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The "Creative Class" and "superstar" cities

Uploaded: Jul 8, 2017
Trendy young tech workers are key to the economic fortunes of cities. This is part of the urban development theory of Richard Florida that is based on what he saw at the end of the Dot-Com bubble, especially the focus on partying and other entertainments. Unsurprisingly, this theory has many local adherents, although many don't know the origins or the controversies. After all, it can be very tempting to embrace a theory that says that people like you are essential to a city's prosperity and thus the city must cater to--if not subsidize--you and your lifestyle, or else suffer economic decline.

I am not going to drag you through the details of R.Florida's theory, but I do recommend you read a recent article by him (before or after reading this blog).(foot#1) I have been underwhelmed by the arguments both for and against this theory: questionable statistics, speculative causality from dubious correlations, puffery, transparent ideological agendas and favored alternatives cast as inevitabilities.(foot#2) Arguing for the importance of dense urban cores with "bohemian" culture, R.Florida attributes the economy of Silicon Valley to the cultural influence of San Francisco. Similarly for the Boston suburbs along the Route 128 beltway.(foot#3) Politicians are included in his "Super-Creative Core" -- I suspect this was done to have the economy of the Washington DC region fit his theory. And I leave it to you to judge the value of finance people being "creative".

Given all these difficulties with the theory, I am going to focus on just the theory's impacts on local policy-making.

----Superstar Cities----

A pernicious part of this theory is expressed in the subtitle of the recommended article: "They are not just the places where the most ambitious and talented people want to be--they are where such people feel they need to be." (emphasis added) Locally we see this expressed as people being harmed if they can't easily move to specific cities to take advantages of opportunities there (created by others).(foot#4) University Urban Studies departments have acquired reputations for not educating students, but rather indoctrinating them, that is, promoting studied ignorance. One claim I am increasingly encountering is that Detroit never considered the limits to growth during the heyday of the automotive industry.(foot#5) Wrong. Growth caused the auto industry to geographically disperse manufacturing throughout the mid-West (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois) and beyond, facilitated by the railroad network.(foot#6) The auto companies had to deal with intense competition for skilled workers and the limits of public transit (trolleys) serving their huge factories (sound familiar?).

Geographic dispersion of successful industries are common. For example, Silicon Valley has seen several dispersals of successful industries, most notably Semiconductors and Computers.

Another example: What is the most common CPU architecture (by quantity sold)? Hint: It isn't from Intel. It is ARM, because of its prevalence in chips used in mobile devices, but also embedded devices. It is descended from the Acorn RISC Machine which was inspired by research on RISC computers at UC Berkeley, but created in Cambridge UK which is a medium-sized city (currently 125K). Cambridge and many other university towns provide contrary examples to R.Florida's claims about non-superstar cities not being able to compete as centers of innovation and being highly productive. One of the problems with the superstar-city theory of innovation is that it overstates the advantages of physical proximity and understates the disadvantages. For example, high concentrations often engender group-think, prioritizing incremental improvement, and "yet-another" pseudo-innovations. Innovation is often a long slog, and having a degree of isolation can help keep a team together and focused.(foot#7)

In the manufacturing of physical things, it was (is?) regarded as highly advantageous to have the designers in close proximity to the manufacturing engineers. It was not uncommon for a design to have components that were expensive, difficult and even impossible to manufacture. Sometimes trivial tweaks to the design produced major cost savings. Getting feedback from the manufacturing engineers during the design process could greatly reduce time-to-market. Design documents in a common electronic format have allowed more physical separation between the groups, and allowed outsourcing--including off-shoring--of the manufacturing of a design (ignoring the risk of unintended technology transfer).

----Bohemianism----

Bohemianism is typically defined to include not just being unconventional, or rejecting conventions, but having few permanent ties (and often wandering off). R.Florida's theory extols bohemianism as a crucial factor in creating the social climate necessary to attract the highly mobile young professions that he claims form the core of his superstar cities. The presence of such job-hoppers may seem advantageous to companies seeking to staff up quickly by luring them from other companies, but when "Here today" becomes "Gone tomorrow", they rue the situation. Employees looking to jump to the next big thing or wanting new challenges may be appealing to theoretical economists, but a headache for managers.
Note: The discussions of R.Florida's theories often refer to "high bohemians". That seems to be the conventional definition: bohemians with money (well-paying jobs or other financial security).

R.Florida's linkage of commercial innovation and productivity to the presence of bohemian culture and artists and entertainers has been challenged by other analyses of the data. For me, his sense of that culture seems to strongly allude to the Cafe Society of the 1920s (Paris, New York, London...). Locally, the linkage between the University Avenue restaurant scene and economic prosperity keeps popping up in the advocacy for substantial densification. Although such statements would be trivialities in isolation, a pattern can indicate broader underlying beliefs.(foot#8)

While the "visionaries" and other evangelists promote the "gig economy", the view from managers and workers is quite different. And it is very hard to build a serious tech company using mercenaries or having the company treat its employees as easily discarded temp workers.

----Claim: significant harm to economy----

R.Florida cites a study "Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation" by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti which claims "...Misallocation arises because high productivity cities like New York and the San Francisco Bay Area have adopted stringent restrictions to new housing supply, effectively limiting the number of workers who have access to such high productivity. Using a spatial equilibrium model and data from 220 metropolitan areas we find that these constraints lowered aggregate US growth by more than 50% from 1964 to 2009...".(foot#9) I have neither the knowledge nor the inclination to dissect their modeling. However, my scientific training is to do sanity checks by making modest changes to model parameters. For example, suppose we change the granularity of the economic unit from superstar cities into superstar companies, for example Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix,... Has the economy been harmed by such companies not hiring all the people that want to move from companies with lower productivity? Recognize that the choice is the worker's not the company's. That the company is assumed to be able to absorb an unlimited number of new workers without diminishing its overall productivity. And that the worker is assumed to (automatically? magically?) become more productive at the new company, even if doing the same job as at the previous company.

This problem with granularity makes me highly skeptical of their results. It seems to discount reallocation of labor within the superstar cities to more productive uses, and of companies within those superstar cities reallocating activities with lower returns to less expensive locales, as happened in earlier booms here in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. Instead the authors seem to treat reallocation as people migrating into the superstar cities.

Another check is to apply the basics to analogous situations. For example, if people with degrees from the superstar universities--Stanford, Harvard...--are judged more productive (on average), then are these superstar universities hold the economy back by not granting many more degrees? Or providing not just the credential, but the networking and education?(foot#10)

In working with data, one of the early lessons is to not assume that the average for one sample will persist in smaller and larger samples. Actually, the lesson is to assume that the averages will be different, and that treating them as invariant (within a range) requires proof, or at least a strong argument. A related early lesson is to not expect something to scale-up smoothly. This is illustrated by the classic puzzle question "Why aren't there ants the size of elephants?" The mathematically-inclined point to the legs as being unable to support a body that large: The strength of the legs (cross-section) grows as the square of body size, but the weight grows as the cube. Alternatively, those who remember their biology class point to larger animals needing increasingly sophisticated infrastructure, such as a circulation system, to move nutrients to, and wastes away from, cells that are increasingly further from the surface.

The study's authors Hsieh and Moretti seem to have significant pro-development biases. They favorably cite another economist saying "In the 1960s, developers found it easy to do business in much of the country. In the past 25 years, construction has come to face enormous challenges from any local opposition. In some areas it feels as if every neighbor has veto rights over every project." What happened circa 1990 (25 years before the quote)? My guess is that it was the increased available of computer networks for discussion group, both on the Internet and in "walled gardens" like AOL of that era. The technology allowed the citizenry was becoming more effective in local politics.(foot#11) The 1960s and 1970s had seen significant expansion of legal protections for ordinary citizens, but too often the answer to "How much justice can you afford?" was "Not much". Various aspects of this technological shift lowered those costs and thereby helped fight the notion that the property rights of the rich and powerful preempted the rights of ordinary citizens, for example, the notion that one was entitled to enrich himself by polluting everyone's air and water, or imposing other externalities. Or building industrial facilities using hazardous materials next to residential neighborhoods and schools. Of course, those attitudes are not overturned, but merely diminished. For example, our City Hall allowed such a hazardous materials operation to move from an industrial park to a site immediately next to my neighborhood.
OK, and notice the gross exaggeration in the statement, which is characteristic of coming from a shill. This sort of advocacy by economists is so well known that it spawned a joke: Interviewer: "How much is 1+1?" Economist: "How much do you want it to be?" Interviewer: "You're hired."

