Monthly Archives: September 2009

Will seniors downsize and relocate?

My colleague Richard Green noted that he saw a good presentation from Irina Telyukova on whether elderly households will downsize for the sake of downsizing. I’d like to get a copy of Telyukova’s paper, as this is a particularly thorny problem for transportation.

There is a great deal of faith in the planning world that the aging of America (and western Europe/Australia) will boost up public transit, as eventually seniors give up driving. Sandi Rosenbloom has a couple of nice papers which discuss this issue [1,2]. The news is not good. Past trends suggests that as we get older, we stay put. We age in place, until we can no longer manage on our own, at which point the decline comes quickly. Part of this has to do with a discussion that Richard and I had: he and his wife have worked very hard; they are both professionals; they are very successful, they have raised their children, and yet they bought a house they really really really love even though it’s technically too big for them. I am reminded (as I am often) of my friend David Forkenbrock, who built his dream home–a fantastic place he loved so much that outside offers couldn’t blast him out of the University of Iowa despite the ghastly winters.

These seem reasonable enough things to want to enjoy into your latter life. Why not? A place for the grandkids to stay, for the kids to use for long visits.

Are there any reasons to assume that the boomers will buck trends? There is part of me that says “perhaps” but I suspect the change will be marginal. However, I’ll skylark a bit about why they might differ:

1. Boomers have to date been the most mobile and global generation; they’ve had money and comfort and a great deal of political power due to their numbers. They may have less need to rely on their housing for equity than previous generations of seniors due to their wealth, and they may have less concern over the transactions costs of moving, again due to wealth. However, these are all factors that may, in fact, allow them to age in place more readily as they may be able to afford homecare and lawncare and all sorts of services that make single-family home living easier when you get older.

2. Because of their wealth and their lower demand for services like schools, it may be that the TOD trend becomes more focused on retirement and lifestyle communities. Trust me; if my experience as a professional planner means anything, it’s that developers love residential density and neighbors hate it. If you can convince the neighbors that you’re moving in a bunch of old dears who won’t drive, park, party or take up room in their kids’ classroom, density gets easier to build. See above comment about political economy.

3. Seniors may be particularly responsive to new taxes, which I think we will see, that make suburban living relatively costlier. They may not be, but they may be.

All that said, I think I’m stretching. It’s easier to drive than it is to take transit; if it weren’t, then all of these “transit and walking fight obesity” people can’t be right. As Rosenbloom points out, this generation of women, in particular, were far more mobile than their mothers. The numbers on transport side do not suggest that seniors are going do much different than they have before.

[1] S. Rosenbloom, C. Katz, and J. Monk. Women’s travel at various stages of their lives. In Full Circles: Geographies of Women Over the Life Course, pages 208–242. Routledge, London, 1993. Book, Section

[2] S. Rosenbloom. Sustainability and automobility among the elderly: An international assessment. Transportation, 28(4):375–408, 2001. Journal Article.


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Filed under housing, social inclusion

Calatrava’s Liege Train Station

Take a look a over at Inhabitat. If you’re going to build a station, I guess, go big or go home.


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Filed under urban design

The Future Was Better In the Past

It is a truth universally acknowledged among my grouchy social scientist friends (aka economists) that many planners are not particularly good social scientists. This may be because planning isn’t about urban social science. It’s about imagination.

So imagine my glee when I found Paleofuture, a website dedicated to unearthing visions of the future from the past. Oh, do they have highway and train visions, as you can imagine:

The Highway to Russia
Highways by Automation
Disney’s Highway of the Future(you gotta see this one)
the 600 mph train of the future (1901)
the US Senate Monorail
Amphibian Monorail
Space colony with monorail
Aerial Monorail of the future
Speed is the Key (1965)



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Filed under futurism

Formosa 1140

One of my gripes about the New Urbanism is that the architects who promote it are long on social mission and short on actual, well, design. There are an awful lot of Calthorpe developments that are very well-intended but in another 10 years are going to wind up looking like rather a shabby and cookie-cutter set of multi-family units, painted in pastels, around what will be a nice streetscape of then-mature trees.

