Morning Ed: Cities {2017.11.22.W}

[Ci1] The strain of a boomtown… in the DC suburbs.

[Ci2] Houston vs Sim City

[Ci3] Meet Argleton, the city that doesn’t exist. It’s not alone, either. My favorite is Agloe, a made up place that came into being.

[Ci4] Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the limits of cities and urbanism.

[Ci5] David Schleicher on the costs of “residential stagnation” and the importance of labor mobility.

[Ci6] Meh.

[Ci7] It’s you against the city, my friend.

[Ci8] The populating of the south may not be as much the result of air conditioning as we previously thought. {More}

[Ci9] Tokyo fits a lot of people in there.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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29 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Cities {2017.11.22.W}

  1. Ci9: There hasn’t been a City of Tokyo since 1943 legally speaking. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan consolidated its diverse feudal realms into a series of prefectures. Most of them are called ken but the areas around the three biggest and most important cities, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto got named fu instead. Japanese prefectures were divided into cities and counties, shi and gun, if they were ken and urban wards (ku) and counties if they were fu. During the 1880s, the wards of the fu were allowed to form the cities of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto and the rural parts of the counties were ken.

    Tokyo City had fifteen wards from its inception until 1932, when it was expanded to cover 240 square miles and the area most people see as Tokyo proper today. The expansion occurred because many of the rural counties surrounding Tokyo under went massive urbanization after the Great Kanto Earthquake. There was only one remaining county in Tokyo-fu afterwards, the part seen as suburban Tokyo today. During World War II, it was decided to abolish Tokyo City and the last remaining county and have it replaced by Tokyo-to (roughly metropolis) run by a Governor. Tokyo-To consists of the special wards of the former Tokyo City and the cities and towns of the former remaining county.

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  2. Ci7: I am glad places install things to disrupt skateboarding, because enough skaters are not only rude with regards to others using public walkways, they are unconcerned with the damage they do to public property when they slide along stone edges.

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    • To tack on to Ci7, the Seattle Public Library has a number of features meant to prevent homeless people from using it as a constant refuge, which in turn make it a rather unpleasant library to linger in. Contrast it with places like the downtown Portland Public Library, or the Beaverton PL (one of my favs).

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    • Agreed, and often worse than unconcerned – my colleague who works nights had to disrupt a group of skateboarders who were literally using files to round the edges of our stone courtyard (benches, steps, etc) to make it better for use as a skatepark…

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      • Another one of those chicken-egg questions. Is skateboarding a past time that is just incredibly attractive to kids who have loose ideals regarding public property, or is there something about the sport that fosters it?

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        • Is skateboarding a past time that is just incredibly attractive to kids who have loose ideals regarding public property, or is there something about the sport that fosters it?

          In my town, there was a city building torn down to the foundation, and it left an unused and uneven parking lot in a somewhat out-of-the-way place. Skateboarders proceeded to take it over, which no one really minded, because there was no other purpose of the location. Their status was legally dubious…it was still, technically, a public parking lot, which meant they had the perfect right to be walking there, and there was no actual ban on skateboarding, so the police mostly left them alone, despite the fact they were technically loitering.

          The skateboarders then asked the city for permission to designate it a skate park, so they could, at no cost to the city, put up some ramps and not risk someone hauling them away.

          And the people in the town freaked out. Not because skateboarders wanted the property, the situation was always intended as temporary with the clear intent that the city could revoke it at any time if they found a better use for the property. Nor were they concerned about the legal liability, which is something that would be concern of mine.

          No, they were apparently concerned that the town was attracting skateboarders. Like skateboarding was some sort of criminal activity the town needed to guard against.

          In the end, I think skateboarding is a lot like graffiti: It is a hobby that the hobbists generally cannot afford the space to do, and so if not given space to do it, will do it illicitly in public places, annoying people.

          This could be, rather easily, solved by just giving them such places. And before anyone asks ‘Why should we do that…’…why should cities have any public places at all? Why do they have giant parks, and walking trails, and disc golf courses, and playgrounds?

