Is it about the home or the location of the home?

I recently saw this:

I think this is promoting living in the country as the person making the statement would be okay with a cabin rather than a mansion. The cabin looks like it is in decent shape, but it is no mansion.

However, this gets at a question I wonder about a lot: what exactly is it that motivates many people to select where they live? Here are several of the major factors:

-How many resources they have? What can they afford?

-What kind of neighborhood or community do they want to live in?

-Proximity to work.

-Quality of schools.

-Proximity to family.

-Preferences for kind and style of residence.

If you choose to live in a cabin in the country, you are elevating some of these factors as more important than others. But, is the choice primarily about the country and nature, the relative lack of people, the different kind of house, or something else? Reducing it to a binary choice of cabin/country versus city/mansion is simple but the decision might be much more complicated.

10 of 30 NFL teams play in the suburbs of the city whose name they hold

Ten NFL teams have a big city in their name but play in the stadiums located in the suburbs of that big city. Here are the 10 (sourced from here and here):

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-Buffalo Bills play in Orchard Park

-Dallas Cowboys play in Arlington

-Los Angeles Chargers play in Inglewood

-Los Angeles Rams play in Inglewood

-Miami Dolphins play in Miami Gardens

-New York Giants play in East Rutherford (New Jersey)

-New York Jets play in East Rutherford (New Jersey)

-San Francisco 49ers play in Santa Clara

-Washington Commanders play in Landover (Maryland)

Two bonus suburban teams: the Arizona Cardinals, not named after a city but a state, play in suburban Glendale and the New England Patriots, named after a region and not a city, play in suburban Foxborough.

If the Bears end up in Arlington Heights, that would push the number of suburban NFL teams up to 13 total.

Modern cities and deep time

Those suffering negative consequences after earthquakes in Mexico City highlight the tensions between modern cities and deep time:

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If we consider the city a geophysical entity, we can think about being tocado as a uniquely historical form of relating with the Earth. Rather than Elena’s affliction being induced by a traumatic experience and a fear of future earthquake events, she and others fear the processes that were initiated by the earthquake: the grietas, the slumps, the leans, the fissures, the buildings collapsing years later…

This is a form of seismic time that is not only knowable through a seismic event. It’s a time that begins with an earthquake but continues through ongoing geophysical and political processes. Rather than a pathological individual condition or a culture-bound form of expression, we might see being tocado as an emergent form through which bodies, histories, legislations and earths come into relation. Deep time, in Mexico City, is resolutely present if you are compelled to notice.

Deep time might be a useful frame for contemporary analysis, a temporal literacy that places the long-term ramifications of the present moment into a deeper history. Conversely, such scales also risk subsuming deep time into the present.

Mexico City points toward something more physical, a sense of time that neither collapses the human and the geological nor holds them as irrevocably distinct. In their embodied apprehension of earthly processes, people who are tocado reveal that deep time is not only an analytic problem of scale, but a stranger temporal geometry, where homes are at once sites of security and indifferent geophysical entities. Deep time portals open in the city’s many cracks, slumps and fissures, revealing an inconceivable horizon forever rushing forward.

The modern city is often designed to avoid deep time or a deep understanding of the past. The modern city of the last two centuries often took existing land and communities and created a city on a new scale with new materials with new possibilities.

In this article, the primary point of departure from modern time are earthquakes that remind residents on what the city is constructed. Other features of cities that might do this could be other natural disasters, areas designed and established far before the advent of cars, ancient landmarks, and excavations that reveal the past.

But, I imagine many residents of such cities have limited interactions with a deep past. Take Chicago: what there would remind people of a deep past, let alone even a few hundred years before? And if residents and leaders did more regularly interact with the deep past, would they act differently in the cities that are now so important to modern life?

The states and cities with restricted activity with other states and cities

I recently found a description of the states and cities limiting their activity with other governments/places within the United States:

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At least six states and the District of Colombia over the last six years have prohibited their employees from taking work trips to states with laws that, in their view, discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. California’s prohibition is by far the most sweeping, barring state-funded travel to nearly half the country: 22 states, including four additions – Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, and Utah –last week.

California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia all have sought to financially pressure several other states in some form or another – creating a confusing patchwork of bans, with some states lifting previous travel bans on other states, such as Indiana, that revise laws applying to the LGBTQ community after a national or statewide uproar…

After witnessing the impact on Indianapolis, several mayors of liberal cities, including New York, the District of Columbia, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, and others sprang into action. They announced bans on city-funded travel to North Carolina amid a national backlash over House Bill 2, which prevented transgender people in the state from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. North Carolina lawmakers quickly devised a compromise that helped convince collegiate sporting events to return to the state. Still, several big-city mayors kept a ban on employees traveling there.

