Let’s All Move to Vienna

Mercer's annual survey of the top cities according to quality of living is out and the top five cities are as follows.

Luring the Kids Back to Their Hometowns

Cincinnati Magazine has a story about the city of Wilmington, Ohio, which saw its unemployment rate skyrocket to 19 percent after the city's biggest employer, DHL, left the city during the Great Recession. Wilmington went into crisis mode to get the city back into shape and persuaded DHL to donate the land and buildings back to the city. The city also convinced a lot of its young people to return to Wilmington after they finished college.

What Happened to Detroit?

Dream Hampton’s essay about her childhood home in Detroit, and her neighborhood’s evolution (devolution) from family block to blight, is  a small but important look at a changing American city: “We bought the house on Newport the summer before I began first grade, from a white family in flight.” It might perhaps leave you wondering what happened to Detroit, and so perhaps you should watch this short video) called: What happened to Detroit?

The San Francisco Squeeze

San Francisco has the least affordable housing in the nation, with just 14 percent of homes accessible to middle-class buyers, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at the real estate website Trulia. The median rent is also the highest in the country, at $3,250 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.

“Affordable housing projects are constructed, and the money set aside for that purpose is used, but the demand is just far greater than what can be supplied,” said Fred Brousseau of the city budget and legislative analyst’s office. Evictions under a provision of state law that allows landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants if they convert a building for sale have more than tripled in the past three years, just as they did during the first tech boom.

To Yelly Brandon, a 36-year-old hairstylist, and her boyfriend, Anthony Rocco, an archivist, the obstacles to finding housing became clear when they spent two months searching for an apartment. At open houses, they said, they were competing with young tech workers, who offered more than the asking price and cash up front.

“People were just throwing money in the air,” Ms. Brandon said.

In the Times, Erica Goode and Claire Cain Miller report about the “backlash by the bay”—how the middle- and working-classes are increasingly being pushed out by tech workers with big bank accounts. Neighborhoods like the Mission District, a once heavily Hispanic working-class neighborhood, has seen a dramatic change. But some of the changes are less about luxury apartment buildings and moneyed residents like Mark Zuckerberg buying homes in the area:

And they grumble about less tangible things: an insensitivity in interactions in stores and on the street, or a seeming disregard for neighborhood traditions. The annual Day of the Dead procession, meant to be solemn, has turned into a rowdy affair that many newcomers seem to view as a kind of Mexican Halloween.

Kevin Starr, professor of history and policy, planning and development at the University of Southern California describes the biggest problem with pushing middle and working class families out of the city: “You can’t have a city of just rich people. A city needs restaurant workers, a city needs schoolteachers, a city needs taxi drivers.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Affordable Housing Promised, But Hard to Deliver

Robert Samuels has a long feature in The Washington Post examining how a collection of low-income housing near Union Station in Washington D.C. that was supposed to be revitalized has instead sent residents far from their homes, some living in conditions just as bad as before they moved. The "New Communities Initiative," an affordable housing plan, was created eight years ago after the execution-style murder of a 14-year-old girl spurred residents and the mayor to action.

Urban Design and Happy Cities

Is urban design really powerful enough to make or break happiness? The question deserves consideration, because the happy city message is taking root around the world. “The most dynamic economies of the 20th century produced the most miserable cities of all,” Peñalosa told me over the roar of traffic. “I’m talking about the U.S. Atlanta, Phoenix, Miami, cities totally dominated by cars.”

Charles Montgomery, the author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, has an excerpt of his book in The Guardian, which argues that the happiest cities are the ones where people don’t have to drive as much. “Driving in traffic is harrowing for both brain and body,” Montgomery writes. “The blood of people who drive in cities is a stew of stress hormones. The worse the traffic, the more your system is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, the fight-or-flight juices that, in the short-term, get your heart pumping faster, dilate your air passages and help sharpen your alertness, but in the long-term can make you ill.” Walkable, bike-able cities tend to make people happier because they’re also less socially isolating, Montgomery argues.

My subway line was having some trouble this morning, and we all tried to cram ourselves into crowded cars so we could make it to where we needed to be. “That’s what we get for voting for Bill de Blasio!” a man joked. Some of us laughed. Some of us remained agitated. It was certainly not socially isolating, but, squeezed against some strangers, I sort of wished I had a bike to hop on to ride downtown (there are no Citibikes in my neighborhood yet).

Photo: News Oresund

New York is Expensive, But Not As Expensive As Before

New York is still pricey.