          But those sort of hobbies, of course, are not tinted with ‘urbaness’ and racial prejudice…sorta like my city has two full public tennis courts, a bunch of baseball/softball fields, and exactly one half of a single basketball court, despite those being considerable smaller than baseball fields and roughly the same cost to build and much cheaper to maintain.

          I mean, we can imagine a world where disc golf and Ultimate is popular among the young, but is not allowed in city parks or anywhere, so the young run around on the street throwing flying discs(1) above people’s heads, and everyone hates that.

          And we’d be wondering if there was something inherent in the sport that caused that, or if it attracted people like that, when in reality…it’s just something they like to do, and we don’t give them anywhere to do it.

          1) I expect some sort of personal thank you from Wham-O for not misusing the Frisbee trademark anywhere in this post.

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          • Except Co Springs installed a big ole skate park more or less in our neighborhood a few years back, which the skateboarders also use…. it’s just not as cool/tempting as the brand new shiny stone courtyard that’s tinted with the illicit already (the no skateboarding signs are already up).

            Same thing with the parkour kids – they just can’t resist the shiny.

            Personally I have a lot of sympathy for ’em in general, I used to be skater-adjacent in high school and college… and half our student body rides a skateboard or longboard anyway, we literally have skateboard racks at all the doors…

            But the filing and waxing was a *bit* much.

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            • Yeah, there’s some level of rebellion that exists within the culture itself.

              Which, I guess, puts us right back at Oscar Gordon’s point, except maybe one level removed:

              Is there something inherent about skateboarding that causes lack of respect for public property, or has decades of restrictions on skateboarding in the sport’s formative years resulted in a culture that doesn’t follow said restrictions, even in places where it could and still have plenty of places to skateboard?

              And I’m not saying that just to dismiss the first idea, either. A sport that is basically a mode of transportation is going to be somewhat loose about where it can and cannot go…dirt bikers are often the same way. Maybe there is some psychological reason that ‘moving fast for fun’ results in caring less about ‘where you are’…or just that the people who enjoy that sort of rush thing also enjoy the rush of illicit locations.

              Or maybe it is just skate culture at this point.

              Or some combination.

              Probably impossible to untangle.

              In conclusion: We probably should make skate parks, so we don’t feel guilty about coming down hard on skaters who run around doing annoying things outside them. ;)

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              • Skate parks are pretty common nowadays. I can think of plenty of small towns and mid size cities that have put them in. The issue i think is that some activities can be done in special areas but not really any other place ( skiing for example) and some activities special places are really good but the activity can be done anyplace( skateboarding, running, biking). If it can be done anyplace there will always be the temptation to just do it where your at even it involves other people. Skateboarding isn’t some hidden teen culture anymore like in the 70’s or 80’s.

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  3. Ci8: The most interesting thing about the California migration map (scroll down in the second link) is that a quite large majority of the more recent out-migration has stayed in the West — Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. While the numbers in the map are dated — 1995 to 2000 for the out-migration — the pattern of Californians staying in the West when they leave the state has held up through more recent data as well.

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  4. Ci6: Must. Resist. Rant

    Ci2: Functional zoning is actually a relic of early 20th century Modernism and has critics pretty much across the political spectrum for reasons ranging from racism/sexism/class warfare on the left to liberty on the right.
    Cities, like societies, tend to be a lot more complex than early city planners imagined. The combination of shifting market forces, policy desires by the citizens, technological and external events all shape the outcome of city forms.

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  5. Ci1 – That picture of the grass growing in the crack in the basketball court is truly heartbreaking! I can’t believe those kids in Fairfax have to play in such squalor!

    Ci3 – The idea that a map can be copyrighted is as silly as the idea that a genome can be copyrighted. It’s just silly children in either case rent seeking from reality. There should be a special place in Hell for such people.

    Ci9 – Interesting article. I think the most amazing thing about Tokyo is that it doesn’t ever *feel* as large as New York or Chicago – or even Yokohama – probably because it doesn’t really have a center or other place where its hugeness is readily apparent. Tokyo is more like 23 separate cities in close proximity to each other, and it feels that way when you’re there. If you get high enough in either Tokyo or Yokohama, you can see skyscrapers all the way to Mt. Fuji in the distance. That is the limit of my being impressed by Tokyo.

