House prices have increased significantly in Canada over the past decade, driving household debt and residential construction activity to historical highs. Although macro-prudential tightening has slowed the pace of household borrowing in the last few years, house prices have continued to trend higher, and affordability remains a major challenge in urban centres. First-time home buyers must therefore spend more of their incomes to purchase a house and are vulnerable to future interest rate hikes. Overbuilding in the condominium sectors of some cities appears to be a source of risk, especially if a major price correction in these segments spills over into other markets. The country benefits from a sound and effective housing finance system, which performed well throughout the global financial crisis thanks to strong regulatory oversight and explicit government backing of the mortgage market. Nonetheless, the dominance of the crown corporation CMHC in the mortgage insurance market concentrates a significant amount of risk in public finances. Improving competitive conditions in the mortgage insurance market could help diversify these risks and reduce taxpayer contingent liabilities, while introducing coverage limits on loan losses would better align private and social interests. There may be a shortage of rental housing in several cities, especially in the range that low-income households can afford. Urban planning policies have resulted in low-density residential development which contributes to relatively high transport-related carbon emissions. Addressing these externalities requires stronger pricing signals for land development, road use, congestion and parking, combined with better integration of public transit planning. To prevent the marginalisation of low-income households, planning policies should support social mix and increase incentives for private-sector development of affordable housing.
The Southern Megalopolis: Using the Past to Predict the Future of Urban Sprawl in the Southeast U.S.
The future health of ecosystems is arguably as dependent on urban sprawl as it is on human-caused climatic warming. Urban sprawl strongly impacts the urban ecosystems it creates and the natural and agro-ecosystems that it displaces and fragments. Here, we project urban sprawl changes for the next 50 years for the fast-growing Southeast U.S. Previous studies have focused on modeling population density, but the urban extent is arguably as important as population density per se in terms of its ecological and conservation impacts. We develop simulations using the SLEUTH urban growth model that complement population-driven models but focus on spatial pattern and extent. To better capture the reach of low-density suburban development, we extend the capabilities of SLEUTH by incorporating street-network information. Our simulations point to a future in which the extent of urbanization in the Southeast is projected to increase by 101% to 192%. Our results highlight areas where ecosystem fragmentation is likely, and serve as a benchmark to explore the challenging tradeoffs between ecosystem health, economic growth and cultural desires.
Tackling Persistent Poverty in Distressed Urban Neighborhoods
Source: Urban Institute
Despite significant civil rights advancements and enormous improvements in the US standard of living over the past half-century, public policies and private initiatives have largely failed to solve the problem of persistent, intergenerational poverty among families living in distressed communities. Persistent intergenerational poverty is a complex and daunting problem that requires action at multiple levels. No single strategy offers a “silver bullet,” but strategies that focus on the places poor families live have an important role to play. This paper summarizes lessons learned and evolving practice in the field of place-based interventions, and it offers a set of guiding principles for child-focused, place-conscious initiatives focused on persistent, intergenerational poverty.
Urban Audit – Comparing United Kingdom and European towns and cities, 2010-12
Source: Office for National Statistics
What are UK towns and cities like to live and work in? And how do they compare with other places in Europe?
Urban Audit is a European Commission funded project whose aim is to measure and improve city life by understanding our urban environments and sharing experiences1. Comparable data on a variety of themes are collected by individual nations and supplied to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union (EU), for publication.
The value of Urban Audit lies in the streamlined methodology of the data collection, despite very different sources, allowing international comparison with other cites and analysis over time. Urban Audit V is the most recent round and provides data for UK and European cities between 2010 and 2012, with the main reference year 2011. There are more than 100 main variables for the UK and many further derived figures based on these. The Eurostat website links to a comprehensive interactive database that details all statistics across all geographies and time periods. Annex A provides more detail on the geography of Urban Audit.
