The Big

So long as the main agent of change — the needs and desires of the American household in all of its diversity can drive the economic capacity to improve life quality, the need to connect will continue to produce unintended stress. A retreat near Rising Wolf mountain in Montana or the docks tucked into the archipelago off southeastern Alaska only offers shelter and the solemnity of failure. On the other hand, policies supporting a dense urban alternative is a direct route to human efficiency. All that is required to predict failure is the desire not to renew in place.

Transit Measures

Most of us live near a big city down the river within a megaregion. These vast stretches of economic activity often spill across multiple state lines to produce a massive demand for mobility. Numerous destinations fail within these regions when separated from an opportunity, but they are re-workable into something new. For example, new York City failed in multiple neighborhood locations from the sixties well through the eighties. Mass transportation helped save access to jobs despite the potential for imminent collapse.

The foolishness of disinvestment poses disasters that threaten millions of households. The facts of inevitable decay are also well known, but the rate of recovery is the problem. Urban densities are dependent on core-to-core mass transit like subways, trains, and planes. In lower-density communities, financially sound public transportation services are considered economically unworkable. Thus, the rate of uptake to the alternative is the issue.

The facts contradict this finance/adaptation assumption. Portland has a low population density of some 4,300 people in 2000 to 4,900 in 2010 per square mile with an extensive mass transit system. Portland’s density is less than Nassau County east of New York City on Long Island. In 2000, the density was 4,655, and in 2010 it was just 4,700. Here, two transit centers struggle to survive, yet Mineola is double, and Hempstead is triple the density of Portland.

Nassau County is just one example illustrating the high speed vs. steady-speed strategy for examining transit alternatives in the northeast. In other words, Mineola and Hempstead’s transit-based density is strong. Still, the policy favors speed to the core, limiting residents’ transit choices and relegating growth to the revenue of parking lots.


20 Minutes

How is a high-speed rail link from Boston to New York and Washington D.C going to work when a decent but struggling Long Island commuter and Metro-North rail system can barely stay on their tracks? Both seem ready to collapse at any minute from any of a thousand “last straw” causes. However, there is one difference: it is impossible to take a “bicycle for two” or anything as useful to anywhere in Long Island, but in Portland and Denver and from Brooklyn to Westchester through Manhattan, a multi-modal set of routes are becoming visible.

Resistance to long-term projects covering the cost of dedicated rights-of-way for something as complicated as high-speed rail or as essential as a bicycle presents a classic failure of leadership. The lack of multiple mode options cannot be associated with the risks of changing the land value in the New York Metropolitan Area (NYMA) or Florida, or Long Island. How is it possible for this to be more frightening than developing new ways to get from place to place?

The missing elements in transit-based development are twofold. First, grants to prioritize partnerships among local authorities, multi-state regional planning agencies, and community-based counterparts build on goals. These steps alone will not improve mass transit, but they will focus on travel options and consensus. Supporting local interests in routes serving transportation alternatives, reworking traffic calming ideas and technology to accommodate deliveries, and funding formulas that assure an approach that reduces the repetition of mistakes are compelling examples.

The history of transportation supports “fix it first” policies in federal planning and financing. This strategy would consider past investments using a value assignment mechanism, prioritizing preceding systems over “new build” transit plans and programs. Accelerated depreciation formulas reduce government investment and increase private development. Safeguarding value smooths the way for change. Disaster equity funds developed in recent years have this effect by offering essential indemnification groundwork.

A steady flow of skilled people is vital to every modern economy if there is flexibility. The skill of transportation agencies in the northeast is unmatched in sustaining a confident, multilayered vision of transportation. Despite extended periods of disinvestment and deterioration, moving people without automobiles from hub to hub depends on reliable systems to add value to dense urban centers.

Long Odds on Renewables

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI), in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, published a study of fossil fuel use and energy subsidies for Fiscal Years 2002-2008.1

The study documented the subsidy problem. It favors producers of greenhouse gasses over sources that decrease our climate footprint. National and state subsidy policies range from royalty relief to tax incentives, direct payments, and other forms of support. As a result, subsidies to this industry are now ‘perverse incentives’ according to ELI’s Senior Attorney John Pendergrass.