----Growth more than pays for itself?----

The recommended article is unlike the other R.Florida articles I have read (a sample, not the extensive set). In this one he acknowledges the costs of expanding and upgrading infrastructure to support increasing populations. However, he waves this off on the belief that the additional income to cities from larger populations will pay for this. Really? Failure to maintain existing infrastructure has been a problem for all levels of government nation-wide because of a mix of revenue problems and other demands on the budget. And recent history is that increased population has not led to corresponding increases in infrastructure. However, R.Florida gives no indication of why things will be different in the near future. Locally: Since circa 2000, City Hall has produced estimates for the revenues and costs to the City of various types of development, with denser housing being a net negative.
Aside: The balance of rentals to condos affects the calculation because of Prop 13: Condos tend to have higher turnover rates which resets the valuation for property taxes.

----What is meant by high-density?----

R.Florida and advocates of similar theories tend to treat "density" as a slippery term. In the recommended article, R.Florida says "too much density can actually deaden neighborhoods" and "...walkable, mixed-used neighborhoods in ... filled with mid-rise buildings, factory and warehouse lofts, and the occasional high-rise..." with the definition of mid-rise buildings varying widely between cities and groups--if you do a web search you will see definitions on the first results-page starting as low as 4 stories and others starting much higher. For the upper bound, for some definitions it is 6 stories, while others include up to 15 stories. Elsewhere R.Florida seems to be advocating for many high-rise buildings.

In reading the articles, you need to be aware of apple-to-oranges statistics. Sometimes the stats are for the urban core of a city, and sometimes they extend far out into the suburbs and even into exurbs. Sometimes there seems to be an intent to mislead; other times it seems to result from simply using the easily available stats and failing to make needed adjustments.(foot#12)

----Blame Game----

R.Florida, citing various economists, portrays property owners, large and small, as preventing the building of more housing: "While there is certainly a place for neighborhood preservation and environmental conservation, NIMBYs do more than that: Well-intended or not, when they reflexively block any and all development,..." (emphasis added) This is one of the clearest demonstrations of R.Florida's disregard for facts. Going on, he states it "isn't just selfish; it's destructive" and "NIMBYs hold back the urban innovation that powers growth."

R.Florida goes on to quote a columnist summarizing a paper by a economics grad student: "It's landlords, not corporate overlords, who are sucking up the wealth in the economy." However, R.Florida ignores what came 3 paragraphs earlier in that column: That simplistic treatments of physical capital growth ignore the costs of maintaining, renovating and replacing those assets.(foot#13) The paper's example is for high-tech corporations, but the same applies to land. The value of land comes from what you use it for--or have the opportunity to use it for--and that use has costs, such as building construction and maintenance. Plus property taxes ... (Aside: The term "land-poor" describes the trap where you own land, but lack the resources to generate adequate income from it, potentially resulting in loosing ownership).

Let's think about the claim that the large landlords are blocking growth in housing in order to benefit from increased rental prices resulting from scarcity. But it is also claimed that freed from current constraints, large property owners would willingly build higher density to profit from that. Notice that the large landlord are also large property owners, so we seem to have the claim that they are working to block themselves from having higher profits.

Add to that the implicit claim that higher density would result in housing being more affordable. Experience in multiple superstar cities contradicts this, as does R.Florida's theory. Since he argues that the superstar cities will continue growing, the ongoing increase in demand will likely overwhelm the increase in supply. R.Florida has come to acknowledge that the winner-take-all economy means that his "creative class" will inevitably displace more and more of those cities' current inhabitants: "...ensures that the winner cities will become unaffordable for all but the wealthy."

R.Florida and others prominently accuse homeowners of blocking more housing in order to raise, or maintain, high prices for their homes: "...the efforts of urban landlords and homeowners to restrict what is built, and in doing so to keep the prices of their own real-estate holdings high." There is a frequent claim, without supporting citation, that starting in the 1980s, homeowners started seeing their houses as more of an investment than a place to live. My experience is that this is false in multiple ways. Promoting home ownership was part of the New Deal (late 1930s) and was a big part of the post-WW2 boom. The home-as-investment was a big part of this. The "more of" is contrary to my experience: I can't remember hearing anyone saying that they sacrificed quality-of-life to live in a house because it had greater potential for appreciation.

The actual motivations of homeowners is another distortion going on in these portrayals. When homeowners worry about a project's effect on their quality-of-life, all these economists and urban theorists (choose to?) hear is that reduced quality-of-life would reduced the capital value of their houses. This distortion is often followed by another distortion: That the purported concern about reduced value is actually a strategy to further increase the value of their houses. Locally you will see these distortions from groups like Palo Alto Forward, even as many of their leaders are, or seek to become, owners of single-family houses.(foot#14)

The attack on homeowners carries with it an implication that they are undeserving of the increase in property values. In local forums, I see postings portraying homeowners as being lucky to already be living here when the technology boom occurred. Unfortunately, this sort of arrogance and (studied?) ignorance of recent history is too common. They seem clueless that many of these homeowners were the people who built this area into being a technology center, including the computer and networking technology that made the current boom possible. And it is depressing that, as Jeffrey Hammerbacher said about why he left Facebook, "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks."

After decrying the amount of capital appreciation for homeowners, what does R.Florida advocate? "...a shift from single-family homes to rental housing". That's right, he wants to shift these assets from the middle and working classes to the investor class. And has he forgotten what he wrote but a few paragraph earlier, blaming the large landlords (investor class) for blocking the building of more housing?

----Biases and insults----

R.Florida characterizes the pejorative "NIMBY" as "too benign-sounding" and offers the term "New Urban Luddite". He uses the false characterization promulgated by the investor class of that time: That the Luddites were smashing machines because they opposed progress. The actual history was that those weavers were skilled workers who had been using machinery for generations, and the Luddite movement was an early "industrial action", similar to the later strikes of the early labor unions, including lethal force against strikers by factory owners and the government. The revolt against the factory owners was a result of increasingly automated machinery to replace skilled workers with unskilled, low-paid workers. R.Florida dismisses treating workers as disposable with "Over the course of the next century, though, those factories would lift living standards to higher levels than the Luddites could have ever imagined."(foot#15) R.Florida's characterization of people who don't share his values and priorities as being against progress has prominent local correlates, most notably from Palo Alto Forward and the Gang-of-Five City Council majority.(foot#16)

R.Florida also seems unwilling to consider what some people find attractive and worthwhile about suburbs and single-family homes. From another recent article: "Silicon Valley proper is soul-crushing suburban sprawl."(foot#17)

----Conclusion----

Basic awareness of R.Florida's theory is useful for understanding the source of various advocates for what the "correct" policy is, and for making connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of that advocacy. There are other aspects of this theory and its offshoots that I hope to return to in a later blog, but enough/too much for now.

----Footnotes----
1. Recommended article by R.Florida:
Subsequent references to this article will be handled by repeated references to this footnote (rather than ibid.).
"Why America’s Richest Cities Are Pulling Away From All the Others" by Richard Florida - The Atlantic, 2017-04-12.
Subtitle: "They are not just the places where the most ambitious and talented people want to be--they are where such people feel they need to be."
Earlier title: "Richard Florida: Winner-take-all new urban crisis".

2. Problems with the arguments: Examples:
The calculation of R.Florida's Bohemian Index for 2006 (latest I could find) ranks Salt Lake City at #7, San Francisco at #9, and New Orleans third from the bottom, below cities like Birmingham AL, Houston and San Antonio.
Review of Richard Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class" (PDF) by Edward L. Glaeser presents statistical analyses that undermine R.Florida's claims about the data.
Puffery: "The most important and innovative industries and the most talented, most ambitious, and wealthiest people are converging as never before in a relative handful of leading superstar cities that are knowledge and tech hubs. This small group of elite places forge ever forward, while most others struggle, stagnate, or fall behind." (paragraph 3 of recommended article). Is he unaware of imperial capitals and similar cities throughout history, and their lessons? European examples: Rome, Paris, Vienna, London.
Misrepresenting history: "Big, populous cities develop thriving industry clusters, like finance in New York and London, movies in LA,...".
- When the movie industry migrated from New York City to LA, LA had only a tenth the population of NYC--opposite the direction predicted by R.Florida's theory.
- London developed its finance industry because it was the capital of an empire, not because of its teeming slums. The centers of innovation and industry were elsewhere in Britain (closer to the coal fields).
- New York City's finance industry developed because of its dominance in import-export between the US and Europe. It had an excellent natural harbor, it had good access to the expanding interior, and its location made it a trans-shipment point to/from Europe. And its businesses and government greatly reinforced and expanded those trading advantages.

