*Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities*

That is the new and excellent book by Alain Bertaud, so many pages have excellent food for thought.  Here is one simple bit:

Cities are primarily labor markets.

Or this:

…large cities are growing at about the same rate as medium and small cities in the same countries or regions.  It seems that cities’ growth rates follow Gibrat’s law of proportionate effect, which states that the size of a city is not an indicator of its future growth rate — that is, cities’ growth rates are random, with the same average expected growth rate and same variance…The population of larger cities keeps growing, but on average, so do smaller cities.  This seems paradoxical, given that larger cities are more productive than smaller ones.  However, larger cities do not play the same economic role as smaller ones do.  They complement each other’s activities.  The increase productivity of larger cities is therefore linked to the existence and growth of smaller cities.  In turn, smaller cities’ economic growth is dependent on larger cities’ innovations and inventions.

How about this:

In 1830…London’s population density had reached a very high density of 325 people per hectare.  By 2005, however, the density of London had decreased to only 44 people per hectare.  The larger decrease in London’s density has not caused a corresponding decrease in mobility.  On the contrary…

I learned a great deal from the discussion (starts p.287) of Indonesia’s “kampungs,” and how the Indonesian has managed their integration with local infrastructure relatively well.  In contrast, this is the common alternative procedure:

The predictable first reaction of governments has usually been to set minimum urbanization standards to prevent the legal construction of these unsanitary urban villages.  The regulations made the situation worse, as they prevented these informal settlements from obtaining normal urban services from the municipality.  They also created a risk of future demolition, which discourages housing improvement that the households would have naturally done themselves.  Eventually, many governments slowly regularized the older informal settlements in a piecemeal fashion, as is the practice in India, for instance.  But the regularization of informal settlements usually had been conducted with a provision that after a set date, no more informal settlements would be regularized.

The outcomes of these successive policies — first ostracism, then benign neglect followed by reluctant integration — has been disastrous.  A significant share of the urban labor force, otherwise gainfully employed, live in large “informal” settlements often with unsafe water supplies, deficient sanitation, and sporadic solid waste collection.

But:

What made a difference [in Indonesia] was a decision taken in 1969 by the government of Indonesia to concentrate its resources on the improvement of the kampungs’ infrastructure without trying to remove or restructure the existing housing, however small or inadequate it was…And, even more exceptional, since 1969 to this day, the Indonesian government’s support for KIP has been unwavering…The government housing policy objective consists of allowing the poor to settle in and around existing villages at the standards of their choice, while the government concentrates its efforts not on housing construction but on gradually improving residential infrastructure and services to all residential settlements.  The policy has proved largely successful.

Later in the book, pp.351-352 have a fascinating discussion of how relatively good urban/suburban policy, and also the fragmentation of municipalities, contributed to the early success of the tech community in Silicon Valley.

Definitely recommended, this is now one of my favorite books on cities, and it will be joining my “best non-fiction of 2018″ list.  Again, you can buy it here.

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I'm reading China, Inc by Ted C. Fishman (2005) and he makes a point that some Shanghai Chinese officials studied the western cities and found them appealing (but not Tokyo, which, I suppose for nationalist reasons, did not appeal to the Chinese, but New York and London did) and concluded since the West favors preserving old buildings, then Shanghai would also start preserving old districts (like the Jewish Quarter) rather than tearing them down, so they did. Likewise they imported old trees to replace the trees torn down during recent Shanghai construction. Cites "Qiyu Tan" of the influential "Shanghai Academy".

Bonus trivia: John Gunther, a journalist, once compared St. Louis to Kansas City and found the former staid and the latter rowdy, in 1947. I doubt there's such a distinction today, since the USA, as it matured, became more homogeneous. In fact there's a lobby group in DC that promotes homogeneity in American life, since they feel it promotes globalization and universal, easy to meet export standards (both internationally and intra-nationally).

Ahh... Interesting. I always wondered why Shanghai felt it had a more human scale feel than Beijing. Not just the colorful Shanghai port history then.

Beijing was one of the most physically intimidating cities I've ever visited. The avenues and architecture were so huge and imposing. The complete opposite of human scale.

When you were in the hutongs it was completely different, but those neighborhoods felt like a foreign compared to the rest of the city. Like they didn't fit in.

Wide avenues make it easier to move tanks around town. You should look at pictures of Naypyidaw, where the Burmese junta have taken the idea to the extreme.

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Ordered, looking forward to reading it.
Thanks for recommendation.

