National Links: Sprawling Suburbs and Oligopolies

Every day at The Overhead Wire we collect news about cities and send the links to our email list.  At the end of the week we take some of the most popular stories and post them to Greater Greater Washington, a group blog similar to that focuses on urban issues in the D.C. region. They are national links, sometimes entertaining and sometimes absurd, but hopefully useful.

Your Sprawling Suburb Costs Money: Research shows that public services are less costly to provide where there is more compact development. In the average county area, per capita spending would increase by $5.26 if population density increased from the 25th to 50th percentile. However, decreasing the percentage of developed land from the 50th to 25th percentile would decrease per capita expenditures by $60.86. More compact and dense development can therefore pay dividends in lowering public expenditures. (Christopher Goodman | LSE US Centre)

MBTA ‘Rail Vision’ Comes Into Focus: ‘Rail Vision’ is an MBTA study for the future of greater Boston’s commuter rail. The study analyzed 6 alternatives, the simplest being merely adding new trains to the existing system, and the most ambitious being a $29B “full transformation” that would electrify the system, run trains every 15 minutes, and a build a new regional rail connection between North and South Stations. The analysis found that that electric trains, despite higher upfront costs, would carry significantly lower operational and maintenance costs. (Christian MilNeil | Streetsblog Mass)

Oligopolies Hold Back Affordable Housing: Economists estimate that dwindling competition in the homebuilding industry has cost the nation about 150,000 additional homes a year. From 2013 to 2017, home prices grew more than twice as fast as they would have if the market had not consolidated. Such creeping oligopolies are also symptoms of greater problems, like scarcity of land, cost of labor, restrictive zoning, and NIMBYism. Big real estate firms can hoard land for years and try to time the market, which further restricts new housing supply. (Andrew Van Dam | Washington Post)

The Future of the Bodega: Michael Silber, a Brooklyn-based designer and artist, runs a digital archive of New York’s bodegas; his photographs capture memorable features like red awnings and hand-lettered type on windows. But such elements are threatened by the Department of Small Business Services’ design guidelines, which essentially aim to make these unique businesses look more like chain stores, emulating competitors like Rite Aid and Whole Foods. Other organizations, like the Local Initiative Support Corporation, similarly aim to “support the revitalization” of communities, though residents argue that such efforts are erasing New York’s character. (Ethan Davison | Curbed NY)

Positive Results from London’s ULEZ: London City Hall published a report on the first six months of its Ultra-Low Emission Zone. Nitrogen oxide fell 31% since the introduction of the ULEZ earlier this year to reach a 45% reduction. The ULEZ has also resulted in 13,500 fewer polluting cars in central London each day. Traffic flow was also reported to have improved, encouraging people to switch to walking, cycling, or transit. Fine particulate matter, however, has only decreased marginally, though the report states that over 50% of London’s air pollutants blow in from outside sources. (Intelligent Transport)

Quote of the Week

“The reality is the societal need for this technology and economic need for this technology is in cities, it’s not so much in suburbs.”

Zoox Co-Founder Jesse Levinson in Business Insider on where he believes self driving vehicles will be most useful.

This week on the podcast, we chat with Bay Area advocates Arielle Fleisher, Adina Levin, and Ian Griffiths about improved fare policy.

6 thoughts on “National Links: Sprawling Suburbs and Oligopolies

  1. Elizabeth Larey

    The suburbs have been there forever. Not everyone wants to live in the city. We pay taxes to care of our burb. For the record, white bear lake is a town. It functions quite well, in fact I never had to go to the city unless I want to. And since Minneapolis has made it more expensive ( and hard to even find a place to park) I don’t go anymore. For a couple of years I started taking Lyft to meet friends for dinner on Fri or Sat night. Given all the shootings in the heart of downtown this summer, I even stopped doing that.
    And one last item, it is a lot more expensive to live in Minneapolis than the small towns around it ( which you obviously consider suburbs). I will grant you there are a lot of suburbs, ( Eden Prairie, Woodbury etc). I would not want to live there either.
    But please, could you understand that people want to live in different places for their own reasons? Maybe they work in that suburb or small town. Or maybe that’s where they were born and raised and have family and friends.
    I’m just saying city living is not for everyone, and please stop bashing the burbs. Thank you from White Bear Lake MN outside of St Paul

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I’m old enough to remember when, for example, Woodbury and Oakdale, essentially didn’t exist. I’m not a spring chicken, but I’m younger than forever.

      As you mention, White Bear Lake was a town before it was a suburb and, I think, it was a streetcar suburb before the era of car-driven sprawl. That’s why it has an actual downtown.

      Not sure how talking about the actual costs – not even the subsidies – of suburban living is “bashing” them though.

      1. Elizabeth Larey

        Sure wish we had street cars. Here’s a question. There are railroad tracks from White Bear ( and they extend north ) that no one ever uses. Never. Wonder who owns them, and why that land can’t be purchased for train or light rail. Sure would be handy for us to get to downtown St Paul

        1. Joe A-J

          Elizabeth – If you haven’t already, check out the Rush Line Bus Rapid Transit project in Ramsey County, which will largely run along an old rail corridor (not sure if it’s the one you’re talking about) from downtown White Bear Lake to downtown St. Paul. While rail – heavy or light – has widely been ruled out, the East Metro has a couple of BRT projects at various stages of planning… the Gold Line and Rush Line being the most prominent of those.

          It won’t be operational until the mid 2020s though.

  2. Tim

    I don’t agree with this statement in the summary for the first link as a description of the blog post: “More compact and dense development can therefore pay dividends in lowering public expenditures.” It’s also somewhat contradicted by the sentence before it. The post itself distinguishes between compact and dense development — it’s the former rather than the latter that is effective in reducing costs.

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