3. Influence of the urban core:
R.Florida claims that people tend choose to move to areas because of the culture established by their urban cores and then look for a job in that area. This is counter to the experience of most people I know, although that may be a biased sample. However, how would you explain someone who lives in Morgan Hill and works in a tech company in south San Jose having made that decision based upon the presence of San Francisco? If you include Morgan Hill as part of the SF region, would you include Tracy (most answer "No"). But Tracy is closer to San Francisco than Morgan Hill, with similar travel times depending on time of day, and much closer by BART vs Caltrain. Furthermore, Tracy is only 11 miles beyond Livermore which is widely regarded as part of the Bay Area (and Livermore is getting a BART station). Note the use of transit to argue against there being a transitive fallacy (X close-to Y and Y close-to Z does not imply X close-to Z).
Laugh test: Ann Arbor, home of The University of Michigan, has a thriving tech community. This theory would lead you to believe that many of them settled for jobs there to be part of a vibrant downtown Detroit scene. Really? Similarly for many other non-urban university towns.
Aside: The travel time between Ann Arbor and downtown Detroit is about the same as Palo Alto to SF and Cambridge to London.

4. Move to opportunities:
"In my view, cities help increase and unlock social cultural economic and human potential. The 'opportunity' of the city should be shared." - Councilmember Adrian Fine (on Twitter).

5. Detroit growth:
Example from Twitter exchange involving Councilmember Adrian Fine (Masters degree in City and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania):
- @wmartin46: "Changing smartly"--what does that even mean? Time and again you (and yours) are asked: "how many people can live here"--never an answer!
- @adrianfine: It's a challenge many cities and regions have faced. Do you think Detroit ever asked "how many people?" That's not the point

6. Auto industry dispersion:
Some of the dispersion involved incrementally transferring the manufacturing of components, including large ones such as transmissions. Some of the dispersion involved setting up remote assembly plants: Look as "Assembly" on the Model T's Wikipedia Page. Ford's mammoth River Rouge Complex was an example of where components continued being manufactured centrally while assembly of some models was dispersed.

7. The long slog of innovation:
The current computer interface originated from the work of Douglas Engelbart at SRI. It was demo'ed in 1969, but it didn't become realized in a mainstream computers until the early 1980s, with various workstations (Sun, SGI...) and the Apple Macintosh (1984), and later Windows 95. Xerox PARC had the first computer in this class, but they "fumbled the future".
Apple's Siri (2010) has an even longer history, with the basic system coming from Apple's purchase of an SRI spin-off. The speech recognition component came from multiple companies with origins in the late 1970s and early 1980s (eg, Nuance and Dragon). The Natural Language component began in the late 1970s, enabled by improved availability of computing power (more powerful microprocessors) and had many threads. It went from querying a single well-structured source of data (a database) to querying disparate sources (starting mid-1980s), to integration with speech recognition, to using the Web as a data source (late 1990s), to a major change in Natural Language Understanding technology enable by the Web providing the volumes of data to make statistical learning practical. The reasoning components also had long and tangled histories.
These sort of durations often cause innovators/developers to talk about "waves" within which there are generations.

8. Linkage of restaurant scene to vibrancy:
Example: In Palo Alto Forward's letter to Council opposing an annual office development cap ("Smart Solutions to Parking and Congestion: Addressing Palo Alto's problems head-on", 2015-02-16), "Growth brings some positives...: a more vibrant (more shops, restaurants, employment opportunities), diverse community...".
Alt source: Palo Alto Online/Weekly news article: "Palo Alto Forward joins opposition to office-space limits: Citizens group joins Stanford, high-tech giants in taking a stand against proposal", 2015-02-26.
Example: In the Council meeting discussed in my blog entry, "Listen for Yourself: An index into 'A Conversation on the Future of the City' " (2013-12-13), Councilmember Liz Kniss used the availability of a restaurant to her liking near City Hall at 10:30pm as a metric for the "vitality", or "vibrancy", of Palo Alto. (in segment starting @2:54:45). I have heard similar statements from her many times over the years, but it was hard to tell if this might only be because restaurants are often locations for informal political discussions.

9. Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation:
The official paper itself is behind a paywall, but a free version (PDF) is available from author Moretti's website.

10. Effects of college choice:
Some years ago there was a study that claimed that the correlation to success was much stronger for the colleges that a student applied to than for the one s/he attended. In a related vein, there were studies claiming to have found that many top undergraduate students would be better off in an Honors Program at various Enormous State Universities than at the prestige colleges, even before factoring in costs. All to be taken with a grain of salt.

11. Internet facilitating citizen involvement:
My favorite local example of this comes from the 2003 State of the City speech by then-Mayor Dena Mossar: "Neighborhood associations have banded together to create large and small e-mail communication networks that have changed the lobbying landscape significantly from the days--but six years ago--when a neighborhood typically fought its battles in solo mode. The business community, in an attempt to level the playing field, is trying to find an effective way to respond."
Usage note: In this context, "business community" means developers and their allied businesses, such as architects.

12. Easily available stats: Examples of difficulties:
One of the problems comparing cities is that some of the best collections of data for each city can be incomparable to similar collections for other cities. Many stats on cities use the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), with some cities having multiple MSA grouped into a Combined Statistical Area (CSA). The New York metropolitan area, aka the Tri-State Area, has a core MSA comprising New York City and nearby areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York State. Its CSA has about a 20% larger population, adding MSAs from Connecticut and more distant portions of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. These MSAs seem to be natural groupings of the cities.
In contrast, the boundaries for MSAs for the Bay Area are heavily influenced by county lines. The CSA has 6 MSAs, with the largest two being San Francisco-Oakland and San Jose. The latter includes not just Santa Clara County but San Benito County (starts south of Gilroy). It doesn't make sense to me that any part of San Benito warrants being treated as part of the SF Bay Area.
Similarly, statistics for European and Asian cities can be based on terminology and boundaries contrary to what would be expected by someone unfamiliar with that city. A good example is that the City of London is only a tiny part of the city of London.
Then there are the parochial biases of the speakers and writers, for example, I often hear "New York" used to mean the portion of Manhattan starting from Columbia University and going south. However, Stamford CT is part of the New York CSA and home to many New York financial firms, especially hedge funds (although that is declining).

13. Landlords sucking up wealth:
"Piketty's Three Big Mistakes: Thomas Piketty's theory about income inequality has taken a triple hit from an MIT graduate student" by Noah Smith, Bloomberg View, 2015-03-27.
The paper referenced by this column is also directly referenced later in R.Florida's article:
"Deciphering the Fall and Rise in the Net Capital Share: Accumulation or Scarcity?" (PDF, 69 pages) by Matthew Rognlie in Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Spring 2015.

14. Local distortion of homeowner motivations:
Councilmembers Adrian Fine and Cory Wolbach are prominent in this regard. See my earlier blogs:
- "The 'You're despicable' style of politics", 2016-09-22
- "Disputing a Council Endorsement on Attitude toward residents", 2016-10-25

15. Luddites:
These articles have similar basic coverage:
"When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites: What a 19th-century rebellion against automation can teach us about the coming war in the job market" by Clive Thompson, Smithsonian Magazine, 2017-01.
"Luddites have been getting a bad rap for 200 years. But, turns out, they were right" by Michael J. Coren, Quartz, 2017-04-30.
"What the Luddites Really Fought Against: The label now has many meanings, but when the group protested 200 years ago, technology wasn't really the enemy" by Richard Conniff, Smithsonian Magazine, 2011-03.

16. Contempt for other values and priorities:
See my blogs cited above under "Local distortion of homeowner motivations".

