Mid-week reading: Burglaries, governance, and managing change

Mid-week reading!

One of the more thought-provoking things I read this week was Patrick Lyons’ interview (in Vice) with Geoff Manaugh, who runs the incredibly interesting website BLDGBLOG and who has just written a book on burglary. Manaugh argues that burglary is an essentially architectural crime:

A Burglar’s Guide to the City takes a look at our everyday urban environments through the eyes of the criminals aiming to hack them, illuminating the spatially-specific tactics used to break in, escape, and stay hidden in today’s surveillance-heavy metropolises. The goal, however, is not to be an actual handbook for the aspiring thief, but rather an alternative study of architecture and urban design.

Through interviews with former burglars, as well as law enforcement and security professionals, Manaugh explains how various features of cities and buildings lead to very specific types of burglaries. Los Angeles, with its sprawling highways, lends itself to quick bank robberies with easy escape routes. Chain businesses with identical layouts and employee schedules, such as McDonalds, invite repeat thieves who’ve previously robbed other locations. “If you look closely, from just the right angle,” he writes, “every city implies the crimes that will one day take place there.”

Throughout the text, Manaugh carefully organizes chapters focused on cities, buildings themselves, common burglary tools, and, finally, getaway strategies, bringing us along for the ride for an exhilarating, perspective-shifting read…

I will have to check the book out at some point. Incidentally, heist movies are always fascinated with architecture. Think about the way that Die Hard and Ocean’s Eleven dwelled on buildings, or the way that Inception constantly subverted the built form.

Another interesting take on cities – from an economic perspective rather than a criminal one – is provided by Noah Smith (in Bloomberg View), who looks at optimal government structures. It’s quite relevant for New Zealand, which sometimes seems like it has both too many and too few local governments. On the one hand, there’s an incentive to aggregate local governments to reduce coordination failures and share costs. On the other hand, there’s some value in competition between neighbouring local governments. Smith discusses the arguments for more fragmented government:

What’s the optimal size for economic performance? Are we better off with many little competing city-states, a bunch of midsized nations or just a few big super-countries overseeing hundreds of millions of people each? If bigger is better, what about a global government?

Actually, economists have thought about this a fair amount. In 1956, Charles Tiebout believed he had a solution to the problem. He reasoned that local governments knew more about their people’s needs than distant central governments, and so the best system was one where local governing units — city-states, essentially — offered different packages of taxes and public services. People would vote with their feet, going to the place that suited them the most…

Some people also claim that political fragmentation has been beneficial in the past. Anthropologist Jared Diamond, in his book “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” suggested that competition between small countries allowed Europe to get a head start on unified China in the Industrial Revolution. Economists Brad DeLong and Andrei Shleifer argued in 1993 that city-states helped Europe develop (though more recent evidence seems to counter this). Casual evidence would also suggest that Taiwan’s de facto independence from China helped provide the mainland with a capitalist model to revive its moribund economy in the 1980s and 1990s.

… and the arguments against:

But there are arguments on the other side, too. The mathematician and economist Truman Bewley examined the Tiebout idea in the 1980s, and found that a patchwork of little city-states doesn’t always lead to a well-functioning system.

There are several reasons why Tiebout’s idea can fail. One is that many of the services governments provide are what economists call public goods. These are things that the private sector either can’t or won’t provide. The classic examples are national defense, police, courts and support for basic research. But many other things, like roads, electrical grids and ports, are usually in short supply when left to the private sector…

A second issue is that governments don’t always have the right incentives. Some governments may decide to maximize the size of their tax bases. Others might care only about the welfare of their citizens, while others might be beholden to special interests — I imagine an independent San Francisco would be ruled by local landlords even more than it already is. There’s no perfect type of local government, and so we’ll have a wide variety of them. Bewley showed that this problem also prevents Tiebout’s patchwork from being an economically efficient utopia.

Finally, something from a month back. Public health researcher Alistair Woodward wrote a really invaluable article about Wellington’s Island Bay cycleway, which has aroused ferocious ire from some residents (via BikeAKL). It’s definitely worth reading in full, but here’s some highlights.

Woodward points out that the Island Bay arguments are nothing new:

But what is most remarkable about this story for me is its familiarity. What is happening in Island Bay has taken place in other cities. The arguments fit, almost word for word, with those made elsewhere.

