is tracking against its new carbon emission reduction targets. Short answer: It has a weak target and a “plan” that will fail to meet that target by an extraordinary degree. Kate Gudsell at Radio New Zealand reports that “emissions set to far outstrip Paris target“:
New Zealand committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent of 1990 levels by 2030, but its latest report to the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) has emissions forecast at 96 percent above 1990 levels in that timeframe.
[Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett] said the country was projected to meet the second commitment period target (2013 to 2020) to reduce emissions to five percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
However, what happens after 2020 appears to be an issue.
According to the Biennial Report, New Zealand’s gross emissions, which include agriculture, transport, energy, industry and waste, are projected to be 29 percent above 1990 levels.
Net emissions, which include emissions and the removal of carbon as a result of forestry and land-use change, are projected to be 96 percent above 1990 levels.
Not. Good. Enough.
Meanwhile, former time-travelling robot and California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger has a stronger message on climate change. While he wasn’t an amazingly successful governor, he did take some early and important action to move California towards a cap-and-trade system and promote some alternatives to fossil fuels.
Let’s put climate change aside for a minute. In fact, let’s assume you’re right [that climate change isn’t happening].
First – do you believe it is acceptable that 7 million people die every year from pollution? That’s more than murders, suicides, and car accidents – combined.
Every day, 19,000 people die from pollution from fossil fuels. Do you accept those deaths? Do you accept that children all over the world have to grow up breathing with inhalers?
Now, my second question: do you believe coal and oil will be the fuels of the future?
Besides the fact that fossil fuels destroy our lungs, everyone agrees that eventually they will run out. What’s your plan then?
I, personally, want a plan. I don’t want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don’t want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That’s exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.
A clean energy future is a wise investment, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either wrong, or lying. Either way, I wouldn’t take their investment advice.
Historically, urbanisation has always been closely linked to economic development. While growth in the mature cities of Europe and North America accelerated in the 19th century, most reached their peak by mid-20th century. Other regions of the world saw their cities grow most significantly since the 1950s. Tokyo grew by more than half a million inhabitants each year between 1950 and 1990, Mexico City and São Paulo by more than 300,000, and Mumbai by around 240,000.
The only exceptions in this period were cities in China and Sub-Saharan Africa, which experienced only modest growth. But from the 1990s onwards – with the impact of globalisation and opening up of the Chinese economy – cities continued to grow rapidly in south and south-east Asia, with China experiencing a sustained growth spurt that is palpable today. For example, the South Guangdong metropolitan area (which includes Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Dongguan) saw its 5.5 million inhabitants in 1990 increase six-fold to reach almost 32 million in just two decades.
The result of this process of growth and change is an uneven distribution of urbanisation across the globe. Europe, South and North America are the most urbanised of the five continents – with 73%, 83% and 82% of people respectively living in cities, towns and other urban settlements. Africa stands at around 40% and Asia at 48% – and both regions are set to experience exponential growth in the coming decades, a combined effect of increased birth rate and migration.
The Guardian article also has a quite good summary of the environmental impacts of different urban patterns. Highly relevant if you’re interested in how urban development can influence climate change. But I’ll leave you to explore that on your own. Until next year!
Greetings from Paris. Actually, by the time you read this, I will probably be on a train to Germany. Here are a few thoughts from the city that Walter Benjamin called “the capital of the 19th century”.
The day I arrived in Paris, negotiators were finalising and approving the new climate accords. They’re good – certainly much better than anyone would have hoped after the shambolic end to the Copenhagen talks in 2009. While the climate accord relies upon countries to submit and implement their own action plans – no binding commitments are required – they are universal and will provide a framework for ramping up action over time.
While the deal is not binding, the in-principle agreement to keep global warming “well below” 1.5 degrees Celsius is likely to have a significant effect on investors’ expectations. If it works, and we’d better hope it does, investments in the fossil fuel economy ranging from coal mines to motorways will lose their value. This is therefore a good moment to reassess government support for those investments. Unfortunately, the New Zealand government doesn’t seem to be doing that. Its approach can be summed up by a Texan aphorism: all hat, no cattle.
Paris itself is fascinating. The buildings are largely 5-7 storey apartment blocks, facing the street and built close together. But the city and the dwellings within it don’t feel claustrophobic.
The apartments I’ve seen the inside of are not large – perhaps 50-60 square metres – but they feel deceptively spacious. High ceilings play a role, but good organisation is probably more important. Vertical space is used very efficiently – most walls have shelves reaching most of the way to the ceiling.
