ACSP reflections #1: Should researchers be allowed to question Smart Growth? #ACSP2012

Since I no longer subscribe to PLANET, the planning educators’ listserv, I missed out on the original kerfuffle surrounding the publication of this article in the Journal of the American Planning Association:

Growing Cities Sustainably
Marcial H. Echenique, Anthony J. Hargreaves, Gordon Mitchell, Anil Namdeo
Journal of the American Planning Association
Vol. 78, Iss. 2, 2012

You can download the paper for free.

Apparently, the takeaway was upsetting:

Urban form policies can have important impacts on local environmental quality, economy, crowding, and social equity, but their influence on energy consumption and land use is very modest; compact development should not automatically be associated with the preferred spatial growth strategy.

Based on the kerfuffle, ACSP organized the following panel on Friday last week in Cincinnati:

Friday, November 2, 6:00pm – 7:30pm – Popcorn provided!

CRANE, Randy [University of california, Los angeles]

EWING, Reid [University of Utah]

FISHMAN, Robert [University of Michigan]

KNAEP, Gerrit [University of maryland at college park]

TALEN, Emily [arizona state University]

This summer, a debate on the Planet list serve over the merits of the
article Growing cities sustainably: Does urban form really matter? (by Echenique, et al.) published in the spring issue of Japa, stirred up some long-festering tensions over the nature of planning scholarship. Is there
such a thing as objectivity in planning research? What are the dangers of applying the “scientific method” in planning? How do ethics, politics and normative values factor into what gets published? what are the pitfalls of publishing simulation models in Japa? should the “take-away for practice” be dropped? on the issue of compact cities, are we spinning our wheels, or are we provocatively challenging conventional wisdom? is the problem of sprawl still an open question? do these debates ever end, or, with Japa’s help, do they keep going indefinitely?
there will be plenty of opportunity for audience participation.

In the interests of full disclosure, I intended to go to this session, but then walked out after it was apparent that the room was going to be desperately crowded and that no, indeed, the authors of the actual manuscript were not going to be represented in any way other than via the editor, Randy Crane. Were they invited? Why didn’t anybody ask them to write a statement if they were not going to be there?

The session started out with the host of the session, Professor Talen, and her critique of the paper immediately, which appeared to boil down to: practitioners have a tough time convincing people to pursue Smart Growth, as a result, JAPA has no business publishing things that do not reflect practitioner’s goals and values. There was, as far as I can tell, no response from the actual authors, and, given the folks on the panel, I knew how that panel was going to roll out, and I was tired. So I left to rest.

The abstract seems to be making an ethical claim based on this notion that planning research should only study things that help practitioners do their job: how do ethics, politics and normative values factor into what gets published? So let’s start there: what might be the ethical basis for saying a paper shouldn’t be published just because you don’t agree with the findings or the interpretation of the findings?

The basis for Talen’s claim appears to be that planning researchers should be using the power of their academic platform (such as it is) to support the general aims of contemporary planning, and that this is particularly true given what she referred to as the “sprawl machine.” I’m dubious that there is a sprawl machine rather than a plain-old growth machine that can provide either TOD or sprawl so long as somebody gets to pour cement and make money, but let’s pretend that there is a “sprawl machine” and it’s different from and more powerful than compact development coalitions, and, thus, one ethical or moral judgment might be that planning research should support the underdog coalition advocating compact development vis-à-vis elite coalitions and legal frameworks pushing us towards sprawl.*

Now, even compact development advocates really are a disempowered minority instead of, as I would argue, a new version of the same-old growth machine (with some improvements), that rationale strikes me as misguided–way more so than any number of simpler normative or subjective claims about compact cities: that they are aesthetically preferable, for example, and that those aesthetic benefits outweigh other considerations.

The problem with Talen’s idea is that it suggest that researchers “owe” it to practitioners to only inquire within the framework that compact development is unambiguously meritorious and sprawl is unambiguously not.

