The Future is not Retro

One faction of urbanists that I’ve sometimes found myself clashing with is people who assume that a greener, less auto-centric future will look something like the traditional small towns of the past. Strong Towns is the best example I know of of this tendency, arguing against high-rise urban redevelopment and in favor of urbanism that looks like pre-freeway Midwestern main streets. But this retro attitude to the future happens everywhere, and recently I’ve had to argue about this with the generally pro-modern Cap’n Transit and his take about the future of vacations. Even the push for light rail in a number of cities has connections with nostalgia for old streetcars, to the point that some American cities build mixed-traffic streetcars, such as Portland.

The future was not retro in the 1950s

The best analogy for a zero-emissions future is ironically what it seeks to undo: the history of suburbanization. In retrospect, we can view midcentury suburbanization as a physical expansion of built-up areas at lower density, at automobile scale. But at the time, it was not always viewed this way. Socially, the suburbs were supposed to be a return to rural virtues. The American patrician reformers who advocated for them consciously wanted to get rid of ethnic urban neighborhoods and their alien cultures. The German Christian democratic push for regional road and rail connections has the same social origin, just without the ethnic dimension – cities were dens of iniquity and sin.

At the same time, the suburbs, that future of the middle of the 20th century, were completely different from the mythologized 19th century past, before cities like New York and Berlin had grown so big. Most obviously, they were linked to urban jobs; the social forces that pushed for them were aware of that in real time, and sought transportation links precisely in order to permit access to urban jobs in what they hoped would be rural living.

But a number of other key differences are visible – for one, those suburbs were near the big cities of the early 20th century, and not in areas with demographic decline. In the United States, the Great Plains and Appalachia kept depopulating and the Deep South except Atlanta kept demographically stagnating. The growth in that era of interregional convergence happened in suburbs around New York, Chicago, and other big then-industrial cities, and in parts of what would soon be called the Sunbelt, namely Southern California, Texas, and Florida. In Germany, this history is more complicated, as the stagnating region that traditionalists had hoped to repopulate was Prussia and Posen, which were given to Poland at the end of the war and ethnically cleansed of their German populations. However, we can still see postwar shifts within West Germany toward suburbs of big cities like Munich and Frankfurt, while the Ruhr stagnated.

The future of transit-oriented development is not retro

People who dislike the auto-oriented form of cities can easily romanticize how cities looked before mass motorization. They’d have uniform missing middle built form in most of the US and UK, or uniform mid-rise in New York and Continental Europe. American YIMBYs in particular easily slip into romanticizing missing middle density and asking to replace single-family housing with duplexes and triplexes rather than with anything more substantial.

If you want to see what 21st-century TOD looks like, go to the richer parts of East Asia, especially Tokyo, which builds much more housing than Hong Kong and Singapore. The density in Tokyo is anything but uniform. There are clusters of high-rise buildings next to train stations, and lower density further away, even small single-family houses fronting narrow streets far enough from train stations that it’s not economical to redevelop them. It offends nostalgic Westerners; the future often does.

In the context of a growing city like New York or London, what this means is that the suburbs can expect to look spiky. There’s no point in turning, say, everything within two kilometers of Cockfosters (or the Little Neck LIRR station) into mid-rise apartments or even rowhouses. What’s the point? There’s a lot more demand 100 meters from the station than two kilometers away, enough that people pay the construction cost premium for the 20th floor 100 meters from the stations in preference to the third floor two kilometers away. The same is true for Paris – there’s no solution for its growth needs other than high-rises near RER stations and key Metro stations in the city as well as the suburbs, like the existing social housing complexes but with less space between buildings. It may offend people who associate high-rises with either the poor or recent high-skill immigrants, but again, the future often offends traditionalists.

The future of transportation is not retro

In countries that do not rigidly prevent urban housing growth the way the US does, the trend toward reurbanization is clear. Germany’s big cities are growing while everything else is shrinking save some suburbs in the richest regions, such as around Munich. Rural France keeps depopulating.

In this context, the modes of transportation of the future are rapid transit and high-speed rail. Rapid transit is preferable to buses and surface trains in most cities, because it serves spiky development better – the stations are spaced farther apart, which is fine because population density is not isotropic and neither is job density, and larger cities need the longer range that comes with the higher average speed of the subway or regional train over that of the tramway.

High-speed rail is likewise preferable to an everywhere-to-everywhere low-speed rail network like that of Switzerland. In a country with very large metro areas spaced 500 km or so apart, like the US, France, or Germany, connecting those growing city centers is of crucial importance, while nearby cities of 100,000 are of diminishing importance. Moreover, very big cities can be connected by trains so frequent that untimed transfers are viable. Already under the Deutschlandtakt plan, there will be 2.5 trains between Berlin and Hanover every hour, and if average speeds between Berlin and the Rhine-Ruhr were increased to be in line with those of the TGVs, demand would fill 4-6 trains per hour, enough to facilitate untimed transfers from connecting lines going north and south of Hanover. The Northeast Corridor has even more latent demand, given the huge size of New York.

The future of travel is not retro

The transportation network both follows and shapes travel patterns. Rapid transit is symbiotic with spiky TOD, and high-speed rail is symbiotic with extensive intercity travel.

The implication is that the future of holidays, too, is not retro. Vacation trips between major cities will become easier if countries that are not France and Japan build a dense network of high-speed lines akin to what France has done over the last 40 years and what Japan has done over the last 60. Many of those cities have thriving tourism economies, and these can expect to expand if there are fast trains connecting them to other cities within 300-1,000 kilometers.

Sometimes, these high-speed lines could serve romanticized tourist destinations. Niagara Falls lies between New York and Toronto, and could see expansion of visits, including day trips from Toronto and Buffalo and overnight stays from New York. The Riviera will surely see more travel once the much-delayed LGV PACA puts Nice four hours away from Paris by train rather than five and a half. Even the Black Forest might see an expansion of travel if people connect from high-speed trains from the rest of Germany to regional trains at Freiburg, going from the Rhine Valley up to the mountains; but even then, I expect a future Germany’s domestic tourism to be increasingly urban, probably involving the Rhine waterfront as well as the historic cities along the river.

But for the most part, tourist destinations designed around driving, like most American national parks as well as state parks like the Catskills, will shrink in importance in a zero-carbon future. It does not matter if they used to have rail access, as Glacier National Park did; the tourism of the leisure class of the early 20th century is not the same as that of the middle class of the middle of the 21st. Grand Canyon and Yellowstone are not the only pretty places in the world or even in the United States; the Hudson Valley and the entire Pacific Coast are pretty too, and do not require either driving or taking a hypothetical train line that, on the list of the United States’ top transportation priorities, would not crack the top 100. This will offend people whose idea of environmentalism is based on the priorities of turn-of-the-century patrician conservationists, but environmental science has moved on and the nature of the biggest ecological crisis facing humanity has changed.

The non-retro future is pretty cool

The theme of the future is that, just as the Industrial Revolution involved urbanization and rural depopulation, urban development patterns this century involve growth in the big metro areas and decline elsewhere and in traditional small towns. This is fine. The status anxieties of Basil Fawlty types who either can’t or won’t adapt to a world that has little use for their prejudices are not a serious public concern.

Already, people lead full lives in big global cities like New York and London without any of the trappings of what passed for normality in the middle of the 20th century, like a detached house with a yard and no racial minorities or working-class people within sight. The rest will adapt to this reality, just as early 20th century urbanites adapted to the reality of suburbanization a generation later.

It’s not even an imposition. It’s opportunity. People can live in high-quality housing with access to extensive social as well as job networks, and travel to many different places with different languages, flora and fauna, vistas, architecture, food, and local retail. Even in the same language zone, Northern and Southern Germany look completely different from each other, as do Paris and Southern France, or New England and Washington. Then outside the cities there are enough places walking distance from a commuter rail line or on the way on a high-speed line between two cities that people can if they’d like go somewhere and spend time out of sight of other people. There’s so much to do in a regime of green prosperity; the world merely awaits the enactment of policies that encourage such a future in lieu of one dominated by small-minded local interests who define themselves by how much they can pollute.

287 comments

  1. Untangled

    Streetsblog did a podcast with someone from Vancouver recently who said pretty much the same thing. That the best analogies to Vancouver development patterns were found in Asia and not really in North America or Europe.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah. The one big difference is that even though Vancouver and Tokyo have similar housing construction rates, in Tokyo there’s much more redevelopment in rich areas like Roppongi, whereas in Vancouver those areas remain zoned for single-family residential.

  2. Eric

    You don’t mention flight even once (despite the obvious relevance to destinations like the Grand Canyon that few Americans could reasonably reach by rail). Do you assume that flying will stop, or else become unaffordable to most of the population?

    • Witek

      Well Alon is talking zero carbon world, flying is not really efficient and I don’t know how it can go zero-carbon unless they really make a big leap forward with the electric plane 😉

      • Eric

        Technically speaking, a zero carbon world is impossible for people to live in, because humans exhale carbon dioxide. So I assumed he was speaking of a more sensible goal like a zero *net* carbon world.

        • Alon Levy

          Exhalation is in a closed system with the biosphere – the CO2 animals exhale comes from carbon in their bodies, which they replenish by consuming plants and other animals. Unless the biosphere’s biomass shrinks, e.g. if a forest is burned, this does not actually emit CO2 into the atmosphere on net.

          • Herbert

            What about power to liquid fuel produced by filtering carbon dioxide from the air and turning it into fuel with hydrogen in a Fischer Tropsch like process?

          • Eric

            I assume another way saying that is to say that human carbon comes from plants, and plant carbon comes from the atmosphere (photosynthesis), so when humans exhale atmospheric CO2 only returns to the point it was at before the cycle started.

            However, the same is true of burning a forest.

            So I don’t see any real reason to prefer zero carbon to zero net carbon (i.e. allow airplanes, and plant a bunch of trees).

          • owentt

            There is an active daily rail link from LA to Grand Canyon right now, running right up to the rim on a spur line with commercial service today. The same line serves various other cities all the way out to Chicago.

            The spur line has been active since 1901 with a long pause in the 1970s and 1980s.

          • owentt

            @Herbert “Where do you put all those trees?”

            Alon is positing a lot more rural open space if the small towns and farm country empty out into megacities.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, I do assume that. The only thing capable of replacing intercontinental flying is vactrains, which exhibit the same spikiness as high-speed trains. Any destination can put up an airport and fly planes to a hub, but vactrains involve extensive linear infrastructure, and if it at all pencils out, it will only be along very thick intercity routes.

      • adirondacker12800

        They have delivery dates for electric puddle jumpers. It should make the Essential Air Services flights Real Americans(tm) take, need less subsidy.
        When an airplane crashes it doesn’t make the planes in back of it crash too. The synthetic fuel plant doesn’t care much where the carbon and hydrogen are coming from. You can dump almost anything in one end and get almost anything out the other. It’s not done much because dead dinosaur goo is cheaper. But not so expensive building vactrains makes sense. And crashing airplanes don’t make the planes in back of it crash too.

          • threestationsquare

            If there’s a busy enough route and no ocean in the way, sure. HSR from NYC to Miami is probably worth it in a decarbonized world, but the last leg from Miami to most of the Caribbean is probably going to be on an (electric or biofuel) aircraft until not long before the Dyson Sphere starts construction.

          • adirondacker12800

            Not when you are hours away, by bus, from the nearest HSR station.

          • Eric

            NYC-Miami, also NYC-London and similar routes, might one day be served by underwater vactrains.

            I would like to see the math on whether electric aircraft could ever be technologically and economically viable for short range flights (i.e. between Caribbean or Greek islands, or Seoul-Jeju, or Korea-Japan, or DC-Pittsburgh).

            I know they are talking about 10-seat electric planes right now with a quite substantial range, but 150-seat planes with a short range might be more useful.

          • Herbert

            Seoul-Jeju will be doable by rail before an electric plane becomes viable there (remember, even if it had the range, it’d need to achieve comparable turnaround times and pax loads)

    • owentt

      There is an active daily rail link from LA to Grand Canyon right now, running right up to the rim on a spur line with commercial service today. The same line serves various other cities all the way out to Chicago.

      The spur line has been active since 1901 with a long pause in the 1970s and 1980s.

  3. Pingback: “The Future Is Not Retro”: Urbanist Realities and “Her”banism | StraßgefĂŒhl
  4. michaelrjames

    Your essential theme is fine but you have gone too far in seemingly accepting that anything new, regardless of success on certain terms, is inevitable and resistance is futile. Some fads come and go, and some can be quite long-lived, not necessarily for the right reasons. Car-dependence is clearly in this category where we are going thru a considerable change. At this moment in history we are close to ‘peak car’, on one or other side of the peak. This doesn’t mean a particular kind of urbanist is totally against cars but that their dominance of our environment and lives has gone too far and, further, it’s unnecessary. A preference for walkable neighbourhoods or cities is not to ban all vehicles. Indeed one of the most famous battles over cars illustrates the point. Jane Jacobs was not against cars in cities–though some people may misinterpret her that way. But she was against the kind of grotesque over-reach by Robert Moses and the car-lobby who were intent on implementing the 1930s fantasies of massive and elevated highways thru the heart of our cities and communities, destroying all in its path including beloved parks (Wash. Sq Pk) and neighbourhoods. Since those days (early 60s) big freeways forcing their way in the heart of cities has been in retreat with some being demolished: NYC’s Westside; San Fran’s Embarcadero; Boston’s I93; Seattle’s Alaskan Hgwy; Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon creek restoration and Paris’ Pompidou riverside expressway closure.

    My point is that one doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, fatalist about every apparently irresistible trend. The unhealthy intrusion and over-dependence on cars became obvious in the 60s if not before and it has taken almost half a century (much too long) to gain serious traction with how we actually plan and build our cities. Your recipe would be that we can do nothing about it. If anything the story of cars and roads shows that we need to be more proactive on such important life-affecting things.

    Then there is the built form of our cities and particularly housing. Just like with cars I believe we have plenty of evidence to make a judgment on this rather than just leave it to commercial interests. You wrote:

    There’s no point in turning, say, everything within two kilometers of Cockfosters (or the Little Neck LIRR station) into mid-rise apartments or even rowhouses. What’s the point? There’s a lot more demand 100 meters from the station than two kilometers away, enough that people pay the construction cost premium for the 20th floor 100 meters from the stations in preference to the third floor two kilometers away. The same is true for Paris – there’s no solution for its growth needs other than high-rises near RER stations and key Metro stations in the city as well as the suburbs, like the existing social housing complexes but with less space between buildings. It may offend people who associate high-rises with either the poor or recent high-skill immigrants, but again, the future often offends traditionalists.

    I don’t suppose we want to go over the same old ground yet again, but it’s disappointing that you continue to adhere to factually incorrect assumptions about ‘solutions’ to housing where higher density, especially around transit, is desirable. High-density does not require high-rise. Sure it can be achieved with high-rise but actually rarely is, as is clear from Paris being the densest western city and the only comparable places are Manhattan or smaller cores of some European and parts of Tokyo come close. Regarding suburbs and TOD around RER stations we have had this discussion before:
    https://pedestrianobservations.com/2017/11/14/suburban-transit-oriented-development/#comment-27105

    Bourg-la-Reine (southern suburb of Paris) and its ritzy neighbour (next station on that RER line) Sceaux have combined population of close to 40,000 and density of 11,000/km2. The vast majority of the housing typology is low-to-medium rise apartments and terrace- and single-family homes. Almost no high-rise worth speaking of. And the thing is that Paris (and many cities) have gone thru the high-rise experiment in the suburbs in the post-war period. As we know it has not been a great success and is currently being unwound–by demolitions and rebuilding low-rise, denser developments that often achieve higher density and certainly a vaster better urbanity and livability. And that is the point and a very non-trivial one. Are we really going to repeat the same errors just because it is the preferred model of property developers and their political proxies. (Google “Aldi shopping bag stuffed with $100,000” to read about last week’s political scandal in Australia involving property developers illegally influencing politicians with donations in brown paper bags.)

