Categories
Light Rail Metro Rail Toronto

Agreement Reached Between Toronto and Ontario on City’s Transit Future

» After a strong push by new Mayor Rob Ford, the extensive planned network of surface-running light rail lines will be replaced by a light rail subway to be funded by Ontario. The city argues it can fund another subway extension project itself.

In 2007, Toronto looked to be pioneering a more cost-effective way of providing major new transit infrastructure: Rather than investing huge sums on short segments of new subways as it had done in the past, the city would construct dozens of miles of street-running light rail, connecting far-off parts to the city without breaking the bank.

The “Transit City” effort, pushed by Mayor David Miller, eventually garnered the support of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who agreed to use C$8.2 billion in provincial funds to complete 35 miles of rail on four lines, most of which would be above ground.

After the fall election of Rob Ford to the mayor’s office, however, the world of Toronto transit decision-making has turned upside down thanks to Mr. Ford’s insistence that no new transit lines be built within the street right-of-way, which he argued represented a “war on cars.” Today, Mr. McGuinty heeded that advice and announced that Ontario will fund just two of those lines — the replacement of the Scarborough RT with elevated light rail along the existing guideway and the construction of a crosstown light rail subway underneath Eglinton Avenue for a total cost of C$8.2 billion, both to be completed by 2020 as a unified line. That would be a total of about 15.5 miles of new transit for the same cost as 35 miles of Transit City projects.

Mr. Ford, who argued extensively during the mayoral campaign for extensions to the 3.4-mile Sheppard subway west to Downsview (C$1.4 billion for 3.4 miles) and east to Scarborough Center (C$2.75 billion for 5 miles), has dedicated the city to building that project. Funding would come from public-private partnerships that would fill the C$4.2 billion gap. Other previously proposed lines, including along Finch Avenue in the northwest section of the city, have relegated to future “express buses” whose service quality remains undefined.

In some ways, Toronto will benefit from this revised plan: Commuting times along subway lines are likely to be quicker than on street-running light rail, which even in reserved rights-of-way must deal with traffic intersections. And along Sheppard Avenue, the decision to extend the subway rather than force commuters to transfer to light rail will save people time and effort. But are those improvements enough to justify effectively doubling the cost of the construction program? Does putting the entire 12-mile Eglinton line underground — versus just 6 miles as planned before — justify eliminating plans for expanded service to an underserved part of the city?

Mayor Ford’s insistence on putting transit lines in subways was a response to his concerns about reducing space for automobile users, so the question is whether the increase in costs that it would require to put the corridors underground would produce a corresponding increase in benefits for all users (including those who will not receive new transit lines). Lacking complete data from a cost-benefits perspective, I’ll leave that an open question. One thing it is likely not to do is reduce congestion, since in big cities like Toronto road capacity is absorbed as soon as it is provided.

Removing street space from the purview of automobilists and dedicating it to transit users has produced resistance throughout the United States and Canada, but Toronto’s change of policy is particularly dramatic because construction had already begun on one of the lines, the Sheppard Avenue East light rail. Mayor Ford was elected on a platform of replacing the light rail plan with subways, so this change should have significant electoral support; nonetheless, the lack of funding for significant improvements in the northwest sections of the city will undoubtedly be controversial.

Most problematic is the financing plan Mr. Ford has put forth for the Sheppard extensions. During the election campaign, the candidate suggested that the C$4 billion subway be built mostly with Transit City funds. A limited sale of development rights would produce C$1 billion, of which 30% would be distributed to complete that project’s financing and the rest be devoted to road improvements.

Under the new project, however, almost all of the Transit City dollars would be spent on Eglington and Scarborough lines, leaving a maximum of C$650 million in Ontario funds for the Sheppard line. Would the City of Toronto be able to raise more than C$3 billion from development rights just along the Sheppard corridor? Does it even have that much land to sell?

For a point of comparison, Hong Kong’s newest subway lines use such development rights sales to aid in their financing — but they still require significant public aid to complete the funding package. And that’s in a far denser city where land values are much higher than in Toronto.

Thus the deal today does not actually guarantee the completion of the Sheppard Avenue subway extensions — it only assures the Toronto public that the funded Eglinton Crosstown Line and the renovations of the Scarborough RT will be completed by 2020. A few years ago, that might have been enough to make anyone happy. But after Transit City was announced, funded, and had begun construction, it feels just a little disappointing.

Categories
Metro Rail Washington DC

Washington Celebrates Metro’s 35th Anniversary. Is it Defining the Region’s Growth?

» Census data point to uneven outcomes when it comes to orienting land use changes around transit.