Over the last decade, the quarry for significant reforms in a national energy policy has only chipped the granite surface of the U.S. Tax Code. Investment in the array of solar, biofuel/biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and conservation are secure if infrastructure policy aims at lowering the per capita energy costs.

Big city energy feeds from a grid of electrical power built on abundant coal, oil, gas, and few nuclear plants. Delivering power to and from a centralized system offers flexibility in pollution control, but regardless of the fuel used, putting more non-polluting production alternatives into the hands of consumers is a priority and starts with automobiles and buildings.

The business genius of a free democratic society is its ability to produce some beautiful surprises. New mode choices suggested by the growth of the personal transport industry are an excellent example. This industry will grow if it learns to run parallel to the expansion of dense, walkable places – the kind that prefers people’s comfort on foot over the speed of their vehicles. But, on the other hand, it will fail if it switches from gas to batteries on the same old roads.

Currently, the idea of low-speed vehicles in walkable space stretch awkwardly between bicycles and car-like. However, economic pressure is building from the industry via its users to do more. For a short period, the New York City cycling community produced some of the most aggressive public demonstrations since the anti-war movement of the 1970s. Dubbed “critical mass,” they covered the streets with bicycles to make a point. Three things resulted in creating new surface infrastructure choices viable. First, a feeble set of painted bike lane lines to test market share, some “share the road” notices vaguely suggest that it would be better to avoid a vehicular manslaughter charge and a new 25mph speed limit.

Increasing support for designing a more diverse surface transit system in cities is about surface combinations with economic potential. Local manufacturing industries for transportation alternatives will espouse public investment in parks, recreation, and open space systems already in place because they are expandable. Support for a wide variety of eco-economic functions in dense urban settings for low-impact transit would be apparent to investors in smaller, lighter vehicles for the urban consumer. Thus, a new industry would be born, but not without public investment in a viable right of way.


The development framework in which mobility alternatives continue to grow will be due to personal urban mobility aids (PUMAs). Reshaping the urban environment so “a transit vehicle” can become more widely applicable is a public interest issue with a record of accomplishment in dense population centers.

Faded, Gone?

The most visible choice of personalized vehicle is the Segway. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s opinion is these vehicles are “consumer products” and, therefore, unregulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This designation may change if more personal mobility devices become standard. The critical result is market-driven regulation to protect citizens.2

  • 43 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation allowing the use of Segways.
  • 5 states (CO, CT, MA, ND, and WY) have no legislation permitting the use of Segways.
  • 2 States (AR and KY) have no statewide prohibitions against Segways, but local regulations may exist.

The company’s market niche now produces various Smart Self-Balancing Electric Transporters and several other all power and power assist vehicles for use. Urban living stimulates alternative transportation markets, and mobility diversity supports renewable energy sources. Speeds at a legal limit of 12mph are safety advancements. Human-powered vehicles (HPVs) and the PUMA are growing in variety. They function on nearly all surfaces and offer the economic benefits of an innovative industry. Building the refined urban landscape to maximize their function is what cities do best to establish auto-dependency alternatives.

Today tight urban grids facilitate the movement and management of everything from electrical power to communications to water, gas, and waste, all of it using various forms of transit. Altering surfaces to accommodate many vehicle types is not a complex problem, but it is long-term and, without a doubt, driven by what people will be willing to buy. Urban living may range from the mind-boggling demonstrations of environmental protection to the epigenetic impacts (everything but DNA) on human health. Thousands of natural system webs show how nothing is lost or wasted regardless of the rapidity of death cycles. That puts lithium battery packs on the top of the do not lose or destroy list.3

Does Technology Drive the Car or Does the Car Drive Technology?

The IEEE (image above) is optimistic in their predictions for driverless cars because vehicle selection will follow the traditions of the automobile. These traditions should be discouraged beyond the current price mechanism. Density will only increase with the diversity of transportation options. Dedicated rights-of-way for human-powered and licensed power-assist vehicles (Segway and so on) in NYC have marked new territory with lane paint. The movement of auto parking away from walkways is increasing safety.

A 2016 NYC DOT survey found patronage growing exponentially, but it was also known to be more dangerous in 2005 by NYC Health Department. The increase in the use of PUMAs would be more significant if paint could protect people from the fear of vehicular conflicts. In addition, safety technology added to vehicles and the lane will produce dedicated rights of way that can save people.