    As it happens I am reading two books I just received, by Florian Urban* on exactly this issue. (And yes, there’s a perfect piece of nominative determinism!) He’s originally a Berliner now a prof. in Glasgow. He refers to the low-medium rise typology as “tenements” or “new tenements” and compares the old ones (in Berlin, Paris, Vienna etc) versus the new types n the last 3 or 4 decades. Of many examples which he discusses two stand out re this subject, Ørestad in Copenhagen and Aspern Lake Town, Vienna. They are both ‘new towns’ but within, or close to, their host cities, built on brownfield sites, and are planned around rail-transit. (There is also Kirchsteigfeld near Berlin which looks better but I haven’t studied it yet.) Ørestad is particularly disappointing because somehow one expects more from the Danes. Urban attempts to give it a good gloss but actually reveals there has been quite a bit of criticism because it was still “committed to the mid-twentieth-century tower-in-the-park model” and “mourned the lack of “intimate space” and considered it a mistake that the city had given in to economic pressure and allowed the shopping centre Field’s” (Copenhagen’s biggest mall, entirely inward-facing American-style).
    Ørestad is filled with starchitecture and many will be familiar with some of the “tenements” because they are often featured in pictorials, eg. the Otte-tallet (Figure 8 house, Bjarke Ingels Group, “a 150-metre-long and 6-metre-wide seven-storey megastructure”) but that is part of the town’s problem. It is a big mix of types including up to 22 storeys and many at 7 storeys and many of very quirky shapes and asymmetry (11 flrs at one end, 4 flrs at the other end) but all somewhat separated and isolated. The photos amply confirm that overall the site has that typical bleakness with too much open space, too-wide roads and an evident failure to generate a city-type urbanity (one of the designers aims). Windy spaces is apparently an issue! The town in Vienna is similar.
    But the worst aspect is the under-utilisation of the sites: though it seems neither town has filled up each has a density (when complete) of about 5,000/km2, less than half of Bourg-la-Reine or Sceaux.

    Note that a circle around a transit station of radius 0.8km (so-called “walkable”) can hold 40,000 residents at Parisian density ie. Haussmannian topology; or 90,000 at 1.2km and 160,000 at 1.6km. My argument above, and many times previously on your blog, is that high-rise won’t achieve anything like this density even if it has that potential. If it is attempted it will produce awful bleak anti-urbanity. Indeed the two new towns have quite a bit of Haussmannian topology (7 floors) but always too spatially separated from neighbours and roads or parks etc. The designers have wilfully thrown out every lesson in urbanity we can easily see in the world’s cities. Alon, you should know better, having chosen to live in Paris-11 and Berlin-Mitte, not in one of the cheaper-rent hi-rise in the banlieus or a Plattenbau.

    Watching several docos on this 9/11 anniversary, apparently those events provoked a trend of people wanting to live no higher than 8 floors because that is the limit of the reach of ladders of the fire-brigade! I agree but for additional reasons.

    *Florian Urban, The New Tenements, residences in the inner city since 1970, 2018, Routledge.

    • Alon Levy

      Bourg-la-Reine also has high-rises right next to the RER station… Paris is to a substantial extent already building this spiky development in the suburbs. The constraint on housing planning in Ile-de-France is that it’s not allowed to replace residential buildings with bigger buildings – new development has to go on railyards and disused factories. Stockholm is the same, but development can also go on undeveloped areas that are not important as parks; Paris just doesn’t have such areas anymore. Because land availability for new development under this constraint is so limited, new housing in the suburbs is high-rise or on the tall side of mid-rise, just as it was in the 1950s and 60s when the HLMs were being built in the Zone and in the suburbs.

      In Berlin I live in Neukölln, which is the poorest neighborhood inside the Ring. My parents watch a crime show depicting the neighborhood as full of drug dealers; I for one only see one drug used commonly, alcohol, but that’s Germany, not Neukölln. In Paris I picked a place on the RER because I was commuting down to IHES and wanted to avoid the MĂ©tro-RER transfer at Les Halles; the agencies I found on the Internet either did not show anything extra muros or only showed things in La DĂ©fense, a.k.a. Western Paris prices without actually living in the city. It’s all mid-rise because most of the market-rate housing stock is mid-rise, the high-rises in Ile-de-France are generally HLMs and the ones in Berlin are generally communist-era public housing blocks.

      • michaelrjames

        I’m not sure that is true–that they are still building high-rise apartments. I recall that they are building Haussmann-type buildings (ie. 7-8 floors) around a new station for the RER-E extension (at Cergy or Mantes-la-Jollie). Further, my whole point is that it still won’t produce higher-density just like the old HLMs in the banlieus are not more dense than the really old HLM/HBM in Paris (or inner fringe). And that is the same reason not to promote high-rise as part of TOD, anywhere. We risk building–for entirely the wrong “reason”–urban/suburban infrastructure that will be crap and that will blight the city and people’s lives for another half century.
        As usual, one must distinguish between the property developers who want to build as high as they are allowed or that can convince the authorities. In the Anglosphere the property speculators have the politicians in their pockets. I don’t think their reach is as great elsewhere, and there is more desire to build good urbanity. Though I criticise those “new tenements” described by Florian Urban, at least they were genuine efforts to create good environments even if they patently got it wrong, and there is no excuse for repeating those same errors.

        • Alon Levy

          France builds more housing per capita than the US and UK, and maybe even Canada, I’m not sure, so I don’t get why you think property developers have politicians in their pockets in the Anglosphere.

          • michaelrjames

            I don’t quite get your point. But it is totally transparent that property developers buy Anglosphere politicians. Though of course it is also supported by Anglosphere bankers as part of the whole property bubble Ponzi, mortgage racket.
            Certainly in France I don’t think it is anywhere near the same level. Nor, from what I understand, in Germany or Austria (The Vienna Model; Austrians are among the richest people on earth but an astounding fraction of Viennese live in public housing.). There is more longer-term planning and more real concern for national interest.

          • Herbert

            Vienna during its red past deliberately made it unattractive for capital investors to build housing in order to get more public housing built. They’re moving towards that system once again…

            If only red Vienna wasn’t surrounded by fascist Austria…

          • Alon Levy

            Vienna in its present is poorer than the rest of Austria, inc. Lower Austria in particular, and has seen income stagnation since the recession began, even as Berlin has pulled ahead. Stagnation is a great strategy for affordability, I’ve heard housing in Rome is really cheap.

          • Herbert

            Berlin is poorer than the German average. And Vienna is booming in every aspect that counts

          • Herbert

            Yearly public transit ticket in Vienna: 365€

            And Vienna still has affordable housing…

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, when average incomes in your city stagnate, it’s easy to have affordable housing even with moderate levels of construction. But when they rise fast as in Berlin, rents rise more slowly, especially when so much housing is locked up in rent control agreements.

          • Herbert

            Vienna has loads of people moving into the city from elsewhere, which imho is a far more important yardstick for success than money

          • Alon Levy

            You can have population growth with income growth, as in Berlin (from a low level) and Munich (from an already high one), or population growth without income growth, as in the American Sunbelt and Vienna. Lots of people are moving to Central Florida, but that area is economically depressed.

          • Herbert

            Why are people moving there?

            A city that has people running away from it has a problem. A city that has to manage a huge influx of potential new residents is doing *something* right.

            I mean that’s why the Berlin wall was such a declaration of bankruptcy on the moral front. If you can’t keep your people in, your system is flawed.

      • Herbert

        If you could choose any Berlin neighborhood, regardless of cost, which would you choose?

          • Herbert

            So you yourself would NOT live in a tower in the park?

            Why do you assume others would?

          • Nilo

            Did Alon advocate for towers in a park anywhere? I must have missed it. Anyways if I could live anywhere in the world I’d be along the beach in a high rise in Ipanema.

          • Herbert

            He does advocate “spiky density” which to me sounds like a high rise on top of the subway station surrounded by nothing more than it sounds like Fhain-Kreuzberg or its southern extension in northern Neukölln…

          • Alon Levy

            In equally central parts of Tokyo this really means somewhat lower background density than Kreuzberg but then very dense high-rises next to train stations. You get dense SFR (or missing middle) density farther away from the train stations in places like Toshima or Taito, but the overall density in Toshima is higher than in Kreuzberg, and I think Toshima also has a higher share of commercial areas than Kreuzberg (Wikipedia says 20% and 49% residential) but I’m not sure. The density in parts of Toshima right next to Ikebukuro is specifically a lot higher than in parts of Kreuzberg right next to Mehringdamm.

          • Herbert

            How many cities of twenty million are there and how many cities of half a million are there?

  5. Ben Ross

    We see the spikiness in the Washington DC area, which is one of the few US cities to have both an extensive rail transit system and county-level zoning in the suburbs. But a major factor, possibly the crucial factor, in creating it is zoning. In both Montgomery and Arlington Counties, spikiness around transit stations is the result of a conscious choice by elected officials to try to satisfy both pro-growth and anti-growth forces.

    Fairfax has the spikiness uncorrelated with the transit (or in the case of Tysons, the transit came later in response to the spike). This is something you can also see in parts of Montgomery, and in the Edge City phenomenon in many other cities. Basically, the single family homes come first and take the best land, and zoning dumps the later density into the least desirable locations.

  6. IAN! Mitchell

    A zero-carbon world is not happening- Humans respire.

    The cost economics of going to zero *net* carbon (if that ever even happens) don’t mean the disappearance of technologies such as flight. The emissions of Norwegian air shuttle are 44 pax-km/L , or 104 mpg- which is better than bus fleets get in any North American City.

    Atmospheric carbon recapture in 2019 runs at about $600 per ton as of 2018.

    Meaning that a flight from LA to the Grand Canyon would cost about $175 worth of carbon recapture.

    The costs of domestic aviation in the US prior to deregulation were significantly higher than the costs of domestic aviation in the US would be with carbon recapture- with 2018 technology. Whether the tech that’s intended to lower that price to $100 per tonne will come to fruition or not, we can expect atmospheric carbon recapture to be the most expensive today that it will ever be.

    Even in Japan and France, there are 615 and 478 cars per every 1,000 people. Those are the countries you hold up as if they were the car-free future.

    That’s not a low enough penetration of automobiles for people to stop visiting truly awe-inspiring places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, or the Grand Tetons. People already are visiting Yosemite from Silicon valley in a Tesla. I know because I’ve done it! These places aren’t merely “pretty”- and the pacific coast is not all that much more accessible by transit than Yosemite is today.

    Is it more likely that the places that will be built between now and 2100 will look like Vancouver than Northside, Jackson Heights, or New Orleans? Yeah, probably. But that has more to do with an ossified development and finance process that makes it an equal amount of red tape to build a 6-story Texas Doughnut that encompasses an entire block as it does to build a polish duplex, granny flat, or 4plex in a desirable residential area.

    For all the pomp that Vancouver has, it is still plainly a North American city- the one with the highest housing costs. When it comes to “spiky” development, Mississauga, the crown jewel of “Density without Urbanism” outside of the old soviet bloc, is a pretty sterling example. It’s something Le Corbusier would salivate over.

    Spiky is not the kind of place we should be building.

    • Alon Levy

      There are atmospheric forcing effects, so the GHG emissions of a liter of jet fuel burned in flight are higher than those of a liter of gas burned at the ground, I believe by a factor of about 2.

      • michaelrjames

        Actually airplane pollution causes cooling via reflection of incoming sunlight. Remember how the almost week of no flights after 9/11 caused a measurable global cooling?
        The solution to airline emissions will be biofuels. It won’t be carbon capture and sequestration which is just something promoted by the fossil fuel industries who don’t want to do anything.
        Also, it is mostly a distraction at this point as it represents only about 4-5% of total carbon emissions.

        • Herbert

          Cars are getting replaced. Electricity and heating are getting decarbonized. Agriculture is being reformed towards lower emissions.

          Aviation grows far faster than any efficiency gains in engines. And PtL is only competitive if oil based fuel gets significantly more expensive

          • owentt

            @Herbert “Cars are getting replaced. Electricity and heating are getting decarbonized. Agriculture is being reformed towards lower emissions.”

            Maybe some of those things will happen someday, but none of them are happening right now.

          • Herbert

            There are places where one or two of those things are currently happening. Of course we need all those things to be happening everywhere, but that’s just politics same as building rail lines

          • michaelrjames

            Oops, yes you are correct. I meant to write “9/11 caused a measurable global warming“.
            It is the same basis of creating sea spray mists to increase the albedo of the atmosphere–to reflect more incoming radiation. It might also have a contribution from sulphur in emissions mimicking volcanoes.

            Here is a more authoritative summary, however this is a bit old and it seems it remains unresolved (however the observation of increased warming in the period after stopping of flights after 9/11 is not in dispute, just the cause:effect relationship).

            https://www.nature.com/news/2008/081231/full/news.2008.1335.html
            Can aircraft trails affect climate? Grounding planes after the 11 September attacks may not have caused unusual temperature effects.
            Anna Barnett, Dec 2008.

            Theory or fact?
            Two studies1,2 noted that when planes stopped flying on 11–14 September 2001, the average daily temperature range in the United States rose markedly, exceeding the three-day periods before and after by an average of 1.8 °C. The unusual size of the shift, says David Travis of the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, who led both of the earlier studies, implied that an absence of contrails gave the temperature range a significant boost. But that idea, he says, was “more like a hypothesis” than a firm conclusion.

      • Herbert

        There’s significant debate among reasonable experts in the field as to the exact value of said factor…

    • Pokemon Black Card

      Post-1970s financialization of the economy has really done a number on multifamily topology. If 90% of deposits are in one of five mega banks then it only makes sense to build clusters of Texas Doughnuts connected by skybridges. If money is dispersed across a bajillion savings and loans then you’re going to see a lot of smaller courtyard and dingbat complexes. Financialization and consolidation have centralization (of government) and harmonization (of regulations) as prerequisites, so an argument about the relative future importance of the bungalow court versus Southeast Asian style high rise clusters can be devolved to an argument about the future of government. Globally, there is a 150-year trend towards centralization in the US and a near 200-year trend in the UK and Germany, but the African nations have been dividing for 60+ years and the former Eastern bloc has been fracturing at a rapid pace since 1991. I don’t claim to be smart enough to know where we’ll be in 50 years.

      • IAN! Mitchell

        You’re ignoring the fact that a Texas doughnut is designed once and built a hundred times, and the permitting process is streamlined for the sake of “economic development”.

        Frequently entire block-sized developments are approved more readily than a single garage conversion or granny flat. The ossified process of permitting and approvals is what’s driving out missing middle- more so than the structure of capital investment is.

  7. Aaron M. Renn

    You can have a full life in these cities without traditional middle class trappings – if you are content with far sub-replacement fertility. The problem is that cities cities are dependent on hinterlands (domestic and foreign) that are built on a completely different model in order to produce and raise the kids who will live in them. If the world converts to this, the demographics no longer work. Perhaps you think the Japanese model, where population declines and concentrates in a handful of cities, with much of the country de facto being abandoned, is a great model from an environmental perspective. But it’s hard to predict exactly how to navigate the future in a country with long term declining population.

    • Alon Levy

      That’s not really the explanation for low birthrates in these cities. Serious academics (i.e. not Kotkin) have studied this, people in East Asia are aware of the problem of low birthrates. Paulin Tay Straughan argues that on a national scale it’s an artifact of very long work hours and the middle class’s need to spend extensive amounts of money on private education, such as tutoring and cram schools – IIRC she mentions that Singapore leads the world in % of GDP spent on private education. Birthrates are lower in Tokyo than in rural Japan because permanent salaried office jobs with brutal working hours cluster in Tokyo. Lower-productivity, lower-pay jobs in Japan have more normal working hours, so family formation rates there are higher than among salarymen.