Out on the street, the buildings provide visual interest through variations on a common pattern. They are all similar sizes, but buildings’ facades and ornamentation differ in thousands of little ways. One common feature is a six-inch-deep wrought-iron grate outside windows – not much use for barbecuing, but perfect for a small garden. And, of course, there is no separation between residential and commercial uses, so every street has shops on the ground floor.
For all the boulevard-broadening work done by Baron Haussman, Paris remains a city of narrow, twisty streets. The city does not have anything even vaguely approximating a street grid. Travelling from point A to point B means figuring out how to navigate any number of intersections, all at odd angles to each other.
This can be confusing but also visually stimulating. Because the streets curve and conclude so frequently, Paris is rife with terminated vistas. Wherever you are walking, there is always a view immediately in front of you.
I’ve been getting around Paris partly on their public Vélib’ bikes. Wherever you are in Paris, you’re usually just around the block from the next bikeshare station. It’s also cheap and easy to access for visitors – I bought a one-week pass for 8 euros. What makes the system work, I think, is that land uses are so mixed up within Paris. There aren’t really any exclusively residential or commercial districts, which means that people are taking bikes in all directions, all the time.
There are, however, topographical exceptions to this rule. We’re staying near the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, which is slightly elevated relative to the rest of the city. But although the hill is modest by Auckland standards, it’s still enough to ensure a persistent deficit of bikes in the neighbourhood.
The other interesting thing, from a cycling perspective, is seeing how bikes fit into the city’s very narrow streets. There are a few places – e.g. along some boulevards, or the ship canal on the north side of the city – where there’s enough space for fully separated bike-lanes. But in most places you must cycle on the street. Interestingly, there are contraflow cycle markings on many narrow one-way streets. This feels pretty safe due to very low traffic speeds.
I have no idea how or why it’s possible to run buses in this city. Low traffic speeds and narrow roads would seem to conspire against them. They battle on, but they’re certainly nowhere near as popular as the Paris Metro, which dates back a century and is still being expanded. The Metro serves 1.5 billion journeys a year. If you have to move a lot of people in a city where land is in high demand, best to do it underground.
School students will be able to get NCEA credits by obtaining a driver licence – and will even pick-up credits for passing a learner’s theory test.
In making the announcement, Education Minister Hekia Parata said too many young people missed out on jobs because they didn’t have a licence, and others found themselves before courts because they drove without a licence.
Students will gain 2 credits towards NCEA Level 1 by passing the learner licence theory test, 4 credits towards NCEA Level 2 for a restricted licence, and another 2 credits towards NCEA Level 2 for gaining a full licence.
The changes will be in place by April next year.
Ms Parata said schools would not be obliged to include driver training in their curricula, “but many will find doing so makes learning more relevant for students”.
“As an example, a school might find that incorporating a learning module for the licence theory test into its Year 11 English programme…helps to engage the interest of students.”
I do believe that having a drivers licence is a good skill to have but I wonder if in some ways it’s fighting a natural trend being seen the world over. As we know fewer young people are choosing to get their drivers licence compared with 10+ years ago. This is shown quite well by the Ministry of Transport’s Household Travel Survey.
As our cities develop – especially in Auckland – alternatives to driving will only get better and further reduce the need for many to get a licence and as such the trend is likely to continue. Does this change then put pressure on young people to get a licence and drive more?
The rational is primarily about needing licences to get jobs, something the Auckland Chamber of Commerce have been crucial in pushing for some time.
Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss, who made today’s announcement with Ms Parata, said employers had reported 16-24-year-olds being held back by not having a licence.
“Removing barriers that some young people face in gaining their licence is an ongoing focus for the Government.”
Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, said the changes would help address a skills shortage in industries, such as trades and transport, where the only entry barrier was a lack of a full driver licence.
Just how important is having a licence for most jobs young people would be applying for and how many of those jobs actually involve some aspect of driving? I suspect more of the thinking going on behind this – based on comments I’ve heard elsewhere – is that many employers still view driving as the only reliable way for staff to get to work. I’ve even heard stories of people looked over for a job because they didn’t have a car and therefore couldn’t be reliable despite being within easy walking distance of the employer.
By including licences within NCEA are we potentially encouraging young people to drive more?
Intersections are dangerous places, between 2008 and 2012 46% of all road deaths or serious injuries in urban areas across New Zealand occurred at an intersection and in total 158 people died. Recently reader Mike George asked what the most dangerous intersections were in NZ after he’d seen it looked at in the US.
The article doesn’t exactly highlight the most dangerous intersections in the US but just those within a couple of different cities – as ranked by the cities with each using different criteria. Still I thought it would be interesting to see at least what the most dangerous ones within the Auckland Urban area were. As it turns out this was something the NZTA had already looked at. Back in 2013 they published a High Risk Intersections Guide which looked at safety issues associated with intersections and ranked all intersections in country using the same metrics to find and rank the 100 highest risk ones. Below are the top 10 from that list that fall within the Auckland Urban area. It’s possible some may have had improvements since the list was published over two years ago but most won’t have. The figures for each intersection are from 2003 to 2012.
