Hanoi’s Underground Capitalism

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

Along the pitted elegance of Pho Ngo Quyen, a bustling street in Hanoi, Vietnam, you will, predictably, find uniformed men in Soviet-style uniforms, banners with Communist Party slogans, and grandfatherly pictures of Ho Chi Minh. Yet, capitalism thrives everywhere else in this community — in the tiny food stalls, countless mobile phone stores and clothing shops offering everything from faux European fashion to reduced-price children’s wear, sandals and sneakers.

Outside a ministry office, someone is cutting hair on the street. Nearby a woman is drying squid to sell to customers. Internet cafes proliferate, filled with young people. Virtually every nook and cranny has a small shop or workplace for making consumer goods.

Read more

The Protean Future Of American Cities

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

The ongoing Census reveals the continuing evolution of America’s cities from small urban cores to dispersed, multi-polar regions that includes the city’s surrounding areas and suburbs. This is not exactly what most urban pundits, and journalists covering cities, would like to see, but the reality is there for anyone who reads the numbers.

To date the Census shows that  growth in America’s large core cities has slowed, and in some cases even reversed. This has happened both in great urban centers such as Chicago and in the long-distressed inner cities of St. Louis, Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., and Birmingham, Ala.

Read more

What The Census Tells Us About America’s Future

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

With the release of results for over 20 states, the 2010 Census has provided some strong indicators as to the real evolution of the country’s demography. In short, they reveal that Americans are continuing to disperse, becoming more ethnically diverse and leaning toward to what might be called “opportunity” regions.

Below is a summary of the most significant findings to date, followed by an assessment of what this all might mean for the coming decade.

Read more

Obama’s High-Speed Rail Obsession

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

Perhaps nothing so illustrates President Obama’s occasional disconnect with reality than his fervent advocacy of high-speed rail. Amid mounting pressure for budget cuts that affect existing programs, including those for the inner city, the president has made his $53 billion proposal to create a national high-speed rail network as among his top priorities.

Our President may be an intelligent and usually level-headed man, but this represents a serious case of  policy delusion. As Robert Samuelson pointed out in Newsweek, high-speed rail is not an appropriate fit for a country like the U.S. Except for a few areas, notably along the Northeast Corridor, the U.S. just lacks the density that would make such a system work. Samuelson calls the whole idea “a triumph of fancy over fact.”

Arguably the biggest problem with high-speed rail is its extraordinary costs, which would require massive subsidies to keep operating. Unlike the Federal Highway Program, largely financed by the gas tax, high-speed rail lacks any credible source of funding besides taxpayer dollars.

Read more

A Leg Up: World’s Largest Cities No Longer Homes of Upward Mobility

Appearing in:

Metropolis Magazine

Throughout much of history, cities have served as incubators for upward mobility. A great city, wrote René Descartes in the 17th century, was “an inventory of the possible,” a place where people could lift their families out of poverty and create new futures. In his time, Amsterdam was that city, not just for ambitious Dutch peasants and artisans but for people from all over Europe. Today, many of the world’s largest cities, in both the developed and the developing world, are failing to serve this aspirational function. Read more

The U.S.’ Biggest Brain Magnets

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

For a decade now U.S. city planners have obsessively pursued college graduates, adopting policies to make their cities more like dense hot spots such as New York, to which the “brains” allegedly flock.

But in the past 10 years “hip and cool” places like New York have suffered high levels of domestic outmigration. Some boosters rationalize this by saying the U.S. is undergoing a “bipolar migration”–an argument recently laid out by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.
Read more

Why Affordable Housing Matters

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

Economists, planners and the media often focus on the extremes of real estate — the high-end properties or the foreclosed deserts, particularly in the suburban fringe. Yet to a large extent, they ignore what is arguably the most critical issue: affordability.

This problem is the focus of an important new study by Demographia. The study, which focuses largely on English-speaking countries, looks at the price of housing relative to household income. It essentially benchmarks the number of years of a region’s household income required to purchase a median-priced house.

Read more

The Next Urban Challenge — And Opportunity

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

In the next two years, America’s large cities will face the greatest existential crisis in a generation. Municipal bonds are in the tank, having just suffered the worst quarterly performance in more than 16 years, a sign of flagging interest in urban debt.

Things may get worse. The website Business Insider calculates that as many as 16 major cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco — could face bankruptcy in the next year without major revenue increases or drastic budget cuts. JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon notes that there have already been six municipal bankruptcies and predicts that we “will see more.”

Read more

A New Era For The City-state?

Appearing in:

Forbes.com

The city-state, a relic dating back to Classical or Renaissance times, is making a comeback. Driven by massive growth in global trade, shifts in economic power and the rise of emerging ethnic groups, today’s new independent cities have witnessed rapid, often startling, economic growth over the past decade.

The contemporary city-state has flourished primarily in two regions: the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia. The development of Hong Kong and Singapore provided a critical stage for Southeast Asia, which has been home to the world’s the greatest economic expansion. Hong Kong, now a quasi-independent part of China, competes with London’s West End as the world’s most expensive office market. Read more

The Rise of the Efficient City

Appearing in:

Wall Street Journal

Smaller, more nimble urban regions promise a better life than the congested megalopolis.

Most of the world’s population now lives in cities. To many academics, planners and developers, that means that the future will be dominated by what urban theorist Saskia Sassen calls “new geographies of centrality.” According to this view, dense, urban centers with populations in excess of 20 million—such as metropolitan Tokyo, New Delhi, Sao Paolo and New York—are best suited to control the commanding heights of global economics and culture in the coming epoch. Read more