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Why California Cities Are Becoming Unlivable – Article by Andrew Berryhill

Why California Cities Are Becoming Unlivable – Article by Andrew Berryhill

Andrew Berryhill
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California has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. and is rated dead last in quality of life.

In July, the mayor of San Francisco frankly stated that poverty in the city is so bad, that “there is more feces on the sidewalks than I’ve ever seen.” And it’s not just her – the local NBC investigative unit found a “dangerous mix of drug needles, garbage, and feces throughout downtown San Francisco.”

While such conditions are thankfully not widespread, California still has the highest rate of poverty of any state when factoring in living costs and is rated dead last for quality of life. It’s no wonder that from 2007 to 2016, California lost a million residents on net to domestic migration.

This plight may appear counterintuitive since California’s economy is booming. If the state were an independent country, its economy would rank as the 5th largest in the world. However, a high GDP does not necessarily entail socioeconomic wellbeing.

So, what’s the main problem ailing California and creating such a high cost of living?

Housing Costs

How bad are housing costs? The median price of a home in California is over $600,000 (compared with $300,000 nationally) and a recent study found that:

“Across California, more than 4 in 10 households had unaffordable housing costs, exceeding 30 percent of household income, in 2015. More than 1 in 5 households statewide faced severe housing cost burdens, spending more than half of their income toward housing expenses.”

Housing costs are so high that in San Francisco and San Mateo counties the government considers a household of four making $105,350 as “low income”.

And it’s not just low and middle-income families that are suffering – even many “elite” technology workers can barely make ends meet. Lucrative six-figure salaries don’t go far when you live in the most expensive housing markets in America while also paying some of the highest taxes.

You can save money by living in the suburbs, but multi-hour commutes in soul-crushing traffic may await. Is such an arrangement worth it? Many have said “no” and moved to other states. While their new jobs elsewhere might pay less, other benefits more than make up for it.

But why is the housing situation in California so terrible?

It’s easy to simply say “supply and demand” – so many people have moved to cities that housing construction can’t keep up, causing real estate prices and rents to skyrocket.

However, this invites an important question: why can’t residential developers build fast enough?

Regulations

Regulations play an especially large role in the San Francisco Bay Area, which shockingly includes 15 of the 30 cities with the highest rents in the country. One article explains these struggles well:

For new housing developments in San Francisco, there’s a preliminary review, which takes six months.

Then there are also chances for your neighbors to appeal your permit on either an entitlement or environmental basis. The city also requires extensive public notice of proposed projects even if they already meet neighborhood plans, which have taken several years of deliberation to produce. Neighbors can appeal your project for something as insignificant as the shade of paint. . .

If those fail, neighborhood groups can also file a CEQA or environmental lawsuit under California state law, challenging the environment impact of the project. . .

Then if that fails, opponents can put a development directly on a citywide ballot with enough signatures. . . That’s what happened with the controversial 8 Washington luxury condo project last November even though it had already gone through eight years of deliberation.

These barriers add unpredictable costs and years of delays for every developer, which are ultimately passed onto buyers and renters. It also means that developers have problems attracting capital financing in weaker economic years because of the political uncertainty around getting a project passed.”

Why aren’t politicians working to fix this? Self-preservation. Here’s the unfortunate reality:

“The reason the San Francisco city government won’t fix things that seem obvious . . . is because it fears a backlash from the hundreds of neighborhood associations that blanket the city and can reliably turn people out to the polls.”

Community Sentiment

This cultural opposition to development is not a modern phenomenon:

“San Francisco’s orientation towards growth control has 50 years of history behind it and more than 80 percent of the city’s housing stock is either owner-occupied or rent controlled. The city’s height limits, its rent control and its formidable permitting process are all products of tenant, environmental and preservationist movements that have arisen and fallen over decades.”

Development proposals have been shot down for reasons ranging from burrowing owl protection to complaints that the size of new residential buildings will block sunshine and thereby “devalue human life”.