For a brief period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it looked like U.S. cities were back in the subway-building business. The federal government approved billions of dollars in aid for the construction of new networks in San Francisco, Atlanta, and — most significantly — Washington. In the nation’s capital, a world-class system was constructed, radically redefining the city’s landscape and offering its residents a fundamentally new and modern way to get around.

This week, Metro celebrates the 35th anniversary of the opening of its first line, whose construction first began in late 1969. How effective has the system been in re-orienting development patterns?

In many ways, Metro has proven to be an essential element of the region’s mobility system. Ridership, depending on who is counting and how they are doing it, ranges between 700,000 and 900,000 trips a day — adding up to about 340 million trips a year, when you include bus services. That’s slightly lower than initial estimates from the 1970s, which predicted 350 million annual trips in 1990, but it still makes it the nation’s second most-used rapid transit system after New York’s. And Metro’s initial phase, about 100 miles in all, was completed twenty years late — after 2000, versus 1981 as first planned.

Thus Washington’s network is relatively new: Extensions continue to open every few years; a major new line running to and beyond Dulles Airport, in fact, is in construction.

This means that many of the changes that have been hypothesized to accompany heavy rail service, like densification, may not have yet appeared. Nonetheless, in some places, such as along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor in Arlington County, Virginia, significant urban redevelopment has occurred. Similarly, in cities like Charlotte, Denver, and Minneapolis, major new construction has begun after the completion of light rail lines.

Just how widespread are these effects? Have similar changes happened everywhere where new Metro stations have opened in the Washington region?

To examine this question, I have delved into recently released Census 2010 data to consider what has changed since 2000. By considering the alterations in development patterns near stations that opened about ten years ago, we can better understand what has occurred.

On first evaluation, there is no clear connection between the opening of a new station and increased construction — at least on a ten-year timeline.

Between 1997 and 2001, nine Metro stations opened, two of which were in the heart of the city on the Green Line (Columbia Heights and Georgia Avenue) and the rest of which were at the termini of the Red (Glenmont), Blue (Franconia-Springfield), and Green Lines (Congress Heights, Southern Avenue, Naylor Road, Suitland, and Branch Avenue).

Compared to their host jurisdictions, only three of the nine stations saw higher growth in adjacent Census tracts: Columbia Heights, Franconia-Springfield, and Branch Avenue. In the areas around these stations, densification was significant, promoting the theory that transit can be an effective tool for urban regeneration and growth. These changes were particularly interesting at Columbia Heights, where an already pretty dense neighborhood only became more so thanks to rapid replacement of low-lying building stock with taller buildings. Around the other two stops, largely vacant land was replaced with new construction.

Around two other stations — Georgia Avenue and Glenmont — growth was also positive, but it was slower than in Washington and Montgomery County, respectively.

Finally, four of the studied stations saw a decrease in population in the surrounding Census tracts. Each station is on the southeastern branch of the Green Line, which runs through arguably the region’s weakest area from an economic perspective. The presence of transit did not appear to be of any help here: Though Washington and Prince George’s County saw population growth between 2000 and 2010, the specific neighborhoods around these stations did not.

Changes appear to be quite context-dependent. The population of the area around the Columbia Heights station expanded significantly, likely not only because of the presence of Metro, but also because of a growing interest in living in urban cores being experienced nationwide. On the other hand, the poor attractiveness of Prince George’s County, just east of the District of Columbia, likely reduced developer interest in building around stations there.

This analysis indicates that the presence of a transit station cannot provide alone for the kind of urban redevelopment planners often hope to produce when they allocate funds to new rail lines. This does not mean that the opening of the new Metro stations was not an important element of regional growth in Washington, but rather that that infrastructure in itself is not enough to encourage developer interest. In the case of many of these stations, land was not available, zoning was not free enough, and the neighborhoods were not attractive enough to see substantial change, at least over the past ten years.

Transit systems like the Washington Metro are very expensive to construct, so public authorities must make a greater effort to coordinate planning efforts to allow for the creation of more transit-oriented districts to take advantage of such investments.

I would like to note several important caveats: The use of Census tract data in this analysis was meant to provide a neighborhood-level glimpse into development changes. Residents (or potential residents) are likely to see Metro stations as assets, even if their homes are not in immediate proximity. Yet development changes are likely to be unusually affected by that proximity: It may be useful to reconsider these questions at the block level. It is possible, for instance, that the areas directly adjacent to the southeast Green Line stations did see growth, even when surrounding neighborhoods did not.

