Sunday, October 27, 2019

So many confusions

In the current the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes "We Built This City: What we can learn from a long-reviled master of 'urban renewal" which is a long-winded review of Lizabeth Cohen's Saving America's Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. (which I have not read). Gopnik is seemingly perplexed and ends this way: "What aspects of Ed Logue's legacy do we really want to revive? Essentially it's the intentions not the edifices."

The review meanders between discussions of projects that Logue was involved with and very general discussions of cities. The discussions do not mesh because the problem of scale is not addressed.

More than anyone, Sandy Ikeda has pointed out that Jane Jacobs' criticisms of planners (like Logue) is that they did not pay adequate attention to the fact that cities are beyond the design capabilities of humans. "Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos, On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order." (Jacobs, 1961). Could Hayek have said it any better?

We are indebted to clever designers for creating almost anything within reach. But their human capabilities only scale up so far. City planners (and many others, especially their architect colleagues) simply presume that their design skills can be scaled up and up. Alain Bertaud recently published Order without Design: How Markets Shape Cities. Precisely.

Bertaud notes (p. 7). "Some urban regulations are indispensable. I only advocate periodically auditing urban regulations to eliminate the ones that are irrelevant and malignant." Yes. The folks in City Hall can do nothing about climate change which is a global commons. But they can posture and grandstand. Trouble is that this is not an innocent error. Road diets can kill people.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Near and Far

We know that information is crucial, complex and dispersed. This is why there are ubiquitous information markets. We are all on a mission to seek out, not just data and not just information, but also key ideas. We start with hunches re what ideas matter to us and where to look find them. Just hunches. They are the place to start.

Many ideas are best transmitted person-to-person in conversations. This is complicated: tacit information that is not easily articulated, let alone encoded and emailed. Person-to-person interactions include the added benefit, aiding the development and cultivation of essential trust relationships.

These are fairly clear points, but they have been challenged by death-of-distance enthusiasts. The cities (metropolitan areas) are clearly spreading out -- and will continue to do so. I have mentioned before that none of this is paradoxical. The complex location problem addressed by businesses and people involves finding the right blend of interaction partners and interaction modes and distances. If you solve for the equilibrium that is best for you, you will find that you have contacts as well as correspondents near and far.

This morning's WSJ includes Andy Kessler's "An Investment Tip from Mr. ZIP"  He concludes this way:
The future is always fuzzy. Like horseshoes and hand grenades, you only have to be close. Get in the ZIP Code where the wind’s blowing, and watch things fly.
ZIPs can be fairly big. Kessler does not suggest Manhattan or Hong Kong or Tokyo crowding. But it is not death-of-distance either. It allows for agglomeration near as well as far. Both.


City growth is at the edges. It's a very old trend but ignored by many living in a data-free world.