The sticky issue is the danger grounded in the competition for road space. The lobby for a dedicated right-of-way as advocated by the cycling and HPV community could serve a large set of market test requirements with the addition of a truly urbanized “share the road” vehicle, e.g., Segway or the new sit-downs.

Investors that see these new vehicles as little more than golf carts or bike-share programs will not get excited. Retirement villages are not likely to advance transit policy legislation beyond what the Segway has already accomplished. Bikes for tourists and a few others will not build a PUMA industry in a dense residential and business world.  It will take public leadership to rethink the roadways.

Household Density Measures

The households in a square mile are unlikely to be compositions of nuclear families at various life stages. I grew up in a classic two adult with children household, and it may be atop a social preference pyramid, but it is fleeting in two ways. First, the obvious is that the nest empties, less known is in 2000, just 25% of American households were adults with children, and it was 20% in 2010. Second, families are more likely to represent many sizes and varying combinations of social or occupational relationships that share residential accommodations but are unrelated. Seeing household composition in a big matrix yields a greater sense of density as a provider or nurturer of diversity.

Many differences in household composition and size suggest a capacity to build a more tolerant society, making diversity a central power of the dense urban world and a weaker one in other settings.4 Attracting and retaining a broad range of households with varying interests is also attributable to the variety of urban services, size, and adaptability. Moreover, given reasonable social and economic mobility, these choices encourage people to find or create what they need and want.

The implications of more rapidly changing social conditions do not occur in low-density settings as much of it is limited by the residential building type rule. The choice of urban vs. suburban location shifts to dense urban because of the more significant number of options available to 75% of households. We know empty nest families are increasing as a percentage of households for many reasons, led by the baby boomers’ maturation. Large two to four or more bedroom homes represent significant equity in a market where a growing number of non-family households seek a broader base of services.5

One of the most adaptable designs for housing is the row house.

In the older cities, innovations through renovation and rehabilitation, including historic preservation, are vital actions that generate significant economic activity. Renewal is essential to urban neighborhoods’ resilience, but only if the stock can handle it. New York City’s building code recognizes the need for flexibility in building design to make them compatible with changing land uses and consumer tastes.  City services have expanded in partnerships with developers to include hundreds of bioswale, urban street, and waterfront designs to express new urbanized leisure and recreation forms.

The standing flexibility of existing dense centers tends to offer more choices, especially for young people and higher-income households. Both resist the low-density community’s isolation for the dense city’s more enormous variety of attractions and amenities. The demands created by the diversity in household type and density are self-solving design problems.

Industrial land uses along waterfronts are converting to parklands, “use group” labels on land or buildings are changing into compatibility packages based on environmental performance. City street designs make room for new personalized transit vehicles, and urban highways add dedicated mass transit right-of-way.

The older city has a reputation for being unresponsive to the needs and preferences of the nuclear family. The response could be as simple as the green lawn guaranteed to be without dog poop or as complicated as race and class sensitivities. Nevertheless, briefly recounting some of the lessons of the last half of the 20th century are instructive for the first half of the highly-dense century.

Scorched and Soaked Earth

The banner of the “unintended” effect or the Bastiat effect flies routinely over the public’s fearful head. Frederic Bastiat was a late 17th c French economist. He wrote about interventions as seen and the unseen. In his view, when economic activities alter the human experience and whether they are positive or negative, the real and vital consequences are the unintended ones.6

The second quarter and last quarter of the 20th century produced this kind of dramatic change in people’s lives with modest means, most of which was for the worse. During periods of economic stress, the tendency is to be more conservative. So the request is logical, “stop change” because it is some beast.

The image is from the W. Virginia Flood Maps. (here)

As the 20th-century ends, “beasts” show up regularly for a dance with the Bastiat effect. Some observers call the beast “sprawl,” but Bastiat suggests something else. Observers of the “trade-up and plunder” way of life” describe a legal system that authorizes a reverence leapfrog development.

The intent is to keep the cost of money low for the developer. One “dream-house” presents a fast and uncomplicated cash flow picture. Lowering the cost of money for a two hundred-unit multi-story mixed-use development could make dense growth more competitive.