Opening DayPlace/ Station (# of Census tracts)Pop 2000Pop 2010Density 2010Change in PopChange in PopChange in Housing Units
2001 01 13Congress Heights (3)11,96411,2216,080.85-743.00-6.21%-5.35%
2001 01 13Southern Ave (3)12,82611,7306,624.12-1,096.00-8.55%-2.25%
2001 01 13Naylor Rd (6)22,77522,2625,114.41-513.00-2.25%0.31%
2001 01 13Suitland (4)17,27216,8333,788.74-439.00-2.54%-3.51%
2001 01 13Branch Ave (1)3,4254,6962,582.801,271.0037.11%83.13%
1999 09 18Georgia Ave/ Petworth (5)20,49021,35125,104.06861.004.20%6.70%
1999 09 18Columbia Heights (4)16,43417,64644,015.961,212.007.37%19.99%
1998 07 25Glenmont (6)26,86628,6784,606.171,812.006.74%1.52%
1997 06 29Franconia/ Springfield (3)11,44313,2933,772.781,850.0016.17%16.15%
Montgomery County873,374971,7771,978.1598,403.0011.27%12.33%
Prince George's County801,476863,4201,788.7661,944.007.73%8.54%
Fairfax County969,8401,081,7262,766.78111,886.0011.54%13.51%
DC572,059601,7239,856.4929,664.005.19%7.96%

Image above: A Washington Metro station, from Flickr user Matt Blasi Designs (cc)

Categories
Cincinnati Streetcar

Losing State Support, Cincinnati’s Streetcar Project in Peril

» Wavering commitment to this — and similar infrastructure projects around the country — sends the wrong message about the seriousness of public investment in better transport.

Over the past few months, American transportation projects have been canceled at an accelerated rate: From New Jersey to Florida to Wisconsin, rail programs that have been in the making for years have been abandoned because of conservative opposition to expansion in transportation spending at all levels of the federal system.

This movement, which has been grounded in claims of fiscal responsibility, has sent a disappointing message about the commitment of the American public sector to projects it has previously endorsed.

Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) made his mark last year, eliminating state support for a new intercity rail line to connect Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland — despite the fact that the federal government had agreed to pay for all of the project’s construction costs. Now, he has set his sights on undermining the Cincinnati streetcar project, which was set to begin construction after municipal leaders such as Mayor Mark Mallory assembled adequate funding, including $51.8 million from the state, $5 million from regional governments, $66.6 million from the city, and $25 million from the federal government’s Urban Circulator program.

The project, whose first phase would cost $128 million to build and another $3 million a year to operate, would run about 2.5 miles from the banks of the Ohio River, through downtown and Over-the-Rhine, to Uptown and the University of Cincinnati. Though following a well thought-out route to the city’s major in-town destinations, the streetcar nonetheless has been the subject of intense controversy in Ohio’s third-largest city.

Mr. Kasich, who earlier this month announced that he wanted to cut state transit operations funding by 39% over two years, explained his logic by saying that “There’s a new sheriff in town,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The streetcar, the governor argued, was an inappropriate use of public resources and thus the state’s $51.8 million involvement should be cut. If this change is approved as expected by a state transportation board on April 12, this would leave a $30 million gap in the project’s initial construction budget. The same board, upon announcing the state commitment just four months ago, rated the project the highest-scoring transportation program in Ohio.

All this was enough to encourage one member of the city council to withdraw his support last week. The fate of the project is up in the air. Without state funds, the city would either have to find more local funding or give up.

Of the several dozen being proposed across the United States, the streetcar project in Cincinnati is one of the most promising because it connects what is one of the country’s most densely built center cities to a major university. It would run through the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, which saw major riots ten years ago but now is being rapidly transformed through building improvements and infill. At the south end of the route, the massive The Banks development is radically altering the connection between Cincinnati and its riverfront through the construction of new stadiums, a park, and hundreds of new apartment units. The streetcar is a great example of orienting transit investments towards communities that are working seriously to increase densities and encourage their inhabitants to choose not to get around by driving.

Mr. Kasich, however, saysWe’re not living in Portland,” and for now, he is right.

But whereas Portland grew by 10.3% between 2000 and 2010, reaching a historic high, Cincinnati lost 10.4% of its population, which has declined from more than 500,000 in 1960 to less than 300,000 today. Portland now has a higher residential density than its Ohio counterpart.

Of course Portland’s successes can be attributed to a lot more than its transportation program, which has been enhanced thanks to billions of dollars invested in light rail and streetcar lines. Yet the Oregonian city surely has been aided by an active public sector that has made significant investments in its transportation offerings. Those projects have increased the appeal of that city, making it a better place to live and one that is more attractive to companies that may want to locate there. Can Cincinnati increase its livability while its state government pulls back in the name of austerity?