Urban Audit provides a wide range of data, including demography, transport, housing, environment and economy. More than 70% of people in Europe live in towns or cities and this report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) sets out to provide an overview of key variables linked to urban policy themes that are relevant to EU, national and local government. These are motorisation rates, housing type, old age dependency ratios and air quality. The choice of these topics is intended to highlight the type and breadth of available data and does not attempt to paint a comprehensive picture of all aspects of urban life in the UK compared with Europe. However, the results show how similar UK towns and cities are to their European counterparts in some respects and how strikingly different in others. More reports covering specific themes and types of town or city are planned for the future. Information on the policy context for the variables is available in Annex B.
Hierarchical Genetic Analysis of German Cockroach (Blattella germanica) Populations from within Buildings to across Continents
Understanding the population structure of species that disperse primarily by human transport is essential to predicting and controlling human-mediated spread of invasive species. The German cockroach (Blattella germanica) is a widespread urban invader that can actively disperse within buildings but is spread solely by human-mediated dispersal over longer distances; however, its population structure is poorly understood. Using microsatellite markers we investigated population structure at several spatial scales, from populations within single apartment buildings to populations from several cities across the U.S. and Eurasia. Both traditional measures of genetic differentiation and Bayesian clustering methods revealed increasing levels of genetic differentiation at greater geographic scales. Our results are consistent with active dispersal of cockroaches largely limited to movement within a building. Their low levels of genetic differentiation, yet limited active spread between buildings, suggests a greater likelihood of human-mediated dispersal at more local scales (within a city) than at larger spatial scales (within and between continents). About half the populations from across the U.S. clustered together with other U.S. populations, and isolation by distance was evident across the U.S. Levels of genetic differentiation among Eurasian cities were greater than those in the U.S. and greater than those between the U.S. and Eurasia, but no clear pattern of structure at the continent level was detected. MtDNA sequence variation was low and failed to reveal any geographical structure. The weak genetic structure detected here is likely due to a combination of historical admixture among populations and periodic population bottlenecks and founder events, but more extensive studies are needed to determine whether signatures of global movement may be present in this species.
See: Your Building’s Roach Problem Is a Family Affair (Atlantic CityLab)
Giving Cities and Regions a Voice in Immigration Policy: Can National Policies Meet Local Demand?
Source: Migration Policy Institute
Immigration policies are typically designed and implemented at the national level, even though economic and demographic circumstances may vary widely across cities and regions. Large and fast-growing metropolitan areas are natural magnets for both immigrants and their native-born peers, while rural areas and small towns tend to attract fewer immigrants, even when employers have vacancies to fill.
Some immigration routes, however, channel new arrivals toward particular destinations where their labor is thought to be in high demand. These routes fall into two major categories: (1) employer-sponsored immigration and (2) immigrants selected through regional nomination programs. Employer-sponsored visa policies implicitly direct foreign workers to areas where their skills are in demand. To ensure that this happens, some such programs are further customized to the needs of particular regions. In the cases of Australia and Canada, which have made regional nomination programs the flagship policies in their immigration systems, the national governments have delegated a certain level of authority to subnational jurisdictions to select their own workers. These subnational visa programs allow regions and localities that are not traditional immigration destinations to attract workers who would otherwise have gone elsewhere.
These types of region-specific immigration policies are not without risk. They add complexity to already complicated immigration systems and disregard immigrants’ market-based decisions, which could potentially undermine economic prospects and contributions.
CRS Insights — District of Columbia: Marijuana Decriminalization and Enforcement; Issues of Home Rule and Congressional Oversight
CRS Insights — District of Columbia: Marijuana Decriminalization and Enforcement; Issues of Home Rule and Congressional Oversight (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Decriminalization of marijuana in the District is one of several issues that have engendered controversy and congressional intervention. Like the controversies surrounding the District’s medical marijuana initiative, needle exchange, and abortion services, the District’s marijuana decriminalization act pits the principle of home rule against Congress’s constitutional authority and prerogative to intervene in District affairs.