The power of this “Not In My Back Yard” (NIMBY) movement has been considerable, but counter-movements are growing. When one homeowner recently complained in a Berkeley city council meeting that a proposed residential building would block sunshine for her zucchini garden, one young woman angrily responded: “You’re talking about zucchinis? Really? Because I’m struggling to pay rent.” Young workers facing unaffordable rents are increasingly fed up with petty opposition to more affordable housing.

However, Californian cities still seem more preoccupied with banning strawscocktail swordsscootersdelivery robots, and workplace cafeterias.Even when politicians try to help, they frequently ignore the root causes of the issue. For example, California Representative Kamala Harris recently proposed a bill called the “Rent Relief Act” that would provide a tax credit for people spending over 30 percent of their income on rent.

Harris’ proposal only addresses symptoms of an underlying disease and would almost certainly be counterproductive. It doesn’t encourage more housing construction, which is the only real solution.

Until sweeping housing reform to enable residential development is passed at the state and local levels, Californians will keep fleeing to Texas, Nevada, and Arizona. I don’t blame them.

Andrew Berryhill is an Alcuin Fellow at Intellectual Takeout and a rising senior at Hillsdale College majoring in economics. Andrew has interned on Capitol Hill and was a research fellow for Hillsdale’s economics department. In his spare time, he enjoys practicing the violin and playing golf.

This post (“Why California Cities Are Becoming Unlivable“) was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Andrew Berryhill.

Terraforming of Mars – Painting by Ekaterinya Vladinakova

Terraforming of Mars – Painting by Ekaterinya Vladinakova

Ekaterinya Vladinakova


“Terraforming of Mars” by Ekaterinya Vladinakova

Left-click on the image for a fuller view. You can also download this painting (3200 by 800 pixels) here.

This piece was painted by Ekaterinya Vladinakova in January 2016 as a tribute to Space X’s reusable rocket success. As a result of these pioneering steps, perhaps humankind will someday, hopefully during our lengthened lifetimes, establish settlements on Mars like the ones depicted in this painting. This painting is available for viewing and download on Ekaterinya Vladinakova’s DeviantArt page here.

Artist’s Comments: Being able to re-use a rocket has the potential to make space travel MUCH cheaper, by a factor of a hundred. The reason is because the fuel costs something around 200,000 dollars, while the rocket costs millions. The problem with today’s rockets is we use them once, and then they are thrown away. An analogy would be using a 747 aircraft for only one trip; think of just how expensive it would be.  The significance of SpaceX’s second launch was that it was done on a floating platform. The benefit of such a platform is that it would save more fuel for the rocket, since the ocean platform can move, and less fuel overall is spent navigating the rocket back to base.

Ekaterinya Vladinakova is an accomplished digital painter. See her gallery here and her DeviantArt page here.  

City of New Antideath – Painting by Ekaterinya Vladinakova, Commissioned by Gennady Stolyarov II

City of New Antideath – Painting by Ekaterinya Vladinakova, Commissioned by Gennady Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
Art by Ekaterinya Vladinakova
Painting Commissioned by Gennady Stolyarov II
June 28, 2017
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City of New AntideathCity of New Antideath – Painting by Ekaterinya Vladinakova
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Commentary by Gennady Stolyarov II, Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party

For my coming thirtieth birthday, I have commissioned a colossal cityscape depicting my vision and hope for the future progress of humankind. Artist Ekaterinya Vladinakova, a long-time supporter of transhumanism and life extension, was the evident best choice for this project.

The City of New Antideath represents a future society which has overcome death, disease, and today’s principal sources of material scarcity and discomfort. This city contains more than ample living space in ornate, radiantly illuminated skyscrapers. Smaller villas, domed towers, and other luxuriously ornamented buildings adorn the central walkways. There is ample room for pedestrian traffic and plant growth sculpted into geometrically complex patterns – including on the rooftop terraces of many of the mega-skyscrapers.