Add this to the actions of private actors and you have interesting geographic conflicts across the United States.

It is less clear what these travel restrictions lead to in the long run. Does this connect to lower levels of geographic mobility among American residents as a whole? Is it part of “the big sort” by political affiliations and commitments? Does it lead to social networks that skip over some geographies and not others? How does it fit with the urban/rural divide in politics and each spaces sense of place and country?

Historic preservation, the ways cities and suburbs resist development projects, and property values

In a discussion of how historic preservation aligned with particular political interests in cities, a scholar describes how suburbanites resist development compared to those in cities:

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The peculiar yet profound way in which historic preservation bound together issues of aesthetics, finance, and urban change is key to understanding why its popularity grew so rapidly in the middle of the 20th century. It also explains why a culture of historic preservation took root in some places more than others. Most suburbs—like the one on Long Island where Geller I once stood—relied on a different set of tools to stop development, such as open-space requirements and zoning codes that limited the number of new homes. To this day, historic preservation remains a less potent force in such places, largely because these other rules ensure that homes like Geller I are unlikely to be replaced by anything but McMansions. In cities with significant numbers of old buildings, however, preservation became an essential part of the process by which communities fended off urban-redevelopment projects.

While historic preservation does take place in the suburbs (and will come for McMansions at some point), it does not occur at the same level as in cities. As noted above, suburbs are not likely to approve significant changes to local zoning or buildings. Neighbors and residents will complain about changes to traffic, noise, lighting, and the character of a neighborhood in a way that tends to limit what a redeveloped property will be.

Cities also have zoning regulations and NIMBY responses to new structures but the presence of more buildings and uses in denser areas can make this all more complicated. Particularly in areas where redevelopment is hot, a new building might be very different than what has stood there for a long time.

But, as the article notes, historic preservation can be a tool used in a lot of places to halt plans:

Historic preservation not only gave this process of hyper-gentrification an imprimatur of political and legal legitimacy it might otherwise have lacked, but also continues to enable it in the present day. The LPC’s own website still notes that one of the purposes of New York’s landmarks law is to “stabilize and improve property values.” While the commission’s press releases paint an image of a body focused on protecting a diverse new array of buildings, the historic districts that already exist are, right now, a significant intervention in the city’s real-estate markets, whose main beneficiaries are the people who own land within them. Nor is this dynamic unique to New York. In California, wealthy cities like Pasadena and Palo Alto have recently tried to expand their landmarking powers in order to circumvent a new state law encouraging the construction of sorely needed housing. Simsbury, Connecticut, which is 87 percent white, just finalized a sale of nearly 300 acres to a land trust—killing an affordable-housing project in the process—on the premise that the site is historically significant because Martin Luther King Jr. once worked there. In Washington, preservationists have long tried to block the redevelopment of a water-filtration plant that hasn’t been used in 35 years on the basis that it is historically significant.

And perhaps this gets at the heart of the matter: whether using zoning or historic preservation, one of the goals of American residents is to enhance property values. Sonia Hirt argues that protecting single-family homes and their values is a primary goal of zoning in the United States. In a system that prizes the growth of home values, perhaps historic preservation plays a similar role.

Are American cities in trouble or are we focusing too much on the business core of cities?

Recent data suggests the biggest American cities are facing several issues, including population loss. I wonder if the bigger issue is too much focus on the business and downtown core:

They are all among the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country. All of their populations were growing in 2011. And then, in 2021, they all shrank by a combined 900,000 people, according to an analysis of census data by the Brookings scholar William Frey. That’s an urban exodus nearly the size of two Wyomings.

The great metro shrinkage is part of a larger demographic story. Last year, the U.S. growth rate fell to a record low. The major drivers of population—migration and births—declined, while deaths soared in the pandemic. But America’s largest cities are getting the worst of this national trend. In the past three years, the net number of moves out of Manhattan has increased tenfold. In every urban county within the metros of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, immigration declined by at least 50 percent from 2018 to 2021. In downtown Detroit and Long Island, deaths actually exceeded births last year.