17. Soul-crushing suburb sprawl:
"The Unaffordable Urban Paradise: Tech startups helped turn a handful of metro areas into megastars. Now they’re tearing those cities apart" by Richard Florida, MIT Technology Review, 2017-06-20.


----
An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

----Boilerplate on Commenting----
The Guidelines for comments on this blog are different from those on Town Square Forums. I am attempting to foster more civility and substantive comments by deleting violations of the guidelines.

I am particularly strict about misrepresenting what others have said (me or other commenters). If I judge your comment as likely to provoke a response of "That is not what was said", do not be surprised to have it deleted. My primary goal is to avoid unnecessary and undesirable back-and-forth, but such misrepresentations also indicate that the author is unwilling/unable to participate in a meaningful, respectful conversation on the topic.

If you behave like a Troll, do not waste your time protesting when you get treated like one.

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 4:51 am

I am not sure I would use Cambridge UK as an example for supporting an anti-development thesis. It is not as extreme a situation yet, but overall it is pretty much the UK equivalent of Palo Alto, with housing unaffordable for most and very hard to find, and just like in Palo Alto, service workers and people working in academics are suffering the most from that, not the tech workers that the fixation is usually on.

And Cambridge is by no means the sprawled out monstrosity that Palo Alto and similar US cities are, its density is 3-4 times higher and that after having grown suburbs around the medieval core.

Speaking of sprawl, any "quality of life" arguments against development have to deal with the existence of cities such as Barcelona. The climate there is quite similar to Palo Alto, in a radius of a couple miles from the city center it is nothing but 4-6 story mid-rise multi-family houses with some of the most stunning architecture in the world, with fairly narrow streets, people rely on public transportation for moving around, and are perfectly happy to live that way. I haven't heard anyone complaining about quality of life there, quite the opposite.

So why exactly would it be such a tragedy if Palo Alto became like that?


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 5:55 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@GM:

First, you have taken the Cambridge UK example out of context. It was offered as a counter-example to R.Florida's theory that superstar cities accumulate the top talent and require large populations, such as 20-25 million for New York or 7.6 million for SF Bay area. Within this theory, Palo Alto exists only as a tiny part of the SF Bay Area supercity (less than 1%), and not as a separate city such as Cambridge. I chose Cambridge because of the similarities to Palo Alto in terms of innovation while not being in a supercity.

Second, the density comparison between Cambridge and Palo Alto is apples-to-oranges: Palo Alto's official area -- 24 sq miles to Cambridge's 16 -- includes massive amounts of open space -- Foothills Park, Arastradero Preserve, the Baylands. Add to that Stanford Research Park with its extensive lawns and other landscaping. Map to help visualize

(( Update: Below, I typed "Seville" in place of "Barcelona", but notice that that typo has no impact on the argument. Aside: The mistake probably came from my having been in a recent conversation about Seville. ))

Third, the comparison to Seville is a standard fallacious argument because it is predicated on one being able to snap their fingers and have the whole city of Palo Alto -- housing, employment, infrastructure -- reconfigured to those circumstances. Yes, this has happened occasionally -- most famously in Paris in the mid-1800s where Baron Haussmann was able to level much of center of the city and build entirely new infrastructure, starting with a new street/boulevard layout, and establish basic patterns for the buildings.

Fourth, "I haven't heard anyone there complaining about quality of life..." is the fallacy of the unrepresentative sample, that is, people who have chosen to live in Seville are unlikely to represent the broader population on the question of whether they would want to live in Seville.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 9:47 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I keep hearing the following comments from pro density, pro development people: 'we are not nearly as dense as NYC, San Francisco, London'..feel free to fill in the blanks.

People pick Palo Alto largely because it is livable, quite(well, used to be)suburban and a relative haven from urban blight, density, noise, and all the things dense urban living present to those who choose that lifestyle. Comparing what should never be compared is not a basis for a constructive debate.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 10:11 am

@ mauricio

There are two kinds of people who "choose" Palo Alto:

1. The super wealthy

2. The professionals, of which there are two kinds: the tech workers and the people working at Stanford.

Only people in the first category can really afford to buy homes in Palo Alto and only they pick Palo Alto because of the lifestyle.

People in the second category come here because it is either the top or the second-best (depending on how you view it relative to Cambridge, MA) place to do research in STEM fields.

Those are generally the kinds of people who do not have time to enjoy the "lifestyle", cannot afford it anyway (at this point it's too expensive even for the rank and file tech workers, and most people working at Stanford are dirt poor relative to the cost of living), and are more than happy to be living in a high-density environment as long as it's close to work and they don't have to waste hours every day commuting.

It should not be escaping anyone's attention that it is the people in category 2 who are the reason why Palo Alto is what it is, not the people in the first category.

Accordingly, the fundamental unfairness of the situation should not be escaping anyone's attention either -- the reason that house you bought 40 years ago now costs millions is the work done by those very same nerds at Stanford that your opposition to high-rise buildings is forcing to commute ungodly amounts of hours every day.

@ Douglas Moran

I was talking about Barcelona, not Sevilla. But let's ignore that.

Also, Cambridge UK has quite a bit of open space too, plus, unlike Palo Alto, it has the university and all its associated buildings within the city, not outside of it. That the density is much higher there should be sufficiently clear after a couple minutes of Google Maps Street View browsing. But let's ignore that too.

More importantly, what is your solution to the problem? I went through many of your posts on this blog, and it is all about finding reasons why there should be nothing but sprawl in Palo Alto. But if that is what happens, it has consequences for tens of thousands of people. So I take it that you are perfectly fine with people commuting 2+ hours to work every day, many of whom actually cannot afford to do that at all. I don't know what your background is and how well you can understand that, but as an example, if you are working in a laboratory and you're doing experiments, long commutes are simply not an option because you need to be there at all sorts of odd times. So again, what is your solution to the situation? And how exactly do you envision the future?


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Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 12:25 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

So GM approach is that Palo Alto should densify and urbanize to accommodate scientists and lab workers, but he says nothing about the thousands of child care givers, house keepers, gardeners and other low pay workers who commute to PA every day for work. Should Woodside, Atherton and Los Altos Hills urbanize and densify so low pay workers who commute long distances afford to live there?

We know of course that no level of development would bring housing prices down, it would actually push them up, and destroy livability in the process. There are many off shore investors just waiting for the next wave of development.

Those who pushed for Palo Alto, with its limited, small town infrastructure to become a major job center have caused this disaster, and the fact they still have a voice, and politicians who enable them is absurd.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 2:58 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@GM: "Accordingly, the fundamental unfairness of the situation should not be escaping anyone's attention either -- the reason that house you bought 40 years ago now costs millions is the work done by those very same nerds at Stanford..."

This is an example of my point in the blog of about the misrepresentation of longer-term residents (search "lucky"). Many of them came here during earlier waves of growth here. When I moved here in 1983 (PhD in CS in 1980), I couldn't afford a house. It was calculated that a newly hired VP had a lower standard of living than his secretary who had arrived with her techie husband in a early wave (mid to late 1960s?). There had been a considerable increase in housing prices and there were very high interest rates on mortgages. I had friends and colleagues who decided to leave because they wanted to start a family and calculated that they couldn't afford both a child and a house.

The unaffordability of housing has been a long-term issue and has been extensively discussed on Town Square Forums and earlier blogs. Those discussions have demonstrated that it is futile to point out the sacrifices that the earlier generations made in order to be part of the building of Silicon Valley.


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Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 3:20 pm

[[Blogger: Guidance: This comment is well into the gray area where I debate whether to delete it as not adding to the discussion.]]

It's all very simple: the local bohemians will be as content as Carnation's cows once they get that Palo Alto address. No more parroting the densification mantra.

I've never heard anyone from Barcelona complain, either. But how/why would I?

R.Florida got his book. Good for him. It joins the legion of tomes that neatly package everything societal into a few hundred pages of luckless paper. Anybody remember "The Naked Ape"?


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@GM: "More importantly, what is your solution to the problem?"

It is not necessary for an individual to have a solution in order to point out the problems in other proposals.
The solution should arise from a political process that takes into account the many stakeholders. It should not be one where one group of advocates decide that their values and preferences are the one true solution and attempt to ram it down the throats of the other groups (if you don't like it, you can leave).