      In the US, the working hours don’t depend on social class much – the average is the same as Japan, but everyone works the same hours – but the private cost of childbirth in the middle class is even higher because of extreme childcare costs. And in Continental Western Europe, childcare is cheaper and in many places (like Berlin or the Nordic countries) free or almost free, private spending on education is very low, and middle-class jobs offer 4-7 weeks of paid vacation. Here, the Asian pattern of low birthrates in cities isn’t really true. Ile-de-France’s share of children is the same as that of France in general, and Paris’s is only somewhat lower. Germany generally has very low birthrates, but it comes from a culture in which women have to choose between children and careers so the rates of either are lower than in more flexible countries like the US or Sweden.

      • Herbert

        Fun fact: during the GDR the east had a higher birth rate than the west from the sixties onward. Despite migrants (who have more kids in the first generation on average) and heavily religious people (who are likewise more into the fruitful multiplying) bring scarcer in the east. After 1989/90 birth rates tanked in the east, only slowly creeping up towards the western average of 1.4/1.3

        • Alon Levy

          Didn’t the parts of Germany that became the East always have higher birthrates? Or am I mixing my stereotypes of prewar East Elbia with those of the Dutch Bible Belt?

          • Herbert

            I’m not sure birth rate data pre 1914 is fine grained enough to tell either way.

            Certainly the Saxon industrial region had a higher birth rate than the Ruhr area…

            East Elbia also pretty much disappeared with the end of the war. Those parts that weren’t annexed to Poland and the USSR had their social structure changed (for the better) by the complete removal of the Junker class

      • myb6

        Doesn’t “spiky” imply there will still be a lot of lower-density family-friendly areas, the drawback being less convenience to the transit nodes? Having the density gradient occur on a finer-grained scale would make all the density levels more livable.

        • michaelrjames

          lower-density family-friendly areas

          That is a false equivalence. It is not (higher) densities that make a place less child friendly but design. Dense cities in France (and probably Germany & Nordics) are more child and family friendly than almost any suburban area in either France or especially the Anglosphere because, you know .. socialism. ie. ecoles maternelles, children’s play parks (probably more in central Paris than any other region on earth), walkable/strollable neighbourhoods, child-friendly cafes, convenient medical clinics, pharmacies, shopping of all kinds etc.

          OTOH all attempts to make high-rise family friendly have failed, eg. Corbusier’s “communal” zones in buildings or the huge empty “green” spaces in his towers fantasies that still seem to have captured modern planners despite the century of contrary evidence (eg. Ørestad). Ignorant proseltyzers for suburban SFH continue to peddle the outdated notion that Manhattan or inner Paris is no place for children. Indeed as Jane Jacobs wrote close to 6 decades ago, the high density of people on the streets and parks (small ones like Wash. Sq. not giant ones like Central Park) is exactly what increases urbanity and safety etc in dense urban areas.

          • myb6

            Alon was explicit about East Asian style spikiness, so high-rise. More generally however, with small children and their necessaries lots of stairs and elevators are a pain. You also have cost. Right now that’s overwhelmingly the zoning/demand chasm, but in the spiky free-build ideal both outdoor and livable sqft would still be cheaper outside the spikes. I agree that, in form, exurban or highway-suburb densities aren’t actually ideal for kids.

            Yes, we must have socialism for walkability (curse those darn capitalists with their tax-funded no-fee auto network), cafes and shopping.

    • Nilo

      Isn’t the entire differential in Japanese Birth rate from the United States based on their low rate of out of wed lock births? See this twitter thread. https://twitter.com/tgrayeb/status/1121562789556948992.

      Given that especially in the United States most out of wedlock births aren’t planned, it would seem like access to better sexual health resources would eliminate the United States superior growth rate. It would actually seem that in fact in terms of children born in wedlock there’s probably a long way to go if countries actually want to have replacement level fertility.

      • Herbert

        Isn’t it amazing how many (unfortunately not all) parents with unplanned kids somehow make it work?

        Maybe we should focus on making the “make it work” more visible for potential parents considering kids but ultimately saying no…

  8. Michael

    In America, it’s midrise podium construction for the foreseeable future.

    What everyone neglects to mention about the post-war era in the US is that light frame single family housing was the by far the cheapest way to provide residential square footage. The fire codes, building codes, financing, & local regulatory framework laid out after WW2 had 3 cost optimization nodes: light frame SFUs, 1 story concrete block “decorated sheds” retail/commercial, and steel frame construction with repeating floor plates for class A office space. The result was high-rise office cores with a steep density decline. In places with weak white collar economies, there was no core & just sprawl. Nationwide, most of the in-between neighborhoods that didn’t conform to those 3 nodes failed catastrophically. Only in places with large amounts of capital sloshing around were some preserved & reborn as charming residential neighborhoods.

    Podium construction (and the attendant regulatory updates) has introduced a mid-rise format that makes sense from a cost perspective. Since we went generations without a midrise format that worked, there’s just huge latent demand everywhere. It’s going to continue to be the dominate form of development in the cores of small & medium cities and in the neighborhood commercial districts of major cities for at least a generation.

    • Alon Levy

      The story of high-rise office cores surrounded by SFR has to include zoning. American zoning laws regulate use rigidly, unlike (say) German or French ones, which focus on regulating size. With use zoning, SFR zoning, and historic preservation in some near-downtown neighborhoods (like in Atlanta), it’s not really possible for CBDs to creep outward the way they do here, where residential and office buildings sometimes have the same physical shape and the same building can swap use based on demand.

      The US excuses a lot of stuff based on fire codes, but apparently mcmansions are really fire-prone – the open floor plans make it easy for fires to spread internally, and the low population density means people live far from the fire station.

      • Michael

        There’s a reason why the US economy can be fairly robust despite a development model that seems insane. 1. The externalities of fossil fuels are not absorbed locally. 2. Sprawl has a few tricks. Cost of square footage is very low. Storm water costs are low. The little risk of fire spreading to neighboring properties. Wide arterials (stroads) with signalized intersections are relatively cheap. Box retail, where the store receives its daily shipments on pallets from semi can deliver goods to consumers about as cheap as possible. Sidewalks, street lights, street trees, trash collection etc are all eliminated. The result is sprawl is cheap to build and to live in, even when clocking 15,000 miles/year per driver.

        Zoning is the core element of sprawl. You have to separate the semi-trailer deliveries, mosquito infested water detention ponds, and everyone driving everywhere from the residential neighborhoods to have it be a tolerable living arrangement. If a city has really high housing demand, folks will live in an industrial park & probably convert it to a residential neighborhood fairly quickly. But in most places, there’s zero demand to live around those activities.

        Where people will live is in in-fill apartments in legacy neighborhoods, hence the importance of a cost competitive, mid-rise format.

    • yuuka

      It’s important to remember that the Soviets also had a considerable about of low-rise podium housing, put up quickly with prefab technologies, in the Khruschev era.

      Over here in Singapore we’ve apparently managed to build high-rises out of prefabs, but in the past few years I’ve seen a majority of projects (both private and public) where Le Corbusier’s “towers in a park” reign supreme.

      • Michael

        That’s the future in the US, at least for a while. The reality for most of the US is that real estate is priced at replacement cost (or less). From 1945 to about 2005, that meant basically two housing options: ~$300/sq ft boutique high rise or ~$135/sq ft light frame (which mostly comes in detached SFUs, but also motel-style garden apartments and few other flavors). Now, we’ve got $170/sq ft podium mid-rises in the mix. There’s a whole lot of places where that price point makes sense that were previously not compatible with light frame and didn’t have the economics to justify high rise.

        The problem of light frame is that ground floor residential in places with foot traffic is not desirable. And regulation generally prevents the mixing of uses within light frame buildings. Since light frame is limited to 3 stories (4 with expensive tricks like spinklers), and the 1st floor becomes a throwaway, it’s a bad tool for urban in-fill. The podium puts retail/office and parking on the first level, residential or offices above. It’s a much better tool.

        Does that mean that superstar cities shouldn’t build high rises? Of course not. The price per square foot in parts of SF or NYC is well over $1,000/sq ft. That clearly justifies high rise construction. But the dominate theme of development in the US is going to be mid-rise infill everywhere else.

        • myb6

          I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. But can’t light frame easily already accommodate densities way higher than most Americans live in? So far the nascent movement for ADUs etc has surprised me with how quickly and easily they’ve achieved (potentially important) legal changes. Could take a serious bite in the podium market. OTOH it remains to be seen how much development the legal changes will actually trigger.

          • Michael

            In Los Angeles, Chicagoland, Houston, etc we get the garden apartment complex neighborhoods but it’s “density without urbanism” and generally considered inferior. The issue is configuration. If we want walkability & urbanity, we need buildings without setbacks & mixed uses. In traditional cities, the simple answer is to put apartments above light commercial, since that provides mixed uses while residents don’t mind the lack of a setback if they are on the second floor or above.

            A issue in the US is that most jurisdictions prohibit mixing commercial & residential in a light frame building, unless it’s been grandfathered in. So in most places, we get 2 sets of buildings. One for the commercial use & one for residential use.

            Then with the residential, most people living in garden apartment buildings have a strong preference to be setback from the street. No one wants people looking in their windows at night. Between the separated uses & the setbacks, they are not great neighborhoods for walkability in spite of relatively high densities, so people drive a lot.

            This is what it ends up looking like with the setbacks, lots of shrubbery by the apartments. Adjacent to strip mall commercial.
            https://www.google.com/maps/@33.8164166,-117.9413922,3a,75y,133.75h,83.59t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sf0o9QC_nqSZHdjAf_yYbQw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

          • Eric

            How hard is it to walk 10 feet? I don’t see how a 10 foot bushy setback affects walkability (unless you’re disabled, I don’t know how disabled people are supposed to get up those stairs).

            The strip malls and the stroad are unpleasant for walking, but that’s not the fault of this apartment complex.

          • Michael

            Nothing is individually going to derail a neighborhood: few stroads, some buildings with setbacks, a strip mall or two, separated land uses, curvilinear streets, surface parking, even a highway. It’s the totality of those elements and the lack of a critical mass of walkable destinations that results in density without urbanism.

            OTOH, these podium buildings with 4-6 levels of light frame residential over a concrete block, white box commercial stall
. even we can figure out how to use these to make a coherent city neighborhood.

            https://www.google.com/maps/@47.6273905,-122.3423639,3a,75y,156h,97.7t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1spIAyuKVughaYufItuqt2uQ!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

  9. Martin Kolk

    I think it is common for transit advocates to underemphasize the role of busses, and I think this is particularly true for intercity travel. I can sympathise with buses playing only a subsidiary role (in contrast to rail traffic) in cities up to a million people or so, but in other cases, a full coach is a pretty energy-efficient way of transporting people, and with electricity replacing diesel efficiency will increase further. After all, for example the BART is basically just a grade-separated electric bus.

    Electric inter-city busses are already feasible, and given the massive energy costs associated with rail construction (much like steel and concrete that is hard to decarbonize), I don’t see why electrified inter-city buses can take care of a very large share of intercity traffic in much of the west. Unlike you have travel volumes of at least 500 passengers/hour it is probably much more efficient to use current road infrastructure for a bus than new rail investments. Rail investments have the additional issue that most carbon costs are upfront, while global warming requires immediate reductions. The tourist destinations mentioned above are very good examples of where busses easily could replace cars (as they already do in the Japanese alps around Kamikochi at very high frequencies, Yosemite also has decent bus transit). For most of the US electric intercity busses would compete very well both time-wise and of course in particular environmentally compared to personal transit, the issue is primarily and fundamentally image-oriented I think (extending to a lot of progressive rail advocates). Megaregions will of course always need rail, but I don’t think connecting cities in Wyoming or Kansas with additional rail tracks is environmentally sound.

    I think larger cities for sure underinvest in mass-transit, but I am less sure about new major rail investments for inter-city traffic outside very densely populated areas are a very good environmental (and for sure financial) choice.

    Lifecycle costs of various transport modes:
    https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/5/1/014003
    Electric inter-city buses:
    https://www.electrive.com/2018/04/11/flixbus-launches-first-long-distance-electric-bus-route-in-france/

    • Lee Ratner

      Most transit activists, particular if they have market urbanist or transit as a social justice issue tendencies, tend to prefer busses over rail because a bus line can be put in faster and is cheaper to build than rail. Rail advocates tend to focus that it is easier to get affluent people out of their cars with rail than a bus and we need this for transit to be built. Rail has the advantage of more permanency. Its a lot harder to destroy a rail line with dedicated right of way than a bus line or even mess with it.

      • Herbert

        Rail has the advantages of speed, capacity and comfort over buses trying to fix those for buses makes buses lose the advantages of cost

        • LeeEsq

          People get nostalgic and form emotional attachments over all that they don’t get to buses. When the streetcars were torn up in the Anglophone world after World War II, not a lot but more than a few people became nostalgic for them. As rail transportation grey more scare in the United States and Canada, people developed at least some nostalgia for that. The bus never really generated this level of emotion attachment.

          • Herbert

            Rail nostalgia is a global phenomenon. Not just an Anglosphere one. There are reasons for this. But I don’t know which.

            Bus nostalgia doesn’t really exist to an appreciable extent

          • Lee Ratner

            My guess is that it is a combination of factors. A big one is that the old railroads had different classes like airplanes. This made it a lot easier to create classy and attractive looking media featuring rail travel like a 1920s or 1930s whodunnit set in a first claim compartment of a train. You can’t really do this with a bus. Even non-first class rail travel as a romanticism about it. Pulling into a big attractive station or even a small town station after a long journey, etc. Busses seemed more utilitarian in contrast. Very few bus stations are designed to be as attractive buildings that people want to look at and be in.

          • Herbert

            Rail travel STILL has several classes of service. That’s only natural. A product whose main selling point is price (e.g. Ryanair) will have only one class of service. So the absence of “luxury buses” in any country with a decent railway (some amount of “premium” bus service exists in middle income Latin America e.g. Mexico) pretty much proves my point about buses being unattractive to most car drivers.

            When old first class was abolished in the fifties, the people who had ridden it took to cars and planes. Now that trains are more attractive than cars and planes on many routes again, railways are experimenting with a level of luxury “above” the 1950s to 2000s “first class” (actually second class)

        • michaelrjames

          Herbert, 2019/09/09 – 19:43
          Rail nostalgia is a global phenomenon. Not just an Anglosphere one. There are reasons for this.

          I grew up in suburbia and never used trains or metro until an adult in my late twenties. But I still have that “nostalgia” for rail transport.

          • myb6

            This is an interesting question. Brainstorming some factors:

            -Not many time/places where bus represented a major improvement in mobility, whereas 19thC trains or midcentury autos/aviation really widened the world for people.
            -The view is typically more concrete than countryside.
            -Midline stops are typically awful, not much more than a gas station and sad fast-food.
            -No bus-equivalent in the public mind for huge intercity trains or palatial stations.
            -Bus compartments considerably noisier and more cramped.
            -Being the same tech as the private auto with less convenience, the bus was a lesser choice from the start.

          • LeeEsq

            Even the humble tram had a great deal of nostalgia power to it. When tram systems were torn up, people came out to see them off for one last ride and many began to quickly miss them after they gone. A tram isn’t that much more convenient than a bus if it doesn’t have a right of way but it seems to invoke the image of cozier, more closely knit big city of neighborhoods than the bus does. The British probably came closest to making something romantic out of the bus with their double deckers.

      • DL

        Permanence goes both ways. A badly planned, screwed up rail line will stay in place for way too long. Permanence doesn’t mean anything negative OR positive since they cancel out.

        • Herbert

          If the “badly planned” aspect is “doesn’t hit major population or employment centers” the very permanence of rail makes this issue self fixing as development is attracted to rail service unless prohibited by law

          • DL

            You are making a subjective argument which doesn’t carry a lot of weight.

