Monday, November 03, 2014

Old downtowns and new tech

Manhattan's downtowns are the model that many American city planners dream of.  But it is not a plausible model in most auto-oriented cities. You get street life when enough pedestrians use the streets to get around proximate destinations. Today's NY Times includes "Los Angeles, in the Rider's Seat ... The personal car is still king in Southern California, but smartphone apps for ride-sharing services have made the city's night life more like New York's when it comes to accessibility ..."

The promise of the combination of smartphones, broadband, apps and smart tech entrepreneurs is well understood and appreciated. I expect that this is just the start and that the stagnationists are wrong. But the real point here is that we have another case of 50+ years of policies and public monies poured into downtown LA's revitalization with little effect. Then two things happened with which policy makers had little to do. The fall in street crime and now the rise of Uber-type services. In fact, the latter has to fight off the efforts of policy makers in LA whose impulse is to sustain the city-sanctioned taxi monopoly.

Hayek thought that policy successes are hard to achieve because policy makers are inevitably data deficient; they are also hampered by inevitable politicization. But as in my previous post, it is possible to achieve policy goals in spite of the policies enacted.

Matt Kahn sees all of this as pointing to the importance of '"consumer cities."  Finally, tech does not give us the "death of distance" or any such thing. Rather, old tech (downtown) and new tech (Uber) can complement each other to achieve something novel. Cities will keep spreading out and old centers will gain in some places.