However, the paradigm-shifting nature of the New Urbanism has led those with more edge and gusto to thinking about density–which brings me to Formosa 1140 by Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects. Take some time to play around their website–it’s very nice. You’ll maybe remember Lorcan O’Herlily as the architect who built this structure next to Schindler’s iconic house in WeHo.

1140 Formosa has gotten a lot of ink. It’s in Dwell this month, for example.


This is four stories with 11 units of lofts than run about 1,500 square feet. There is a park provided on the property, and the exoskeleton of red metal is meant to absorb heat. Behind that are walkways meant into increase social interaction.

Some writeups and descriptions:

dezeen
stylecrave
arch daily

The architect suggested it was “like living in a dorm.”

What do you all think? Lovely? Heinous? They almost had me until the dorm comment. Did other people enjoy living in dorms? I live in a very expensive building now, and we smell pot way too much from the trust fund kids down the hall. And then there was the time Andy encountered a loud fight between the pot-smoking trust funder (I think his dad was an NFL player) and his girlfriend about whether he wanted to allow her to video them…you know… what Paris Hilton got famous for videotaping. I repeat: this argument occurred in the hallway. Isn’t that a discussion one has inside? Like in hoarse, outraged whispers so the neighbors don’t hear you? (To the young man’s credit, he was the one saying ‘no’ to the exercise; but I think we can say this is the sort of thing one doesn’t necessarily want one’s pudgy, middle-aged professor neighbors knowing about one, right? Right?)

However, as I said to a group of real estate developers last week, density and infill are here to stay in LA, which caused a loud round of complaints about how government needs to use eminent domain to assemble property for them; I strongly suspect they would rapidly grow uncomfortable under such a loose property rights regime because it would eventually affect what they could sell for, at the very least. Governments that do not respect private property tend not to be ones that behave all that well; there are a few examples of good middle ground between individually held and collectively held rights. The major questions to me seem how do you make design something we can afford in housing, given that something like Formosa 1140 goes for luxury prices already, and given that we do have problems with land assembly.


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Filed under housing, urban design

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice

Several of my favorite Facebook Peeps posted links to this LA Times Story about East Yard Communities–the organization that inspired me to write my dissertation.

I always wonder about this with folks who advocate for shifting more freight to railroads as a means of improving the environment. First, rail freight generally has such a cost advantage if that if you can ship by rail, you already do. And second, it’s not like there aren’t emissions from rail freight. With the much cleaner diesel fuel standards, both trucks and trains should be better. But still.

A Link to East Yard Communities Website


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Filed under rail

Blogging suspended in favor of real writing

while Dr. Schweitzer, voted “most likely not to finish her ACSP paper”, attempts to bust the odds and complete a paper that Phil Berke doesn’t conclude is the product of a deranged mind.

Speaking of Phil, his work is on sustainability and it rocks, so go read that. Yeah–that’s the ticket.


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Filed under Uncategorized

Another SPPD faculty tapped for the Obama Administration

from our website:

Erroll Southers ’98, who regularly teaches a class at USC on homeland security issues, has been nominated by the Obama administration to run the Transportation Security Administration.

The department oversees the screening of passengers and luggage with the aim of preventing terrorists from boarding planes and to avoid the transportation of weapons and chemicals that can be used in terrorist attacks.

Southers is a USC adjunct professor with a specialty in counter-terrorism and homeland security. He is associate director of the USC Homeland Security Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security university research center where he created a certificate program aimed at working professionals whose jobs throughout the world intersect with anti-terrorism measures.

He believes that attacking terrorism requires multi-pronged approaches.

“Terrorism engages every discipline: sociology, education, physics, engineering,” he said in an earlier interview with USC. “It’s an interdisciplinary solution. As globalization increases, terrorism will not be confined to any one region or country.”

Outside of USC, Southers has served since 2007 as chief of homeland security and intelligence for the Los Angeles World Airport Police Department, where he has been in charge of counter-terrorism and security measures.

Southers earned his master’s degree in public administration at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development. He is founding member of the SPPD Alumni Association.

His past experience includes four years with the FBI, where he was part of the SWAT team, and work as a detective in the Santa Monica Police Department. From 2004-06, he served as deputy director of the California Office of Homeland Security

Southers’ nomination still needs to be confirmed. If approved, he would also be in charge of 50,000 airport screeners and be involved in discussions over whether they can join a labor union, according to news media reports. In a press release, the federal union AFGE, which represents border and customs workers, said they are looking forward to working with Southers


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Filed under academia and scholars, Planning as a profession

Mohamed Atta, Urban Planner/Philosopher King

Slate has a set of pieces by Daniel Brook on Mohamed Atta’s urban planning thesis. Except for the self-conscious throat-clearing at the beginning where Brook spends way too much time blithering on about how he knew the thesis was important when others overlooked it, this is a nice, insightful look at the ideological ramifications of urban planning. It is an unavoidably normative profession. Think about “Smart Growth.” Nobody is in this because they want “Dumb Growth.” The same is true of policy. People don’t study because they want to help foster bad government. Those of us in the policy/planning/management and, perhaps to a lesser degree, development, are here because we think those things can be done better.

The window into Atta’s thesis that Brooks provides helps us understand the terrorist’s worldview. There is a fundamentalism present in his work on Aleppo, though few contemporary urban planners would see much to fault in his grand vision to tear down freeways and high-rises to restore the Islamic vernacular. This is the danger of grand plans that planners can not cover with any amount of New Urbanist gloss: major social change is hurtful. It takes time and healing, even when it is ultimately for the good. It was wrong to build highways on communities, as French planners did, and chances are just as good that Atta’s grand vision of demolishing high-rises would also hurt in ways other than just the bricks, mortar, and glass and Westernism he intended to. In urban planning, like everything else, two wrongs seldom make a right.

This is a cautionary tale. I’m about ready to go to ACSP where I will be regaled with would-be philosopher kings explaining to me how high-speed rail will save the planet and make fat people, like me, walk more so we will be thin. I doubt any one will tell me about the significance of bus benches. We do not think small, we philosopher-kings, and as a result we miss those kinds of details and, depending on the context, can cause enormous hurt.


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Filed under environmental justice, housing

France’s carbon tax

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been pushing for fairly steep carbon taxes as domestic policy in France over the summer and into the fall. It has not been an easy discussion for Sarkozy, in particular, who has gotten a good deal of flack. There is a nice discussion of this controversy over at Marginal Revolution. Nonetheless, France is going forward with a carbon tax in 2010. The new tax will be 17 euros (£15) per tonne of emitted carbon dioxide (CO2). We’ll see what happens with fuel consumption in particular.

More recently, Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have advocated for a carbon tax on imports–the ever popular Monty Pythonesque concept of taxing foreigners living abroad (and, to varying degrees, French consumers with a taste for high-carbon imports). This could be very interesting, with global warming finally providing a legitimization for international environmental regimes which typically have not had as much influence as their proponents have hoped vis-a-vis international trade agreements.

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Filed under finance and pricing

Marlon Boarnet and Transport Infrastructure

From the American Planning Association website: :


This report, edited by Marlon G. Boarnet, was compiled with an eye to the urgency and severity of the challenges that we now face. Some of the leading researchers, scholars, and practitioners in transportation planning put forth fresh best practices and visionary ideas. Contributors include Robert Cervero, Ellen Greenberg, Robert Puentes, Daniel Sperling, and Petra Todorovich. Also here is the discussion among three big-city planning directors—William Anderson (San Diego), Barbara Sporlein (Minneapolis), and Harriet Tregoning (Washington, D.C.)—that took place at APA’s 2009 National Planning Conference in Minneapolis.


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Filed under infrastructure