National insurance and capital investment to mitigate development risks in older urban centers are needed. It would repay everything from the discovery of forgotten cemeteries to everything equally unexpected. Recognizing and compensating for this potential levels field.

New development remains the preferred mode because the movement for alternatives to the spreading the city out continues to develop slowly. In addition, the promotion of policies that recognize all roadway users continues to expand with the MAP-21 Reauthorization Act (S.2322) and is far less likely to invest without a density component.

Another concern is how suburban areas acquire a disproportionate per capita share of state and federal financial support from roads to flood protection investments. Missing on the local map are areas where housing developed in floodplains. Low premiums reflect national policies that protect residents from sharp increases in flood insurance in designated flood zones. Failing attempts to bring insurance premiums in line with cost occurs when the annual premium of $450.00 turns to an average of $15,000.All pay for post-trauma “disaster relief.7  The natural consequence: hundreds of suburbs across the nation cannot handle heavy rain and stand awash in mud and sewage.8

Fires, floods, and tidal surge events have many causes but are most likely predictable. With increased pressure, FEMA has developed a Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning Map program. These instruments have no direct influence on local land-use regulations. If it did, observers of the massive 1983 flood of Louisiana’s Amite river basin might not have dismissed infrastructure proposals, and new housing would not lie soaked in the path of its 2016 legacy. Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people living in the two parishes of Louisiana’s. The population of 100,000 in 1980 was over a quarter-million in 2015.

National programs are building “we told you so” cases. They can become strong enough to release the state and national government of fiscal responsibility yet retain “step-in” capacity to reduce stress on municipal and county authorities who comply with state and federal environmental quality reviews once the litigation ends.9 The microburst phenomena associated with the extreme weather events related to climate change also include extended periods of drought in other areas, another unintended consequence of importance.

2004 fires and acres do not include state lands for North Carolina10

The reader will find updates on the wildland-urban-interface (WUI) will be found here.


  1. To see who subsidizes, go to Click on Atmospheric Science and read the article “US tax breaks subsidize foreign oil production.”  The Environmental Law Institute® (ELI) is an independent, non-profit research and educational organization based in Washington, DC.  For further information from the Environmental Law Institute, call (202) 939-3833. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars formed in 1968 to commemorate the ideals and concerns of Woodrow Wilson to put ideas and policy; and foster research, study, discussion, and collaboration among a full spectrum of individuals concerned with policy and scholarship in national and world affairs.
  2. Deka Research and Development Corporation is known for its inventions of the IBOTTM wheelchair and the SegwayTM Human Transporter (HT).
  3. Renewable energy data is everywhere, but the urban nature/nurture debate is less known.  See: Randy Jirtle, Director of the Laboratory of Epigenetics and Imprinting at Duke University
  4. The use of the term “grid” or matrix can be worrisome as it implies the idea of a module.  In the dense urban environment, grids provide for a measure of proportion, unlike the non-urban environment where the grid itself was modularized as a component for endless replication with very little variation other than alterations to the grid itself.
  5. See national to regional summaries HERE
  6. Bastiat, Frédéric. Selected Essays on Political Economy. Trans. Seymour Cain. Ed. George B. de Huszar. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand (1964
  7. See New York Times July 28, 2013 “Outrage as Homeowners Prepare for Substantially Higher Flood Insurance Rates” by Jenny Anderson and the Wall Street Journal “Flood Insurance Prices Surge” 8.12.13 by Siobhan Hughes.
  8. See FEMA’s website for a list.  For example, Texas has been the site of 13 “major disaster declarations” since 2001. That includes five severe storms and flooding, two tropical storms, one “extreme wildfire threat,” and Hurricanes Claudette, Rita, Dolly, and Ike.  The state also acquired federal assistance following Hurricane Katrina, but it did not appear on FEMA’s website in the category of “major disaster declaration.” A 2012 MIT survey found cities in the US are less prepared than others in the world. See MIT News article:
  9. Town of New Paltz journey to Supreme Court due to new zoning regulations: Gabrielli v. Town of New Paltz, 513099, 2012 WL 652798 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept. 3/1/2012
  10. Source: National Interagency Coordination Center Update Using: