Sunday, October 10, 2004


A week or so ago, Patrick Crozier of Transport Blog was kind enough to respond to my post about a proposed maga-dollar extension of LA's underwhelming Red Line.

Pat pointed to an even more expensive extension of London's Jubilee Line which, he reports, is responsible for a development boom valued far in excess of the money spent.

There must be some projects in the world that, well timed and placed, did impact development -- even to the tune of garnering more development benefits (valued in land value increments) than was spent.

Urban economists would probably point to a distributional problem unless the affected landowners were made to shoulder the costs of the windfall that came their way. On top of that, as some neighborhoods boom, others may fade. Here are additional and complex impacts to discern and consider.

Mainly, however, the discussion suggests that there is some objective function that some land use planning group is maximizing -- and that they do so via clever investments in subways, or anything else for that matter.

This is every planner's dream but, largely, a fiction. 1) there is no agreement on what should be maximized; 2) there is no science to help us specify and rank maximands (although substantial regional science literature -- including some that I had a hand in when I was much more optimistic about such things -- suggests there is); and 3) there is no easy way to design the instruments that would do the work of achieving the goals.

OK. So we can, nevertheless, do it via successive approximations and compromises. I am reminded of the lesson that I got from reading Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff's Mega Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Investment. Namely, it is all about getting something built. Anything. The specifics matter much less than local politicians succeeding in getting their hands on federal dollars to leverage. In fact, that seems to be all that the mega-planners did.