7. Great North Road and Bullock Track
35 Minor Injury crashes
5 Serious Injury crashes
1 Fatal crashes
48 Minor Injuries
5 Serious Injuries
As far as I’m aware there is nothing planned in the immediate future to improve this intersection.
10. Tamaki Drive and Ngapipi Road
27 Minor Injury crashes
7 Serious Injury crashes
0 Fatal crashes
31 Minor Injuries
7 Serious Injuries
As I highlighted recently AT’s preference is extend the sea wall and build a signalised intersection however the local board are pushing for a roundabout. This went to the AT board for a decision in their November meeting.
AT’s preferred option
16. Hibiscus Coast Highway and Silverdale Street
18 Minor Injury crashes
2 Serious Injury crashes
1 Fatal crashes
30 Minor Injuries
3 Serious Injuries
As far as I can tell there have been numerous suggestions over the years to signalise the intersection however this was often opposed by local councillors (prior to the amalgamation). Reader Bryce P has suggested that if signals were installed it could allow the routes passing the fledgling town centre.
20. Te Irirangi Drive and Ormiston Road
20 Minor Injury crashes
3 Serious Injury crashes
0 Fatal crashes
23 Minor Injuries
4 Serious Injuries
I’m not sure AT have any work planed along this route.
29. Fanshawe Street and Albert St
29 Minor Injury crashes
1 Serious Injury crashes
0 Fatal crashes
35 Minor Injuries
1 Serious Injuries
This intersection is a key part of works in the city centre for the CRL so no improvement is planned any time soon – after CRL we’ll see changes such as allowing access to what will become the new bus interchange.
33. Symonds Street and City Road
19 Minor Injury crashes
5 Serious Injury crashes
0 Fatal crashes
19 Minor Injuries
5 Serious Injuries
37. Ti Rakau Drive and Pakuranga Highway
26 Minor Injury crashes
4 Serious Injury crashes
0 Fatal crashes
30 Minor Injuries
5 Serious Injuries
This is of course the site where AT and local politicians are pushing for the expensive Reeves Rd Fylover – which also requires similar motorwayisation
38. Queen Street and Shortland Street
18 Minor Injury crashes
3 Serious Injury crashes
0 Fatal crashes
20 Minor Injuries
3 Serious Injuries
This is one of the busiest pedestrian locations in Auckland – if not New Zealand. The ultimate solution is likely to be the removal of the intersection by way of closing off one end of Shortland St. This will be required if AT’s vision of a transit mall on Queen St is realised.
40. Ash Street and Rosebank Road
28 Minor Injury crashes
2 Serious Injury crashes
1 Fatal crashes
31 Minor Injuries
4 Serious Injuries
42. Te Irirangi Drive and Smales Road
19 Minor Injury crashes
4 Serious Injury crashes
0 Fatal crashes
29 Minor Injuries
5 Serious Injuries
Like the Ormiston Rd intersection above I’m not sure if there re any plans to improve this interesection
Here are the other urban intersections in Auckland within the top 100.
44. Pakuranga Road and Aviemore Drive
45. Karangahape Road and Queen St
46. Te Atatu Road and Edmonton Road
54. Fanshawe Street and Halsey Street
55. Swanson Road and Don Buck Road
57. Kerrs Road and Druces Road
59. Ti Rakau Drive and Botany Road
61. Symonds Street and Mount Street
65. New North Road and Carrington Road
66. Symonds Street and Wakefield Street
70. Mount Albert Road and Dominion Road
72. Karangahape Road and Pitt Street
73. Karangahape Road and Symonds Street
77. Great North Road and Swanson Road
96. Victoria Street West and Hobson Street
100. SH 20A (George Bolt Memorial Drive) and Kirkbride Road
It seems to me that there are a lot of “high risk” intersections around Auckland and NZ that simply aren’t being looked at much by our transport agencies. Perhaps more focus is needed on removing these safety issues. What do you think?
This is only loosely transport related – with the strongest bit about the US after the west was opened up by transport links – but a fascinating visualisation on how notable people have shifted around the world.
Maximilian Schich, an art historian at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues used Freebase—a crowdsourced database of facts—to record the birthplaces and locations of death of 120,000 people who were considered important enough to be included on the site. Then, he visualized the data on a map, tagging where notables were born in blue and where they died in red, turning the info into a short video called “Charting Culture” that details the findings from 600BC and 2012.