Flying cars and autonomous drones appear as streaks of light from the ground level. There is so much room for aerial transportation that no more traffic jams exist on the ground. One can opt for efficient transport, or for open-ended leisurely walking, and the two modes will not collide.

Over the years I have created a large number of building models using Sketchup, Minecraft, and even LEGO bricks. In my quest for permanence, they – or images of them – have been preserved and provided to the artist for inspiration. The first City of Antideath consisted of my Sketchup models. The City of New Antideath was not intended to be an exact replica, but rather a successor inspired by the prospect of juxtaposing the best architectural elements of all eras – past and yet to come.

I conveyed to Ekaterinya Vladinakova that the skyscrapers should exhibit a variety of bold colors and geometric shapes – but also be orderly and ornate. I have a great admiration for historical architecture from the 16th through 19th centuries – so while some of the buildings are geometric and futuristic, others borrow significant elements from Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, or Victorian styles. Russian and Eastern architectural traditions find their manifestations in this cityscape as well. The idea is to portray a future of extreme diversity, where all of these elements will exist side by side and interact with one another in interesting ways. Far from cultural separatism or tribalism, the future needs to borrow and develop upon the best elements from all cultures, times, and places. The culture of New Antideath is rational, scientific, progress-oriented, universalist, cosmopolitan, and at the same time hyperpluralist and welcoming of all peaceful individuals.

The most significant vision I have for this artwork is that it will become the iconic vision of a techno-positive future. Accordingly, I am rendering it available for free download and distribution via a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License so that it might be used by others who seek illustrations of a future we can all aspire for.

I still hope that I was not born too soon – that I may someday personally witness and experience a future of this sort. But for now, although the third decade of my life did not see such a future emerge, I am happy at least to have enabled its depiction so that others can be inspired to strive toward it. Given that our immediate world has become suffused by a pervasive, destructive malaise over the past two years, we will need visions such as this to overcome it and achieve better ways to be.

There are three versions of this digital painting available for free download (left-click on the links to open, right-click to download):

Small (1200 by 1931 pixels)

Medium (2400 by 3861 pixels)

Original Size (11250 by 18100 pixels – a vast canvas with immense detail. Note: This file size is immense as well – but you will be able to zoom in to view individual buildings and regard them as smaller-scale paintings in their own right.)

For those seeking musical accompaniment in viewing this painting, I recommend my Transhumanist March, Op. 78 (2014) (MP3 and YouTube)  or Man’s Struggle Against Death, Op. 58 (2008) (MP3 and YouTube).

Find out more about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Ekaterinya Vladinakova is an accomplished digital painter. See her gallery here and her DeviantArt page here.  

Sci-Fi City – Art by Maxime Delcambre

Sci-Fi City – Art by Maxime Delcambre

maxime-delcambre-sci-fi-city-md-bannerjpgNote: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of art.

Created by digital artist Maxime Delcambre, this futuristic matte painting portrays a flourishing science fiction cityscape.

Visit Maxime Delcambre’s portfolio for more of his matte paintings and illustrations.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License and was originally posted on DeviantArt.

The Fallacy of “Buy Land — They’re Not Making Any More” – Article by Peter St. Onge

The Fallacy of “Buy Land — They’re Not Making Any More” – Article by Peter St. Onge

The New Renaissance Hat
Peter St. Onge
September 21, 2015
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“Buy land — they’re not making any more!” is an old investing chestnut, and a common sense one to boot. Economically, it’s also completely false.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, we make land all the time. It just doesn’t look like land.

Why? Because land’s value doesn’t come from its ability to cover up the naked earth. Land’s value comes from its economic usefulness. From the value of things that can be done using that land (Rothbard’s “marginal revenue product” of the land). And that value is, indeed, changing all the time. Economically, from a price perspective, then, we make land all the time.

Step back a moment and ask why land has value anyway. Why do people want land? Well, obviously, because you can put stuff there — including yourself — plus buildings, swimming pools, and factories.