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    • I have always been curious about the decline in mobility and the demise of relocation packages. When I first got out of graduate school (decades ago) all of the corporations who made me a job offer included at least a minimal relocation package: we’ll move your stuff across the state/country and store it while you find a place to live. The World Bank didn’t offer a formal relocation package, but offered a sign-on bonus that would have probably covered those costs. When I relocated to Denver a decade later I got a relocation package because it was (somewhat mysteriously) classified as an executive transfer. New hires at that time got very little in the way of help. By a decade after that, the giant telecom no longer helped with relocation at all, and new hires were much more likely to be from the local R&D tech pool or local universities.

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      • I think relo packages get taxed these days as part of the employment tax. So if a company spends $10K to relocate a person, they have to pay a tax on that as if they paid you $10K.

        But I could be wrong.

        The link itself goes into much more about issues like occupational licensing, pension & benefits mobility, etc.

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        • That’s been true for at least 30 years. AT&T relocated me back around ’86 And there was this thing the accounting dept did to compensate me for the additional taxes I would owe. Of course that was recursive as well.

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        • Current tax treatment, as I understand it… Job-related relocation expenses are deductible for the employer’s business taxes as regular business expenses. For the employee, some reimbursements are taxable and some aren’t. It’s pretty simple: moving furnishings (plus up to 30 days storage) and a one-way trip for the employee and family aren’t taxable, everything else is. There were somewhat more non-taxable items when I moved back in the day, but not a lot. The employer withholds taxes on the taxable stuff, which they did when I moved.

          I view it more as a change in attitude by the employers: Either “You’re not valuable enough for us to spend a few thousand dollars bringing you on board,” or “There’s enough local talent that’s good enough we don’t have to pay to import more.”

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  6. This seems an appropriate link given the subject matter:

    But what recently caught my eye is the clever way that Amazon’s giant new campus in downtown Seattle will keep its occupants warm in the winter — a pleasingly low-tech solution that sits squarely at the intersection of several of my enduring obsessions: the importance of smart design, the benefits of urban density, and the need for electrification of the power system.

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    • Note to self: Research what Xcel Energy’s long-term plans are for downtown Denver’s district heating and cooling system. Denver’s system is the oldest continuously operating district heating system in the world. It (slighty) predates NYC’s system, and several older systems in Europe suffered extended service outages during WWII. For a long time the Xcel system’s heat source was waste heat from the Zuni Street generating station; that location no longer generates electricity but still uses gas-fired boilers to produce steam for heating.

      There are a number of old tunnel systems under downtown Denver. One is for the steam system. Another connects various state government buildings (I’ve been in some of those). There are — as odd as it sounds — long-standing rumors of a secret deep underground tunnel system centered on Denver and interconnecting many of the western military bases.

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  7. “Freedom Tower is the biggest building in the world?”
    “I don’t think so.”
    “Biggest building in New York City?”
    “Yes.”
    “New York is the biggest city?”
    “That depends. Do you mean the one with the most people? The one with the most space? There are different ways to measure how big something is.”
    “The one with the most buildings.”
    “Fuck you, kid.”

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  8. Ci7 has a lot of things that make me despair for humanity.

    I mean, I get the anti-skateboarding stuff, whatever. If people are going to play with them and do tricks and things, they need to do it in their own area, not down the edges of public sidewalks that others are using. (Just riding them from place to place is a different matter, but no one is stopping that, if only because there’s no way to do that without stopping walkers and wheelchairs.)

    But, anyway, besides skateboarding, I wonder exactly what the logic is in trying to make sure the homeless do not sleep on park benches. Or under bridges.

    Why is it so vitally important that the homeless sleep elsewhere? What is being accomplished here?

    The only thing that seems to be accomplished to me is making the homeless harder to see…and I find it utterly baffling that people think that’s a good thing. And that they think the solution is to make it less attractive to sleep in certain areas instead of just building a different, more comfortable area they can sleep in.

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