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"It seems that cities’ growth rates follow Gibrat’s law of proportionate effect, which states that the size of a city is not an indicator of its future growth rate — that is, cities’ growth rates are random, with the same average expected growth rate and same variance…The population of larger cities keeps growing, but on average, so do smaller cities. This seems paradoxical, given that larger cities are more productive than smaller ones. However, larger cities do not play the same economic role as smaller ones do. They complement each other’s activities. "

How much is this really random I wonder? In UK (being myopically Anglocentric for a second here), only London is really in a growth phase and does not obviously seem to complement smaller cities within the country. But is this an effect of random factors, or a factor of small city linkages being international and shifting towards European and world links, and away from intra-UK links? The increasing "alienness" of the capital (and capitol).

Of course, if growth rates are the same on average for large and small cities, it seems like the absolute long term centralisation of centralised states will increase (same growth rates in large cities are a larger share of total national population).

In 1830…London’s population density had reached a very high density of 325 people per hectare. By 2005, however, the density of London had decreased to only 44 people per hectare. The larger decrease in London’s density has not caused a corresponding decrease in mobility. On the contrary…

What is "London" here? Are the city limits in 1830 the same as 2016? If not, then aren't we dealing with the definition being expanded to encompass low density suburbs with lots more green space?

"How much is this really random I wonder?"

I generally treat "random" as "due to factors outside of our study". The bolide that hit the Earth 65.4 million years ago was hardly random--you can't get much more deterministic than orbital mechanics--but it can be treated as such from the perspective of evolution, because the event influenced evolutionary history but was not influenced by it. Similarly, factors which are not influenced by city growth (say, fashion, or technological discoveries, or the rise of a musician (Dollywood)) can be treated as random when discussing city growth.

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"a decision taken in 1969 by the government of Indonesia to concentrate its resources on the improvement of the kampungs’ infrastructure without trying to remove or restructure the existing housing": that seems to me to be an example of straight thinking. Infrastructure is often seen as a natural monopoly and therefore a reasonable thing for government to deal with. Housing isn't. Have any western governments thought as straight about those issues?

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I couldn't find the source with a google search, but I recall reading that in the late 19th century the projected population of Buffalo today would be about 20 million. It's not that the demographers were smoking weed, they just assumed that tomorrow would be just like yesterday and today (i.e., they based their projections on yesterday's rate of population growth using compounding to boot). As for city planning, today we think of "landscape architecture" as something done in the yard of the mansions of the very wealthy, but it originally encompassed what we now call "city planning". I know this only because my great uncle studied the subject at Harvard under the great Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who established the first landscape architecture program at Harvard. [Jr. isn't to be confused with his famous father, Frederick Law Olmsted, considered the first landscape architect - he designed central park among many other projects - and after the father died, the son dropped "Jr." from his name and continued his father's practice, thereby creating much confusion as to whether father or son was the designer of particular projects.] For a time my great uncle was on the faculty of the landscape architecture program at Harvard. He went on to write a book on the subject of city planning, and for many years was the "city planner" for a city in California.

As for Cowen's preference for "city planning" to focus on infrastructure and let markets determine how a city grows, I can't say that I disagree. The reality is that most fast growing places aren't competent to engage in "city planning"; indeed, they can't even build infrastructure to accommodate population growth. Where I have a home in the low country, the first priority of "government" is to issue building permits as fast as they can and to the highest bidder (yes, I mean what that implies). Forget congested roads, our water and sewer system is way over capacity, yet the "government" continues to issue building permits. Since we had mandatory evacuation during the most recent hurricane that hit the area, when the residents returned to find their homes had been flooded, they just assumed that it was from the storm surge. It was from a "storm surge" alright, the surge of wastewater and runoff backing up in the storm sewers, flooding the streets and the homes along the flooded streets. I know only because I did not evacuate and witnessed the "storm surge". The difference between places like Indonesia and the U.S. is that people here assume indoor plumbing and that when they flush it will go down the drain and won't come back, to where they don't know and don't care. They don't care unless or until it comes back. In Indonesia, they did not have or assume indoor plumbing or that it would not come back when they flushed; hence, "government" in Indonesia has established as the top priority in "city planning" making sure "it" doesn't come back.

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For all the talk about "order wwithout design" it should be kept in mind that some cities were designed from scraatch, such as St. Petersburg, while others like London just grew hiddeldy-piggeldy, and still others have important design elements in them or parts of them, e.g. New York. Many of those super planned ones are or were nartional capitals, like Washington. Many consider these cities to have a lot of pleasing characteristics.

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