            Besides the fact that development is simply not possible in some places regarding topography and floodplains, you are basically saying that a permanently single track line (due to expensive build.. say the marshland line through the southern bay area, or a tunnel), with permanently restricted service as a result will do better than land close to the center city with bus access. This seems very irrational.

          • Herbert

            Who builds a permanently single track line with no possibility of later doubling and why do they do that?

          • DL

            It’s not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of geography

            As for who does it, anybody building with extreme enough constraints. For this example I am just using it to demonstrate a point.

          • Herbert

            Geography can be made subservient to human interests through technology

          • DL

            I am not arguing that, I am just saying you have to think about the costs. Impractical/ridiculously expensive to build for very little benefit is functionally the same thing as impossible. Nobody goes around building floating hot tubs in volcanoes.

    • Herbert

      Buses that don’t have their own infrastructure can by nature never be faster than cars, because their top speed is at best that of cars and often lower and unlike cars they have to make stops to drop off and pick up passengers. So there’s little incentive to move drivers to buses. The only current incentive (can do certain other things while in transit) will be gone of self driving cars ever take of.

      Buses on their own right of way of course need their own infrastructure which compares unfavourably with rail in terms of durability and environmental footprint.

      So whom exactly are they supposed to be attractive to and why?

      • Martin Kolk

        Both your response and the response above is related to travel within cities, where I agree that for dense cities rail makes sense. They do not at all however apply to travel between cities.

        Then issues of right-of-way are rather unimportant, and if run point-to-point compares well with cars on time. Most importantly busses are of course much much more cost and energy-efficient, which is probably why they would be important for decarbonizing transport. With reasonable EU gas prices, the costs saving really are very substantial over 300×2 km or so. Importantly unless massive concrete and financial investments in new rail, they could gain market share simply by increasing fossil fuel prices and using current infrastructure, having a very positive effect on under-taxed western and deficit running societies.

        Regarding comfort, I would take a highway bus over a sitting facing backwards on a tilting 150 km/h train any day. I can not even think of reading a newspaper or open a laptop on those trains (it is hard enough when facing forward).

        • Herbert

          The good old “tilting trains make me vomit” canard. Buses move around much more violently…

          Anyway. A bus has a top speed of 100 km/h or below. Even assuming non-stop operation, the bus will lose against a car with a 120 km/h top speed and better acceleration.

          So as speed is out of the question as a sales argument and people currently in cars don’t lie the thought of having to take scheduled transport with other people, the only remaining argument is price.

          How do you bring down price? By stuffing as many seats into the bus as you can. And there goes any hint of comfort.

          So where exactly do you see the bus leaving the niche of the last resort of marginal routes or cheapskates with no other option?

          • Martin Kolk

            The point with decarbonisation is that we need to make consuming energy much more expensive (within 30 years), so of course, the price will become more of an issue then. At high densities, rail investments will be very energy efficient, but I seriously doubt that will be that case in low-density contexts. And as the US has no real inter-city rail service to speak of, everything would have to be built from scratch (there really only is a single double-tracked line with meaningful traffic). Good luck decarbonizing within 30 years with only new rail lines, with honest accounting for CO2 emissions during infrastructure expansion.

            And Herbert, have you actually ever been riding a true tilting train such as the X2000 in Sweden or the Pendolino (I have taken both)? And if so, can you confirm that you could read a book comfortable facing backwards for 2 hours in such a train (I prefer slower non-tiling trains for this reason)?

          • Herbert

            I have ridden a diesel tilting train from Nuremberg to Dresden many many times. The train now only runs the Nuremberg to Hof route, but yes its shaking and rattling from the diesel engine were quite notable. And if one got up while the train moved, one would notice the movement.

            I read a lot on that train. I also watched TV on my laptop.

          • Herbert

            As for the carbon impact of new rail construction, that has to be depreciated over centuries. And double tracking and electrifying existing cargo routes has to be done anyway to replace highway trucking

          • Martin Kolk

            Regarding, depreciation of infrastructure the problem is that it makes no sense to depreciate carbon emissions over centuries (I would agree if we were discussing financial costs of the tracks). We need to combat climate change within the next 30 years, or if you are more sceptical to a major economic impact still only 75 years.

            A climate solution that does more harm than good the first 40 years is currently not a solution at all, it is a climate problem. For cities, we probably need to break out of current car-centred city planning anyway, but for inter-city travels, we are probably often better of with existing infrastructure (high-ways with electrified busses).

            As for combining cargo on trains with passenger traffic on the same tracks, I am a sceptic (maybe cargo at night is okay), I am not sure anywhere in the world where there is a satisfactory solution for both cargo and transit, but that is a different discussion.

          • Alon Levy

            How does Sweden achieve high freight rail mode share as well as high passenger rail mode share? Are the tracks just in different parts of the country, i.e. passengers in Stockholm and the southern cities, freight in Norrland?

            (This is roughly the Swiss solution – the main freight line, Gotthard, has obscenely low passenger rail speeds.)

          • Herbert

            The Gotthard base tunnel is Switzerland’s fastest rail line but it was built primarily for cargo.

            And yes, most ton kilometers happen in the sparsely populated north of Sweden simply because a lot of mines are there and a lot of kilometers are there…

            Similar to how a container from Long Beach to Kansas is more ton kilometers than one from Hamburg to Essen…

        • michaelrjames

          Regarding comfort, I would take a highway bus over a sitting facing backwards on a tilting 150 km/h train any day. I can not even think of reading a newspaper or open a laptop on those trains (it is hard enough when facing forward).

          It’s really the exact opposite. A bus never stops movement in all three dimensions. If I try reading or using a laptop I quickly become nauseous. The problem with those trains you don’t like is that they aren’t HSR. The whole point of true HSR (>250km/h) is that they have to be engineered to be far more stable such that you can hardly tell they are moving once they attain their cruising speed, and tilting is to make bends less noticeable. The faster the better. Probably the smoothest motion a human can experience is at 11,000 km/h in geostationary orbit. (Well I suppose perfectly still on terra firma which is moving thru space at some unimaginable relative speed.)
          Though it’s true that you don’t want to try to focus on anything too close to the outside of the train.

          • Herbert

            You can stand a coin on edge in a Chinese high speed train while it’s doing 300 km/h

          • Martin Kolk

            With great track geometry that is basically true. But constructing true HSR with that kind of track geometry is in most real-life contexts is horrendously expensive (either due to present settlements or unfavourable geography). The Japanese are basically building a straight tunnel from Tokyo to Osaka to achieve that. The Chinese are basically building most of their railway network on concrete pillars (with little respect for land ownership). That is even more concrete engineering, that makes any CO2 gains from running trains harder to achieve. That will make the economic/environmentally feasible new routes even more restricted, outside very dense regions.

          • Herbert

            How often does that concrete have to be spilled over the centuries a major rail line lives?

        • JimJ

          I do not go to a city to see the train station, let alone the bus station. In some cases, I take a car primarily because otherwise I’m not sure how to get around in the destination city. Even in cities where it turns out to fairly easy, it isn’t usually easy to be confident of that in advance. If you’re talking about commuting to a more rural house, then the problem is that you probably still need a car to get home from the station, so you’ve already paid most of the cost of a car. The train or bus ticket has to compete with only the cost of gas (not the car payment or insurance), and you have to worry about what to do the few times you stay late or miss the bus/train.

          • michaelrjames

            JimJ, 2019/09/11 – 13:05
            I do not go to a city to see the train station …

            Then you don’t know what you are missing. It is a real experience to arrive at those great cathedrals of rail around Europe, from Paris-Nord, Amsterdam Central, Berlin-Hauptbahnhof, Madrid-Atocha (at least the old part with the rainforest interior) and London-St-Pancras etc. And Mumbai-Central. New York-Grand-Central, Washington-Grand-Union etc.

          • Herbert

            Even the puny stations built by Brightline with their five tracks or less have been designed with architecture in mind (not my style mind you, but neo-Gothic apparently isn’t the done thing anymore)

    • Mikel

      You don’t really need to build 300 km/h greenfield viaducts and 30 km base tunnels everywhere. In many rural areas, the tracks (or at least their former ROW) are already there — you can get a 160 km/h single-track regional line with only modest improvements to existing infrastructure. Add small trains running every hour with reasonable (i.e. subsidized) fares and you’ll get a decent amount of commuters who didn’t really like driving every day on twisty roads full of slow tractors and dairy trucks, plus carless tourists on weekends if the line connects to a large enough regional hub.

      • Herbert

        I mean a 160 km/h line from Varna to Sofia would probably cut travel times from seven hours to maybe five, maybe four. A 300 km/h line would smash domestic aviation to smithereens.

        • Mikel

          But those are cities with a combined population of like 2M (2.5M if you add a branch to Plovdiv); I think Martin Kolk was probably thinking of a smaller scale. What I meant is the typical provincial city of 50K-100K (surrounded* by rural towns of maybe 1K-5K) that concentrates the majority of the area’s non-agrarian jobs as well as a healthcare, educational and government facilities. Even if that city happens to be on the way of an important HSR route (think of Segovia, for example), the rural commuter branches are usually too expensive for new construction, but in many cases modernization of existing infrastructure (electrification, straightening of curves, etc.) may well be worth a shot.

          *In mountain areas, the pattern of human settlement and travel demans tends to ve very linear, so you can serve a lot of it with comparatively few rail-km. I’ve never been to Switzerland but I believe this is how the southern part of the country works?

          • Herbert

            Rural areas will wither and die. They’ve done that since the industrial revolution started

          • adirondacker12800

            Living in a metro of 125k, there is no traffic and it is easy to park. Unless you want to ban automobiles there is never going to much transit use. Cars are too cheap. And there never is any traffic and it’s easy to park.

          • Herbert

            I live in a city of the size you describe. Everybody here bikes everywhere. And they’re planning to build a tram line because traffic is so bad.

  10. SB

    In carbon neutral world, can rich people just pay for their emissions?
    If so then rich people could still use cars and planes and have a second home in the countryside.
    Then the question becomes what percentage of people can afford to pay for emission?
    I guess it will vary depending the area. Highly likely that silicon valley will continue to people driving electric cars/

    • Herbert

      Power to liquid will eventually become cheaper than all other realistic sources if fuel in aviation. And there are currently claims that existing technology could enable a price per liter below 1.50€ if mass production took place

    • Eric

      To prevent massive global warming, the carbon tax will by definition have to be high enough that most people cannot afford to emit carbon.

      Of course, it’s possible that the world could get super rich and everyone could be driving electric cars at the same time most people cannot afford gasoline cars.

      It’s also possible that carbon sequestration will become cheap enough that we can all emit carbon freely and then suck it up again.

          • michaelrjames

            Probably turn it into fuel and burn it again?

            Yes. Of course that is exactly what all plant life on earth does. The main issue with either capturing or storing, let alone transforming it back into high-energy forms of carbon (oils, carbohydrates, cellulose etc) is the energy required. Much better to use solar, and what better than to use those neat little packages that have evolved over a billion years or so to do it all at once?
            Now, if we had a clean endless cheap source of energy, say fusion whether cold or hot, no prob. But for now and the next 50 or 100 years let’s stick to what already works (maybe tweak it a bit). And this timescale is the only one that matters, the one we have to get thru if we want to survive roughly the way we are, rather than reverting to a small population living in caves.

          • Herbert

            Problem is: those pesky little plants insist on not being 100% made out of fuel…

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert wrote: Problem is: those pesky little plants insist on not being 100% made out of fuel


            Herbert, I get the impression that you aren’t a scientist or have much training in biology? Sometimes, as with this last comment, I can’t quite see what your point is. (BTW, I don’t wish to hit you over the head with credentialism but I have a PhD in biochemistry, molecular genetics.) You and others here worry too much about “efficiency” but while not nothing, it isn’t the same issue when we harness biology like this. Unless of course we use silly methods, which alas can be true for a lot of ‘modern’ agriculture. Burning fields after harvesting the main product (corn stalks, sugar cane, etc) or just allowing it to rot on the surface or somewhere else (producing methane, much worse than CO2). We need to either use that ‘waste’, like in the schemes using cellulosic conversion (which has huge energy locked up in its structure) or turn it back into carbon in the earth to improve soil fertility rather than constantly deplete it like we tend to do. Or use the ‘waste’ in ways to permanently lock up that sequestered carbon; that’s what timber is, or as the nascent building products made out of bamboo (one of the fastest growing plants). Even I have tended to discount or dismiss the use of such methods to impact on the carbon balance of the atmosphere but in fact it can be very significant if we just alter the cycling towards permanent removal. Note that all this burning is often not counted because it is ‘recycled’/recaptured in next years crop; or even a forest fire results in big forest regrowth (except when it doesn’t).

            And remember it is all being driven by free energy. Your power-to-liquid schemes can’t work over the timescales we need them to work, ie. the next 50 years, because it won’t make any sense to divert any renewable energy to this application as it will all be needed to displace our existing use of fossil fueled energy. The only feasible alternative is to use nuclear power but that simply can’t happen in the timescale. Despite all the building of nukes in China, by 2030 it will still account for about 5% of their energy use; nothing is going to change this; using that power for creating synthetic fuels is false because it is just forcing the use of other energy elsewhere.

            But using biology to produce this energy will capture the energy completely separate to any human capture via solar or wind. It won’t compete or impact it at all. Of course it can’t be allowed to displace agriculture or at least not significantly, but commercial agriculture has plenty of potential to be co-productive without sacrifice. Almost a free lunch.

            Then there is the absolutely massive potential of the ocean. This is my personal preference because it has staggering potential to be both productive (food and/or biofuels) as well as sequester masses of carbon to the bottom of the ocean. In fact this is exactly how our planet was decarbonised and made fit for most higher lifeforms in the Precambrian. About 550 million years ago, a colossal volcanic outgassing raised the atmospheric CO2 levels to 12%, about 350 times modern levels, causing extreme greenhouse conditions. Though plant growth on land did its part (laying down today’s fossil fuel precursors) but the serious heavy-lifting was done at the ocean surface by unimaginable numbers of marine algae that sucked that carbon out of the atmosphere and lay down their carbonate skeletons that turned into limestone–that is the most efficient form of sequestered carbon and you can see it in the trillions of tonnes of limestone cliffs or rock (eg. a layer under the whole of England). Michelangelo’s David is made of the stuff.

            It’s not free but close. And yes, it requires some R&D to get it to work ‘efficiently’ in today’s oceans. Vast swathes of the Pacific are almost-dead zones and merely need some light seeding with almost zero-cost elements (mostly iron and silicate) and biology will do the rest, powered by the free solar energy they are evolved to capture. Forget about ‘efficiency’ of photosynthesis, Herbert, it gets the job done. Relative to the human input, the output is leveraged to almost fantastical amounts. That’s the power of biology.

          • Herbert

            I don’t think we should take the risk – however remote – of an eutrophic Pacific Ocean.

            And where is all this new energy agriculture going to be put? Solar cells can be put into the desert… And there are solar cells that convert 45% of solar radiation into electricity. Not just the 25% photosynthesis does…

          • michaelrjames

            Damn, I forgot to finish my last long rant with my intended punchline, for Alon: in this sense, of harvesting existing biology,
            the future is retro.

          • Tonami

            I thought Photosynthesis was around 6% efficiency. Wikipedia says it’s 3-6% and a theoretical limit of 11%.

        • michaelrjames

          I give up.
          The efficiency difference is irrelevant.
          Photosynthesis captures about 130 terawatts, 8 times current human consumption. Photosynthetic organisms also convert around >100 billion tonnes of carbon into biomass per year of which about half is in the oceans.
          This doesn’t need much change to make a real impact on capturing the excess carbon we are releasing each year, about 3 billion tonnes (10bn t CO2 equivalent).

          • Herbert

            When the organisms die, they rot, releasing either carbon dioxide leaving us where we were before or methane, leaving us much worse off.