Supporters of the law point to the shift in public opinion surrounding the legalization of marijuana use; noting that the majority of the country favors legalization. They also note that the act is intended to address the racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates in the District. According to a committee report accompanying the legislation, blacks accounted for 90% of the marijuana arrests in the District despite evidence that they use marijuana at a rate comparable to use by whites. Supporters note that a single arrest for marijuana possession has a significant impact on future employment and career prospects.
Opponents of the law argue that enforcement will be problematic given the unique status of the District as the Nation’s Capital. On the one hand, possession of a small quantity of marijuana on non-federal lands would be reduced to a misdemeanor punishable by a small fine. On the other hand, possession of that same quantity of marijuana on federal lands, including the Mall, the National Zoo, and Rock Creek Park could be prosecuted, at the discretion of the Department of Justice, as a federal offense and subject the offender to six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine, given that marijuana is defined as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. §811). The matter of enforcement is further complicated by the presence of 32 federal law enforcement agencies that provide assistance to the District’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) through cooperative agreements that expand the area of jurisdiction an agency’s law enforcement personnel may patrol with the power to arrest.
London Tops MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index as Most Visited City
London tops the list as the destination of choice for international travelers for the third time in four years, according to the annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index released today.
Now in its fourth year, the index provides a ranking of the 132 most travelled cities from around the world.
Rounding out the top five cities are Bangkok, Paris, Singapore and Dubai, which are benefiting from a surge in international travel fueled by an expanding middle class, innovations in luxury travel and rising need for business travel. The index also indicates this surge will continue, even with more technology and collaboration tools available to businesses.
The Brink of Renewal: A Business Leader’s Guide to Progress in America’s Schools
Source: Boston Consulting Group
Major cities in the U.S. are committed to improving education, and their resolve is beginning to bear fruit. Cities such as Boston, New York, New Orleans, Dallas, and Denver have made measurable progress in student achievement and graduation rates. Denver, for example, boosted on-time graduation rates from 38.7 percent to 61.3 percent over a recent six-year period.
However, while individual examples of progress are heartening (and worth celebrating), the big picture isn’t nearly as bright.
On the whole, the nation’s preK-12 education system continues to be plagued by low overall achievement, wide achievement gaps, and uncertain prospects for the future. Consider just one indicator: the U.S. spends more on its schools than almost all other industrialized nations, and yet its students still lag behind their global peers—performing at or below average on many international measures.
It’s no surprise that pessimism prevails. In a recent Harvard Business School survey on U.S. competitiveness, the nearly 7,000 business leaders who responded named preK-12 education among the greatest weaknesses in the U.S. business environment. A significant majority also said they believe the U.S. is falling behind in preK-12 education compared with other nations.
Despite the troubling data, we believe that today can represent a historic turning point for U.S. schools. Promising trends, some decades in the making, are converging to make a transformation of the U.S. education system possible.
A New Partnership: Rail Transit and Convention Growth (PDF)
Source: American Public Transportation Association
This joint report produced with the U.S. Travel Assocation examines how cities with rail stations connected directly to airport terminals can realize increases in hotel performance. The report compares six cities with direct rail access from their airport terminal to five cities without. The analysis found that from 2006-2013, hotels in the cities with direct rail access brought in 10.9% more revenue per room than hotels in those cities without.
Unhappy Cities (PDF)
Source: Harvard University (Glaeser et al)
There are persistent differences in self-reported subjective well-being across U.S. metropolitan areas, and residents of declining cities appear less happy than other Americans. Newer residents of these cities appear to be as unhappy as longer term residents, and yet some people continue to move to these areas. While the historical data on happiness are limited, the available facts suggest that cities that are now declining were also unhappy in their more prosperous past. One interpretation of these facts is that individuals do not aim to maximize self-reported well-being, or happiness, as measured in surveys, and they willingly endure less happiness in exchange for higher incomes or lower housing costs. In this view, subjective well-being is better viewed as one of many arguments of the utility function, rather than the utility function itself, and individuals make trade-offs among competing objectives, including but not limited to happiness.
