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Frances, First you are to be commended for not coming off "It's a Small World" screaming, "Make it stop, make the music stop!"

I am rather afraid that to see what happens when you Disneyfy and plan a whole town you have to drive just a bit up the highway to Irvine. Horrible place.

Some truth about the City of Vancouver, but Metro Vancouver is a different story, with lots of car-oriented suburban development. In fact the provincial government is in the process of building a ten-land super-bridge and highway expansion to ease congestion (for a few years, anyway) for the south of the Fraser suburbs of Surrey and Langley. MV is fortunately constrained by geography (ocean, river, mountains, US border) and an Agricultural Land Reserve brought in by the NDP in the early 1970s. But the metro area is hardly a transit paradise. If you can afford to live in the central city, there are many walkable communities that should be the model for retrofitting the suburbs, with lots of biking and transit options, but increasingly families are being pushed out to the burbs due to the run-up in real estate prices.

You can say basically the same of the good urban development in central Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa -- great central cities but what to do about those even more sprawling suburbs?

Vancouver housing is also extremely expensive. Isn't this a consequence of the urban planning and regulation you discuss?

Marc, I think the question you ask at the end - what to do about those even more sprawling suburbs? - was what made me write this post. The residents of the sprawling suburbs happily come to Disneyland and use public transit. Why don't they do so at home? Could sprawling suburbs be Disneyfied? Is there any answer more interesting than "put the price of gas up to $10 per litre"?

What Disneyland does a little bit and Disneyworld does a lot is internalize externalities - e.g. buy all the land so that any increase in the demand for hotels due to Disneyworld is captured by Disney Corp. What [pick the Vancouver suburb you love to hate] does *not* do is internalize externalities - development up the valley increases traffic through Burnaby causing traffic chaos for residents there.

Chris J - confession - my childhood memory of "it's a small world" is so traumatic that I didn't revisit the ride this time. My description is based on old memories plus Wikipedia - a source of fun factoids e.g. the ride was originally based on the Pepsi exhibit at the 1964 world fair, and the ride was recently upgraded because the riders aren't so small any more, and the boats kept on getting stuck. Unfortunately I didn't get up to Irvine.

Jack - what would it take to bring Vancouver housing prices down to an affordable level? More apartment buildings along the skytrain routes? More development up the valley? If you're a recent university grad earning $12/hour, the difference between the cost of housing and what you can afford is so vast - it would take a massive price realignment to make any kind of meaningful difference.

I heard stories of people giving up and moving to the Island, and kids living at home all through their 20s and possibly into their 30s. The only explanations I heard of housing prices were international demand - Americans and people from overseas buying Vancouver real estate - and drug money.

"when people are free to choose, they often choose large houses and gardens and roads over walkable communities and monorails. I don’t know why"

Because people value at-home comfort a lot more than they value comfort or convenience during transit. And I can't really say this is an irrational choice given the relative amounts of time spent in either place.

"Without conflict over resources allocation, would anyone need economists?"

Nope; the first page of every high school economics text reminds us that economics is nothing more than "the study of choices made under conditions of scarcity".

But I think your question is more commonly phrased as "Without conflict over resources allocation, would anyone need army generals (or police officers)?

Unbeliever - you might find this blog post from www.simoleonsense.com interesting.

One of the great strengths of economics is that it starts with the premise that people aren't stupid - they make rational choices. So people choose to live in the suburbs because that's what makes them better off - isn' 't it?

Interestingly, there's some evidence that suggests otherwise (see link above). When you're living in a small house in town and your bedroom is smaller than your suburban relation's live-in closets you think to yourself "I would be so much happier if I just had more closet space." So you move to the suburbs. Truth is: after a year or so your super-sized suburban closets fill up with junk and you still don't have enough space. Your big house doesn't give you happiness any more - you're used to it.

But you never get used to the pain of commuting - this is the paradox of commuting - empirically, it appears to decrease happiness. And increase waistlines.

"The Disneyland approach - making poverty disappear by excluding the poor – is cheap and effective, but unfortunately not generalizable to society as a whole.

Society already follows the Disneyland approach by consigning the poor to low-income districts, public housing tenements, and depressed rural communities that are out of sight to many. A suburbanite can get through his day without seeing any poor people: he lives away from poverty, shops away from poverty, and can often work away from poverty.

I've always thought that urban planners should try to mimic certain university campuses: bike- and pedestrian-centric, free public transit (the larger ones, at least), medium- to high-density housing, not-for-profit housing, and plenty of greenery to compensate for the tighter living arrangements. Fountains are underutilized, too, in my opinion.