The great metro shrinkage also appears to be part of a broader cultural story: The rise of remote work has snipped the tether between home and office, allowing many white-collar workers to move out of high-cost cities. Nearly 5 million Americans have moved since 2020 because of remote-work opportunities, according to Adam Ozimek, the chief economist for the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank in Washington, D.C…

So what might this period of urban struggle look like? Just check out what’s happening now. Mass-transit ridership has collapsed from its pre-pandemic highs in New York, Boston, the Bay Area, and Washington, D.C. Although restaurant bookings and travel have bounced back almost entirely, office occupancy remains 50 percent below its 2019 levels. In San Francisco, vacant office space has nearly quadrupled since the pandemic to 18.7 million square feet. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams has practically begged white-collar workers to return to Midtown, even as those workers patronize businesses in more residential parts of the city, closer to where they live. America’s downtown areas support millions of jobs that can’t be made remote—in retail, construction, health care, and beyond. But for millions of white-collar workers, something important has changed: They don’t work “in” cities anymore. They work on the internet. The city is just where they go for fun.

The overall numbers are what they are. Yet, the emphasis in this piece and in others I have read are about a downtown core that COVID-19 weakened. What if American cities no longer need a dense downtown core in the same way? With more work from home, less demand for downtown office space and more interest in downtown residential space, and the ways cars and mass transit allow workers to live in different places from their workplaces, how much focus should be placed on struggling cores?

This could be a larger existential issue about American cities. In the 1990s, a group of scholars in Los Angeles wrote about a new Los Angeles School of urbanism built around the unique features of the LA region. This includes a decreased emphasis on a downtown core and more sprawl and fragmentation across the region. In contrast, Chicago and New York and many other American cities stand as the established alternative: an important business core in response to which all other city activity is oriented.

So is the problem really cities are in big trouble or that the model of an ultra-dense center with all that comes with it is breaking a bit? This could be a huge change for certain places – particularly parts of Manhattan, downtown San Francisco – but there would also be opportunities throughout cities if development and business and residential activity could be more spread out. Indeed, the picture attached to the story says a lot about this:

This picture is taken from the vantage point of a sizable property just south of Chicago’s Loop. Why is it not developed? If the core did not have to be as dense, could this significant property be better woven into the fabric of the city?

More broadly, observers can think about complete cities and complete regions in addition to changes or issues facing the downtown. If activity is moving elsewhere, what does this mean and how might it improve life elsewhere?

Looking to global examples to address housing crunches in expensive cities

Housing is a very difficult issue to address at the national level. Can the United States look to examples abroad?

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Some suggest that Japan is the model to follow. There, rental prices have largely remained flat over the last 25 years, according to data from the country’s statistics bureau. The reason is that the government controls zoning nationally and is more open to development in the number of houses it allows to be built. Just over a third of Japanese citizens rent the homes they live in, protected by a 1991 law called the Act on Land and Building Leases, which makes it difficult for landlords to end leases or prevent a tenant from extending their rental contract…

So where else should we be looking, if not to Japan, for the model to fix the broken housing market in large parts of the west? One option is Singapore, where public housing is built in specially designed communities and sold to individuals with a 99-year lease below market value. Selling on that property is highly restricted to reduce profiteering, but it can happen after five years of ownership. Nearly four in five Singaporeans live in public-sector housing, according to official statistics. “Prices can never get beyond regular working families,” says Ronald. “They have this virtuous circle, and it makes it interesting to think about the role of regulating housing.”…

Until late January 2022, housing developments in Germany were subsidized by the government below market rates for the first five years after being built. “It means tens of thousands of units every year come onto the market, keeping rental prices lower and preventing scrambles to buy a property,” he says.

A similar model exists in Austria and Switzerland, where the split is roughly 55 to 45 percent (in favor of renting in Switzerland, and owning in Austria), compared to an average European home ownership rate of 70 percent. When you get to the Austrian capital, Vienna, the home ownership rate is just 7 percent.

All of these sound like they would require some fundamental changes to housing policy in the United States. This might include:

  1. A stronger national policy. This could be through programs available everywhere or guidelines that all states and municipalities have to follow.
  2. A stronger emphasis on renting.
  3. More government involvement in the construction of housing and/or longer-term government oversight of housing units.