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 3:32 pm

"The solution should arise from a political process that takes into account the many stakeholders."

Curious that you say this.

Because right now the only "stakeholders" who have a voice are the long-term residents.

So I have hard time seeing how "the many stakeholders" are actually represented in any way.

Finally, I have no intention to diminish the "sacrifices that previous generations made" but I highly doubt that the sacrifices that you personally made included commuting several hours every day. Feel free to correct me, I don't know your personal story so I might be wrong.

In any case, the point is that not being able to afford buying a house is not at all the same thing as not being able to afford to rent a studio.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@GM: " Because right now the only "stakeholders" who have a voice are the long-term residents."

Wrong. Other stakeholders include businesses, commercial property owners, owners of residential rental properties...
Stanford is a stakeholder that has repeatedly demonstrated that it can overcome resistance of the other stakeholders, for example, in not providing housing for the new employees from the hospital expansion (its plan is to have most of them live in the East Bay and hope they use public transit).

Commercial property owners have shown their muscle by having Council select a CompPlan scenario that creates substantially more jobs than housing.

Other large property owners have shown their muscle by demonstrating that they can shift the costs of the impacts of their projects onto the general public.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 4:20 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@GM: "...fundamental unfairness..."

Explain why the residents/general public should be required to sacrifice because commercial property owners and employers decided to profit by expanding the number of jobs far beyond the available housing. It is these sorts of transfers (corporate welfare) that is behind the increasing income inequality.


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Posted by Robert, a resident of another community,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 5:19 pm

I couldn't make it past the first paragraph; the fact that you're sitting in California yet casting off people moving to where jobs are as some kind of yuppie urbanite trend, rather than one of the fundamental forces that built this country, shows a complete lack of perspective.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Robert makes in interesting point: The attitudes reflected by many supporters of R.Florida's theory have similarities to colonialism. For example, colonialists believe that they have the superior culture and are representatives of progress and modernity, and use this as a justification, nay obligation, to seize asserts from what they regard as inferior cultures. Similarly for those with power -- be it wealth or military power -- this means that they are virtuous (see previous blog) and have a God-given, superior rights allowing them to seize assets from their inferiors and to exploit their labor.

Aside: Robert attributes to me something ("some kind of yuppie urban trend") that I was reporting about R.Florida's theory. I find it distressing the number of times that I encounter this from college graduates -- developmental psychology tells us that elementary school students should be expected to handle such distinctions, known by terms such as use/mention (example, when told that "John said Mary said that Chris was going to the store", they recognize that John didn't say "Chris is going to the store"). A couple of years ago, graduate students in journalism at a big state university made serious accusations against a professor by claiming that what she reported/quoted (mention) as being something she said for herself (use). Even worse was that many reporters and headline writers for major newspapers/news sites also failed to understand the distinction in their coverage.


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Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 7:40 pm

"[[Blogger: Guidance: This comment is well into the gray area where I debate whether to delete it as not adding to the discussion.]]"

Straight to the point then: you take R.Florida's book much too seriously.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 7:52 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@Curmudgeon:
I take R.Florida's theory -- book and articles -- seriously not because of the content, but because so many others take it seriously: citations, appearances at conferences, on news shows,...
It is important to know what are the influences on the thinking of others.


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Posted by Robert, a resident of another community,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Colonialism? I was referring to events like the great migrations or the dust bowl, are you honestly infering those were "colonial" actions?

[[Blogger: He said "one of the fundamental forces that built this country" -- Readers: Would you classify the Dust Bowl migration as one of these?]]


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Posted by Robert, a resident of another community,
on Jul 8, 2017 at 11:06 pm

[[Deleted. He got upset for a response to what he said rather than what he now claims to have intended to say.]]


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 12:48 am

<blockquote>Robert makes in interesting point: The attitudes reflected by many supporters of R.Florida's theory have similarities to colonialism. For example, colonialists believe that they have the superior culture and are representatives of progress and modernity, and use this as a justification, nay obligation, to seize asserts from what they regard as inferior cultures.</blockquote>

This is a really disingenuous analogy. Colonialists indeed seized assets, but that in no way resembles the case here. First, nobody is seizing anyone's assets, people are being paid obscene amounts of money for them. Second, the assets are appreciating massively as a direct result of the "colonialists".

If anything, the situation in Palo Alto is a perfect illustration of the increased importance of capital relative to labor in modern economies -- the people with capital are sitting on multimillion dollar assets that keep appreciating, meanwhile the people relying on their labor have to live in squalor. If that looks like a fair situation to you, you're perfectly in your right to think so, but you should also at least be able to see why others don't see it that way.

Also, the <i>Cui bono</i> principle is still as valid as it always was in human history. Its application to the case of the small individual cities in the Bay Area is quite straightforward -- restricting supply hugely benefits existing owners who have watched their assets appreciate tenfold, and it is difficult to believe the rhetoric about "quality of life", "neighborhood character", "unique lifestyle", etc. when that is also going on. And obviously, presenting one set of motivations in public build a very different public image from the other, which is why it is one set of arguments that is advanced publicly and not the other.

Finally, regarding "colonialism", yes, the advancement of science and technology is more important than anyone's comforts. This is why people like me have agreed to live in squalor for who knows how many years instead of picking up a well paid job somewhere else. The problem is that long commute times interfere with that goal, because there are only 24 hours in day and one has to sleep and eat too.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 3:01 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

@GM:
The key phrase is "cui bono", that is "who benefits", most often used in relationship to a crime, or other surreptitious action, as a means of identifying who likely committed it. He goes on to say "it is difficult to believe their rhetoric about 'quality of life'..." Since he is unwilling to consider other perspectives as sincere, is there any point in trying to have a discussion?

Recognize that many of the people he demonizes worked for years in the technology companies, but never got rich -- their timing or luck was bad. For example, they were in successful startups, but there wasn't enough money sloshing around that the VCs and founders didn't find ways to severely dilute the employees' stakes. Or they got "aged out" at an early age. Or they worked for one of the many support companies. Or... They live in an Eichler or similar house and want to stay in the community they have lived in for decades. Do you really see them as greedy oppressors?


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Posted by margaret heath, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 4:19 pm

Doug,

Thank you for delving into the "Palo Alto should not stand in the way of growth for those of us who want to live here" groupthink, and the "research" is used to justify the belief that Palo Alto cannot possibly survive if growth is restricted. Who appear not to acknowledge that there are any downsides or costs in rapidly transforming Palo Alto into its rightful place as a "vibrant" and "world class" city. Who behave as if those who do not subscribe to their vision for Palo Alto are standing in the way of progress, so whatever means they use justifies the end. Even if that means deliberately and calculatedly misrepresenting themselves when running for public office.

Especially troubling because so many of their adherents are being manipulated into believing the simplistic economic theory that if the housing supply goes up therefore the price must come down. Which does not allow for local conditions.

With the ever growing number of jobs being added in Palo Alto, the demand from (many overseas) buyers looking for investment properties, those with the means to bid up the price to own or rent, and two income families willing to make huge sacrifices to be in the school district, competition to live in Palo Alto forces the price of new construction up. Which has the knock-on effect, perhaps counterintuitively, of pushing the prices of all housing in the area ever higher not lower.

Those who really stand to benefit from the council allowing greater densification, apart from those who have the means to pay the higher prices, are the property owners with large parcels of land that can be redeveloped with higher density, those whose employment depends upon these clients, and those companies who gain more housing for their higher paid employees. And of course those whose election campaigns benefit.


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Posted by Ahem, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 4:40 pm

GM said:

"...people like me have agreed to live in squalor..."

A "resident of Stanford" living in "squalor" is little hard to believe. Squalid 1: marked by filthiness and degradation from neglect or poverty, 2: sordid.

Living in squalor or LARPing? Not saying it is impossible, just a little hard to believe you are living in squalor without some context. Can you describe some of the horrors you have been forced to endure as a resident of Stanford and the lifestyle you were accustomed to before becoming a resident of Stanford?


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 5:01 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On Stanford employees:
The hospital expansion that did not provide for appropriate housing for the additional employees (mentioned above) has been part of a pattern of expansion at Stanford.