"But elsewhere, when people are free to choose, they often choose large houses and gardens and roads over walkable communities and monorails."

Either you are not including all people in "people", or "free to choose" means "well to do".

When I was in my 20s I spent a week on Taiwan. I noticed several yards that were walled in, much like you see in the American Southwest. One striking difference was that the walls on Taiwan had broken glass embedded in the top of the walls.

Disneyland does not let everybody in.

Disney did exactly the opposite to the broader Orlando area. Its totally car dependent. Disney is largely to blame. Disney wants the theme parks to be Dreamworlds without connection to reality. When the tourists soo people go home from work, they might be reminded that they better go aswell Thats not just about makeing people happy in the dreamworld its largely because Disney has less time to push overpriced merachandise and food if people stay to short in the park.

They also want to sell their own hotels at a huge premium for proximity and avoid that people go off to spend some time at the competitions park. So theres Disney parks, Disneyhotels, but no Buses from the Disney owned environment to the outside world, no rail connections, no cheap shops in the Disney controled environent. In short, Disney does everything to abuse irrationality or lack of information to get even more into peoples wallets throught the backdoor.

But elsewhere, when people are free to choose, they often choose large houses and gardens and roads over walkable communities and monorails.

The suburbs, dependent on cars as they are, do have their own advantages (personal space usually being the biggest of them).

I don’t know why – because they ignore the effects of their choice to drive on overall congestion levels? Because the suburbs promise a Disneyfied life, like Hollywood without the tattoo parlours?

That's probably the biggest part of it. The suburbs are seen as safer, cleaner, and more wholesome*. In the past, they were also seen as more "white" as well (look up the history of racism and exclusion in the development of suburbanism over the past 50 years), although that is weakening considerably.

* It's at least part myth as well.

Isn't Singapore like that?

Heck, if we want to take a broader perspective, Canada is, too.

I read the post on commuting, but I think it runs on a different track than this discussion. If your job is in the city center and you intentionally move AWAY from it into the suburbs, you might have a point about inadvertently decreasing net happiness... though your kids might be happier with the extra space.

My real world objection is that companies regularly drop office parks in cheaper suburban tracts, so choosing to live in the suburbs is not equal to choosing a long commute. It may be longer than a 10 min city block walk, and long enough to render public transportation inconvenient, but not long enough to outweigh the benefits of extra space.

But we're talking about individual choices which drive community designs. All else being equal, you want more living space rather than less. As cities expand outward, this demand dictates less dense construction, which dictates the commuter model that is demonstrably not "bad" enough to stop people from demanding suburban real estate. (This fact regularly drives proponents of "New Urbanism" out of their well-intentioned minds.)

In short, cities and suburbs are not Disney-walkable because NO ONE LIVES at Disneyland. Tourism and theme parks are (ironically) closer in model to an office or warehouse: you arrive, you have a number of nodes to visit before the end of the day, at which point--crucially--you LEAVE for living accommodations (i.e. hotels and resorts) which, predictably, operate on the same demand-more-space dynamic as the housing tourists actually live in.

Disney is walkable because the key dynamic in the park is one of constant movement. Suburbs are built around an arrive-and-stay model. Why on earth would you expect similar designs to emerge from divergent space requirements?

Well, why didn't communism work?

Disneyland is essentially a small communist island powered by the larger capitalist society that exists beside it; like the Earth to the Sun. I suppose we should be grateful that we live not on a star, but a small world, after all.

hix - interesting comment.

Many of the benefits of public transit tend to get capitalized in land values, e.g. Metrotown in Burnaby - the Skytrain line is publicly subsidized, but the large profits from increased land values are private.

Disney basically will provide monorails to the extent that it is able to capture the benefits in increased profits (like in the game Rollercoaster Tycoon). And as you say, cheap transportation from Disneyworld to downtown Orlando would hardly be in Disney's interests, as it would make it easier to stay off-site in cheaper hotels.

mike - I said something similar to my husband, and he told me not to confuse socialism and fascism.

Min, Jim - no comment on the cheerful and smiling security guards - dressed for the golf course, but hopefully not with clubs - subtle but always present in Disneyland?

"But elsewhere, when people are free to choose, they often choose large houses and gardens and roads over walkable communities and monorails"

I dunno ... do people really have much choice? It's not like the urban planning waiter comes along and asks "will Monsieur be having Amsterdam or Houston today?".