            Now if we could stop them from rotting, they would be carbon suckers…

          • michaelrjames

            Several things.
            One is that that is where all our fossil fuels come from: the corpses of countless plant cells.
            Another is that, the first thing the dying or dead marine beasties do, is sink.
            The next, is that the main thing we are interested in here is their calcium carbonate skeletons, which don’t ‘rot’. They can dissolve though obviously there are conditions where gazillions of tonnes of them have survived on the ocean bottoms to form limestone. But even if these dead critters ‘rot’ or partially dissolve, the trick is that they sink deep enough to still sequester all that carbon on a long enough cycle time for us to traverse the next 50 to 100 years. Cycle times could easily be hundreds if not thousands or more years.

      • adirondacker12800

        The prices for renewables and batteries keeps dropping, no one is going to want new stuff that burns things around 2025 or so.

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert, 2019/09/09 – 21:57
            What about aviation?

            In the medium term, biofuels. In the long term possibly some hydrogen-based system. Maybe less far future than imagined. I recall that ammonia (or maybe lithium-borohydride) has higher energy density than aviation fuel and certainly a lot more than liquified hydrogen which is obviously a non-starter. Hydrogen beats all other energy stores but for the problem of what it needs for storage. Liquid ammonia is part of the solution.
            All these things assume zero weight of the oxygen consumed which is why space flight is so problematic but Elon Musk will shortly solve that one …. . Ha, well looking up Wiki it turns out antimatter has the highest energy density (by a factor of about 10e10 over current fuels) so maybe it will take an Elon Musk rocket scientist to come up with a Warp drive ….

            But seriously: biofuels. Although it may ultimately come via solar energy from the oceans, in the short term maybe diverting all the sugar cane from our guts to more useful applications …

          • Herbert

            Biofuels have obvious downsides compared to PtL including the “tank vs table” issue you so flippantly non-addressed…

          • Eric

            Biofuels are just carbon sequestration into fuel.

            I assume this could be done more cheaply than biofuels using an industrial process, since the industrial process could be “intelligently designed” to use any material in any way, and not face the constraint of having to reproduce itself.

          • michaelrjames

            Eric said: “Biofuels are just carbon sequestration into fuel.”

            True, though I wouldn’t call it “sequestration” rather “transformation”. But the big thing is the “bio”. It means that the energy for the process is solar (as for all living things except those surviving on black smokers).
            Your alternative is itself going to consume even more energy. As the maxim goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch … except when it is from the sun, and biology has provided the synthesis mechanism evolved over the past billion years. Of course it’s not free but the biggest component, the energy, is and that leaves the cultivation or in some schemes just harvesting, and purification.

          • Herbert

            Plants need water. Solar panels do not. And all things told Power to liquid is probably more energy efficient…

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert, 2019/09/10 – 08:47
            Plants need water. Solar panels do not. And all things told Power to liquid is probably more energy efficient


            Not necessarily. To both points.
            There are schemes to use the otherwise discarded or burned cellulosic fibre of currently harvested crops (so a kind of free lunch). And it turns out some of the most efficient converters of sun into high-energy plant products (oils, carbohydrates) are among the most hardy water-efficient plants in the biosphere, eg. salt-bush in Australia that grows in very low rainfall zones where nothing much else will grow. But it could also be ocean-based plants like seaweed and algae, in which case it is not competing with land, freshwater or food sources. Some of this may need some fancy genetic engineering but entirely do-able.
            In terms of energy efficiency, it is unlikely anything using the sun can really compete with biology which has perfected solar energy capture to power the most sophisticated chemical plant in the known universe.
            Also it will not be competing for the same commercial energy sources, especially the only type that makes any sense: green energy.

          • Herbert

            The efficiency of photosynthesis isn’t actually all that great. I think there are experimental solar cells that have it beat.

            And unless you design an engine that burns plant matter as-is, you’ll have further losses covering whichever part of the plant is usually into fuel…

  11. Herbert

    I’ll ask point blank: do you think the future will look more like MĂ€rkisches Viertel with maybe a subway stop underneath (if they ever build it) or more like Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg with a tram line passing through?

    Remember that the latter is denser

    • michaelrjames

      Alon pleads the fifth on the grounds that he would incriminate himself 🙂

      But it’s not really a fair comparison.
      Wiki tells me:
      MĂ€rkisches Viertel is “a large housing estate of about 17,000 apartments with chains of high-rises up to 18 floors that were built from 1964 to 1974.”
      MĂ€rkisches Viertel: 35,100 residents on 3.2km2 = 11,000/km2
      Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg: 278,579 residents on 20.16km2 = 14,000/km2

      I’m guessing that MV is perhaps more upmarket, or more middle-class? And certainly, ahem, less ‘diverse’ than the old-city F-K?

      • Herbert

        MV has the nickname “merkwĂŒrdiges Viertel“ or “peculiar quarter” among some Berliners… It’s certainly not “upmarket” in any way and in no danger of gentrification (unlike FH-Xberg).

        Having been promised an U-Bahn in the sixties that STILL hasn’t happened probably didn’t help…

        • michaelrjames

          So, you’re saying MĂ€rkisches Viertel is more Plattenbau than one of the “new tenements” Florian Urban describes (there’s no mention of M-V in his book).

          Sounds like you’re just trolling Alon, you terrible person you … (Honourable and respectable people, like me for example, don’t do that …)

          • Herbert

            It’s high rises and it was originally planned to be served by subway, which I think is Alon’s vision, compared to Blockrandbebauung served by trams, given how dismissive he is of trams due to reasons I still don’t quite get.

            10km of Berlin tram cost the same to build as 1km of Berlin subway… And the tram has half the capacity of the subway. Now there may be routes where ThE added capacity is essential. But there are few of those left in Berlin.

            As for speed, S-Bahn is faster than U-Bahn. Regio is faster than S-Bahn. But you have to get to the stop first…

          • Eric

            “And the tram has half the capacity of the subway”

            This I don’t understand. The subway can be twice as long (or longer) than a tram so you are saying tram frequency is at least as high as subway frequency. How is possible, when the subway has separate ROW and the tram does not?

          • Herbert

            Platform length is the obvious limit to subway length. What’s the limit to tram length?

            And the maximum possible frequency is largely determined by the speed of loading and unloading.

          • Eric

            Subway platforms are routinely 200m long. Tram platforms are limited to a single city block, typically 100 or even just 50 meters long.

            As for frequency, a subway with modern signalling can run every 100 seconds. Can a tram run that frequently? Doesn’t the very fact that a tram must sometimes wait for traffic lights (which run on 1 or 2 minute cycles) make it impossible to keep such headways without constant bunching?

          • Herbert

            Subway platforms CAN be that length (or an even greater length) but are they in Berlin?

          • Eric

            If we’re debating what to build next, surely we can make the platforms whatever we want?

          • Herbert

            MV was not panned for trams and still doesn’t have them (there’s debate about extending a line coming from the east, but no concrete action)

            F-Hain Xberg was designed for trams and F-Hain still has them while Xberg is destined to get them back

          • Herbert

            Making the platforms of ALL the existing stops on at least the love you want to extend longer is prohibitively expensive compared to sighing and accepting existing platform length as a given while muddling along.

            It’s the same with passing loops for kilometer long freight trains. They’d be nice, but they’re too expensive

      • Alon Levy

        Nah, I didn’t respond because it took me a while to remember what MĂ€rkisches Viertel was. It’s pretty far out of the way. It’s a suburban social housing project, like any HLM in the banlieues; I don’t live there for two important reasons: I do not qualify for social assistance, and it is pretty far from city center. I did view an apartment one S-Bahn stop closer in, in a newly-renovated low-rise, and the broker got squeamish about my freelancer status, but even if I could have had it, I don’t think I’d have picked it over where I currently live, not with that rent premium.

        Stockholm for the record is a city of MĂ€rkische Viertel. The Million Program housing in the area was developed right around T-bana stations, at a lower density than city center at the scale of several square kilometers but higher density at the scale of a few hundred meters from the station. This is also the nature of Tokyo density and how it differs from Western density. None of Tokyo’s wards is as dense as Manhattan or Paris, let alone the 11th or the Upper East and West Sides – and the UES and UWS have maybe twice the residential space per capita of Tokyo, probably even more than twice. But Tokyo is better even than New York at concentrating density within 100 meters of a train station, let alone the more platykurtic European cities.

          • Herbert

            Why does Europe have high transit ridership if you need to put everybody literally atop one of the five subway stops per twenty square kilometers according to your vision?

          • Alon Levy

            Not that any European city has the mode share of Singapore or Tokyo, but the ones that come closest in Western Europe kind of do put people right next to metro stations. Paris has dense Metro coverage citywide and then a concentration of development next to stations in the suburbs, and Stockholm has housing projects right on top of T-bana stations.

          • Herbert

            Hamburg which shut down its tram lacks behind Munich which despite plans to do did not.

            I still don’t know what makes you dismissive of the perfect transport solution for mid sized cities: tramways

          • Alon Levy

            The high levels of transit usage in Prague and Stockholm with metro-based systems, and even in Vienna and Budapest with mixed ones.

          • Herbert

            Prague – like most eastern bloc cities – has a massive tram network.

          • Herbert

            Vienna was pretty late to the metro game and its current transit success is in part precisely due to never shutting down its trams (unlike west Berlin with its unseemly urban highways built with west German subsidies during the cold war)

          • Herbert

            In Budapest it took almost eight decades from the first line (whose interstation is shorter than at some trams) to the second one… And even then the Budapest metro is about the size of the Nuremberg one… The trams are four times the route length…

        • michaelrjames

          Alone wrote: Stockholm for the record is a city of MĂ€rkische Viertel. The Million Program housing in the area was developed right around T-bana stations, at a lower density than city center at the scale of several square kilometers but higher density at the scale of a few hundred meters from the station. This is also the nature of Tokyo density and how it differs from Western density. None of Tokyo’s wards is as dense as Manhattan or Paris, let alone the 11th or the Upper East and West Sides

          Then Stockholm, like much of the world, got those “new towns” or “new tenements” wrong too. And as you know by now, I want not just density but more importantly I want the good kind of urbanity that comes from a certain building form that is compatible with that density. We are agreed that none of these achieve both and in fact they don’t even really achieve optimal density. MĂ€rkische Viertel is ≈11,000/km2 and is deadsville as are those newtowns Florian Urban describes. Spiky development within a puny 100m of transit is terrible and by itself cannot produce what we both want (localised density is one thing but if only in such a tiny footprint it is pretty useless as a TOD). Like I have said over and over, we actually know what works but too many (speculators, starchitects, city bureaucrats and it seems urbanists) continue with failed models. It’s like the epidemic of obesity–we seem helpless to stop it even as we know how to.

          • Herbert

            So what’s the thing that works and how do you serve it with transit?

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert, 2019/09/11 – 15:16
            So what’s the thing that works and how do you serve it with transit?

            For big cities it already exists: Paris,especially after GPX, and then various lesser cities that attempt similar (NYC, definitely not London or Tokyo). I’d include Hong Kong but not too many westerners want to live like that (though I have known 100% pure suburbanites from Oz who have gone to live there and then fallen in love with the freedom provided by that city and realised that their previous auto-based freedom was actually a gilded prison).
            Oh, and needless to say this is a Paris not reliant upon high-rise residential but Haussmannian scale.

          • Herbert

            The late 19th century for some reason built a type of housing and urban fabric that 21st century urbanites can’t get enough of

      • Herbert

        Dresden – Neustadt is in many ways “a neighborhood like that”. And it has zero subways.

        • threestationsquare

          Dresden Innere Neustadt has a density of 4300/km^2, less than half that of MĂ€rkisches Viertel and less than a third Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. (And is served by 9 trains an hour at the S-Bahn station.)

          • Herbert

            The Dresden S-Bahn only started serving Ă€ußere Neustadt pretty recently and unless one is going to the airport, there’s little user for Dresden residents using the S-Bahn

          • Herbert

            Sorry I got stuck in the local lingo. When people who know Dresden speak of ;Neustadt” they mean Ă€ußere which survived the bombing largely unscathed and is now rapidly gentryfying. The gentrification train has already partially moved on towards Hechtviertel.

            Innere Neustadt isn’t actually that interesting, but take a (maybe digital) stroll north of Albertplatz and tell me it doesn’t look like Berlin Xberg

        • Herbert

          S-Bahns can easily coexist with trams.

          Subways have historically often been built while trams were shut down. Often with more mileage of tram being eliminated than subway being constructed. Look at Nuremberg, Munich, Hamburg and West Berlin. Door to door many trips in Nuremberg were shorter before the subway was built…

  12. LeeEsq

    As an informal observation, meaning I could be totally wrong about this, but people in wealthy developed Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan seem to have a lot higher tolerance for the type of seemingly chaotically built cities than people in wealthy developed countries. People from Europe or North America might visiting Tokyo and Osaka or watching movies with hyper-urban settings but I don’t think many of us really want to live there 24/7. Even in the most urban countries in Europe and North America, places like France and Germany where rapid transit wasn’t ignored after World War II, there is an attempt to impose a lot of order on the entire thing. I’ve lived in New York City and spent a lot of time in Tokyo, New York comes across as a lot more top down control in how things are built.

    • Alon Levy

      Do you want me to consolidate your 2 comments?

      Re top-down control: Japan in a way has more of it than the US. In New York, zoning is a municipal law, but there’s councilmanic privilege, i.e. on local issues like housing development the entire City Council will defer to the one member representing the area; in effect, one local elected official is the dictator on such decisions. In Japan, zoning is a national law, and in France and Sweden, recent acceleration of development happened under state control in response to crisis-level rents in the their respective capitals. Housing in Japan, and potentially in next generation’s France if current construction rates continue, is a great example of liberalism and centralism together: a strong state establishes rule of law and restrains local magnates from extracting value from productive people. In the US it’s the opposite, a kind of ancien regime-style semi-centralized feudalism in which local notables can extract value provided they don’t challenge the mayor/governor/king.

      • Lee Ratner

        Yes, please consolidate. I’m aware that zoning is a national issue in Japan. I’m just making an informal observation based on my visits to Japan, different cities in the United States, and Europe. Whether it is in France’s liberalism plus centralization or America’s semi-centralized feudalism, there seems to be an attempt to make cities look more orderly rather than organic in Europe and North America than anything I’ve seen in Tokyo or elsewhere in Japanese big cities.

        • Herbert

          European cities are very “organic” in that they virtually never follow a grid. Even formerly gridded cities (Roman cities for instance and some early modern planned cities) often have additions that don’t follow a grid

          • Alon Levy

            There’s some grid planning, e.g. in Mannheim and Stockholm, as well as non-grid planning, e.g. Paris and its imitators. Even London has had some planning, although not very much of it.

          • Herbert

            I mentioned Mannheim (or Karlsruhe) under the headline of “early modern planned cities”. They’re rare and their expansion usually doesn’t follow the same logic as the original plan. Same as Tegel airport with its non hexagonal expansions…

      • myb6

        “Local notables” strikes me as a misnomer, as quantitatively the problem is overwhelmingly SF/NY.

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, and the people I’m complaining about pretty much are the local notables of SF and NY, like various fixtures in neighborhood activism who’ve been in the city 40 years and think things used to be better then than they are now, or the entire concept of the community board in NY.

          • myb6

            Interesting, from my point-of-view there’s so much overlap between that demographic and those with national+ influence and so little overlap with “local notables” in rest-of-country that I would group things entirely differently.

          • Alon Levy

            I don’t think New York community members have a lot of national+ influence. We’re not talking NYTimes journalists – evidently there are two YIMBYs on the NYTimes op-ed team, Paul Krugman and Jamelle Bouie, and zero people who openly defend NIMBYism.

          • myb6

            I don’t want to spam comments, so for brevity I’ll just state that I think your article takes issue with a lot of broad groups and sentiments when the problem is overwhelmingly concentrated in a subset of people whom you don’t seem to be talking about in the article.