In the proposed GUP (General Use Permit), Stanford proposes to build more housing for academic/research personnel, but not for the support staff. This problem has been raised forcefully at hearings on the GUP. However, the additional housing for grad students may only reduce the number who live off-campus (often at a distance, such as Mt View, Sunnyvale,...) but not provide for the increased numbers from the proposed academic/research expansion.
The proposed GUP includes some funding for affordable housing in the county but one of the concerns is whether those projects will be related to the needs of the expanding population at Stanford.

Note: Stanford University is not part of Palo Alto -- the GUP is a decision for the County Board of Supervisors, with many of the supervisors expect to defer to Joe Simitian (since it is in his district).


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Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 5:30 pm

I have discovered over the years that "living in squalor" for those supporting massive Palo Alto housing development and density, subsidized of course by long time residents, actually means not having a Palo Alto zip code and being very upset about it.

Just like a pervious poster articulated, only property owners will benefit from the urbanization and densification of Palo Alto, which will keep pushing prices higher and higher and will not benefit those "living in squalor" one bit.


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 6:56 pm

@ Ahem

The menu asked me to list something, that does not mean I actually "have a zip code" there. Stanford does not actually provide subsidized housing for all its academic staff, vert far from it.

Anyway, there should no misunderstanding here that Stanford is blameless in all this -- a quick look at the map clearly shows where its priorities are (parking lots, golf courses, horse stables, etc., but not people).

That it is not part of Palo Alto only makes it worse.

However, something tells me that if Stanford was to try to do the sensible thing and line up the east side of Sandhill Road with one long 8-story apartment building, there would be massive opposition to that, and the project would eventually fail.

@ margaret heath

The effect you are talking about is indeed real, but that happens when individual buildings are built under current conditions. Had things been let run their natural course over the years, there would have been no such effect.

Also, there is a difference between high prices and lack of housing at any price. It is expensive in Manhattan but if you go at the main rentals sites (which you probably haven't had to do in decades), you will see the map of Manhattan full of dots with available apartments (and at cheaper prices than Palo Alto too). Unlike Palo Alto where the first problem you have to deal with is that there aren't many options to begin with, at any price. If I, for example, worked at Columbia or NYU and not at Stanford, I would be able to find literally more than a hundred affordable apartments within walking distance of work, and many more unaffordable ones. In Palo Alto? Close to zero.

This fact alone demolishes all arguments of the sort "Oh, it will be just as bad if it becomes like New York". Because New York is nowhere near as bad.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 7:10 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

FYI on Manhattan vs Palo Alto
Land area (sq miles): 23 vs 23*
Population: 1.6 million vs 67K (24x)

* includes open space in addition to urban parkland

Vacancy rate for housing are expressed as percentages of the housing stock (not absolute numbers), and what is the "natural vacancy rate" varies over time and other conditions and differs between cities. Lower and higher rates are signals about the economy. The natural vacancy rates I have seen tend to be several percent, representing a combination of turn-over rate and time on the market.


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Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 9, 2017 at 11:55 pm

I've found Richard Florida's past work to have good ideas in it, and I find the “superstar city" argument more compelling than Doug does. So disappointing to see Florida now headed down the if-you-disagree-with-me-you-must-be-a-Luddite who “reflexively blocks any and all development" path (though it's maybe in keeping with some local activist groups). His earlier work was more analysis and less bombast. Nice of him to disclaim that “there's certainly a place for neighborhood preservation," although I wonder if that place is in your neighborhood. Beyond the namecalling, I didn't see much in this article that wasn't in his previous books.

All these are ultimately value arguments. Yes we flog on about GDP and productivity, but the reality is none of us accepts GDP as our only goal; you can grow GDP and productivity by letting people dump their mercury in the river too, and we don't allow that. We trade off. The social justice argument is weak too, because most of these “zoning solutions" might provide more a few more choices for the top 20% of earners, but they aren't likely to do much for the bottom 80%, at least not around here. So when Florida says, your neighborhood should be "mid-rise" (whatever that means), but neither Asian high-rises nor suburbs, that's his values. There are downsides to density, and he knows where to make the tradeoff. For your city. And if you don't agree with his values, you're a so-and-so. If I call him an “Urbano-Fascist," is that about the same level of maturity as “New Urban Luddite?"


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Posted by sheri, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 10, 2017 at 7:59 pm

First, my grandmother from Bohemia would be appalled at the way her country's name has been misappropriated, even though it occurred even before her birth.
[[Blogger: for those curious about the term: Web Link ]]

Second, why this demonization of single-family homeowners who chose to live here (in my case 40 years ago) because they like a bit of space and light and quiet around them? Not everyone thrives in an urban environment. And many of us have nowhere else to go.


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 12:03 am

@ Resident

As I asked Doug above, what exactly is your solution? Because there are two possible outcomes of this that do not involve high-rise buildings:

1. The tech industry completely collapses (as in, much much worse than 2001), leading to a mass exodus from the peninsula.

2. The current situation continues to escalate due to opposition to high rises and as a result people are eventually forced to commute from Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, etc. because there isn't any housing for them in the whole Bay Area.

Note that "neighborhood preservation" is being advanced as an argument not only in Palo Alto, but in pretty much every city on the peninsula.

Option 1) will not happen -- there has to be a massive puncturing of the tech bubble at some point because it's a lot of companies "worth" billions that don't produce anything of value out there but the main players are in fact sufficiently big and actually profitable to weather that storm, and then the bubble will be reinflated again. And you won't like it much, because it will mean your own wealth (retirement accounts and property values) will evaporate.

So we're left with option 2).

For the record, when I say such a state of affairs is deeply unfair, I don't do so because I am some naive idealist who expects life to be fair. But I also don't like it when people play charades and pretend things are not what they actually are. As I pointed above, economics is what usually at the root of things, and there is no reason to think this is not the case here -- it is very difficult to believe that fundamentally this is about "neighborhood preservation" and not about property values and that massive profit that those who bought their houses in Palo Alto long before they were worth millions will make when they eventually sell them. And sell they will at some point -- when people go to nursing homes because they can no longer take care of themselves they usually do that, and it's in general rare in the US for many generations of the same family to remain attached to the same ancestral home, unlike in other countries, so one way or another that investment will be collected on while someone else will get to enjoy the "neighborhood character".

Fair enough -- smart/lucky investments were made, profit is made.

But you know what this whole situation reminds me of? Europe in the 19th century when there was a small class of people who owned property/capital and lived off of it while everyone else was toiling for slave wages. It is not the same -- there isn't a steady stream of income for many property owners here, and many people who are by no means paid slave wages are seriously hurt by the situation too (although numerically the largest group of affected people are indeed the working poor), but the basics are quite similar.


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 12:09 am

"FYI on Manhattan vs Palo Alto
Land area (sq miles): 23 vs 23*
Population: 1.6 million vs 67K (24x)"

===========

That is an argument against your position.

What you are reminding us is that Manhattan successfully houses 24 times as many people as Palo Alto in the same territory, plus a huge amount of office space plus universities and other cultural institutions plus some parks too.


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Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 6:06 am

GM articulates the position of the new urbanists: there is no place(unless they are far in the boonies) for suburban small cities and towns that provide their residents some open space(low density), light, tranquility and a haven from fast and furious urban life. He keeps conflating Palo Alto with Manhattan, as if the two can even be mentioned together. To the new urbanists, any lifestyle that is not urban is wrong and unacceptable. Residents who refuse to live in a dense, urban aenvironment are NIMBY and should just leave.


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 6:33 am

@ mauricio

Two major holes in your position.

1. Nobody here has been talking about how for example, Frisco, TX should build high-rises, the immediate problem here is the acute lack of housing that is quite specific to the Bay Area.

2. But on a more general level we should indeed also be talking about how Frisco, TX should not exist, because that lifestyle is completely unsustainable. I get it that you are probably utterly ignorant of how bad exactly things like peak oil and climate change actually are (people who live in the most liberal and "environmentally conscious" "communities" in the US tend to be like that, because being "liberal" and "environmentally conscious" tends to be a thing for the people living comfortable completely unsustainable lifestyles), and how there can be no solution to those problems that involves preservation of the car-centered culture of US suburbs (note that it is not as if dismantling subsurbia is a sufficient condition, far from it, but it is a necessary one). The average person living in an apartment in New York not owning a car and moving around using public transportation and on foot has a fraction of the environmental footprint of the average person living in a sprawled out suburb in an equivalent climate.

