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Archive for November, 2013

Restless America, by Chris Walker at Vizynary.

A snapshot of Restless America, by Chris Walker at Vizynary.

Chris Walker at Vizynary has a very interesting project, Restless America, that shows the migration pattens between American states. It looks like Florida and Texas are still the main destinations for domestic migration. It’s interesting that both states have a lot of buildable land around their economic centers; and the largest city in Texas — Houston — even lacks formal zoning laws. I’m fairly sure that the lower cost of living in those states has been a major factor in people’s relocation decisions. And, of course, better climates.

I’d like to see a version that also includes net immigration, by state. Immigration accounts for the lion’s share of population growth in the states that are losing US-born residents, but still growing, overall. My guess is that as people from certain countries settle in particular regions, those regions become magnets for new migrants from the same places, bringing new waves of residents who seek out familiar people, customs, and languages, in their new country. But this new concentration of people who live in, say, New Jersey by choice drives up the generic cost of living here beyond what the native-born locals think is fair. So, a lot of US-born residents respond to migration-driven growth by relocating to states that have a lower cost of living, as well as what they perceive (or hope) to be more familiar cultural surroundings.

I think the interplay between land use policy and migration is the major factor that determines a region’s housing costs: Land use policies largely determine a region’s real estate supply, and migration patterns (including the purchasing power of those who come or go) largely determine regional demand. I think it’s strange that planning discussions tend to spend very little time on the nexus (and contrast) between semi-permanent land use patterns and the very fluid migration patterns of places like North America and Western Europe. I can’t think of any part of the real estate equation that’s more central to questions about sustainability, affordable housing, and infrastructure than this dynamic. The more we can learn about who is going where, and why, the more intelligently we can address the whole host of land use planning topics. Restless America is a good start.

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Hammurabi’s Building Code

Pretty much what you’d expect:

ยง229. If a builder build a house for some one, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death.

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In contrast to the orderly subdivisions of East Coast cities, or the predictably square farms that dice up the countryside of the rural Midwest and Texas, variations on the above mish-mash can be found on tax maps throughout the Intermountain West: long, rectangular parcels — some overlapping others — with no apparent rhyme or reason. Apparently, these parcel patterns are the legal remnants of old mine claims. Here’s a map showing claims in the Leadville, Colorado vicinity as of 1880:

COLeadvilleMines

1880 mine claims around Leadville, Colorado. Source: David Rumsey Map Collection.

This map makes you realize how intense the American mineral rushes really were. Claims covered every inch of land in the promising places, and even overlapped each other as new claims supplanted abandoned ones — or maybe the claims just conflicted with one another in the legal vacuum of the old West. The names claimants gave their mines are usually funny — names like Dead Broke and Legal Tender, Last Chance and Grand Prize.

Apparently, the similarities between the dimensions of different miners’ claims is not coincidental: Legislation at both the federal and state levels had attempted to standardize the rules for mining claims on a number of occasions; these efforts culminated in the U.S. General Mining Act of 1872.

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Repurposing America’s Rust Belt

The Lincoln Institute has a pretty interesting slideshow and report about what it calls America’s legacy cities — generally, old industrial cities that haven’t found their footing in a less industrial economy. Cincinnati is on the list — a mostly ungentrified old American city whose building stock looks oddly like New York’s:

One intriguing aspect of the report is how it quantifies the different assets in these older cities. Features like universities, hospitals, waterfronts, and parks are broken out and listed for the surveyed places. One takeaway seems to be that Pennsylvania’s legacy cities are coming back to life faster than some others. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are doing better than most. But I wonder if Philadelphia should even be on the list. It’s virtually a coastal city; its region has a concentration of colleges and hospitals that’s comparable to Boston’s; and Center City is fewer than 90 miles from Midtown Manhattan. That’s a pretty different game from Cincinnati’s.

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