None of these options would be particularly popular in the United States or easy to implement. Here are quick explanations why for each option above:

  1. A national policy would come at the expense of the power of more local governmental actors. With real estate being so much about location, could a national policy truly address all of the different situations? Americans expect to be able to control or at least provide input into the use of land around them.
  2. Homeownership is ingrained in American life as part of the attainment of the American Dream. This is ensconsed in zoning policy, supported by politicians and policies for decades, and Americans can be suspicious of renters compared to homeowners. Renting is more common in some areas compared to others but it is not seen as the ideal among Americans.
  3. Public housing has never been fully supported in the United States. The government’s active role in housing is often viewed as negative unless it is supporting homeownership.

This does not mean that the housing landscape in the United States cannot change. The need for more housing and more affordable housing is acute. But, changes will likely take decades and sustained efforts.

Populations – national or local – can grow or decline through births, deaths, and immigration

While the focus here is on the United States as a whole, this is also worth considering at the community level:

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A country grows or shrinks in three ways: immigration, deaths, and births. America’s declining fertility rate often gets the headline treatment. Journalists are obsessed with the question of why Americans aren’t having more babies. And because I’m a journalist, be assured that we’ll do the baby thing in a moment. But it’s the other two factors—death and immigration—that are overwhelmingly responsible for the collapse in U.S. population growth…

As recently as 2016, net immigration to the United States exceeded 1 million people. But immigration has since collapsed by about 75 percent, falling below 250,000 last year. Immigration fell by more than half in almost all of the hot spots for foreign-born migrants, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco…

The implications of permanently slumped population growth are wide-ranging. Shrinking populations produce stagnant economies. Stagnant economies create wonky cultural knock-on effects, like a zero-sum mentality that ironically makes it harder to pursue pro-growth policies. (For example, people in slow-growth regions might be fearful of immigrants because they seem to represent a threat to scarce business opportunities, even though immigration represents these places’ best chance to grow their population and economy.) The sector-by-sector implications of declining population would also get very wonky very fast. Higher education is already fighting for its life in the age of remote school and rising tuition costs. Imagine what happens if, following the historically large Millennial cohort, every subsequent U.S. generation gets smaller and smaller until the end of time, slowly starving many colleges of the revenue they’ve come to expect.

Even if you’re of the dubious opinion that the U.S. would be better off with a smaller population, American demographic policy is bad for Americans who are alive right now. We are a nation where families have fewer kids than they want; where Americans die of violence, drugs, accidents, and illness at higher rates than similarly rich countries; and where geniuses who want to found new job-creating companies are forced to do so in other countries, which get all the benefits of higher productivity, higher tax revenue, and better jobs.

This matters for communities and cities in at least a few ways:

  1. The “growth is good” model in the United States assumes continued population growth. This is good for status as well as for other things (see #2).
  2. When populations are growing, the incoming revenues help pay for existing infrastructure and services as well as suggest money will be there in the future. In contrast, stagnant or declining populations can require cuts or reductions.
  3. The role of immigration cannot be understated and it affects population as well as demographics and local economics. For example, Chicago would have likely had more population loss over recent decades without immigrants coming to the city.

It will be particularly interesting to see what happens if more major population centers experience relatively little or no population growth while a few continue to grow rapidly. Does this change the balance of power and status among places?

Planning for the metaverse libertarian urban paradise

The quest for a free online city continue with the help of a prominent architectural firm:

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Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) has revealed renderings of the “cyber-urban” Liberland metaverse, a small virtual city made of futuristic, curving buildings in the architectural style that made the late architect’s firm famous. When complete, it will offer users the ability to traverse the hub as an avatar, and feature a city hall, collaborative working spaces, shops, business incubators, and a gallery for NFT art shows. The community it hopes to foster will have a focus on self-governance as well as fewer rules and regulations.

Those ideals are based on the so-called Free Republic of Liberland, a real-life micronation founded by Czech politician Vit Jedlicka in 2015 with a goal to implement small government libertarian values. Wedged between Serbia and Croatia, the 2.7-mile territory, which is larger than the Vatican and Monaco, is a disputed land and claimed by neither country. Since its founding, no one has moved to Liberland, which lacks any infrastructure, nor has construction started in earnest. But it does have 7,000 approved residents and 700,000 applications, according to Jedlicka, who told CNN in an email. The micronation also has a national flag, anthem and currency — the cryptocurrency Liberland merit…

Though many metaverse concepts have been born out of video game aesthetics — Mark Zuckerberg’s concept for a Metaverse, for example, looks similar to Nintendo Wii’s avatar design — the digital architecture of Liberland is meant to be more grounded in reality. The buildings, while hyper-futuristic, are similar to the glossy look of typical architectural renderings. But they were made with parametric design — a method that employs algorithms to create complex forms…

But while many online forums and social media companies have had to grapple with how much to moderate their users, with sites like Reddit having to move away from their ideals of unmitigated free speech as their user base ballooned, Liberland will start out as an exclusive space and expand slowly, in order to keep its community in check. Jedlicka confirmed that Liberland citizens and residents will have first access.