Note that this is not even a subjective position -- there are those pesky things called laws of physics and they impose certain biophysical constraints on what human beings can afford to do and not to do, and living in sprawled out suburbia belongs in the category of things we cannot afford to do.


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 6:48 am

Oh, and one more thing: you talk about "fast and furious urban life" and clearly in your mind there can be no such thing as dense neighborhoods without it.

Which is a false dichotomy, and empirically demonstrably so -- there are hundreds of sleepy cities and towns in Europe where nobody lives in suburbs, it's all dense multistory multifamily buildings. Even some major cities are like that (as an example, I haven't been there personally but a number friends of mine have lived in Vienna for extended periods of time and were bitterly complaining about how devoid of life the city is, with everything shutting down and everyone going to sleep at 9pm). And on the other side, it is laughable to call life for the average person working in Palo Alto, with all the tech industry here, "tranquil". There is nothing tranquil about that business.

Another fallacy is your mentioning of "light" -- a place like Manhattan is indeed crowded, because it is built up to the max, but the Soviet-style neighborhoods are actually more open than Palo Alto or most other US suburbia are. Yes, they are also much uglier because they don't have the money to hire an army of landscape maintenance workers to keep everything perfectly manicured, but that is irrelevant to the question of open space, of which there is more there than here.


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Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 9:50 am

You lost me when you declared that Manhattan has more open space than Palo Alto. Your notion of small towns and suburbs in Europe makes is clear you have never been. Iam glad you, unlike PAF, for example, are honest enough to admit that suburbia should be eliminated and places like Palo Alto, and I'm sure Woodside, Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley and Atherton should be replaced with dense cities.

I suggest you conduct a research on how much heat, which never really cools down due to the incessant activity is produced by dense cities, and contribute mightily to global warming and climate change.

Generally, the notion that small town, even slightly rural communities have no right to exist is Stalinist, no less. To the new urbanists, only dense city life is an option. While those wanting to live that lifestyle have 3 options within a 40 mile drive from Palo Alto- SF, Oakland and San Jose, the new urbanists would eliminate any option for those, like me, who hate dense urban life and refuse to live in dense cities. To them it's dense city for bust, just like I've suspected all along.


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 9:58 am

"You lost me when you declared that Manhattan has more open space than Palo Alto."

And you just forfeited all credibility because I never said that, as would be clear to anyone who bothered to actually read what I wrote

"While those wanting to live that lifestyle have 3 options within a 40 mile drive from Palo Alto- SF, Oakland and San Jose, the new urbanists would eliminate any option for those, like me, who hate dense urban life and refuse to live in dense cities."

[[Blogger: What I believe mauricio was responding to was " Soviet-style neighborhoods are actually more open than Palo Alto" enhanced by the mention of "landscape" in the next sentence--which was logically attached to it. I judge it to be an invited inference that GM was talking about their being lots of open space in Manhattan. As to whether it was implied that it was "more than ...Palo Alto", I can see arguments both ways.]]

Again, as I repeated numerous times already, some people simply have to live close to work if their productivity is not to be severely affected. So your "option to live a 40-mile drive away" does not really exist

And as I also clearly explained but you didn't bother to comprehend, the traditional American suburbian lifestyle is totally and completely unsustainable and is therefore doomed, thus what you prefer or do not prefer is irrelevant. I wish I could fly like a bird, but sadly laws of physics being what they are, I don't have that choice. Same with suburbia.

Finally, stop confusing suburbia with rural lifestyles. There is absolutely nothing rural about a place like Palo Alto.


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Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 11:29 am

Are you serious? Highly productive workers commute into Manhattan every day not only from other boroughs and other parts of nY stat , but from at least two other states. Some of them commute much longer than it would take local workers to commute to SV from S.F. San Jose or Oakland. Highly productive workers commute every day into Paris, London, Tokyo and many other large cities.

The mantra that workers need to live close to their work place to be productive is nonsensical and an invention of PAF and their fellow travelers. I and many of my friends were extremely productive employees and often had long commutes, yet never demanded housing next to our work place. I never worked in Palo Alto or very near it, and never master up the chutzpah that the cities where I worked densify to allow me to avoid a commute.

" a place like Manhattan is indeed crowded, because it is built up to the max, but the Soviet-style neighborhoods are actually more open than Palo Alto or most other US suburbia are. Yes, they are also much uglier because they don't have the money to hire an army of landscape maintenance workers to keep everything perfectly manicured, but that is irrelevant to the question of open space, of which there is more there than here"

Those are your words, yet you dare denying that you claimed that Manhattan had more open space than Palo Alto, which is truly false. Unfortunately for you, you have forfeited all credibility.



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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 11:33 am

Why do I have to explain the meaning of the word "but"?

Regarding productivity -- if you are working 9-to-5, you can commute, that is correct.

But not everyone works 9-to-5. If you are on a highly variable and unpredictable schedule that involves frequent 16-hour workdays, commuting 2 hours in each direction is hell.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Terminology:
In urban design, the terms "urban park" is different from "open space".
"Open space" refers to (largely) undeveloped spaces, such as Foothill Park, Arastradero Preserve and the Baylands.
An "urban park" is a space such as Mitchell Park. It has been designed and developed for intensive human use, such as athletics (organized and not), picnics, gathering,...
Confusingly, "open space" is also used to describe some types of landscaped areas within a housing or commercial development.

The isn't always a clear distinction between urban park and open space because so area can be a bit of each. For example, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is part urban park and part open space.


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 1:50 pm

"[[Blogger: What I believe mauricio was responding to was " Soviet-style neighborhoods are actually more open than Palo Alto" enhanced by the mention of "landscape" in the next sentence--which was logically attached to it. I judge it to be an invited inference that GM was talking about their being lots of open space in Manhattan. As to whether it was implied that it was "more than ...Palo Alto", I can see arguments both ways.]]"

========================

I was specifically referring to Soviet neighborhood, not to Manhattan.
[[Blogger: No you weren't. First there was suffix "-style" but more importantly, that phrase occurred in a sentence where you had earlier established Manhattan as the context.]]
Of course Manhattan is as dense and packed as it gets.

But compare this:

Web Link

To this:

Web Link

Which one is more open?


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Posted by margaret heath, a resident of College Terrace,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 4:24 pm

GM,

"people are eventually forced to commute from Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, etc."

By which point many companies will likely find it makes sense to relocate closer to where their qualified employees can afford to live.


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Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 5:31 pm

And whose fault is it that people have long commutes? The companies that insist on staying in the most expensive real estate market in the nation, knowing full well that the employees they keep hiring and not paying nearly enough would have a very hard time finding and affording housing, while other, much more affordable areas in California and other states are screaming for an economic shot in the arm. And the local politicians who put zero pressure on companies to relocate and relieve the real estate crunch, preferring instead cozy relationships with the real estate development industry, just look at the gang of five in the Palo Alto CC.


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Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On companies adding jobs without adding housing:

In the article Facebook unveils plans for giant new development in Menlo Park (2017-07-07), see the comment by "Larry". He reasonably calculates that the new office space will be occupied by more than 9000 employees, but Facebook will be adding only 1500 housing units (rental apartments). To FB's credit, this is 1500 more than most commercial developers would include.

Larry's comment notes that Menlo Park's current population is 34K, but leaves it to others to consider the impact on infrastructure of those additional employees and housing units (schools, parks,...).


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Posted by Alex, a resident of Barron Park,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm

Mauricio, you're overlooking a couple things.
A) you seem to be implying Palo Alto is "unique" in it's real estate prices, as if these companies moved their high paying jobs to another region with the same restrictive housing policies, that place wouldn't suddenly become the most expensive in the nation?
B) you seem to think that Palo Alto is unique in being the only region with a luddite NIMBY contingency. Why do you want to force all the Mauricios in those other cities and states to deal with rampant overdevelopment?