People don't spend thousands of dollars to be tourists in the suburbs of North Dallas or the exurban asteroid belt around Houston, but they do go to Paris and Amsterdam to walk the streets and sit in the cafes. So why don't we just build better cities?

Example: In 1972 the City of Edmonton court house, which can be see here:


was demolished to make room for the City Center Mall:


It's not surprising the people retreated to the suburbs to escape having to look at such awful architecture and urban planning.

For the sake of argument, let's say the old building really did need to be demolished (say it was unsafe), there was absolutely no reason to build such a horrid building that is so uninviting for human habitation. Even the bums and drug dealers flee the area.

Just to add one more thought...

In the case of Edmonton, must of the architecture is in the Brutalist style. The architects and urban planners basically got lost in their aesthetic theories and philosophies and forgot they where building for people. It basically made the downtown uninhabitable (as can be seen in the pictures I linked above). Incentive matter, so it's not surprising that people responded by not inhabiting the downtown. What's left? Flee to the suburbs! Land is/was plentiful and cheap.

I'm sure if you asked people, they would not have chosen to wreck the downtown. It was something imposed on them by architects and developers.


BTW, the city is currently putting an enormous amount of effort into fixing this horrid legacy, but they seem to be repeating many of the same mistakes. Example: they paved over the main downtown square and removed all the trees and grass to make it easier to hold festival type events in the square. Result? Sure, it's easier for the few days worth of festivals in June and July, but the rest of the time it's totally empty, or given over to the drug dealers and indigent population. It's a wind swept arctic deep freeze in the winter and a concrete blast furnace in the summer. The real problem is that the square is too big and the perimeter is not activated with people going about the business of daily life (like buying groceries or eating a meal). There is no need for the city of Paris or Amsterdam to sponsor craft fairs to get people to frequent the squares in those cities. It boggles the mind that we can't connect the dots here in north america.

Frances, if you haven't read 'Nobody Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart' by Tom Slee, you should. I believe it has the answers you are looking for.

Short version, prisoner's dilemmas and other decision structures where everyone being free to choose doesn't lead to optimal outcomes.

Also, with respect to, "The only explanations I heard of housing prices were international demand - Americans and people from overseas buying Vancouver real estate - and drug money."

Or just a bubble - like the rest of the world, you know. I believe this has been discussed on this blog on many occasions....

So bringing prices back to lower levels will just take patience (they're already falling) - of course removing some of the billions in government subsidies to homeowners would help, but I expect any action on that front, to be directed at the opposite goal - keeping house prices as high as possible.

@ frances,
"But elsewhere, when people are free to choose, they often choose large houses and gardens and roads over walkable communities and monorails."
1. Pragmatically, how often is the choice actually offered?
2. Suburbs are a really stupid living arrangement, bad for those who live there and society in that they contribute to erosion of social capital, and have process costs... though the costs are to some degree externalized (infrastructure comes to mind)
3. See Zizek on the neighbour, harassment, for critical theory with respects to this,

"The Disneyland approach - making poverty disappear by excluding the poor – is cheap and effective, but unfortunately not generalizable to society as a whole."
1. See disenfranchized in the U.K, gated communities in U.S., helipads and urban slums in south america, the rich don't like to mix with the poor...

@ mike,
"Disneyland is essentially a small communist island powered by the larger capitalist society that exists beside it; "
1. How so?
2. I am inclined to agree with Frances husbnd here: " not to confuse socialism and fascism."

On reflection, the Orlando parks are just bad for people without cars. Even for those that stay within the Disney environment. They have this one moonrail between Epcot and Magic Kingdom, expect that just buses. The parks and the entertainment area are far away from each other, even some of the hotels are typical US car dependend build up, hotel big parking lot, big street no chance to walk anywhere. California is half market outcome, half Disney plans because they had no full control over the entire environemnt. Walt Disney did not like it. Orlando was Disneys second full control atempt. An atempt that turned out to be much more car favouring than any European tourist city full of sights. The next problem is how to get the stafff to work. Dont think they got any secret place to life close by or public trandsport exclusive for them to the outside world either.

Sounds like cherry picking. I'd like to see a theory like this explain NJ which is basically suburban, there is a rush-hour bubble right around five at a couple of interchanges, but traffic is mostly congestion free.

There are basically no trains or buses save a few lines into NYC which is a traffic nightmare of course, but NYC is hardly the 'hub' of NJ.

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