What Does the Future Hold for the Automobile?

This piece first appeared at The Orange County Register.

For a generation, the car has been reviled by city planners, greens and not too few commuters. In the past decade, some boldly predicted the onset of “peak car” and an auto-free future which would be dominated by new developments built around transit.

Yet “peak car,” like the linked concept of “peak oil” has failed to materialize. Once the economy began to recover from the Great Recession, vehicle miles traveled, sales of cars, and particularly trucks, began to rise again, reaching a sales peak the last two year. Instead, it has been transit ridership that has stagnated, and even fallen in some places like Southern California. Read more

The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism

The article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

When Donald Trump was elected president, much of American Jewish leadership reacted with something close to hysteria. To some, Trump’s presidency reflected the traditional face of the anti-Semitic right — xenophobic, nationalist and culturally conservative.

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How to Deal With an Age of Disasters

This article first appeared in The Orange County Register.

When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, followed by a strong hurricane in Florida, much of the media response indicated that the severe weather was a sign of catastrophic climate change, payback for mass suburbanization — and even a backlash by Mother Nature against the election of President Donald Trump.

Yet, these assumptions are often exaggerated. Although climate change could well worsen these incidents, this recent surge of hurricanes followed a decade of relative quiescence. Hurricanes, like droughts and heavy rains, are part of the reality along the Gulf Coast and the South Atlantic, just as droughts and earthquakes plague those of us who live in Southern California.

The best response to disasters is not to advance hysterical claims about impending doom, but rather resilience. This means placing primary attention on bolstering our defenses against catastrophic events, whether in protecting against floods, ice storms, earthquakes or droughts.

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Hurricanes Don’t Kill Cities — People Do

This piece originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Cities that believe in themselves are hard to kill. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey many pundits have urged Houston to abandon many of the traits that have made it a dynamic, growing metropolis, including key elements of its light-handed, pro-business regulatory regime.

Houston, we are told, should retrench and reduce its sprawl; Slate recommends New Orleans’ post-Katrina shrinkage as a model. This goes against the best of urban tradition. Great cities generally do not shrink themselves.

Many cities have rebounded and even improved after far more lethal devastation, including London, Berlin, Tokyo and New York. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the city ultimately constructed a downtown that may well be the world’s most beautiful. San Francisco famously rebuilt itself after the 1906 earthquake and fire into “a new and improved city” that has evolved into an integral part of the world’s dominant tech hub.

In contrast cities that destroy themselves from within, like Detroit after the 1968 riots, and New Orleans before Katrina, can decline for decades.

Urban resiliency requires two things: Read more

Spotlight on Infrastructure After Harvey

This article first appeared at Real Clear Politics

The recent tragic events in Houston and across the Gulf Coast once again demonstrated the woeful inadequacy of our infrastructure. Hopefully, some good will come of Hurricane Harvey. Hopefully, it will jump-start the long-awaited Trump initiative on infrastructure, which may be the one issue that could unite this country.

Northeastern University’s post-disaster resiliency expert Daniel Aldrich notes the need for better storm water drainage systems and for fortifying existing infrastructure — and not just in Houston. Helping promote such investments represents perhaps the last best chance for creating a significant Trump legacy. Read more

Trump Must Go, But the Disruption Must Stay

This article first appeared at The Orange County Register.

The great disrupter is rapidly becoming a great disaster — for the country, his party and even his own political base. In order to save anything from his landmark 2016 victory, President Donald Trump must go — the sooner, the better.

Trump is leading us into a political climate that more resembles Lebanon or Weimar Germany or the United States in the run-up to the Civil War. Not all blame for the current lunacy belongs to The Donald, however. Much of it stems from an increasingly unhinged progressive culture. Yet, even granting that, Trump has made bad things worse, as even some of his supporters note, with unconsidered utterances, poorly masked appeals to xenophobes — and even racists — and his churlish persona.

With declining ratings, most critically among independents, Trump has squandered, as the Chinese would put it, “the mandate of heaven,” and should be nudged out, hopefully under his own power. Impeachment, in contrast, would seem to his supporters to be something of a coup d’état, as former President Barack Obama’s political consigliere, David Axelrod, has suggested.

A Necessary Disruption

Although I always thought him too thin-skinned and profoundly ignorant to be president, Trump successfully disrupted a dysfunctional political system that needed to be disrupted. Before Trump, politicians might appeal to populist sentiments, but they remained the prisoners of K Street lobbyists. Like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Trump ran — and won — against the D.C. oligarchy, creating a populist standard that could well spell the demise of the neoliberal era.

