The Chicken-and-egg issues of sprawl; the high price of living in the centre...
Recently I think the following was posted on the Carfree Network list:
Urban growth and cars: Chicken-and-egg issue
By Elisabeth Rosenthal
Carlos Pardo <carlos.pardo@...> reposted it on the Sustran list and
"Its funny how it seems that people cant choose to live inside the cities"
and I replied:
"THE insides of cities in many cities in Europe are generally really
expensive right now. This is a complicated problem directly related to all
our sprawl and mobility discussions but I dont see enough discussion about
it, never mind solutions."
To which Lee Schipper <SCHIPPER@...> said:
"Six years ago I raised this issue to the UITP guy selling the Millennium
data base... why was there nothing about housing and land costs/rents
etc. The insides of most Asian and L American cities are also expensive in
the central, most desirable areas.
The UITP answer was that this was a fiduciary problem, almost a fiction.
In fact it is what drives sprawl. Land farther out is cheaper. Homes are
larger. And in the densest of cities, living space is less than in the
less dense cities. The World Bank's "Sustainable Transport" from 1996
takes the Newman And Kenworthy data (which morphed into the Millennium
data base) and looks at gasoline per capita vs housing space per capita,
and voila.. those living in the cities with the highest NK "gasoline per
capita" have the highest home area per capita and by implication from N
and K the lowest population densities.
Yet look at all the environmentalist generated blather on sprawl and you
never see housing costs; how much more does it cost to live 100 m from a
metro vs 1 km away? We hear about which people spend the most or least
on transport, but not how much the same people spend on housing, yet we
know that housing cost may be a more sensitive function of location than
I am writing this from a hotel in Tokyo close to the center and some of
the most expensive land in the world. And the Tokyo city residents who
live near in without a car have less space/capita to live in than those in
the rest of japan or even in the outer suburbs of Tokyo
So in discussing sprawl, lets talk about what could be the main driving
force, desire for living space. And let's remember in the US case tax
deductions let us deduct all our mortgage interest from the home loan, in
contrast to (more compact) Canada. Kinda makes you wonder whether in all
of the studies of km we should have been studying square meters of home
* More internalisation of the costs of transport will make living in the
suburbs even more expensive relative to living in the centre, and it will
effect construction costs, depending on where the materials and machines
are coming from.
* I propose that the green mobility people start talking about
densification and the densification people start talking about its
unintended effects :-)
Seriously, this issue IS rarely mentioned, BUT sometime in the past six
months or so someone on the Carfree Cities list mentioned they were
working on it or familiar with some particular parts of it, and Joel
Crawford recognized that the issue was important and asked for info...
What became of that?
Is there more research and real examples which people can share?
On one hand it seems densification could lower prices as it will add
housing units, but on the other it would make the neighbourhood more
desirable (e.g. for self-selecting home-seekers, who are prepared to live
in less space and carfree) which would counter that.
Clearly, there are some "little piggy" issues here, as with getting people
out of their cars: We spend lots of energy on creating alternatives to
cars (and motorised two wheelers), and not enough on holistic and
sustainable reasons why people should sacrifice (of course for many people
the sacrifice is an illusion: it is only relative to their current overuse
or resources) and simply be more responsible, i.e. lowering their
ecological footprint to a reasonable level).
So, this means people have to live in smaller homes, not just bigger homes
for the same price further away. There are discounted loan programmes in
some places for people that liver near transit hubs, and that may be a
good start but it is certainly not enough, as the evidence shows.
I would really like this issue to be a central theme of among other things
the Towards Carfree Cities events in 2007 in Istanbul and 2008 in
Portland, Oregon OR San Luis Potosi, Mexico. This means lots of outreach
to urban planning and spatial planning specialists, and advisers to and
people from public and even private housing loan entities, architects, and
so on. Clearly we wont get too many people to help with this issue from
UITP and other parts of the Green Mobility Mob, but of course they also
have to participate. I spoke to middle-level person at UITP in the past
year about this issue, and I think they are at least sensitive to it and
possibly willing to listen, but they - and other large organisations -
dont recruit staff who specialise in the issue... so we cant expect too
much until our great arguments persuade them to expand their focus.
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