Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Urban Planning and Freedom of Choice

Welcome to Technology and the City.

For far too long, urban planning analysis has been stuck in an either/or world, with many critics claiming we need policies that encourage more transit and fewer suburbs, and others claiming we need to build more highways and subdivisions to accommodate office workers. But I believe both are wrong. The cities and suburbs that exist today are not the result of a few major policy decisions, but millions of small economic decisions made by consumers and businesses.

It might be easy to blame mortgage interest deductions for suburban sprawl, or for car companies killing transit lines in the 30s and 40s. But while it's always easy to blame politicians or businesspeople, the real issue is why the economics of driving solo became so attractive at that time relative to riding public streetcars. If anyone thinks Congress is so enlightened as to understand how these microeconomic forces would alter life for decades, then it's time for a reality check.

Today, many microeconomic forces are working in favor of public transit and multi-unit apartments and condos. None of this has anything to do with policy, rather the policy is a function of changes in underlying costs for energy, communications, and transportation that is allowing this to happen. This is providing Americans with greater freedom of choice regarding whether they want to live in a city, a suburb, or something in between.

Technology and the City will look at these choices, and how changes in not just technology, but the economics of delivering technologies, specifically transportation, communication, and energy, have altered cities in the past, and will continue to do in the future. It will also look at specific projects, including highway construction, housing developments, and transit builds. Ultimately, it will aim to provide depth on the many decisions that lead to changes in the built environment, most of which originate with citizens, not politicians.

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