Since it warmed up, I’ve been posting “point of” articles that move from the personal to the historic and even statistical. I’m still waiting for a refresh of some transportation stats, to tell 20-year stories instead to 15-years ones. Mostly, I’ve just been busy with other things, in real life, the scourge of the internet.
Transportation itself is an induced demand. I can tell you from this weekend that if I have no place to go, I’m not going to go anywhere. What makes people want to go “anywhere” is that there are things to do elsewhere. By definition, those things they go to are worth going to for them. The journey is not too long or onerous. And more people are likely to go places where there are lots of things to do.
People get value out of traveling elsewhere. I feel more inspired to write out of the house, in cafes, among noisy strangers, than inside the house among the collection of all my stuff and obligations. Most importantly, almost 140 million Americans leave their homes to go to work every day, only to make the same trip in reverse to arrive right back where they started. This daily round trip is vital. Without it most of us would not have that home, that transit fare, that car, those clothes, that food. Our accommodations would be far humbler and not of our choosing. It is worth something to all of us be where we are, and to move as we do.
The currency of this is time and money. Mostly money.
Jobs provide money. Gas costs money. So does shelter. Buildings cost money. Large buildings costs lots of money, but they can return more money to their investors. The roads, sidewalks, and transit all cost money. So do the vehicles, shoes, trains and buses. To those that live near where development is, it is all worth it. Where they live work and shop gives them hope that the struggle to stay in that place, with tat job, in that town, is worth it.
Where a lot of people think it is worth it, you get a lot of development. Where few find t to be worth it, you get much less development.
The cost of living and working in a place is subtracted form the value of begin there, and the costs can be considerable. If it is easy to get someplace, if the schools are great, if the local government is responsive to complaints, and if the weather is great, then this cost is less and people’s net value increases. If the roads are potholed, the sidewalk nonexistent , the highways congested, the water contaminated, or the region prone to tornadoes, then this cost is great and people’s net value decreases. If the job and cultural market is thriving and lucrative for those lucky enough to get a job, then people will put up with impersonal jobs, murderous commutes and crappy schools to be able to swim in that sea. This is the typical tradeoff of most city dwellers.
How successful any development is a function of how much value it provides its residents, workers, and shoppers. Are the prices affordable? Is it easy to get to and from? Is it easy to get to a from place people want to be? Is it pleasant to inhabit? But more than any of that, do other people want to live there? If a lot of people want to live in a place, then builders can charge higher rents. If builders can make more money on developments, they will build there rather than somewhere that they make less money.*
Of course, it is a chicken-and-egg game, since people don’t want to be where there is nothing, yet somebody has to build everything for them to want to be there. Luckily, technology changes what makes this or that parcel of land more or less valuable. The coast goes form being the only toehold on the land (1600s), to the focal point of the city (1700s) to a dangerous wasteland (1900s) and finally to desirable mixed use real estate (2000s) with changes in transportation mode from sea to rail to road to telecom. The landscape of both America and China are dotted with towns every 20 miles that served as markets for agricultural goods for over a century.
Development changes as economy and technology evolves, and there is no reason to think that it will not continue to change. For most of the last 500 years, technology in construction, employment, agriculture, sanitation and transportation has been concentrating development. For most of the last 100 years, technology in communications and transportation has been diffusing it. For most of the last 10 years, poverty has been concentrating it. The cycle could be accelerating, or it could be that I’m just ignorant of all the cycles over the last 500 years. The latter is more likely. With increasing independence of goods and services, automation of once routine tasks, and an aging population, I expect one of two futures:
Further diffusion to suburbs connected by telecom to other suburbs, but with no linkage within those communities
Further concentration for hubs connected by telecom to other hubs, and with linkage within their communities as an asset
Where I live now is an exemplar of the first. The majority of land in our subdivision is used for peking, and the most important public thing we do every day is walk to our cars in the morning and from our cars in the evening. I hope that we have the choice to move next to an example of the second.
* Of course the real money is in having the vision to foresee where development will be, or the ability to influence it. Buy low, sell high.