          • myb6

            Alon agrees the problem is overwhelmingly SF/NY, and further narrows it down to SF/NY NIMBY activists, but then the article at various points goes after nostalgic YIMBYs, traditionalists, polluters, people who dislike minorities/poor/working, people who like SFHs with yards, etc, which led me to a very confusing read of “local notables”.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, the problem has a few different loci. The vanguard class of NIMBYism is local notables in expensive cities. In practice, they only have informal power in the US, not formal power, so in the same manner that when the crime rate rises you complain about the police rather than about criminals, when housing production falters you complain about do-nothing governors and state legislatures. Both Cuomo and Newsom have the power to tell the NIMBYs to shove off, and Newsom was in a relatively easy position to do so by forcing a vote on SB 50, which would have passed; both governors have instead chosen to do nothing.

            I point out things other than those because the future is not just about more housing in currently-expensive cities. It’s also about commercial TOD, which Californian YIMBYs are pretty bad with. And it’s more broadly about green transportation, where everything in the US and some things in Europe and East Asia are a total mess.

          • adirondacker12800

            The NIMBYs in New York convince someone to define a historic district which freezes everything in amber forever. They did a fabulous job on the Meatpacking district. There are two overlapping ones with slightly different goals. They then get upset that you can’t put residential in an industrial historic district.

    • SB

      Plenty of Asian-Americans live in the suburban sprawl.
      So it seems that Asians don’t have a preference in regardless to urban density.

      • Lee Ratner

        I know that. What I noted is that politically, developed Asian countries have not attempted to impose order on their cities in the way that developed countries in Europe and North America have. Japan and Taiwan are affluent countries and could easily impose a different type of design via politics like other developed countries have done.

        • Herbert

          Which “order” has Munich imposed on its urban design that Yokohama hasn’t?

          • LeeEsq

            The palaces and streets laid out by the Wittelsbach to make it look like a grand capital for their dynasty.

    • Herbert

      Cities in foreign cultures only appear chaotic because you don’t see the method in the madness.

      My first time in Managua when I didn’t speak Spanish all that well it appeared much more chaotic than the twentieth time…

      By the way, Managua is a major example of poor countries getting urban design wrong by copying the U.S.

        • Herbert

          I concur. It badly needs SOME form of decent mass transit. Heck even a few bus lanes would improve the lives of millions of people there. Oh and a semblance of a city center would be nice. Whether it be rebuilding the old core to earthquake safe standards or making Carreterra a Masaya walkable is less important than getting going…

          But the government prefer spending money on highways, propaganda and stupid metal “trees of life”. Unfortunately they are what passes for the left and the right wing wouldn’t do a thing better about urban design…

    • Martin Kolk

      Both Japanese, Chinese, and Taiwanese, and Korean cities are really pretty gridded, where the urban structure follows quite strong overall plans (and strong regional urban plans). Much more so than most older European cities. True chaos you will only find in South and Southeast Asia.

      Often the narrow lanes, which may seem “chaotic” are only the innermost sub-structure of quite strongly planned urban grids. What sets places like Japan and Taiwan apart are pretty small building lots with free-standing buildings, which create a lot more variety in the urban landscape, and more variety in age of the buildings, and the opportunity for more flexible responses to changing demand for housing and commercial space.

      • Lee Ratner

        Your last paragraph is a more accurate version of why cities in developed Asian countries seem more chaotic to people from Europe and North America. The narrow lanes and sheer variety of buildings caused by the small building lots with free standing buildings makes the cities look more improvised than cities in North America and Europe even though they probably aren’t.

        • Alon Levy

          But that really depends on which Asian cities we’re talking about… Singapore has very wide roads for the most part, and no grids whatsoever. It’s as if you took the street plan of an American suburb but then built high-rises there and dug subways to serve the development.

          • michaelrjames

            Yes, but Singapore is an Anglophone city just as Shanghai is … etc.
            The Chinese may have been the first to create a very ordered gridded city thousands of years ago. Though Beijing is not particularly old it inherited the Imperial plan at its heart. But the ancient imperial cities in Asia (and central America?) like Surat Thani and Sukhothai (and Angkor Wat?) are grids.

          • yuuka

            I’m fairly sure there are plenty of grids in Singapore, especially in the downtown area (both the old one and the new Marina district)

          • michaelrjames

            yuuka, 019/09/10 – 08:19
            I’m fairly sure there are plenty of grids in Singapore, especially in the downtown area (both the old one and the new Marina district)

            No, not really. The old downtown is only very loosely gridded with none of it strictly rectilinear. And Marina Bay Sands is not at all gridded; there’s not a straight street in it which has to be deliberate (there is no need for a grid there).
            The Brits don’t believe in proper town planning, probably because they don’t like spending money on such things until it is absolutely unavoidable. Compare to the French colonial cities like Hanoi or French Quarter in Shanghai, still today considered among the most beautiful parts of Asian cities (helped by the extensive avenues of plane trees). Gridded and ordered NYC only starts above Canal street and by then it was an American city. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this cavalier attitude to planning is Heathrow airport, in the middle of residential London and about to cost $30 billion to add a third runway; a peculiar kind of madness not to have relocated it well out of the city about 6 decades ago when Paris, NYC and others did.

          • Eric

            1) There is nothing magical about a perfect grid that makes it much better than a slightly wiggly grid like that which covers most of downtown Singapore.

            2) Central Milton Keynes has a rigid grid, and outer Milton Keynes has a wiggly arterial grid which was planned for gridded bus service. The UK does planning, just not where history has already done the planning for it (however badly).

            3) Heathrow is further from the center than CDG, and not much closer to the center than JFK. To the extent it’s “in the middle of residential London” that’s only because Paris is denser than London and NYC is lucky enough to have an ocean to fly over.

          • michaelrjames

            Eric, 2019/09/10 – 13:28
            3) Heathrow is further from the center than CDG, and not much closer to the center than JFK. To the extent it’s “in the middle of residential London” that’s only because Paris is denser than London and NYC is lucky enough to have an ocean to fly over.

            Yeah but that totally misses the point. CDG and JFK were relocated in the 50s/60s to a part of the city where there was never going to be serious issues of land use, ie. either for airport expansion or any residential interference. Heathrow is smack in the west of London which was and is prime residential; not only does it mean endless conflict over flights and local disturbance and of course the cost (in money and political costs) of airport expansion but it continues to cause disturbance of a wide swathe of London. It should have been relocated to either east London, or even Gatwick made the major London airport (Gatwick is 47km but only 30m by train and for most of its existence faster, quicker and more convenient than the Piccadilly line from Heathrow).
            For CDG the state reserved a gigantic bit of land (33km2) to the north-east of the city and with no residential conflicts (IIRC one tiny hamlet was relocated), and in fact with regulations that keep airspace over most of Paris free of planes. Anyone watching Wimbledon (near Heathrow) can see and hear the difference; and compare to Roland-Garros (as it happens named after an aviator!). JFK is in the middle of the Jamaica wetlands which is roughly the arrangement the fabled Boris Island airport would have/should have been in London if they planned it when they should have (at least 60 years ago).
            I’d say Hong Kong is similar in that the Brits dithered for decades but finally the decision was taken to build the new airport and all the associated infrastructure (and a new town at Tung Chung); this wasn’t a British decision but that of the mandarins (HK civil service) and the powerful business community who knew they had to act, and especially before the handover. The result was the world’s biggest civil engineering project at that time and one of the best airports in the world. Of course it cost US$20bn but in reality was priceless. Singapore, another former Brit outpost, also built a new airport (on mostly reclaimed land) which is rated best in the world (now 6 years in a row). But poor old Blighty can’t manage any such bold planning itself.

  13. Lee Ratner

    As an informal observation, meaning I could be very wrong about this, but people in developed wealthy Asian countries like Japan and Taiwan, seem to be a lot more willing to deal with urban chaos than people from Europe or North America. Even in the most urban places in Europe and North America, there isn’t really anything like how Tokyo or Osaka comes across. There seems to be a greater effort to exert top down control and make things appear as orderly as possible.

  14. myb6

    I’m surprised that you think “small single-family houses fronting narrow streets” offends nostalgic Westerners, because this is exactly what the nostalgic Westerners I know pine for. And they’re generally in favor of having convenient access to a busier built-up MainSt/Uptown/whatever. In their dreams that node may look more “missing middle” or Hausmann than Blade Runner, but as other commenters have pointed out the actual density consequences of that preference are pretty minor.

    “who define themselves by how much they can pollute” -> cartoon. Poor show.

      • myb6

        The article has a lot of angst for the difference between “spikiness of high-rise and small SFH” and “spikiness of mid-rise and small SFH”.

    • Herbert

      My nostalgia is for GrĂŒnderzeit Blockrandbebauung, only not heated with coal…

      • michaelrjames

        Herbert, 2019/09/09 – 16:41
        My nostalgia is for GrĂŒnderzeit Blockrandbebauung,

        I think that is true of Florian Urban because it is what he grew up in, in Berlin (Berlin-Mitte, and prior to that, Vienna). Yet, many of his “new tenements” he appears to endorse, such as Ørestad and Kirchsteigfeld, Berlin, take the building typology (some of it seriously tampered with by those starchitects) and dump it into that “towers in a park” format which removes all the useful urbanity that is not only not replaced by all that wide open space but wrecked by it. In an academic study of Kirchsteigfeld and its inhabitants they found “the appealing square and parks are underused …”. “On the other hand they reflected very ittle on those aspects that next to architectural beauty were most stressed by the designers Krier/Kohl: an urban feel or the ability to generate an attractive community. … The categories “urbanity” and “positive identification with the neighbourhood,” however were not particularly significant–or at least not consciously acknowledged. For the architect, as well as for the politicians who promoted Kirchsteigfeld’s new urbanity in the first place, this must have bee rather disillusioning.” “What they enjoyed most was that it was not a Plattenbau scheme (“repetitive ten-storey prefa blocks, six-lane streets and vast open spaces”).

        Except that I would argue it is still closer to those Plattenbau schemes than your much loved GrĂŒnderzeit Blockrandbebauung. And you can bet your last dollar or euro that those starchitects live in Mitte not in Kirchsteigfeld … just like Corbu lived his last 31 years in a 6-storey apartment building in Paris-16, nothing remotely like Villa Savoye in Poissy! Not to mention UnitĂ©s d’Habitation with its wonderful (!) communal spaces. (Amount of communal spaces in 24 Rue Nungesser et Coli, Paris 75016: close to zero if omit the staircase to get to his penthouse).

        It is kind of weird that many of the relevant “experts”, and alas we’d have to include Alon, continue to promote such schemes (high-rise is intrinsic to some of them, and is a pure expression of the econocrat), when they so self-evidently fail. Of course even future residents might blather on about “air, green and wide open spaces”, until they actually live in them and find they don’t actually use those spaces, green or otherwise.

        I can’t be certain (because it is uncaptioned) but I believe the cover pic (see Amazon) is a modern incarnation of this building type.

        • Herbert

          All the “public space” you really need is a street of adequate width from which cars have been banned. Look at the medieval old towns beloved by American tourists, look at the 19th century construction fetching huge prices these days. Well, the latter also have courtyards which are a nice addition

          • michaelrjames

            Obviously I agree though my favourite urban arrangement has lots of small parks and squares. CityLab today has an article on Barcelona’s experiment in superblocks in which 9 blocks in a 3×3 superblock are turned into mostly a carfree zone. This is an attempt to overcome the Eixample’s paucity of such spaces (parks or squares) and too much traffic. Though the original plan had all those blocks with chamfered corners to create larger “square”-like spaces at intersections, the traffic is a killer. They should have learned from the Gothic quarter and apparently CerdĂ  had wanted those features but they were lost on implementation. (My favourite part of Barcelona is Gracia with its delightful small shady squares.)

        • Herbert

          I live in a “tower in the park” because I can’t afford the rents at nicer places and you can’t even have a nice little bbq in said park. What’s the point of the park then?

          • michaelrjames

            It turns out Florian Urban discusses MĂ€rkisches Viertel in the second book of his I have (but have not yet started: Tower and Slab, histories of global mass housing, 2012). Here is an extract:

            The new housing development MĂ€rkisches Viertel in West Berlin was apparently a straightforward success. According to a journalist in 1966, the architects paid homage to the urban design tradition of Berlin’s grand boulevard Unter den Linden and the city’s most symbolic monument, the Brandenburg Gate. They created an “expressive composition” that embodies a “will to art” and a “sensible and not only mechanistic spatial order.” 1 … The paper Die Welt, which in 1966 had still praised “the colourful residence of the future”4 and the “plasticity of the forms” that resonated the rhythm of the surrounding landscape5 only two years later reviled the new homes as “factories for dwelling” bearing strong resemblance to “the Stalinallee in East Berlin … and to the products of urban renewal in the black neighbourhoods of Manhattan.”6
            Hardly any city has experienced harsher debates over tower-and-slab developments than the birthplace of Walter Gropius. The MĂ€rkisches Viertel (1963-74, designers: Werner DĂŒttmann, Hans MĂŒller, Georg Heinrichs, and others) was a textbook example. It comprised more than 17,000 apartments in tower blocks with 10 to 14 stories, and in 2006, it had about 36,000 inhabitants. It was typical of what was considered the most advanced urban design of the time. Großsiedlungen (great settlements) were built on the peripheries of big cities in both East and West Germany from the 1960s. They were rooted in the Weimar Republic tradition of public utility housing, and at first widely applauded. In both German countries their reputation rapidly deteriorated in the late 1960s.
            In the socialist East, one can detect a growing dissatisfaction with a policy that officially was not to be questioned; eventually this led to a modification and downsizing of the slab developments. In the West, prefab housing triggered a massive bout of mudslinging in the media, which continued for several years. The controversy over the MĂ€rkisches Viertel was the most salient example; it stood, however, for an architectural debate over form, function, and physical determinism that went far beyond academic and architectural circles and shook large parts of the population. What was at stake in Germany at the time was nothing less than the modernist promise of development and progress. … The Großsiedlungen came to be the symbolic battleground for a struggle in which radical college students sided with bourgeois traditionalists against an establishment of liberal developers and Social Democratic politicians.

            I reproduce this extensive tract because it demonstrates that the battles of half a century ago don’t seem to have been learned, or are about to be retaught all over again. Though I was under the impression that the French had learned and were not repeating the same errors. Alon suggests otherwise, so it is going to provoke me into more extensive adventures into the Parisian banlieus next visit! No doubt facilitated by the RER. Ha, maybe an urbanist version of Maspero’s ethnographic Roissy Express, a journey through the Paris suburbs.

          • Alon Levy

            Wherever poor people live, the middle class will sneer at them, and often invent excuses. In France I’ve read some bullshit analysis, I think on Wikipedia, arguing that the banlieues have high unemployment because use separation means children grow up never seeing any adults work, so they don’t learn to appreciate the value of hard work. (Europe has less use separation than the US, where rich people live in residential-only neighborhoods.) The explanation can never be about racism, or poor social services, or an education system that perpetuates class segregation; it has to be some culture of poverty, which the Thatcherites openly blame on the working class’s poor morals and which the so-called progressives blame on artifacts like the physical housing stock.

          • Herbert

            While the effect of housing stock has been exaggerated, it DOES have an effect. Not getting any light or Any healthy food DID lead to nutrition related diseases in the nineteenth century.

            But the real root cause was poverty

          • Herbert

            People who can choose, choose not to live in Plattenbau if they can help it.

            Grûnderzeit buildings meanwhile are rapidly gentryfying

          • michaelrjames

            Alon Levy, 2019/09/11 – 13:15
            Wherever poor people live, the middle class will sneer at them, and often invent excuses.

