Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for August 6th, 2008

Trading Places

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It certainly helps when people point me to articles that I need to read and link to. The second offering today is from Ron Richings (that’s two I owe him for) and is about “demographic inversion’. It is in the New Republic and is by  Alan Ehrenhalt who has been watching Chicago change. And he cites Chris Leinberger and Jane Jacobs – two sources often cited here too.

Once upon a time cities grew as people grew more prosperous and moved out to the suburbs. The gentry of course always had their country places as well as the house in town, but the industrial revolution not only made a lot more people wealthier, it i also made cities less habitable for those who could afford to move. The real crunch for most people was the journey to work, which was mostly a walk. and not unusually much longer than we would contemplate. The mechanisation fo transport changed that. Omnibuses first, then trains, streetcars and interurbans all made a 30 minute commute much longer in distance that could be covered twice a day. Suburban development got going long before the car became common. But the post war sprawling suburb was very much the creation of mass car ownership and the freeway.

In Vancouver we saw that change, when we decided not to build the downtown freeway – and allowed condos to start competing for downtown space with office towers. We were slightly ahead of the curve – but places like Toronto and Johannesburg also – for quite different reasons – kept a livable, desirable core, and had large low income suburban housing. So did many cities in Britain – where the suburbs were divided almost equally between private sector built owner occupation and the council estates. Some of these edge estates once sold into private ownership still flourish – others have become “sinks” of despair and social unrest.

The US is beginning to see a change as the inner city – once shorthand for “social  problems” – has been “gentrified”. The better off are moving back in for an urban lifestyle: and lower car ownership. And I may be wrong, but I seem to recall seeing other articles suggesting that the current collapse in US house prices is much worse in the outer suburbs, not just from the mortgage issues but also gas prices. And it is much worse in some cities than others.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Posted in Urban Planning

France’s August traffic jam

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Gudrun Langolf suggested that this LA TImes article on the Parisian August exodus to the south would be a good contrast to my earlier posts on velib.

Southbound travellers jam the A7 highway in central France.

Southbound travellers jam the A7 highway in central France.

At one time the great exodus was as much “going home” as going on holiday. In the sixties, many families still had strong roots in the country. Paris was then full of people who had left the country to find work, but went home in August to escape the heat and stay at Grandpa’s house. More recently, the heat has got even worse, but now the older members of the family were abandoned in their sweltering apartments, while the younger members of the clan went off further afield. And the death rate was appalling. Paris now has its own “beach” – artificially created on the banks of the Seine – to produce a place to go when you cannot get out of town.

Of course the people who chose to drive to Marseille and Avignon have an alternative. They do not have to be stuck in traffic. There are fast and frequent trains. Here we have no such choice, for the most part. And our governments are still arguing over who pays for the border agents!

Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Transportation

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Vancouver real estate values drop

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I have been predicting this headline for some time now. What goes up must come down, and the conviction that it would happen soon was almost inevitable once I had decided to buy a property. I bought in Toronto in the spring of 1989 – just ahead of the bubble bursting there.

And make no mistake is has been a bubble, it was always unsustainable, and it is never “different this time”. This is just the start, and it will take as long to unwind as it did to get going. That is the other truth about bubbles – they are very nearly symmetrical. I have put this link in elsewhere but if you did not click it then, click it now.

But as usual the best advice is “DON’T PANIC” – everybody has to live somehwere, and in the long run owning property is still a better bet than renting. Just do not invest in real estate, and especially not for short term gains.

UPDATE Friday 080808

The Globe and Mail explains why the prices have not yet dropped by very much yet – and why they will

Written by Stephen Rees

August 6, 2008 at 11:55 am

Posted in Economics, housing