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 9:14 pm

[[Blogger to Readers: GM continues to apply extreme interpretations of what others said to produce "strawmen".
Furthermore, he gets his facts wrong: Intel is a descendant of the Bell Labs NJ; Facebook of Harvard. Many more companies are descendants of Xerox PARC, which recruited technologists from all over the country in the early 1970s. For example, Terry Winograd who was a key advisor to the Google founders was at MIT (TA in a course I was taking).
Then there are many descendants from UC-Berkeley. When I was at SRI, I had more interactions with colleagues in Cambridge UK and Cambridge MA that with those at Stanford U. Stanford did play a major role in jump-starting this area, but is now only part of a larger conglomerate.
UPDATE 7/12 2:20pm I misinterpreted what GM was saying -- see his comment below. Since the companies named, as well as the unnamed VCs and other companies, are widely acknowledged to have had a tremendous influence on the growth of Silicon Valley, I incorrectly interpreted this to mean GM was arguing that that impact had originated at Stanford.
]]

"The companies that insist on staying in the most expensive real estate market in the nation, knowing full well that the employees they keep hiring and not paying nearly enough would have a very hard time finding and affording housing, while other, much more affordable areas in California and other states are screaming for an economic shot in the arm."

==============================

There is a fundamental misunderstanding here about the nature of Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley isn't what it is today because of HP, Intel, Google, Facebook, all the VC, or any other company, it grew up around and has always been centered around Stanford.

The only way for people in Palo Alto to not have to deal with those pesky tech companies is for Stanford to move somewhere else, which is clearly not happening.

P.S. I see a lot of rhetoric about outsiders invading the tranquil idyllic personal space of the people who are already here. This is baffling -- I am ready to bet that most people saying these things were not in fact born in Palo Alto, and even if they were, until the mid-19th century, the land around here was a Spanish mission. Which also had its unique idyllic tranquil lifestyle (and unlike Palo Alto today, was in fact actually rural), a lifestyle (and people) that had to be wiped out so that today's suburbia could be built. And of course, prior to the Spaniards, there were Native Americans here. So for anyone to claim that the current arrangement is ordained by some deity, is the only possible one, and he is among the select few chosen ones that have the right to live in it, is laughable given that context.


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Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 11, 2017 at 9:24 pm

[[Blogger to Readers: The below comment is GM arguing that people should have known what he meant to say and disregard what he actually said.
This is very close to him having me declared him a troll.
]]
===========================================

""[[Blogger: No you weren't. First there was suffix "-style" but more importantly, that phrase occurred in a sentence where you had earlier established Manhattan as the context.]]""

===================

OK, at this point I am beginning to suspect that this is done on purpose to derail the conversation.

Here is the exact quote for those too lazy to go back:

"Another fallacy is your mentioning of "light" -- a place like Manhattan is indeed crowded, because it is built up to the max, but the Soviet-style neighborhoods are actually more open than Palo Alto or most other US suburbia are."

To anyone who is vaguely familiar with what each of those things look like there can be no misunderstanding here -- Manhattan has nothing to do with Soviet apartment blocks, there isn't a single place in the Soviet Union that was urbanized like Manhattan (i.e. very densely built, very high buildings on a grid, with no green space between them except for a couple parks) and there is no place in Manhattan that was urbanized Soviet style (in the Bronx, Queens and other boroughs similar projects were built, but not in Manhattan). Besides the sentence doesn't even make any sense understood in any other way...

As I said, someone here either has a reading comprehension problem, or has no idea what he is talking about, or is deliberately trying to derail the exchange by sending it down a rabbit hole.


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Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 12, 2017 at 7:24 am

@Alex, why would you want to deny other regions in the nation that are economically depressed, perhaps permanently, a chance for an economic Renaissance, and insist that all high tech jobs should remain in the Bay area. Why shouldn't young tech workers be hired in areas with much more available and affordable housing markets, instead of the most expensive real estate market in the nation that will never have nearly enough housing for them? The knowledge industry should be located in many hubs.

FYI, I am a software engineer by profession, certainly not a luddite, but I am very used to personal insults by the hyper development crowd.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by GM, a resident of Stanford,
on Jul 12, 2017 at 7:37 am

"""[[Blogger to Readers: GM continues to apply extreme interpretations of what others said to produce "strawmen".
Furthermore, he gets his facts wrong: Intel is a descendant of the Bell Labs NJ; Facebook of Harvard. Many more companies are descendants of Xerox PARC, which recruited technologists from all over the country in the early 1970s. For example, Terry Winograd who was a key advisor to the Google founders was at MIT (TA in a course I was taking). Then there are many descendants from UC-Berkeley. When I was at SRI, I had more interactions with colleagues in Cambridge UK and Cambridge MA that with those at Stanford U. Stanford did play a major role in jump-starting this area, but is now only part of a larger conglomerant.]]"""

"""[[Blogger to Readers: The below comment is GM arguing that people should have known what he meant to say and disregard what he actually said. This is very close to him having me declared him a troll. ]]"""

===============================

Well, look at the other comment you inserted.

Where did I say all those companies were started at Stanford? I didn't, I said that Silicon Valley is what it is because Stanford is here, not that all those companies were started by Stanford people. Different statements. I made one, not the other. You then took my words and twisted them.

If you keep putting words in people's mouth and twisting what they're saying so that you can find something to attack them on (while completely ignoring the many other substantial points they make), and you keep insisting that they did not say what they very clearly said, then you are the one behaving like a troll on your own blog (note: I don't want to call you one, but you started it).


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Former PA resident, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jul 12, 2017 at 10:35 am

"Where did I say all those companies were started at Stanford? I didn't, I said that Silicon Valley is what it is because Stanford is here, not that all those companies were started by Stanford people. Different statements. I made one, not the other."

However, BOTH claims are wrong! GM here, like many people, appears to embrace complacent, sometimes self-serving, WAY-post-facto mythologizing about "silicon valley" (of which Richard Florida's attributing "to the cultural influence of San Francisco" is just a late and very glib example).

I've watched silicon valley's history with interest. Unlike most people who repeat today's notions and stereotypes about the term, I saw it coined -- in Hoefler's original 1971 trade-press articles. Hoefler dubbed "silicon valley" to identify the region with a fast-growing family tree of semiconductor manufacturers, descended from Shockley Semiconductor on San Antonio Road in Mountain View (1956) with roots, as Doug rightly noted, in Bell Labs. After decades as an electronics-trade jargon phrase, it eventually diffused outward into pop culture with the customary meaning distortion (as with "hacking" and "web"). Silicon valley is of course a geographical concept too, but as the phrase's popularity outpaced its understanding, it became increasingly conflated with a much longer history (since early 1930s and *not* inaugurated by Hewlett-Packard, one classic vulgar distortion) of technical manufacturing on and near the SF peninsula (Varian, Ampex in Hayward, Sylvania in Mountain View, IBM in San Jose, etc).

Stanford certainly helped nourish this region's technical industries, if less so in the original sense of "silicon valley" than Stanford boosters like to presuppose today. The valley's eponymous integrated-circuit industry drew staff from universities and firms throughout the US and world; the original US university research lab devoted to integrated circuits wasn't at Stanford but at Berkeley (1960), which then contributed some faculty experts to Stanford.

Eventually in the "dot-com" era (about the fourth bewildering silicon-valley "boom" since 1956, and 40 years into silicon valley's defining industry), popular perception started associating the term not just with electronics, or "computers" (an industry historically located elsewhere, despite some local mavericks -- I also saw Apple and Amdahl begin) but finally even "software." (Even then, few facile pundits would have thought of retroactively crediting San Francisco, of all places, except to signal their geographical ignorance -- like one early national article that placed silicon valley in "southern California.")


 +   5 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Jul 12, 2017 at 11:05 am

Some of the most advanced software in the world is created in Israel, nearly 10,000 miles away from Stanford. Even in Israel, some of the most cutting age technologies are developed in the Negev desert, not outside of Tel Aviv, where Israel's Silicon Valley is located. The university that produces most of the Israeli engineers who develop their great technologies is located in Haifa(the Technion on Mount Carmel), yet the Haifa area is not the Israeli high tech hub.

This is just one example that debunks the notion of GM and his ilk that high tech must be near Stanford.

I was a software engineer and then an entrepreneur here for decades, and I can assure him that, especially in this day and age, knowledge technology firms can be located just about everywhere, and there is absolutely no need for companies, new and old to stay in the Bay area and keep hiring workers who will always struggle to find housing here.

GM also needs to brush up on the history of SV, because Stanford had much less of an impact on the pioneers that created the technology than he realizes and no, SV is not what it is because Stanford is here.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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