Now, anybody who’s visited West Texas knows there is plenty of building space in the world. You could drive for hours and meet nobody. There’s lots of space for that factory of yours. But it’s not really space itself that makes land valuable. It’s location. As in, there’s only so much room in Manhattan. Or Central London.

Once again, though, it’s not the actual space that matters. It’s the access. Put a strip mall on Manhattan surrounded by crocodile-filled moats and snipers and it will have low value. The value is in access. So Manhattan is valuable because it’s easy to get to other parts of Manhattan. And it’s easy for other people to get to you. Customers, partners, and friends can all easily visit you if your apartment or office is in Manhattan, moatless and sniperless.

So if it’s the access that matters, are they making new access? Of course. They’re doing it all the time.

New highways, new exits, new streets, mass transit, pedestrian malls are being regularly constructed. These all effectively “make new land” because they offer access to existing space. They turn relatively “dead zones” into “useful zones,” or new land.

What are some of the meta-trends on land as investment, then?

First: roads. This was a bigger value-driver a generation ago in the US, as new roads made the suburbs more accessible, helping to drain many cities even as US population grew. Outside the US (Mexico, Thailand, Russia), new roads are still a big deal, and even in the US, new highways can reshape values — draining old neighborhoods and building value in new ones. The decline of cities like Baltimore or Detroit are partly thanks to those beautiful roads that redistribute access to the suburbs.

Second: population. In the US “rust belt” of declining manufacturing, many regions have dropped in price simply because people are leaving. Detroit homes for $100 is emblematic, although of course there are also political reasons some cities are so cheap — in particular, taxes and crime.

And that brings us to politics. Real estate can be cheapened shockingly quickly by taxes and crime, and those traditional drivers have been joined in recent decades by environmental politics.

Environmentalists, by taking land off the market, effectively squeeze the remaining accessible locations, driving up the price. Regions like Seattle or San Francisco are poster children of this environmental squeeze, with modest homes even in remote suburbs costing upward of a million dollars. On the other extreme, cities like Dallas or Houston have kept prices down despite exploding populations by allowing farmland to be converted to residential, commercial, or industrial use.

Beyond the access and political angles, land is also vulnerable to “network effects.” In other words, the neighbors matter. Gentrification or urban decay can be hard to predict. Even in a compact city with rising population like Washington, DC, it can be hard to predict where the middle class or rich want to colonize, and where they want to flee.

There are clues, of course — in large US cities, gays moving into a neighborhood, new coffee shops or art galleries are some leading indicators that property prices might swing up. But gentrification has it’s own mind; even in a booming city it might go into some other neighborhood. New York’s Harlem or Silicon Valley’s East Palo Alto are two very accessible locations with low prices because of perceptions of the neighbors.

So, while they’re not “making” land, they are constantly making things that affect land price: access, regulations, changing neighbors. These are the kinds of factors that make land valuable, not it’s ability to cover the earth.

And so land comes back to earth, joining boring old commodities like wheat or copper. Just as vulnerable to changing supply and demand factors.

And if you are looking for something they’re not “making more of?” Well, gold does come close – hence its appeal. They do mine new gold all the time, but the costs are high enough that gold is a very “inelastic” commodity. It comes close to “they’re not making more.”

Beyond that? Develop your ultimate resource: yourself.

Peter St. Onge is an assistant professor at Taiwan’s Fengjia University College of Business. He blogs at Profits of Chaos.
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This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.
Artisanopolis – Seasteading City Concept by Gabriel Scheare, Luke Crowley, Lourdes Crowley, and Patrick White

Artisanopolis – Seasteading City Concept by Gabriel Scheare, Luke Crowley, Lourdes Crowley, and Patrick White

The New Renaissance HatGabriel Scheare, Luke Crowley, Lourdes Crowley, and Patrick White
August 8, 2015
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Artisanopolis, created by Gabriel Scheare, Luke & Lourdes Crowley, and Patrick White of Roark 3D and Fortgalt as a gift to The Seasteading Institute, in conjunction with the Institute’s Architectural Design Contest.