Check out what was written about bike lanes on Lake Road, on the North Shore of Auckland, for example. Overseas, New York City has made many changes to its streets but attempts to re-allocate space from cars to other road users have been fiercely resisted, on much the same grounds as in Island Bay. Jason Henderson has written an excellent book on the politics of mobility in San Francisco, in which the chapter on bicycle space in the city applies closely to the situation in Wellington. In London the push to grow cycling by re-building roads has had many successes, but there has been opposition. See, for example, the arguments made against Dutch style separated lanes in Enfield.

The reason the Island Bay story is essentially a re-run of older controversies is this: there is a deep, underlying and terribly important issue here, and it has nothing to do with Island Bay (or any other specific location).

The issue is how we, as a society, negotiate access to resources that are shared and limited. Roads are part of the public commons – they belong to everyone and they belong to no-one in particular. Everybody benefits from access, but concessions must be made because the resource is finite. Who concedes, and by how much, are matters that are vital to everyone’s welfare and must be agreed upon collectively.

He goes on to make a few useful suggestions about how we can better manage change in the commons:

There must be a local solution, requiring hard work by Council and communities, stamina, good faith, political savvy and technical intelligence. But let’s not lose sight of the big picture, which is about how we, collectively, manage change. James Longhurst again: ‘the vehemence of the recurring battles since the bicycle’s arrival demonstrates that even the smallest alteration of perceptions, policy or physical construction may be perceived by competing forces as a new front in a war over a scarce resource.’

I argue that it is important to take a ‘responsiveness to change’ perspective because the present New Zealand transport system is, in many respects, stiff, constrained, and not well equipped to manage challenges to the status quo.

Here are three suggestions that are unlikely to resolve the Island Bay cycleway, but might contribute to sorting out future conflicts over what it really means to ‘share the road’.

  1. It would be a great help if governments signed up to a strategic vision and powerful targets for cycling and walking. There is nothing in New Zealand to match, just as an example, San Francisco’s vision of a 30/30/40 mode split by 2035 (30% motor vehicles, 30% transit, 40% walking and cycling). Many of those working in transport acknowledge the need for high-level goals to drive network change. Without this force from above, planning and operations fall back into incremental mode, and one of the consequences is that consultation tends to occur at the micro-scale. Change becomes very ‘sticky’ and difficult to progress.

  2. We must overcome a systemic tendency towards conservatism in design. Arising perhaps from concerns over institutional and political risk, and focusing on mind-numbingly fine print, putting a brake on innovation and experimentation is dangerous because it increases the chance of system failure. It is difficult in New Zealand at present, for example, to apply New York-style soft interventions (such as the first, temporary barriers in Times Square) that are easy to install, can be assessed rapidly, and if need be, taken down rapidly. In this environment the best minds in the world may struggle to get the best value from existing infrastructure, scope new challenges, test unfamiliar solutions, and respond quickly.

  3. Finally, I argue for a greater investment in evaluation. Compared with the intense scrutiny that applies at the front end of planning (business cases, benefit cost ratios, trying to find the best way of navigating blizzards of consents), remarkably little effort goes into learning after the event. In terms of cycling infrastructure and safety for example, there is generally no follow-up until police crash statistics reveal a problem – although it is well-known these data are insensitive, partial and slow to come to hand. Lack of follow-up also misses successes, which is important because re-allocation of road space may be a very good thing, benefiting residents, car drivers, walkers and cyclists, and local businesses.

Great suggestions from Woodward. How do you think we can improve the way we manage change?

A brief CRL history in cartoons

It’s taken some time but last week the government finally came around to starting the City Rail Link in 2018. In the end they were effectively forced into the position as they could no longer ignore the rapidly increasing ridership . Hayden Donnell from The Spinoff put together a great list of statements mainly from the government’s past transport ministers which really highlight how much they’ve opposed the project in recent years. Rather than duplicating the work I thought I’d look at the recent history of the project through some of the cartoons that have been published.

17 March 2009 – NZ Herald – Not strictly about the CRL but commenting Joyce’s plan for rail in Auckland – at the time he had put the plans to electrify the rail network on hold.

Joyce on Auckland Rail

28 November 2010 – NZ Herald – Len Brown as the newly elected mayor of an amalgamated Auckland released the business case into CRL. The government and especially Transport Minister Steven Joyce were quick to pour cold water on the idea.

2010-11-28 - Buffers

1 December 2010 – NZ Herald – The former Auckland Regional Council chaired by now councillor Mike Lee had been the main supporter of the CRL for main years resulting in the business case getting under way in the first place. This carries on from the one above as Steven Joyce was the face of the opposition to the project.

I have a vision of a tunnel - 01.12.10

9 June 2011 – The Press – After one of the Independent Māori Statutory Board members suggested there was a Taniwha in the way of the CRL.