            True. I certainly believe that almost all of the Corbusian high-rise housing stock is dehumanising, as well as quite unnecessary (for the high density all planners claim they want). It only “works” where there is a quite uniform high-earning middle-class of residents like in Stuy-Cooper Town in Manhattan.
            But I wouldn’t be in denial that it is the only factor. Social conditioning is clearly important. One big issue for those projects in Seine-St-Denis is that the first-gen immigrant and still many second-gen, is that there simply are no longer the lower-skill jobs for them anymore. The Citroen factory in 93-Aulnay is closed. Even middle-skill jobs are starting to disappear.

            It is instructive watching the Hong Kong insurrection unfold and repeat. Some of the young people interviewed explained how many of the newly-immigrant mainlanders, some of whom were their parents, simply couldn’t understand. They can’t change their learned behaviours or inculcations and will never understand, and ultimately must be ignored.
            Funny enough, right now in Australia we have a raging battle over our first federal member of parliament who is mainland-born Chinese. First she got in trouble during the election by printing posters in Mandarin impersonating the Electoral Commission exhorting voters to vote Liberal (remember, in Oz that means ‘conservative’) (illegal and still under court action). And now it turns out she has been a member of the CCP for the last 14 years, though she spent the past week denying it, has finally admitted it, saying she has moved beyond it. Some people can (move beyond their social imprinting) but most cannot, and frankly we don’t believe her. It will be surprising if she survives the week though since the government has a slim majority of two they are going to fight it all the way.
            BTW, there have been violent clashes in Australia between mainlander Chinese (immigrants and students) and other disapora Chinese (mostly HK, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan), also immigrants and students, who support the Hong Kongers. Mainlander immigrants/students have to be careful about visibly supporting HK because of repercussions to their PRC relatives, or themselves when they return. (In Australia by 2023 Chinese born in the PRC will outnumber immigrants born in the UK! HK shows this might be ok but equally one remains nervous until their children grow up in Oz (and become complacent slobs like the rest of us! Well no, the most prominent role model has to be Penny Wong, minority-leader in the Senate and former federal minister of Finance in the last Labor government, and extremely intelligent & articulate))

            The point is that social and educational background is hugely important, and really one must look to the next generation if one is expecting change. At the very least providing reasonable housing, plus health & education, is necessary. None of it is easy but at least housing is something for which the solution is kind of obvious and not so difficult, ie. learning from the recent blunders, if only the neolib econocrats can be overcome. The latter is the most difficult thing.

  15. Ha

    I think with the current climate change, we need to grow more green trees to have a fresh environment

  16. JimJ

    What is the appeal of “missing middle”? Is it viewed as a minimal change? In my experience, it is close to a worst-of-both compromise between apartment buildings and single family housing. (Granny flats are less of a problem … until they become common.) I don’t think that bad-compromise status is logically required, but I do think the changes needed to prevent it in the US are likely to be more radical than those needed for almost any other solution to housing shortages.

    • Eric

      Missing middle is a way to double (roughly, depending on the exact type) the density of housing, or in other words, to need only half the area to house the same number of people. What’s the cost? Somewhat less yard outside, and a shared wall or two. For most people, I think that’s a very small cost. You get many of the gains of density, while losing little of what’s attractive about a house.

      • Herbert

        If you look at German suburbia, even pretty affluent families live in two or three storey buildings (often the living room and kitchen at ground level, a cellar and the kids on the first floor)

        Then there of course rowhouses and many people live in DoppelhaushĂ€lften…

        If you do nothing else, having the same tough square metrage in a two storey building halves the footprint and doubles density compared to a one storey suburban building

      • threestationsquare

        In practice the cost of doubling density by replacing SFH with missing middle is traffic. When you double the density it stops so easy for everybody to drive and park everywhere, but there probably still isn’t enough density to support walkable stores, the roads are still probably too wide and busy to be pleasant to walk on, there are still enough drivers to politically block bus/tram lanes, etc. So you end up falling awkwardly in between car-density and walking/transit-density, with neither mode functioning well. (These issues are less severe if you built “missing middle” in the first place before cars were common, so the walkable stores and streets already existed and just had to avoid being destroyed, but modern conversions of auto-oriented SFH to missing middle face a pretty severe chicken-and-egg problem around traffic and parking.)

        • Eric

          Could be, but that sounds like a generalization that may be an over-generalization.

        • myb6

          The problem you describe is inherent in trying to convert any area from car-dominant to walk/transit-dominant using any type of construction.

          • Herbert

            Sometimes urbanism needs to come by fiat and resistance needs to be crushed. They’ll come around a few years after it’s built…

    • Alon Levy

      My best guess is that it’s a combination of two things. First, in Canada there’s a lot of housing development, esp. in Vancouver, but it almost never replaces single-family houses in single-family neighborhoods, but rather it’s high-density mid- and high-rise housing along major corridors and near subway stations. There isn’t much density in between, hence the term missing middle. Some people keep pushing for it out of aesthetic hate for modern boxy buildings, or out of belief that rents in Canada aren’t cooling not because they need even more development but because the development is too high-rise, or just out of desire to see more density in exclusive suburban neighborhoods like Shaughnessy that aren’t really close to public transit.

      Second, in the US, it’s something different. There’s tons and tons of missing middle in the US, and a lot of people are nostalgic for it because it’s the traditional vernacular architecture of most old non-New York cities. New York has a mid-rise traditional architecture, but it evokes turn-of-the-century working-class poverty, whereas the missing middle density of New England evokes a fuzzy old-timey retro feeling. Then to compound it all, Los Angeles has its own postwar missing middle vernacular, the dingbat, which used to evoke poverty but among many YIMBYs evokes a sense of retro California’s commitment to growth.

      This isn’t an actual compromise with anyone. NIMBYs hate duplexes as much as they do high-rises. It’s auto-compromise among YIMBYs who are bad at urbanism and bad at politics.

      • Herbert

        If land were free building more storeys would be more expensive. Of course land isn’t free which is why building up to make one square meter of ground into dozens of square meters of housing makes sense…

        But of course insane regulation calling for parking nobody needs make building needlessly expensive

      • myb6

        “NIMBYs hate duplexes as much as they do high-rises.” This isn’t my experience. Not at all.

  17. michaelrjames

    For that little bit of Alon that will remain forever Parisian, despite himself:

    Non to retro!
    The Parisian guide to vintage fashion
    Jess Cartner-Morley, Wed 11 Sep 2019

    In fact, despite the headline it is really ‘oui to retro’ just not vintage. Which could sum up my attitude to multi-family housing! Style over fashion, function over form etc.

    • Alon Levy

      I’m so sad the Shinkansen no longer makes trains with the noses of the 500 Series. Here’s function and also form together! Sigh.

      Re my being a Parisian: I’m developing a soft spot for Macron, but that doesn’t make a Parisian, it makes me a German liberal.

        • michaelrjames

          If Macron is a doofus, words fail to describe most other current world leaders. I think that is quite a good word for Boris but for Macron-haters surely it is neoliberal elite banker …
          I’m note sure if Alon was making a little joke, like the Irish: “I’ve got a soft spot for X. …. a bog in northern Ireland.”
          He’s only halfway thru his term. There is very little so far to condemn his as a doofus. Even though those meetings don’t count for very much (though you know what Winston said: jaw, jaw ..) but I thought he handled the Biarritz-G7 rather well. He herded those cats.

      • michaelrjames

        I’m so sad the Shinkansen no longer makes trains with the noses of the 500 Series. Here’s function and also form together! Sigh.

        Yeah, but on this particular thread we’re talking housing not transport. Despite technology (or because of it*) and a hundred iterations over the past century, it is quite hard to perceive of actual true functional advances in human habitation. High rise per se does not meet the bill. Especially super-talls. Those lightweight ticky-tacky American abominations represent a regression. Even the low-mid-rise today, say 6-8 floors, are worse than the almost 400 year old building I lived in on Ile-St-Louis. And I put my money where my mouth is: I current live in a 110 year-old former wool-store.
        Both in function and density and liveability pre-war always beats post-war construction.

        *The ubiquity of aircon is a blight. It became an excuse for property speculators to build without external windows or airshafts etc (for bathrooms and even bedrooms which they now build without windows inventing the weasel description “borrowed light”), and my particular bane, proliferation of 100% glass facades which is awful for both hot or cold climates.

        • Herbert

          110 years old? That puts it right around my favorite era of architecture… Late nineteenth, early twentieth century…

          And I entirely agree regarding glass facades… I think despite us often talking at cross purposes, the ideal housing we imagine doesn’t look THAT different. Certainly not a LeCorbusierian tower in the park, but rather GrĂŒnderzeit Blockrandbebauung…

          • Alon Levy

            The high-rise residential form on the Upper East and West Sides is not towers in a park but towers on a base. So up to the 6th or so floor the building looks like any mid-rise from street level, but then it’s set back and keeps getting taller, up to 30 or 40 floors.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, very much so. I live in one here and lived in one in Stockholm, and I appreciate the courtyard even though I don’t use it.

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  19. Wanderer

    Unfortunately, there is a strong American prejudice against living in a highrise, or even a midrise, with children. The belief is that it deprives children of play opportunity, spontaneity. Of course it’s pretty silly because Americans rarely let their children run around in the way that used to be standard. That requires a special name–“free range” children. This tightening of control has happened in both urban and suburban environments.

    You can cite Manhattan as a counterexample, but the New York region and Manhattan as a whole are atypical.

    So unless American attitudes change, highrises around metros means zones of adult living, perhaps with some infants and toddlers. I don’t see an issue with that, but the suburban family ideal tends to stigmatize it. And there are plenty of households without school age children
    .
    There also aren’t enough rail transit stations to meet the housing need. Throw in the slowly expanded stock of BRT stations and you still haven’t met the need.

    “Missing middle” housing eases the iron grip of single family monoculture in metropolitan neighborhoods. You might be able to convince NIMBYs to accept duplexes or triplexes when they’d fight highrises to the death. You might also convince the City Council to accept the compromise. I think the problem of increased traffic that Alon cites is real, though many of these areas have a lot of roadway capacity. But don’t expected American missing middle housing to be car-free, at least not until well into the future.

    I haven’t experienced many pleasant highrise environments, Vancouver might be an exceptional case. They’re just not nice to be in on the ground, Manhattan included. It seems like there are more pleasant dense mid-rise cities, like Stockholm. I think that this needs to be improved, to increase the acceptability of highrise and modern housing.

    • Herbert

      Barcelona Eixample is both dense and family friendly. Especially since they introduced super blocks

    • Alon Levy

      The NIMBYs do not actually accept duplexes and triplexes more than they do mid- and high-rise construction, though.

      High-rises are plenty nice to be near; Midtown is very walkable. There are outlying areas with not-nice high-rises, like Parisian banlieues and such, but rest assured, people don’t find the Parisian banlieues nice regardless of the housing typology. In Berlin, too, I find Neukölln decently pleasant, but tons of Aryan Germans lose their minds over its various markers of foreignness, like the hookah bars and Turkish kebab shops, and that’s with housing stock that in terms of size, setbacks, etc. looks the same as in Charlottenburg or Prenzlauer Berg.

      • michaelrjames

        There are outlying areas with not-nice high-rises, like Parisian banlieues and such, but rest assured, people don’t find the Parisian banlieues nice regardless of the housing typology.

        Once again you are way overgeneralising about the “banlieus” when you really mean a relatively minor subset of topologies in the Parisian suburbs. Misleading. I don’t know the percentage but while it might be high (ie. >50%?) in Seine-Saint-Denis (department 93 which is what most people, whether they know it or not, mean when they talk about the “banlieus”) overall it has to be a minority form of housing. In most of the rest of the petite-couronne (inner ring of suburbs) there is not much of those 15-20 storey ‘project’ housing. For example your denigration wouldn’t go down well with the 40,000 who live in Sceaux and Bourg-le-Reine. Last week I was looking thru Google-Earth and Streetview at Joinville-le-Pont which directly adjoins Paris-12 and Bois-de-Vincennes (ie. waking distance to Paris or 3 stops on the RER-A2) and quite a bit of it is SFH, not very salubrious but perfectly acceptable. These days I am ranging far and wide in my browsing and looked at the end of the line for RER-D2 at Melun, a town of about 50,000 and found this proto-Haussmannian apartment block, short walk to RER station (about 50mins ride to Paris Gare-de-Lyon or Chatelet) with a rather nice 5-room apartment for the price of a broomcupboard/closet in central Paris (link below). Melun would even be acceptable to some of the more retro-minded Americans as you can have ‘town and country’ but it’s part of greater Paris (it’s the very edge of Ile-de-France I believe). Especially when they find out that right on the edge of town is the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte where they filmed the tv series Versailles (of course it was designed by the same team who the Sun King recruited to do Versailles: Le Vau, le NĂŽtre & Le Brun).
        I didn’t do an extensive Google ‘flyover’ but couldn’t see any 15-20 storey towers.
        https://www.pap.fr/annonce/vente-appartement-maison-melun-77000-g38542-r427300757

      • IAN! Mitchell

        Austin and Minneapolis have functionally eliminated SFH zoning citywide. Austin it’s ADUs, Minneapolis it’s up to triplex. Neither city would ever have legalized high-rise construction citywide. The only place with that is Houston.

  20. adirondacker12800

    Most places in New York City there already are two, three and four family houses along with an elevator building or two. When you are surfing through on Google Streetview, count the mailboxes. And in a lot of the suburbs.

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  23. Urbanism_Houston

    “The status anxieties of Basil Fawlty types who either can’t or won’t adapt to a world that has little use for their prejudices are not a serious public concern.” Honestly, I don’t see why discussions of urbanism and transportation policy have to degenerate into snarky asides about people towards whom the writer (in this case, Alon Levy) feels superior. The “Basil Fawlty” types vote, and are prepared to use the political system to attempt to preserve their status (in fairness, left-wing environmentalists and urbanists are also so prepared). If people would stop this nonsense, maybe we (I write from the US) won’t have to live with four more years of Trump.

    • Alon Levy

      The Basil Fawlty types know what they are and will say no to everything, no matter what I say. What annoys me is that people who identify as leftists act as those types’ useful idiots. I’ve been told by a self-identifying Marxist on Twitter not to use the expression “petite bourgeoisie” because those people are struggling too. And I’ve been told so, so many times that earning $100,000 a year or even $150,000 a year doesn’t make you rich.

  24. sbh

    From a construction and architecture perspective, there are some sustainability arguments against highrises (also with bonus arguments thrown in):

    1. Reuse of existing historic structures (often midrise) preserves embodied energy and reuses high-quality materials that are no longer affordable (solid masonry facades, stone foundations, some furnishings and fixtures). This is not a limitless supply, but at least in the US there’s still plenty of it in secondary & tertiary cities.

    2. Highrises are often (always) structurally steel or cast concrete. Sustainability-wise concrete is awful and steel is not super great (though recyclable). Mass-timber sourced from well-managed forests holds a lot of promise. Though viable in highrises, it’s more suitable for midrise.

    3. Utilizing passive or alternative HVAC strategies is far harder in highrise than midrise. i.e. if you want to use heat pumps or passive cooling, you can fit the pumps on the roof or basement and provide operable windows up to the xth floor of a midrise. In a highrise, sealing everything up just makes a lot more sense from a packaging perspective. Though other strategies are possible, you have more opts. at a mid-rise scale.

    4. Comparing US / Western Europe to Asia is a bit of a stretch–they’re very culturally different with very different levels of population. The former will not see pop. growth into a situation like the latter anytime soon, among other things. Strategies will of course be different.

    5. As others have said, there’s an experience argument against high-rises. Corbu towers in a park don’t seem to work, and modern highrises still need to face the test of time. Meanwhile midrises have seen enduring if regionally and temporally variable success, several centuries in some places. Time does and should provide valuable learning opportunities.

    6. In pricey markets, there’s a strong incentive for developers to build as high as allowable (within financial/technical reason). The desires of the developer rarely seem to be mutually-beneficial with the that of the average-incomed occupants. Not the first method in determining successful housing types, but not a bad gut-check.

