Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Back on the urbanist beat

The following video hits a couple of points we've been making over the years about urbanization and the creative class. The first is that utopian urbanists, while not without good ideas and an abundance of fine intentions, tend to operate under a hopelessly romanticized vision of urban living and that they often embrace policies that push reality even further from their own ideal.

If you're looking for a perfect Richard Florida style neighborhood, a place where a film director, a JPL rocket scientist, and a coder might run into each other and decide to have a coffee at a sidewalk café, you'd be hard pressed to find a better spot than this section of Burbank.

You can eat on the cheap (a small coffee and a big pastry at Portos can come in under three dollars). You can watch professional makeup artists comparing prosthetics for an indie horror film and costume designers sifting through the racks of a thrift store. You can see a first-rate play or improv comedy show, go to a book signing, or pick up some groceries in one of the delis.

This is very much in line with the lifestyle many utopian urbanists fantasize about, but unfortunately it can only exist in a fragile Goldilocks zone of just the right density and property values, and ironically, the more appealing a neighborhood like this is, the more factors that make it appealing are threatened.

High density, high traffic areas are really only suitable for two types of retail businesses, expensive and/or fast-turnover. Businesses where customers take their time and don't spend a lot of money cannot survive under these conditions.

Just to be clear, I'm not taking sides or advocating certain policies here. If this stretch of Magnolia is all chain stores in a couple of years, I probably won't hang out there but I won't begrudge the property owners for seeking optimal returns either. I simply want to point out that urbanists and the YIMBY movement may not have thought through the implications of some of their proposals and rhetoric.

Via Mark Evanier.

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