An analogy would be child abuse: nobody who studies child abuse thinks it’s “optional” that a child should never be abused in the abstract. The research and theory center instead on how pervasive the problem is, what constitutes abuse across cultures, what the long-term effects are, intervention efficacy, and the like. That normative basis rests not just on the long-term consequences of abuse (of which there are many), but on a robust body of general normative theory: human rights (among others, which I find to be less interesting). Thus for Talen, compact urban form has some fundamental, essential unassailability as a core value in the way that “individuals should not be violated” is the normative premise for child abuse researchers.

But planners’ normative stake in urban form comes most often via empirical claims about the secondary effects of different urban forms: it saves the planet, makes people thin, etc. They tend to treat these outcomes as the moral basis for the normative paradigm, rather than going to the work that would establish a reasoned argument about the normative principles of urban form, which then may or may not produce particular outcomes. And as long as those empirical claims about outcomes persist, researchers are going to do things like test those claims, and, at times, not find in favor. Social science often results in mixed findings.

One of the reasons that I decided to take up normative theory in planning is that we are decidedly bad at it. We wrap our normative ideas up in outcome-based, empirical claims, and then we get mad when somebody suggests we don’t deliver the outcomes we claim, and if those outcomes are somehow tarnished, you are left with little rationale for preferred actions since you didn’t develop a more robust normative basis for your position.** Thus are we wrong to test the claims of compact development, even though much of the normative basis for advocacy hinges on those desired outcomes? Or are we wrong to make empirical claims for outcomes at all, if we are unprepared to have them examined?

In other words, for many in planning, compact development is the desired outcome. That’s what they want cities to be: compactness is the object of planning. For many others, compact development is merely a means to get other, desired outcomes: less driving, more walking, fewer emissions, more fuel savings, less energy consumption, and thus, compact cities are a lever, not simply an outcome. And for still others, compact cities can be an outcome and a lever at the same time.
For those in the first camp to get angry and charge skeptics with unethical behavior is way common.

Based on this, can we construct compactness as a set of moral claims? Sure–certainly people have. But it’s hard to do without falling into the outcome-oriented language for how we believe compact cities function. And that puts us back to where we started: how we do we assure ourselves that compactness is unambiguously good if we don’t examine it closely?

Myself, I have to say I’m disappointed in the entire episode. Planners are polite and I suspect the online “controversy” was more passive aggressive rather than downright uncivil. Phronesis is a powerful concept, but it is often wrong, too: two generations ago, many planners thought single-use zoning was the shizzle. And they weren’t just blind, stupid modernists. They lived in a world with newly industrializing cities with unregulated industry belching toxins onto residential neighborhoods too damn close–a problem that regulations and changing industrial geeographies alleviated for American urban residents now clamoring for live-work spaces because work involves computers or arty things rather than petrochemicals for many of us.

We have to be able to ask questions around us and live an unsettled life about the answers, knowing that both moral and empirical claims are going to be contested. They always are, and thus, we shall have to take decisions looking at the future through a glass, darkly. And, certainly, among the questioning, it’s entirely reasonable to raise the question that Talen did, which is: should we even be spending our time contesting the notion of compact cities? You just probably have to be prepared for the rest of us say “yes” until you do formulate that moral argument that convinces us.

*Are elite coalitions always wrong?
**This here is known as the problem with the pretty large swathes of macroecon theory.

Cherrypicking the sprawl-bankruptcy connection

Bill Fulton has a piece in the LA Times where he argues that sprawl contributes to municipal bankruptcies. There’s so much wrong with his argument that I don’t even really know where to begin.

It’s easy to mistake a sprawling new development for prosperity. New buildings and wide new roads look great at first. But over time, the cost of serving such developments gradually bleeds taxpayers dry. More firetrucks have to travel longer distances to serve fewer people. So do police cars. And ambulances. And school buses. And dial-a-ride buses. And, up in the mountains at least, snowplows too.