Trump’s election represented a necessary challenge to the coastal-dominated Democratic Party, as well as to the establishment GOP, who regard his “Made in America” program as too banal for their sophisticated, and well-compensated, tastes. These people, as liberal journalist Thomas Frank has noted, flourished under both Obama and George W. Bush, while the middle class and minorities saw little improvement in their incomes or quality of life.

Trump’s challenge to various neoliberal policies — open borders, “free trade,” and ever more intrusive managerial rule from Washington — has threatened those who, to be frank, needed to be called to account. It is critical to recall that both the political and corporate establishments, including Wall Street, largely opposed Trump’s populist nationalism as much as they hated Sanders’ socialist politics.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, was published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He is executive director of NewGeography.com and lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Great Transit Rip-Off

This article first appeared in The Orange County Register.

Over the past decade, there has been a growing fixation among planners and developers alike for a return to the last century’s monocentric cities served by large-scale train systems. And, to be sure, in a handful of older urban regions, mass transit continues to play an important — and even vital — role in getting commuters to downtown jobs. Overall, a remarkable 40 percent of all transit commuting in the United States takes place in the New York metropolitan area — and just six municipalities make up 55 percent of all transit commuting destinations.

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A New Way Forward on Trade and Immigration

This article first appeared in the The Orange County Register

President Donald Trump’s policy agenda may seem somewhat incoherent, but his underlying approach — developed, in large part, by now-departed chief strategist Steve Bannon — can be best summarized in one word: nationalism. Read more

Will Donald Trump Expose America’s Great Mass Transit Hoax?

This piece originally appeared on the Daily Beast.

Whatever you think of President Trump, his claims about the lousy condition of America’s basic infrastructure are widely accepted—even by resisting Democrats grinding their teeth on a L.A. freeway or waiting for a New York or D.C. train to arrive. His call for a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan may be his last best bet for finding bipartisan support.

The question is if he’s at all serious about the urgent need to fix the failing mass-transit systems we have, or if he’ll repeat what Washington’s done to get us in this mess, and offer funds that encourage cities to build shiny new systems few will actually ride even as the existing ones decay.

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State Governments Are Oppressive, Too

Historically, the battle over the size and scale of government has been focused largely on “states’ rights.” This federalist notion also has been associated with many shameful things, such as slavery, Jim Crow laws and other abuses of personal freedom.

Yet, increasingly, the clearest threat to democracy and minority rights today comes not just from a surfeit of central power concentrated in Washington, D.C., but also from increased centralization of authority within states, and even regional agencies. Oppressive diktats from state capitals increasingly seek to limit local control over basic issues such as education, zoning, bathroom designations, guns and energy development.

This follows a historical trend over the past century. Ever since the Great Depression, and even before, governmental power has been shifting inexorably from the local governments to regional, state and, of course, federal jurisdictions. In 1910, the federal level accounted for 30.8 percent of all government spending, with state governments comprising 7.7 percent and the local level more than 61 percent. More than 100 years later, not only had the federal share exploded to nearly 60 percent, but, far less recognized, the state share had nearly doubled, while that of local governments has fallen to barely 25 percent, a nearly 60 percent drop. Much of what is done at the local level today is at the behest, and often with funding derived from, the statehouse or Washington.

Diversity vs. regimentation

This trend is particularly notable in the country’s two megastates: California and Texas. Each is increasingly controlled by ideological fanatics who see in their statehouse dominion an ideal chance to impose their agenda on dissenting communities. In California, Jerry Brown’s climate jihad is the rationale for employing “the coercive power of the central state,” in his own words, to gain control over virtually every aspect of planning and development.

In Texas, the impetus comes from the far right, which has been working to strip localities of their traditional ability to control their own affairs, which, as two Houston scholars recently pointed out, has been critical to that state’s success. These efforts cover a host of issues, from fracking and ride-sharing to transgender bathrooms, a topic which affects very few but has, absurdly, become the key issue for a legislative special session.

Just as Californians find themselves increasingly controlled by climate warriors and anti-suburban ideologues, diverse Texans in cities like Austin now must conform to the dictates of strident demands by a “liberty caucus” that eerily resembles their authoritarian doppelgangers in Sacramento.

In other cases, such as in North Carolina, social conservatives, like their Texan bedfellows, seek to circumscribe progressive policies in places like Raleigh or Charlotte. Businesses, in particular, are concerned that some bills, like the state’s transgender bathroom legislation, could lead to painful boycotts by corporations and event planners. Conversely, some blue-state policies, like high mandated minimum wages and policies restricting fossil fuels, hurt disproportionately poorer areas, like upstate New York and rural California, which have lost much of their political clout.

Read the entire piece in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Photo by LoneStarMike (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons