What I learned at the UCI/UCLA/USC Research Day

It was a wonderful day of research. USC’s Jenny Schuetz presented a very well-done paper on commercial real estate; of particular interest to me are her findings about how wealthier neighborhoods chase off retail and how location markets for food stores have both push and pull factors away from low-income neighborhoods.

Richard Green presented an extremely interesting paper on whether “strategic disclosure” of school district information affected the sale prices of homes–and it seems not to.

I discussed a working paper by Marlon Boarnet, Douglas Houston, and Gavin Ferguson at UCI. They looked at the possibility for variation in the relationship between land use and mode choice at the neighborhood level. We have a lot of general information out there among those claiming to have measured how much VMT will go down vis-a-vis changing the arrangement of origins and destinations and transit supply. But, Boarnet argues, regional measures may mask what is going on from one neighborhood to another.

And they find that yes, you do get much bigger elasticities when you break the transit markets into different segments–in their case, employment accessibility segments. However–and this is a big however–they also show that the sociodemographic composition of people within high employment accessibility zones (or transit market segments) vary systematically from those who are not within those zones. That brings us back to the residential self-selection problem: people who want transit pay to live near it, and those folks are certain portion of the market. What they chose to do may not reflect what other people do when presented with transit supply.

It may be, however, that this is only true in Los Angeles, and in places where transit is more ubiquitous, we would see less sorting.

Marlon and I got into a bit a dustup (as bad as two pleasant people* can) over the relative importance of land use as a climate change strategy. I simply can’t imagine land use changing in the next five years quickly enough to make any difference to climate action. We may want to change land use for many reasons–urban life, etc–but I actually think that those who proffer Smart Growth/New Urbanism as a climate strategy are almost as irresponsible as those who still rally behind hydrogen. Yeah, they’re great strategies, but they are 30 to 50 year strategies, particularly now that the real estate market is in the toilet and infill is going to way more slowly than it has over the past 10 years. The over-emphasis on voluntary supply strategies, like land use/transit supply, has displaced discussion of nearer-term demand-dampening strategies like gas price floors that would push fleet conversion or higher CAFE standards we should have had YEARS ago.

Ultimately, Marlon and I agree that the portfolio of strategies for near-term and long-term strategies makes the most sense. Nonetheless, for somebody who appears to be an advocate for land use strategies, the paper he presented had “land use” variables that primarily reflected transit supply–not land use variables, per se.

*I had a screaming headache after fighting the crowds for Obamafest yesterday, so I wasn’t as pleasant as I normally try to be.

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