    7. The need to be physically present in the city where it happens may be less important than in times past b/c of the obvious improvements in telecom. Extreme prices in the NYCs of the world could (are?) giving rise to secondary nodes in a web model, rather than the previous runner-ups of the hub-and-spoke.

    • Alon Levy

      1. Those secondary and tertiary cities in the US have a price signal that screams “let people live elsewhere.”

      2. That sounds reasonable if you’re in the US, but European construction uses very little wood. Mid-rises here are mostly made of stone – and residential construction costs in France and Germany are lower than in the US by a decent margin. I don’t know Swedish construction costs off the top of my head, but Sweden has a carbon tax of about $130/t and again uses stone and concrete for modern construction.

      3. In all these legacy buildings in both the US and Europe, the HVAC strategy is to have none at all and have people die every time there’s a heat wave.

      4. Population growth rates in Western countries are higher than in developed Asian ones because of high immigration levels as well as higher birthrates. And if Western culture can’t deal with the form of urbanism required to save the planet, then Western culture should move aside, not the planet.

      5. Towers on a base have worked for 50+ years. Jane Jacobs predicted that the Upper West Side would remain a slum forever; she was wrong, to the point that today’s NIMBY excuse against building tall is not that the UWS is undesirable but that it’s so desirable so as to be expensive.

      6. Why are the desires of the developer not beneficial with those of the average occupants? They seem to be aligned in Tokyo. In Vancouver, too, regionwide rents aren’t as high as the racists would have you believe; those racists refuse to live in areas with too many Asians, and in a region that’s 42% Asian, that leaves the racists with only a handful of exclusive single-family neighborhoods to live in.

      7. People have been saying that location is becoming unimportant since the beginning of the Internet, and instead the opposite has happened. The reason, pace Krugman, is that low transportation costs make it easier to ship goods from the core to the periphery, which increases the value of the core; railroads, likewise, increased the concentration of industry in the old US manufacturing belt, even though in theory they’d also make it easier to live in Virginia and visit Baltimore often.

      • sbh

        Very glad to see I’ve gotten a reply from the writer himself. To the re-rebuttel:

        When I say mass timber I don’t mean the dimensional lumber construction that is very common is American residential construction. I’m talking about wood composites that are much more popular in Europe and Canada than in the US.

        I’m not sure if you mean buildings are clad in stone, but buildings haven’t utilized load-bearing stone in well over a century. Even stone-faced buildings are not that common on either continent. The Nordic countries are actually some of the best in the world in advancing mass-timber construction, in part because of carbon taxes. Concrete is still of course necessary for some applications, but there is a recognition that timber can reduce environmental impacts not just in the creation of parts and pieces but in assembly, use, and end-of-life reuse. The future is not retro, it’s a composite.

        I’m obviously not arguing for no HVAC. Saying that people will die in a heatwave in unmodified historic structures is flashy, but not particularly relevant to anything I said.

        I completely agree that transport (and by extension TOD) is extremely important, and that high-rises will be part of the solution. But the energy impact of building and operating buildings is huge, and you don’t seem to address that, either above or in your kind reply.

        Towers on a base might work in some circumstances, but you seem to ignore the failures of garden city towers–there are many reasons, from policy to upkeep–but some has to be attributable to the typology. Taking this questionable record with the material and operational concerns, it’s hard to see how highrises can be the golden bullet you paint them as.

        You may have a point that I am one of the fools waiting for the glorious day of location-free work (not sure it’d be all that glorious actually). I guess I would meekly point to a steady increase in working-from-home over the past decade and a bit. My secondary city argument is also probably more relevant in the contexts of existing ‘megacity’ regions, as you have written about before. Perhaps isolated rust-belt cities will not see a second-coming.

        I appreciate your arguments and recognize your focus is transit, but I think you risk forgetting important details in your crusade of intellectually-pure TOD.

        • Alon Levy

          The Nordic countries use timber more, yes, but that’s more an artifact of low population density leaving forests intact. Even there, the urban mid-rises I remember seeing under construction in Stockholm were not timber. Most of Western Europe south of Scandinavia deforested in the Middle Ages or even earlier; the forests we do see in France are mostly second or third growth after marginal land was abandoned in the 19th century, and I think so are most German forests.

          The construction in France uses some timber for elements like doors, but in mixed structures, the load is not borne by the timber. It may involve concrete, I’m not sure, but the architecture museum in Paris is adamant that the building material is pierre and not bĂ©ton.

          The problem with talking about the failure of tower-in-the-park design is that in the places in the world that use it for middle-class hosing, i.e. Singapore and Hong Kong, the design is not considered to be problematic in any way. The complaints about high-rises in the Western world today echo the early-20c complaints about zero lot line mid-rises leading to the urban renewal schemes that created these towers in parks. Today as a hundred years ago, people look at low-income neighborhoods and assume that their problems are about urban design and not poverty.

          Take, for example, the question of maintenance. Maintenance is absolutely not a problem on the Upper East and West Sides. There are coop fees, adding up to a few hundred dollars per month to cover maintenance. It’s a few dollars (I think 4-5?) per square meter of floor area per month, which is an appreciable fraction of New York construction costs (which are in the teens per month at 4-5% ROI), but not a large fraction of current New York rent. Maintenance becomes a problem in places where the residents are too poor to afford regular upkeep and the city or state skimps on maintenance in public housing in order to limit short-term public spending. People like pretending it’s not about poverty because it’s easier to say “this form of housing we middle-class people look down on is bad” than to say “the government needs to spend more money on poor people.”

          • michaelrjames

            The problem with talking about the failure of tower-in-the-park design is that in the places in the world that use it for middle-class hosing, i.e. Singapore and Hong Kong, the design is not considered to be problematic in any way.

            Actually a lot of housing in Singapore is not high-rise even though that is what is always shown in the media. Unfortunately I can’t find any data to indicate the relative percentages. Further, Singapore is often cited as one of the densest cities but at 7,804/kmÂČ it’s not really; even though that is a crude estimate (not adjusted for urbanised land) it is still one third to one quarter that of Manhattan or inner-Paris. Of course the latter shows that much higher densities can be achieved without resorting to high-rise. Equally, that land scarcity per se, or building opportunities are not responsible for Singapore’s high property prices; ie. the arguments about building high to solve these problems (affordability and density, land scarcity) are completely false. But that doesn’t stop it being a self-serving argument by developers and often governments (in their pockets).

            Not that I am totally opposed to high-rise in some circumstances but Singapore has a “green urban” ethos which would be much more compatible with low-medium rise than high-rise, and it wouldn’t affect their ability to house their population. In fact, Singapore has a wide diversity of building types and looking at online descriptions of the Woodlands newtown it appears to be very uniform in height, at about 11-12 floors, so a bit higher but with 60,000 households and 250k residents in similar footprint it kinda resembles Paris-15! It appears to be their new model for middle-class housing (which is 99% Singapore 🙂

            Hong Kong is mostly not “towers in a park” which is the main reason why I find it tolerable; ground level is always lively and hyper-functional in HK and the opposite of all those Corbu-like housing projects whether Berlin (eg. MĂ€rkisches Viertel, older Plattenbau), American project housing etc.

            Re Jane Jacobs and the UWS, I don’t recall her labelling it a slum. I’m not sure it ever deserved that description especially as the first housing there was luxury apartments like the Dakota (1884; 7-8 floors); you’d have to go back to the 19th century . And further, I don’t think most of it classifies as high-rise of which there is a thin veneer along the park. True, it is higher than Paris but a lot is 12-storey perimeter-block style which is Haussmannian with a few extra floors added. There are also some 5-storey brownstones. I think it is telling that the southern bit colonised by Trump high-rise is not considered by UWSiders to be part of “their” zone (and once again, despite its high-rise it actually has lower density than the UWS average, or of course Paris-11).

          • Alon Levy

            I’ve never been to Woodlands. I’m thinking of places like Clementi or even Orchard. Some of it is towers-on-a-base, but my recollection is that it doesn’t quite have the continuous street wall of Manhattan streets.

            The density in Singapore includes industrial land (there’s a lot of it, Singapore’s workforce is, what, 25% industrial?), some parks, and an intact piece of rainforest that doubles as a military training zone. Similarly, the density at the southernmost tip of the UWS includes office towers, which do not add to residential density.

            In the 1950s and early 60s, Jacobs didn’t need to classify the UWS as a slum; everyone knew it was one, hence West Side Story. She complained that Lincoln Center was a place only for “bums” (her word, not mine) and worried that the new “elevator buildings” on West End Avenue and Riverside Park were too uniform in height and would support no street life and the area would become undesirable. The opposite happened.

          • Herbert

            Except many of those black and brown neighborhoods torn down in the name of “urban renewal” had vibrant community life and small locally owned businesses. Towers in the park by and large do not.

          • Alon Levy

            In the 1950s, the middle class did not think of these neighborhoods (some black and Puerto Rican, some ethnic-white) as having vibrant community life, just as today the middle class does not think of the projects as having vibrant community life.

          • herbert

            If you passed through the streets of those neighborhoods back then you could see their community life…

            Wherever the community life of towers in the park is happening, it ain’t the parks surrounding the towers

          • Alon Levy

            It’s not in parks outside the projects, it’s inside, like the courtyards in between the buildings and such. Same way that in single-family American suburbs the front yard is purely ornamental whereas the back yard is where people play.

          • Herbert

            So which purpose do those empty expanses of grass serve?

            And where are those courtyards? I sure as hell got none…

          • sbh

            Mass timber utilizes small pieces laminated together. Therefore, a lot of this wood can be sourced from farmed forests. The majority of wood from even some third-growth forests would go towards higher-value uses like veneers and solid finishes.

            They might be referring to historic structures. No modern structure is built from load-bearing stone. The high-rise exists solely because the steel frame allowed it to.

            You’re talking around the issue I raised; construction materials and methods, and the operation of buildings is inevitable, and must be dealt with. Choosing a high-rise over a mid-rise must be a balance between creating spiky density and the inherent material and operational drawbacks of the typology.

          • michaelrjames

            sbh
            They might be referring to historic structures. No modern structure is built from load-bearing stone. The high-rise exists solely because the steel frame allowed it to.

            I never quite figured it out but I think most of the residential 6-8 floor buildings in Paris have structural brick walls, with finished facade of dressed stone (pierre-de-taille) or stucco. From the late 19th century steel was used structurally in commercial buildings and of course railway stations but I reckon residential hadn’t changed much from the 17th century–as visible on Ile St Louis which was essentially complete by about 1670 and was built as the ‘new’ luxury style for the transforming city much of which had been all-timber except for palaces. Those 17th century buildings have cast iron things like balustrades and balconies and on internal staircases but I can’t see how they’d have steel structural elements.

            At the turn of the century art nouveau appeared but I’m not sure it wasn’t just decorative changes (naked brick together with stone and sometimes fancy ceramic brick), a prime example being Hector Guimard’s Castel BĂ©ranger.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castel_B%C3%A9ranger

            Hotel Lutetia pushed the old styles and methods to their (Parisian) limits by having 9 floors and even a 10th roof-terrace (total ≈32m), with the top 3 floors setback to comply with height regulations. It was built by the same owner and same architect (Boileau) of Bonne MarchĂ© (opposite it), which had used a steel structure designed by Eiffel in 1872. So maybe the Lutetia also used steel frame but not sure. Of course the first steel-framed high-rise was the Home Insurance Building at 10 floors (42m) in 1885 in Chicago though Eiffel’s steel tower (1889) wasn’t exceeded for 40 years (by the Chrysler building).

            I believe the first all-timber (CLT) ‘high-rise’ was the ten-storey (32m) FortĂ© building in Victoria Harbour, Melbourne Docklands in 2012-13.

          • sbh

            Glad you said this cause it forced me to check myself. I ended up finding an interesting analysis. You can find it under “Structural and Material Characterization of a Haussmann Building”. They found that it’s a hybrid between stick timber (of all materials…), brick, and limestone infill. Also some cast iron mixed with load-bearing stone (limestone) on the ground floor / subfloor level.

            Eiffel and contemporaries used iron, not steel–but in application they both are a major shift from load-bearing masonry.

            The high-rises that Alon speaks of are exclusively rendered in steel and/or concrete–no matter what they are clad in. CLT (mass timber) is certainly quite new, but promising. There are concerns with harvesting, compounds used in the glues, and end-of-life; however, as mentioned previously, concrete is almost all negatives (environment-wise). Steel is a lot better, but it both does not sequester carbon like wood while also being more energy-intensive to move and assemble during construction.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, so to clarify, the buildings I saw in the Paris architecture museum that were said to be made of stone were not particularly tall. I forget the exact heights but I think the range was the higher end of mid-rise, so 6-10 stories. My point wasn’t about viability of stone high-rises (it’s viable – the Chrysler was made of brick – but uncommon), it was about the rarity of woodframe mid-rises on this side of the Pond.

          • Herbert

            Brick isn’t the same as brick. There’s a process of hydraulic pressing the mud before putting it into a kiln which was only available from the industrial era onwards… That process increases the load bearing support by a lot

          • sbh

            I really can’t emphasize this enough–though a building may have brick on the outside, that doesn’t mean it’s made of brick–the Chrysler building is faced with a thin layer of brick and stone, but the building is the tallest steel structure in the world.

            And again, mass wood construction is more common in Europe & Canada than the US. Stick framing is not used above 4-5 stories.

            The facing material certainly matters in terms of environmental impact, but it does not affect the height the way the structure does.

          • michaelrjames

            Of course the Chrysler, like any building above the approximate limits of 10 floors in those Parisian buildings, is steel frame. However it’s not the tallest steel structure in the world. Heck today it’s actually less tall than the Eiffel which exceeded it when they added its broadcasting tower in the 40s.

            Re the Paris apartment buildings, they may use some stone on the ground floor but the rest will be mostly brick including foundations. There remains timber framing and floors but this typology was specifically developed in the 17th century to overcome what was then mostly ramshackle and fire-prone all-timber buildings in Paris very little of which remains–if any remain they may be undetectable because they would have subsequently been covered with a facade of stone, brick or stucco, probably imposed by fire regulations. I suppose you can label it timber “stick” but they were/are pretty massive (“chene massif” ie. solid oak) ie. typically over-engineered but also why they remain standing strong even 3.5 centuries later! Thanks for that link but I am just a tad cynical about those authors slightly odd conclusions: despite the survival over centuries they are intent on the “need” to update their structure! The fact is these buildings are very solid and quite fire-resistant. Fires are all to do with the contents and no 19th century (let alone 17th) fire sprinklers–but then Trump Tower also does not have fire sprinklers as we found out when a rich guy died in his apartment which was totally burnt out (last year?). They speak of thermal and sound insulation but these are far superior to modern construction. I once had the need to repair a section of floor and was amazed at what was under there (as in Figs 8 & 10 of that paper).
            https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328654898_Structural_and_Material_Characterization_of_a_Haussmann_Building/link/5bdacc4f92851c6b279e3bcb/download

            You can see these older, pre-Haussmannian, buildings throughout the inner-arrondissements however they are mixed in with Haussmannian (or 19th century & post-Haussmann) buildings. The Marais is one of the most intact older set of buildings but Ile-St-Louis is the best to observe because it is unambiguous as it was almost all built in one short period in the 17th century as part of a housing development, by arrangement between the king, Henri IV, who wanted to improve Paris and engineer Christophe Marie whose celebrity lives on in the Pont Marie connection to the Right bank (all-stone and IIRC the second oldest still-original-structure bridge in Paris after Pont Neuf). The only exceptions will be the few SFHs, ie. mansions which will be mostly stone (Hotel Lambert, Hotel Lauzun–though in its history it became a notorious boarding house and hangout for Baudelaire’s Club des Hashischins).

    • Herbert

      I agree with most of your points, but telecommuting and home office have been the “next big coming thing” for how long now?

      • sbh

        Yeah, perhaps that was a little much of me…see my reply to Alon. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on the legitimacy of my response.

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