Description by The Seasteading Institute: Based on the foundational vision of The Seasteading Institute and DeltaSync, these works of art constitute an attempt at communicating the essence of what the infrastructure of sea-based civilization might look like in the near future. In this age of limited governance options, we intend to suggest an alternative model that allows new communities to form beyond the limiting jurisdictions of existing nation states in order to promote freedom and competition in the marketplace.

Each floating platform can be towed via tugboat from location to location and they can interlock to form sprawling formations over the water’s surface. Ballasts are used to adjust the depth at which the platforms sit in the water and coupling latches lock them together to form larger, cohesive footprints for convenience and stability. Modeled after those found at the seaport of Brighton, England, a large modular wavebreaker surrounds the city to shelter it from rough waters and wind while energy is supplied by renewable means like photovoltaic panel arrays and wave-driven turbines. Aquaponics greenhouse domes provide locally grown food, seawater is desalinated on site to provide drinking water, organic waste is removed via tankers to an off-site composting location, and inorganic waste is recycled. With so much focus on efficiency and sustainability, The Floating City Project promises to serve as a viable template upon which other seasteading projects can be modeled in the future.

All design contest images on this page are under the Creative Commons Attribution License. It means that you are allowed to redistribute and modify images but that you must attribute the original designer when doing so.

Note: Left-click on the images to see them in higher resolution.

Artisanopolis_01 Artisanopolis_02Artisanopolis_03Artisanopolis_04Artisanopolis_05Artisanopolis_06Artisanopolis_07Artisanopolis_08 Artisanopolis_09Artisanopolis_10Artisanopolis_11Artisanopolis_12Artisanopolis_13

 

Elevated Fractal City II – Art by G. Stolyarov II

Elevated Fractal City II – Art by G. Stolyarov II

Elevated Fractal City II - by G. Stolyarov II

Elevated Fractal City II – by G. Stolyarov II

Note: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of fractal art.

This fractal depicts a vision of man’s future colonization of space.

This vast, golden, illuminated city of the future towers over an otherwise inhospitable planet.

This digital artwork was created by Mr. Stolyarov in Apophysis, a free program that facilitates deliberate manipulation of randomly generated fractals into intelligible shapes.

This fractal is an extension of Mr. Stolyarov’s artistic style of Abstract Orderism, whose goal is the creation of abstract objects that are appealing by virtue of their geometric intricacy — a demonstration of the order that man can both discover in the universe and bring into existence through his own actions and applications of the laws of nature.

Fractal art is based on the idea of the spontaneous order – which is pivotal in economics, culture, and human civilization itself. Now, using computer technology, spontaneous orders can be harnessed in individual art works as well.

See the index of Mr. Stolyarov’s art works.

The Unplanned Order of Houston, TX – Article by Bradley Doucet

The Unplanned Order of Houston, TX – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
May 1, 2013
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“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
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I recently had the pleasure of visiting the great American city of Houston, Texas. I was only there for two days, and so only saw a tiny fraction of what there was to see. But I was able to spot some evidence and hear some firsthand accounts of one of the city’s important peculiarities: its lack of zoning laws. With a population of 2.1 million (6 million in the metro area), Houston is the largest city in America without zoning laws—and it gets along just fine without them, thank you very much.

In the Zone

If there’s one thing that seems certain in this world besides death and taxes, it’s that cities have zoning laws. These laws determine what kinds and sizes of homes and commercial buildings can be built where, the densities of neighbourhoods, the outward appearances of structures, and so on. But as much as we have come to take these minute regulations of city life for granted, it wasn’t always so. According to Samuel R. Staley, who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics at Florida State University in Tallahassee, “Before the twentieth century land-use and housing disputes were largely dealt with through courts using the common-law principle of nuisance.” If a smelly pig farm set up shop in a residential area, for instance, residents could go to court and either be compensated for the harm caused by the noxious fumes or get the pig farmer to cease operations or move elsewhere.