CRL Taniwha

5 July 2012 – NZ Herald – at times it seemed as if the government would never agree to the CRL

2012-07-05 - When Time Flies

18 December 2012 – NZ Herald – As part of the critique into the original business case the Ministry of Transport suggested that one of the ways the council could improve it was the “Development of a robust multi-modal plan for future transport into the CBD, which includes a thorough analysis of all the alternatives“. This led directly to the City Centre Future Access study which looked at almost 50 options for improving access to the city and was worked on by officials from local and central government. It found that the CRL was the best option yet despite central government involvement in the work Transport Minister Jerry Brownlee was quick to dismiss it.

Controlling the Loop - 18.12.12

9 March 2013 – NZ Herald – In response to the Auckland’s desire for more investment in public transport Transport Minister Brownlee would continue to talk up the government’s investment in roads.

More Roads

27 June 2013 – NZ Herald – The Prime Minster John Key surprised everyone by suddenly supporting the CRL – although not starting it till 2020. This was in stark contrast to the position Brownlee and his predecessor Steven Joyce had been taking not long before this. It is believed there were a couple of key reasons for the change in stance. One was polling showing Auckland voters were unhappy that the government appeared to be constantly fighting the council and wanting progress. The second was that the business lobby groups in Auckland were also unhappy with the lack of action and had made that clear to the government.

Love for a Rail Loop - 2013-06-27

28 April 2014 – NZ Herald – the day the first electric trains started running.

Brownlee CRL Cartoon

27 January 2016 – NZ Herald – John Key announces that the government now support the CRL starting in 2018 – even though it appears at this stage that their share of the funding still won’t kick in till 2020

last one on board cartoon

30 January 2016 – NZ Herald – The CRL is suggested to be a white elephant in a weekly wrap-up cartoon.2016-01-30 - CRL White Elephant

Bonus cartoons

28 May 2007 – It was around this time that the former Labour government signed off on electrifying the Auckland rail network so I assume it was in relation to that.

Robbie's Rapid Rail MW

2 November 1954 – NZ Herald – lampoons the scuttling by the National government of a previous plan to build an underground rail link through Auckland. The bound and gagged figure depicts Auckland Mayor J.H. Luxford

Herald-Cartoon4

A Brilliant Invention

By Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig

Leunig - wheel

Motor Mania

I think we’ve posted this before however it’s worth repeating. This cartoon from Disney in 1950 on how we so often change to be much more angry and arrogant when we get behind the wheel of a car.

Of course lets not forget the other Disney classic, the Magic Highway. It’s interesting how much has come true in some form while also being way off in other areas.

Photo of the day: Clearing the weeds

An excellent cartoon from Andy Singer on how our cities have treated Transport over the last few decades.

image

You really want more roads

Another great cartoon from Emerson in response to the governments package of rural roading projects

image

Great Transport Cartoons

Over the years there have been a few great cartoons about transport, here are a few of them. Most are from the Herald.

28 April 2014 – NZ Herald – the day the first electric trains started running.

Brownlee CRL Cartoon

9 March 2013 – NZ Herald – In response to the Auckland’s desire for more investment in public transport.

More Roads

19 December 2012 – NZ Herald – On the governments increasing of fuel tax to pay for the RoNS

RoNS - 19.12.12

18 December 2012 – NZ Herald – On the CRL after the release of the City Centre Future Access Study which found the CRL to be the best option for improving access to the city centre.

Controlling the Loop - 18.12.12

11 August 2011 – Dominion Post

joyce-cartoon

9 June 2011 – The Press – After one of the Independent Māori Statutory Board members suggested there was a Taniwha in the way of the CRL.

CRL Taniwha

1 December 2010 – NZ Herald – After the release of the initial CRL business case

I have a vision of a tunnel - 01.12.10

8 May 2009 – Listener – In response to Stephen Joyce announced a new route for the Waterview tunnels

Joyce's Preferred Route

17 March 2009 – NZ Herald – Joyce’s plan for rail in Auckland

Joyce on Auckland Rail

February 2008 – NZ Herald – The day after the Northern Express opened. Has thankfully been proven very wrong.

10 February 2008 – NZ Herald

I’m sure there are some other great ones out there. If you know of any link to them in the comments.

Herald Transport Cartoons

For the second day in a row the Herald cartoon has been transport related.

Cartoon - Controlling the Loop

Controlling the Loop 18/12/2012

 

Cartoon - RoNS

Roads of national significance 19/12/2012