The ACA and America’s Cities: Fewer Uninsured and More Federal Dollars
Source: Urban Institute
This report estimated the effect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on 14 large and diverse cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Columbus, Charlotte, Detroit, Memphis, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, and Miami. For each city we estimated changes in health coverage under the ACA, particularly the resulting decline in the uninsured. We also estimated the additional federal spending on health care that would flow into these cities. For cities in states that have not expanded Medicaid eligibility, we provide estimates both with and without expansion.
The Societal Costs and Benefits of Commuter Bicycling: Simulating the Effects of Specific Policies Using System Dynamics Modeling
The Societal Costs and Benefits of Commuter Bicycling: Simulating the Effects of Specific Policies Using System Dynamics Modeling
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives
Shifting to active modes of transport in the trip to work can achieve substantial co-benefits for health, social equity, and climate change mitigation. Previous integrated modeling of transport scenarios has assumed active transport mode share and has been unable to incorporate acknowledged system feedbacks.
We compared the effects of policies to increase bicycle commuting in a car-dominated city and explored the role of participatory modeling to support transport planning in the face of complexity.
We used system dynamics modeling (SDM) to compare realistic policies, incorporating feedback effects, nonlinear relationships, and time delays between variables. We developed a system dynamics model of commuter bicycling through interviews and workshops with policy, community, and academic stakeholders. We incorporated best available evidence to simulate five policy scenarios over the next 40 years in Auckland, New Zealand. Injury, physical activity, fuel costs, air pollution, and carbon emissions outcomes were simulated.
Using the simulation model, we demonstrated the kinds of policies that would likely be needed to change a historical pattern of decline in cycling into a pattern of growth that would meet policy goals. Our model projections suggest that transforming urban roads over the next 40 years, using best practice physical separation on main roads and bicycle-friendly speed reduction on local streets, would yield benefits 10–25 times greater than costs.
To our knowledge, this is the first integrated simulation model of future specific bicycling policies. Our projections provide practical evidence that may be used by health and transport policy makers to optimize the benefits of transport bicycling while minimizing negative consequences in a cost-effective manner. The modeling process enhanced understanding by a range of stakeholders of cycling as a complex system. Participatory SDM can be a helpful method for integrating health and environmental outcomes in transport and urban planning.
When providing directions to a place, web and mobile mapping services are all able to suggest the shortest route. The goal of this work is to automatically suggest routes that are not only short but also emotionally pleasant. To quantify the extent to which urban locations are pleasant, we use data from a crowd-sourcing platform that shows two street scenes in London (out of hundreds), and a user votes on which one looks more beautiful, quiet, and happy. We consider votes from more than 3.3K individuals and translate them into quantitative measures of location perceptions. We arrange those locations into a graph upon which we learn pleasant routes. Based on a quantitative validation, we find that, compared to the shortest routes, the recommended ones add just a few extra walking minutes and are indeed perceived to be more beautiful, quiet, and happy. To test the generality of our approach, we consider Flickr metadata of more than 3.7M pictures in London and 1.3M in Boston, compute proxies for the crowdsourced beauty dimension (the one for which we have collected the most votes), and evaluate those proxies with 30 participants in London and 54 in Boston. These participants have not only rated our recommendations but have also carefully motivated their choices, providing insights for future work.
Hat tip: ResearchBuzz
Summer Fun: How Much Hotter Will Your City Be?
Source: Climate Central
If it feels hot to you now in the dog days of this summer, imagine a time when summertime Boston starts feeling like Miami and even Montana sizzles.
Thanks to climate change, that day is coming by the end of the century, making it harder to avoid simmering temperatures.
Summers in most of the U.S. are already warmer than they were in the 1970s. And climate models tell us that summers are going to keep getting hotter as greenhouse gas emissions continue. What will this warming feel like? Our new analysis of future summers illustrates just how dramatic warming is going to be by the end of this century if current emissions trends continue unabated.