As Staley explains, that all changed with the ascendancy of the Progressive movement in the early years of the last century. Progressives argued that the common-law approach to nuisance was too expensive, time-consuming, and complicated, making it a difficult avenue for the less fortunate members of society to use. Zoning would be more efficient and fair, they claimed. Yet whatever the good intentions behind it, its effect, writes Staley, “was to fully politicize land-use decisions,” often in favour of the politically powerful.

Houstonians, unique among the residents of large American cities, rejected zoning in popular referendums on three separate occasions: in 1948, in 1962, and again in 1993. Despite pleas before the 1993 vote from the Houston Homeowner’s Association about the need “to stop the cancerous erosion of the quality of life in many of our neighborhoods,” the city’s registered voters did not seem overly concerned about their quality of life, as few of them even bothered to come out for the vote.

How Can People Live This Way?

So, does chaos reign in The Big Heart (a nickname earned when Houstonians pitched in to help many tens of thousands of refugees from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina)? Hardly. There were no slaughterhouses or pulp and paper mills in the residential neighbourhood I was staying in. There was a charming Mexican restaurant, though, with parking for maybe twenty vehicles, a small bridge crossing a little creek, and an expansive patio bordered by tall shade trees.

CB Richard Ellis, a big property company, explains how the city manages to avoid “a disjointed landscape where oil derricks sit next to mansions and auto salvage yards abut churches” without recourse to zoning laws: “What is unique about Houston is that the separation of land uses is impelled by economic forces rather than mandatory zoning. While it is theoretically possible for a petrochemical refinery to locate next to a housing development, it is unlikely that profit-maximizing real-estate developers will allow this to happen.” The spontaneous order of the market encourages charming restaurants in among private homes, but discourages incompatible uses. As author James D. Saltzman has written, “heavy industry voluntarily locates on large tracts near rail lines or highways; apartments and stores seek thoroughfares; gas stations vie for busy intersections.”

It is not the case, however, that Houston is completely bereft of regulation. Developers commonly employ private covenants and deed restrictions to limit the uses of land in a given development. These can keep businesses or apartments out of the neighborhood, or even stipulate lawn care and acceptable house paint colours. But importantly, as Saltzman points out, “However detailed, deed restrictions contain rules voluntarily accepted by home buyers, unlike the edicts issued to property owners by a zoning commission.”

In addition to these voluntary restrictions, though, there are also some land-use ordinances regulating things like trailer parks, rendering plants, and commercial landscaping. And in fact, these city regulations have not all had positive effects, either. Michael Lewyn, associate professor at the Touro Law Center, points out that rules regarding minimum lot sizes for single-family homes, minimum street widths, and mandatory parking space requirements for both residential and commercial buildings have made Houston less dense than it would have been if its development had been left entirely to market forces. This means the sprawling city is more dependent on cars and less pedestrian friendly than it could be.

Reaping the Benefits

Despite such laws, however, Houston still regulates land use to a significantly lesser degree than other cities. The payoff, in addition to a welcome, convenient, eclectic mix of uses, is more affordable housing. As prices were soaring across the country in the inflation-fueled housing bubble a few years back, they remained relatively stable in Houston. And not having soared, they did not plummet when that bubble inevitably burst. According to Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas senior economist Bill Gilmer, lack of zoning deserves a lot of the credit.

As Jane Jacobs wrote about in her classic 1961 work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, city planners often behave as if the rest of us who live in a city had no plans of our own. In Houston, more than in most cities, people can pursue their own plans. Rather than leading to chaos, this leads to a more spontaneous, more organic kind of order. If residents of other cities could move away from imposed, top-down order, we too could be freer to pursue more of our own plans without the hassle and added cost of zoning laws.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.