This combines several ideas with their own fan bases – the metaverse, libertarianism and small government, this architectural style – and tries to put them together in once place. I wonder if this hints at a fragmented metaverse where people of different interests and community ties come together in a few settings but they do not go elsewhere.

It is also worth noting that while this is only a online place, it is not disconnected from the offline realm in multiple ways. First, the online realm tries to imitate the offline with its use of space, buildings, and architecture. Second, those who operate in the online realm still have physical bodies and interactions outside of Liberland. This will be billed as new and exciting because it is in the metaverse…but physical matter still matters in multiple ways for this new community.

The importance of the globe’s five biggest forests

A new book outlines the outsized role of the five remaining big forests in the world:

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All forests can help, but large forests are of supreme importance for the climate. The five largest ones left—the megaforests—include boreal forests in Russia and North America, and the tropical forests in the Amazon, Congo, and New Guinea. Intact forests are 20 percent of the tropical total and store 40 percent of the aboveground forest carbon in the low latitudes. New research led by Sean Maxwell, of the University of Queensland, and 11 collaborators suggests that the carbon benefit of intact tropical forests is six times greater than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others have estimated to date. That’s because in the years after a big forest is broken up by roads or farms, its edges dry out and winds whistle through, blowing over big trees. Fires invade it more readily, and overhunting eliminates animals that disperse seeds. And on top of all the carbon vaporized from the space actually deforested, over the next several decades the climate will be stuck with 14 metric tons of extra carbon per acre that the lost tropical forests would have absorbed had they remained standing…

This experiment began in 1979. It ended up with five plots measuring two and a half acres, four at 25 acres, and two covering 250 acres. Matching control plots in continuous forest were also established. By 2002, the project had produced a simple answer about fragmentation: Large intact areas are very important, the larger the better. Even the 250-acre reserves were too small for forest-interior bird species, half of which vacated these patches in less than 15 years. The edges were hotter and drier, with great mats of desiccated leaves from trees either dying or losing foliage to wind. There were more vines, thicker undergrowth, and fewer mushrooms.

Species that need continuous tree cover decamped. Black spider monkeys, for example, who move fast through large areas of forest eating fruit from widely spaced trees, abandoned all the forest fragments immediately. They stayed in nearby continuous forest. Howler monkeys, by contrast, are leaf eaters and not particularly choosy. They remained in all the fragments. The white-plumed antbird, so named for the spiky crest between its eyes, could not persist in the fragments. Antbirds follow raiding ant armies and eat the bugs flushed out by the lethal column. Though 250 acres is sufficient territory for one ant colony, each colony marches only about a week per month. So, to avoid going hungry for weeks at a time, the white-plumed antbirds need to follow several colonies on a rotating basis. The 250-acre fragments were at least three times too small for the birds. No antbirds means no antbird droppings, which deprives shimmering blue-and-black skipper butterflies their sustenance. They left too…

Big forests are a linchpin in a planetary system. They are vivid stages for stories about energy and matter that we describe severally with our physical, biological, and chemical sciences, but are really a single story whose intricacies and meaning we don’t fully understand. Orchid bees make Brazil nuts, feed agoutis, take carbon from the air, breathe water back into it, make clouds that make rain a hundred miles away that feeds a stream, where a catfish, having migrated from the mouth of the Amazon, is caught by an otter or by a person, surrendering its protein to enliven the woods. The bee makes all these things, and these things make the bee.

One takeaway from this research: the way trees and nature are often treated in urban and suburban settings does not fully grapple with the larger impact of trees and forests. Isolated pockets of green are not necessarily bad but there is a difference in scale between those possibilities in more densely settled locations and large unbroken forests.

Another interesting aspect to consider is the human interaction with these large forests. Coming off reading the The Dawn of Everything, the shift to agriculture and living in larger cities in metropolitan areas did really create a divide between certain natural settings where humans could thrive and what became the settings for much of human activity.

This book also reminded me of this January 2022 piece on a man who has explored the old growth forests of New England and how much this differs from many contemporary experiences with trees and forests.