This is not a terrible argument as far as it goes; density does leverage economies of scale in the provision of urban services, and so the cost per person goes down. The problem is the assumption that all urban services are cheaper to deliver via density–and that the marginal cost curve associated with service delivery continues to slope downwards with additional people. But that can’t be true past a certain point: using Fulton’s own example, a fire truck is also subject to congestion, which means at some point, the marginal contribution to delay that additional people bring can cause the service to slow beyond what gains to proximity yield–though it’s an empirical question about where that inflection point might occur, and whether most cities that might be more dense are anywhere near it. But that point probably varies for a whole bunch of municipal services. That was the goal of all the economics literature in the 1980s and 1990s about ideal city sizes. People have known for some time about the economic trade-offs between scale and congestion, the tensions between them, and how congestion of urban goods can act as a prompt for de-centralization.

Or, and this is one of our questions, how those economies of scale and marginal cost curves might change slope when cities get institutions large enough to unionize, or how and when collective bargaining attained through statewide public sector union activity acts as a particular problem for small-scale municipalities within the state.

Fulton is a smart growth guy. It’s what he does, so he just nods at pensions: yes, I guess that pension thing is a problem, but let me tell you about my pet issue: sprawl. But really? No mention of Prop 13 or the redevelopment money grab, and just a nod at the pension issue?

Then there’s the cherry picked examples: Stockton and San Bernardino, contrasted with his own shining Ventura, where he was mayor, which he happily notes is ‘not bankrupt.’ Come on. There are currently 3 cities in California that have filed for bankruptcy, and hundreds that, like Ventura, are not currently bankrupt, so don’t self-congratulate too much yet.

Both Stockton and San Bernardino are gritty older cities with struggling downtowns and dreams of urban revitalization. They have sometimes overreached in their zeal to achieve those dreams. Stockton in particular kept trying to rescue the city with grandiose redevelopment projects, none of which were within walking distance of one another and, not surprisingly, none of which succeeded.

Those redevelopments weren’t within walking distance of each other, and that was they reason they “didn’t succeed”? Not the fact that the developments were in Stockton? But if that’s the case, why do redevelopments in LA that everybody drives to walk around in ‘succeed wildly’ (like the Grove, the 3rd Street Promenade?), if by “succeed” you mean “they make a lot of retail cashola and generate an enormous amount of traffic.” You can’t walk between those, though, either.

FYI, the other city that is bankrupt is Mammoth Lake. Sprawled? Meh. What appears to have brought Mammoth Lake to its fiscal knees is…a conflict with developer trying to do one of those fancy new mixed use airport development. Now, in fairness, plenty of Smart Growth folks would guffaw at the notion that this resort town development was in any way sustainable, but it did have a bunch of mixed uses that went along with the airport expansion.

So here’s a story about Stockton that actually makes sense, from the HuffPo. It tells a story that is, indeed, related to the housing market, but also to the pension dodges that a cash-strapped city used to deal with unions and Prop 13. It’s a mess.

Here is a map of municipal bankruptcy filings of all city institutions (including school and park districts) from Governing. You can break out the whole-city chapter 9 filings.

Look, I’m all for the idea that it’s generally cheaper to provide infrastructure to greater population densities, but oye. Smart Growth is not medicine for every problem, even if ‘dumb growth’ doesn’t help.

David King on the Co-Development of Subways and Real Estate in JTLU

The Journal of Transport and Land Use always has good things in it, and this time out is no exception. I’ll pull out two papers to discuss this week.

The first is from fellow UCLA alumni and now assistant professor at Columbia University, David King. His manuscript is

King, D., 2011, Developing Densely: Estimating the Effect of Subway Growth on New York City Land Uses The Journal of Transport and Land Use, 4(2), pp. 19-32.

From the abstract:
Abstract:In the early twentieth century, New York City’s population, developed land area, and subway network size all increased dramatically. The rapid expansion of the transit system and land development present intriguing questions as to whether land development led subway
growth or if subway expansion was a precursor to real estate development. The research described in this article uses Granger causality models based on parcel-level data to explore the co-development of the subway system and residential and commercial land uses, and attempts to determine whether subway stations were a leading indicator of residential and commercial development or if subway station expansion followed residential and commercial construction. The results of this study suggest that the subway network developed in an orderly fashion and grew densest in areas where there was growth in commercial development. There is no evidence that subway growth preceded residential development throughout the city. These results suggest that subway stations opened in areas already well-served by the system and that network growth often followed residential and commercial development. ăe subway network acted as an agent of decentralization away from lower Manhattan as routes and stations were sought in areas with established ridership demand

This is a wonderfully written paper, and I can’t claim any particular objectively because I think David is the shizzle. However, it’s worth chatting about the paper in some depth.

In this introduction, King notes three factors that reinforced the idea that the subway followed people rather the other way around:

1. The subways were developed by private transit companies with public financing. These companies were not real estate developers: they relied on fares alone for their business. I strongly suspect that this is the biggest single factor in the story he has to tell. If you are a private company, you don’t pour capital investment into places unless you are pretty clear that there are going to be passengers. Contrast this behavior with the behavior of pork-barrel, get-my-slice-of-the-capital-funding-pie-no-matter-how-few-passengers-there-are temptations of public funding for capital improvements.

2. There was no real zoning prior to the 1960s, so developers could cram as many units as they could pencil out into the parcels they owned.

3. Land values were on the rise, which would reinforce #2, and which drove manufacturing off Manhattan in favor of offices–so that we today can stroll around Manhattan and oooh and aaaah at its sustainable urban form populated by, among others, billionaire I-bankers holding the reigns of a capitalist machine that is currently eating the entire universe. But they live in apartments and walk more than everybody else, so they must be The Better Environmental People.

Anyhoozily, I am not the world’s biggest fan of Granger models, but King’s application of them is clever here. To make a long story short, the models look for a first period change in a variable that correlates with a second period change in different variables. King sets up the analysis to look at both possible directions: subway supply change lagged against real estate development (the subway following the people hypothesis) and the alternative, development lagged against subway supply (the people follow the subway hypothesis).

He tests against both commercial and residential development, and he finds that there is no support for the belief that the subways were speculative–that is, that they came before the development. Instead, subways followed development, and commercial real estate most importantly.

One quibble is that I wish he’d left Staten Island in the analysis. He drops it because it’s not a part of the subway network, but I think that makes for an interesting control. Another swing at the questions King brings up concerns whether there is a change in the rate of development once the station appears.

David King blogs about transportation over at Getting From Here To There.

In which epidemiologists tell us what we already knew

I’m on the editorial board of Transportation Research Part A, and it’s an excellent journal by any measure. But one article this morning seemed so promising, and then rather failed to deliver:

Graham-Rowe, E., Skippon, S., Gardner, B. & Abraham, C., 2011, Can we reduce car use and, if so, how? A review of available evidence, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice.

Great, right? Another review, and we probably needed another review after this inappropriately optimistic one appeared in JAPA last year:

Ewing, R. & Cervero, R., 2010, Travel and the built environment, Journal of the American Planning Association, 76(3).

The latter review was problematic because it summarized the evidence and then concluded “Yes, well, all the empirical evidence shows small effect and insignificant effect sizes, but we still think our interventions work under the right conditions.”

There comes a point where you have to wonder if those right conditions are feasible if the research can’t find them time and time again.

However, Graham-Rowe sort studies according to quality, stating what’s obvious to everybody: there aren’t enough randomized trials in applied social science research.

Gee, ya think?

There’s a reason why the high quality studies are looking at program evaluations and why the cross-sectional studies look at before and after projects. Unlike medical and psychological research, researchers in my world don’t get to randomly select controls for anything other than programs, and often not even then because there are practical problems with employers or city governments allowing some employees or residents–but not others–to participate in a program that carries a benefit, like being paid not to drive.

So undeniably, we’d have better research if I could select random samples and controls for selected interventions, use our godlike hands to pick drivers up by their heads, place them in case-control groups according to intervention versus non-intervention environments or programs, and make them live there/participate as long as we wanted them to. Unfortunately, doing that sort of thing in societies where human beings have freedom of movement and self determination tends to be frowned on.

The takeaway–AGAIN–is that self-selection and endogeniety go hand and hand. Gargh.

I don’t see a path out of this cycle of research-critique. We’ve hit a stalemate. People who are advocates of particular position–that mixed land uses and transit supply reduce auto use–are like Fox Mulder: “I want to believe.”

Social scientists can try to tinker on the margins of what we have, with instrumental variables and various econometric contraptions strapped on to different datasets, but there’s no way around the residential self-selection problems here.

We can publish critique after critique, and perhaps that’s useful, but I don’t see how. We know where we are with this research–and we also know that planning, policy, and forecasts are thundering ahead with the “I want to believe” attitude. The alternatives to believing aren’t particularly attractive, either.

Thomas Sowell in the National Review on housing in San Francisco

Thomas Sowell has an interesting essay up in this edition of the National Review..

There are a number of things here that I find especially interesting. One: we start with an experiential anecdote about how few black men Sowell encounters in San Francisco. It will be interesting to see if the Census data bear him his experience out empirically.

Two: his association of growth control policies with liberals, and his association of those growth control policies with higher land and housing prices. In theory–in theory–I am told by advocates of growth controls that with infill and higher density, you can create more housing than you restrict with growth controls. However, if political support for one of those strategies (growth controls) bangs up against anti-infill neighbors–or advocates are just plain wrong in believing San Francisco has all this excess capacity in land that could be densified easily–the results will be a cherrypicked policy where growth is controlled and affordable housing gets left by the wayside.

I’m told this problem doesn’t happen in Portland, but I am also told that New Urbanism and growth controls increase real estate values so I have to wonder how affordability and higher prices go together in urban land markets. It’s quite clear what Sowell believes.

Third: I routinely sit through assertions that the New Urbanism and Smart Growth are actually “free market” phenomena because they argue for less restriction on development densities. I suppose. But there are the form-based code people running all over planning, along with those who only read one thing in Don Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking: the fact that you can regulate maximum parking as well as minimum. Required mixed use doesn’t strike me as market based any more than disallowing it does.

Sowell doesn’t buy any of it:it’s all a bunch of envirozealot liberals at work. If he’s right, there’s a lot of fodder for research about what happens to traditionally urban populations, like African Americans, who get pushed out. Whither Harlem in 25 years?

Federal buildings for transit access?

The US DOT at the beginning of July issued guidance for increasing the sustainability of Federal buildings:

Siting buildings in sustainable locations will help insure that workers and the visiting public have convenient, safe transportation options to reach federal facilities, which in turn will help to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that result from worker and visitor commuting and will better integrate the federal presence into the surrounding community. Additionally, this improved access will lower transportation costs for workers and visitors and can provide communities with employment centers that can help drive economic development

link: DOT Press release

I wonder about this. Most of these kinds of things are symbolic politics, I think, where a loud and active leader like Ray LaHood wants to send a strong message this isn’t your parents’ DOT. The principals:

• Promote efficient travel and ensure access to transit to reduce the need for employees and the public to drive to the facility. • Locate in existing central business districts and rural town centers. • Locate near or be accessible to affordable housing. • Ensure the ability to walk or bike to the facility. • Use existing buildings, infrastructure and other resources. • Foster the development of previously developed, abandoned or underused locations known as greyfields or brownfields. • Encourage adaptive reuse of historic buildings and districts. • Preserve the natural environment. • Achieve agency goals for reducing emissions as set out in their Sustainable Strategic Performance Plans. • Discuss location alternatives with local and regional planning officials and consider their recommendations.

link: DOT Press release

These are pretty general planner recommendations. However, am I the only one who thinks that the clusters of federal buildings in DC are almost like superblocks in their domination of the city core in some places?

The DuPont Circle neighborhood is a great exemplar I think of what compact development advocates are trying to get at. But when you go farther down towards the capitol and the White House…it’s not as nice an urban place as the smaller scale, mixed use districts farther up Connecticut Avenue.

Increasing exposures with density

This week’s LA Weekly is running a story on density and higher human exposures to particulate matter from freeways:

Black Lung Lofts – Page 1 – News – Los Angeles – LA Weekly

The bottom line from the story is that city planning departments and developers, in their zeal to build more and more mutli-family housing, have placed a greater number of people in dangerous proximity freeway emissions.

Recent research that I have done with SPPD PhD student, Jianping Zhou, has found the same thing is true more generally. Environmental advocates have argued that reducing auto usage will improve urban air quality. Recently, public health researchers have similarly argued that infill development and sprawl reduction may improve respiratory outcomes for urban residents, largely because sprawl reduction should reduce the vehicle travel. But infill can also increase the number of residents exposed to poor air quality, and move people closer to stationary sources of pollution. Aside from emissions studies, planners have little information on the connection between urban form, ambient pollutant levels, and human exposures or how infill changes these.

We examine the neighborhood exposures in 80 metropolitan areas in the US. We used multi-level regression models to find the empirical relationship between a regional urban form measure and neighborhood air quality outcomes. Concentration levels for ozone are significantly lower in compact regions, but neighborhood exposures for both ozone and fine particulates are higher in compact regions and for neighborhoods occupied by impoverished whites, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian ethnic minorities. Fine particulate concentration levels do not correlate significantly with regional compactness.Of particular concern in our study are exposures among impoverished elders of color.

LA and California History viewed through Perry Mason and Paul Drake’s Hair

Ok, where to begin?

Perry Mason, for those who don’t know, is a fictional defense attorney practicing in Los Angeles, created by the mystery writer Earle Stanley Gardner, shown here. If you’ve never picked up a Perry Mason novel, I highly recommend.

Perry Mason was the basis of the long-running tv series–it ran from 1957 to 1966!–featuring Raymond Burr (one of my favorite actors) as Mason and the extremely lovely Barbara Hale as his secretary/confidante Della Street (shown below) . The show featured an excellent ensemble cast, including William Hopper as Paul Drake, Mason’s go-to private investigator, and undeservedly obscure character actor William Talman as the always-foiled district attorney Hamilton Burger.

So what lessons can we learn about urban and state history from the Perry Mason universe? A bunch.

First off, Raymond Burr’s lifelong commitment with his partner Robert Benevides is a object lesson for why California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage is a civil rights problem, no matter what you personally believe about the morality of homosexuality. Burr met Benevides in 1960 and together they built Burr’s acting career and a vineyard. Partners, no matter what sex they are, often sacrifice for the partnership, and theirs was no exception; Benevides gave up acting to help Burr manage his increasingly successful career. Together, they were philanthropists and buisinessmen. That is shared work and economic value.

After Burr’s death in 1993, Burr’s niece has challenged Benevides controlling Burr’s estate, particularly their vineyard, which he still runs. She may a point, for all I know, but it should caution us. Marriage isn’t just about a bedroom; it’s a set of property agreements, and under no accepted measure of justice should Benevides be threatened with the loss of what he built with Burr over the course of nearly 40 years. In some states, he would be in more jeopardy than he was in California. Everybody should have equal protection under the law, and that includes rights to property. The easiest way for partners to take care of each others’ property in legal agreements is marriage and pre-nuptials. .

Secondly, William Hopper himself was the son of high-profile Hollywood gossip Hedda Hopper, who is one of the early chroniclers of Hollywood history.

Hopper’s character, Paul Drake, is one of the most interesting in the series. Hypermasculinized as a player, his smooth blonde pompadour and his Thunderbirds were a California male ideal. Throughout the series, he drove Thunderbirds*: 1957, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1964, and 1965, including the convertible models. I think its hard for my car-hating students to understand just how unbelievably cool these cars were, shown below.


1965 convertible

There is no disputing that these are two of the most beautiful cars ever produced, and no, car culture isn’t just about waste. In more innocent times, they manifested the beautiful material craftmanship of human imagination and vision.

Finally, when you watch Perry Mason, occasionally Paul has to take the Thunderbird out “all the way to the North Hollywood.” The glimpse you get from Mason in the late 1950s is a North Hollywood full of farms–way suburban fringe. It was really far out of town, you know. Now it has a subway station:

*Mason also drove some pretty cool cars, including the Ford Fairlane.

Alex Marshall on the Underside of the City

Amongst the pop culture urbanists like Richard Florida and Jane Holtz-Kay, there are some that do good, accessible, interesting work and others that produce self-indulgent jeremiads (not to mention any names cough JamesHowardKuntsler cough …). Alex Marshall belongs in the former category. His book on suburbanization, How Cities Work, is both intelligent, accessible, entertaining, well-written, and delightfully non-histrionic in world full of repetitive screeds about the evils of American suburbs.

His latest book is Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities, and I was reading it for my class on the The Urban Context this past week. Since I am not going to teach the class, I won’t be using it, but I had to talk about it. It’s a wonderful look at 12 cities: New York, Rome, Paris, Moscow, London, San Francisco, Cairo, Syndey, Tokyo, Bejing, Chicago, and Mexico City. Here, he discovers the roots of urban density that go way, way back. He provides a timeline for each city with major events, and the best part: cross-sections of the city by infrastructure era. So for Moscow, you have ascending from the bedrock: the secret subway system, the subway, the secret tunnels, Ivan the Terrible’s secret library and torture chambers, the sewer, water lines, and river culverts.

His thesis is that density doesn’t come through design or through policy. It’s the product of centuries-long urbanization processes. So perhaps my beloved Los Angeles can be forgiven for its settlement pattern given the fact that no planner visiting here in the late 1950s could have foreseen the millions of new people who would arrive, en masse, over the next few decades. Perhaps we should check in after another 100 years and see what LA looks like then.

Things that are never listed as urban sprawl

1. Golf courses

2. Horse farms

3. Penthouses (think about it; one family uses space that other families would normally use; no, it’s not as space consumptive as single-family homes, but 3,000 sq ft units are still a great way to keep poor people out)

4. Ponds and parks (I like parks as much as the next person, but when you put them in, they do spread out land uses, even if you control land around them, as in Manhattan, and you could use the land in Central Park for housing a la Singapore or Hong Kong at even residential densities. No, I am not advocating we get rid of Central Park.) That is, unless you think the lack of open space in cities prompts people to suburbanize. Interesting question, that.

5. Tiffany’s, as the nice new set up in Pasadena. Did LA need another Tiffany’s outside of Rodeo Drive? I mean, how many impulse trips to Tiffany’s does one take? It’s hard telling. Now, affluent Tiffany patrons in the outer suburbs can drive shorter distances, saving emissions, right? But Tiffany’s is in a walkable space in Pasadena, served by light rail, so it’s ok, just as long as the patrons are also picking up their locavore packages, right? Oh, but Target or Walmart? Sprawl, sprawl, sprawl: people should be ashamed of themselves for going there, shouldn’t they, tsk, tsk, unlike Banana Republic.

I’m trying to get you to look at the sprawl discourse using social class as lens instead of environmentalism. Yes, the environmental discourse is really important. But we can’t assume that the environmentalism discussion covers the social justice discussion entirely.