Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A new big-name urban planning book advocating the Houston model

I've been wanting to discuss this new contrarian urban planning book "Order without Design: How Markets Shape Cities" by Alain Bertaud (former urban planner at the World Bank) for quite a while, since it's a ringing endorsement for Houston's model as well as my own concept of opportunity zones.  We are essentially the poster child for the policies advocated in this book.

Apologies in advance for the long post, but I promise you it is a great nutshell summary of a very long 432-page book you're being saved from reading! (unless you're an actual practicing urban planner, in which case the whole book is required reading)

The Antiplanner has some of the best excerpts in his review of the book, including a mention of Houston:
"Bertaud’s new book, Order without Design, reflects a lifetime of growing skepticism about urban planning dogma. Planners, says Bertaud, based their ideas on rules of thumb that were developed by people who often know nothing about the people they are regulating or planning for. 
For example, Bertaud shows that big cities are more productive because they have bigger labor markets, meaning employers and employees are more likely to find a match that needs their needs and skills. He also shows that the size of a labor market depends on commute times: only people located within an hour of a job center should be considered a part of the labor market. 
Urban planners who try to slow down commute speeds — either by getting people out of their cars and onto transit or by deliberately allowing congestion to grow to reducing driving — end up fracturing major urban areas into multiple smaller labor markets. Planners seek to turn urban areas into “urban villages” in which people both live and work, but such villages, says Bertaud, don’t exist: even though many suburbs have a jobs-housing balance, most people don’t work in the suburbs in which they live. All of these things reduce urban productivity. 
While there are no cities without planners, Bertaud points out that the world-wide range of cities goes from Houston, where there is almost no government intrusion into land markets, to some capital cities such as Brasilia, which were almost completely centrally planned. The comparative experiences within this range has persuaded Bertaud that cities that rely more on markets and less on planning to determine land uses are more affordable, more mobile, and more productive. This is an essential book in the Antiplanner’s library."
From Robert Poole at Reason:
" of Bertaud’s central insights: a metro area’s productivity “depends on its ability to maintain mobility as its built-up area grows.” In other words, the urban agglomeration benefits that increase the region’s productivity will continue “only if the transportation network is able to connect workers with firms and providers of goods and services with consumers.” The failure to manage the transportation network to maintain high mobility results in congestion. 
The bottom-line point of this discussion is that “the effective size of the labor market depends on travel time and the spatial distribution of jobs.” Bertaud cites empirical research on urban-area productivity and travel time in Europe, Korea, and the United States. In particular, citing two key research papers, he concludes that “workers’ mobility—their ability to reach a large number of potential jobs in as short a travel time as possible—is a key factor in increasing the productivity of large cities and the welfare of their workers. Large agglomerations of workers do not ensure high productivity in the absence of mobility.” Bertaud concludes that “the main objective of planning should be to increase the speed of transport as a city’s size increases.” 
These insights are expanded upon in much greater detail in the book’s longest chapter, on mobility (Chapter 5). I don’t have the space to summarize that, but a couple of key points are worthy of mention. First is that a poly-centric or widely dispersed pattern of job locations is more conducive to transportation that efficiently links workers to jobs than the 19th-century monocentric pattern, with a transport network focused on a “central business district.” Second, he explains that the trendy idea of “urban villages”—where people can live and work within walking or bicycling distance—is a recipe for stagnation. Yes, people might find “a” job in that village, but it is highly unlikely to be a high-productivity job. This planning policy would reduce, rather than increase, a metro area’s economic productivity."
From Wendell Cox at New Geography:
"Bertaud sees the restrictive land use planning regulations that have proliferated around the world as a major problem. He has particular criticism for urban containment policy, which outlaws or significantly restricts new housing on the urban fringe. He cites the extensive economic evidence associating urban containment with higher house prices.
His prescription for what planners should do is very simple:
'The main objective of the planner should be to maintain mobility and housing affordability as a city’s population increases and it diversifies its activities' 
Bertaud notes that 'The objective of an urban transport strategy should be to minimize the time required to reach the largest possible number of people, jobs, and amenities.'"
And finally, Nolan Gray in the City Journal:
"Though considered obvious among urban economists, the idea of cities as labor markets has enormous implications for the work of city planners. Take urban form: current city planners aspire to nudge residents into self-contained urban villages. But if we recognize productivity, and its resulting wealth, as a function of access to large labor markets, we’ll know that people will always travel well outside their local neighborhoods for work. Once city planners acknowledge this basic reality, they can get on with the work of supporting, rather than resisting, natural urban patterns—Bertaud wants planners to respect the natural choices of city dwellers.
Order without Design is a work with a clear vision for urban policy—a magnum opus from one of the twenty-first century’s great city planners. Similar to Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of the Great American City, Bertaud’s book manages to weave together theory and practice in a way that will be eye-opening to the curious urbanite and enriching to the practicing professional. If city planning has a future, its contours can almost certainly be found here."
Let's hope the book is read and adopted widely in the urban planning community and that they start seeing Houston as a model to emulate rather than avoid!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home