The 6m tipping point, city uniqueness, and density vs. childrenThe international edition of Newsweek had an interesting section recently on world cities, with an emphasis on "second cities" - up and comers vs. the traditional big names like NYC, London, Paris, and Tokyo. A few excerpts caught my attention:
Today it's easier for Second Cities to build self-sustaining economies, independent of megacities, as firms and workers look to avoid the problems of major urban centers. "Economically, after a city reaches a certain size, its productivity starts to fall," notes Mario Pezzini, head of the regional-competitiveness division of the OECD in Paris. He puts the tipping point at about 6 million people, after which real estate costs, travel times, and the occasional chaos (witness the recent Paris riots) "create a situation in which the center of the city may be a great place, but only for the rich, and the outlying areas become harder to live and work in."Metro Houston is around 5.3 million, so we're getting pretty close to this hypothetical tipping point. But our real estate has not shot up like the east/west coast cities, nor have our travel times gotten all that much longer than national averages, although I've gotten the impression the latest oil boom is starting to have a negative effect on congestion. I think our multi-nodal job centers and mega-freeway network may allow us to push our own tipping point farther out. His six million number is based on classical heavy-rail-to-downtown cities with relatively limited freeways. If we implement a true congestion-priced freeway lane network with distributed point-to-point express transit and car/vanpools, we'll be trying a pretty new and unique urban form that may not have the same tipping point dynamics as historically older cities. Continuing:
All this means, of course, that second cities won't stay small. Indeed, some countries are actively promoting their growth. China's Go West campaign encourages investment in smaller inland cities. Italy is trying to create tourist hubs of towns close to each other with different yet complementary cultural activities. "The worst-case scenario is that we end up with some national version of New Jersey—an inefficient sprawl with no center," says Frey of Brookings. Already, one has to wonder if all the marketing pressure for Second Cities to pay for iconic buildings or to re-create mock versions of New York's SoHo is a productive use of capital. If one of the biggest drawing cards for Second Cities is unique local flavor, why ape the best-known megacities? Devolution of policymaking power is leaving many lesser cities more free than ever to shape their destinies. To Vegas, Toulouse and company: this is your era. Don't blow it.A great lesson for Houston: blaze our own path, and don't worry too much about matching the current big guys.
Later in the section, Joel Kotkin has this excerpt on the link between density and a falloff in children, supporting my belief that "rising affluence seeks personal space", and if you use government policy to prevent them from growing the house, they'll shrink their household to achieve the same ends.
Such patterns of enlightened suburban development could be applied around the world. Many nations still get it wrong, building anonymous tracts 30 to 50 kilometers from the closest jobs or town center, mainly as bedroom communities for a big city. A leading example of enforced centralization is Seoul, where the average density of more than 14,000 people per square kilometer is three times London's, five times L.A.'s and 10 times that of growing U.S. cities like Houston or Phoenix.
Greater Seoul, in short, is almost hostile to human life, a widening ocean of high-rises with a shrinking number of traditional Korean houses. Suh Yong-bu, a Korean expert in business demographics, notes that high housing prices and cramped spaces have helped send Korea's birthrate into free-fall, down 30 percent since 1993; much the same problem is felt in other ultra dense urban societies like Japan and China. "The same patterns can be found throughout Asia," notes demographer Phil Longman, author of the "The Empty Cradle," a study of world population trends. "Once everyone is forced into a small city place, there's literally no room left for kids."
Thanks to Howell for the tip and the link.