Whether or not this project is a good investment or not, though, is only half of the question: At this point, the funding for the project had been identified and people had begun making decisions based on the assumption that it would be completed. The same could be said for the intercity rail line planned for Wisconsin, for example, where train maker Talgo built a manufacturing plant and hired employees after getting a state commitment to buy rail cars — only to be told months later that the project had been de-funded.

What message does this send to potential investors in a city like Cincinnati? If a city’s plans for a transportation project, even when fully funded, can be shut down because of the decisions of a new governor, how can anybody make long-term assumptions about where and how to develop? Moreover, why should they invest in a place whose politicians think they can renege on previous commitments?

Update: The Ohio Department of Transportation’s budget request, approved by the State Senate Transportation Committee today, included an omnibus provision that “prohibits state or federal funds appropriated by the state from being used for the Cincinnati streetcar project,” according to All Aboard Ohio. If approved by the full State Senate and House, this would effectively make it impossible to spend state dollars on the program, even if the state transportation board, which approved the funding last year, pushes it forward.

Image above: Downtown Cincinnati, from Flickr user Jere Keys (cc)

Categories
High-Speed Rail

Deciphering Conservative Objections to the Obama Administration’s High-Speed Rail Program

» Countering opposition to the intercity rail development project.

Members of the House and Senate expect to consider — and hopefully pass — a transportation reauthorization bill this year that will dedicate federal funding to the United States’ transport networks for the next several years. While spending on both highways and transit is virtually assured, one wildcard is high-speed rail, which has significant support from members of the Democratic Party and very little from the Republicans. While President Obama has made it one of his signature initiatives, promoting a plan to spend $53 billion on intercity rail lines over the next six years, GOP leadership has rejected funding offered to states like Florida and argued that the country should not be investing in such infrastructure.

The baseline explanation for the limited Republican support for such investments is relatively easy to pinpoint: Their electors live in areas that would benefit only indirectly from such projects. Their constituents, primarily living in sprawling suburbs, do not see the value of government spending on anything other than roads.

Yet as commentator Reihan Salam rightfully pointed out earlier this week, the viewpoint many conservatives hold on the matter is more nuanced than that. Specifically, “I think that many… can see the logic behind public investment in passenger rail in the Northeast, provided that there are strong accountability mechanisms in place,” Salam wrote.

I will return to Mr. Salam’s point, but it is worth first delving into the specific rationales many conservatives give for opposing the Obama Administration’s rail project, both to understand those positions but also to highlight reasons why those arguments are problematic. In order to be successful in the U.S., intercity railway programs must be able to attract bipartisan support, so finding ways to counter the growing anti-rail sentiment should be a priority.

From my view, there are two views, not necessarily in accord, held by conservatives to explain their opposition to rail:

  1. Intercity rail, at least as a government program, constitutes inappropriate involvement of the public sector in something that should be determined by the market. Moreover, rail requires subsidies for construction and, in some cases, operations, and subsidies are bad because they represent government’s intrusion into decisions that should be made by individuals.
  2. Intercity rail investments as proposed by the Administration, including billions of dollars distributed to states to complete incremental improvements, did not go far enough. In the act of spreading the money around too thinly, the government was in essence preventing the development of one true high-speed system. High-speed rail could work, just not in the places where funds have been allocated so far.

The first argument — which suggests that the government should simply get its hands out of the rail game — is founded on an understanding of the way transportation funding works that ignores private costs and completely sidelines externalities. It is true that investments in rail often look less promising than a highway on the taxpayer’s expense list: While the latter can often pay for its own construction through the collection of tolls or fuel taxes*, high-speed rail needs significant up-front public investments to pay for construction that are usually not paid off. Moreover, slower-speed railways, as we all know from Amtrak’s record, require operations subsidies, though high-speed lines do not.

Yet when total costs are put into play, rail does not look so poor especially compared to car drivers since the train riders are not paying for fuel, maintenance, and insurance if they are substituting their car travel with train use. Perhaps just as important, if rail replaces journeys that would have otherwise been taken on another mode, it is reducing carbon emissions, congestion, and deaths-by-accident; in the long term, rail can spur revitalization in center cities, attracting jobs and residents to downtown cores, rather than to sprawling locales served by cars alone.

Meanwhile, while it may sound appealing to reject public sector decision-making about travel, the fact is that the U.S. government has spent 60 years funding highway projects across the country; to suggest that now is the time to cut off government support for transport, after the culture is entirely automobile-dependent, would be short-sighted.

The second, more compelling argument, the one that suggests that good rail investments are possible — just that the wrong decisions have been made by this White House — is generally held by Mr. Salam. I have questioned some of the Administration’s choices in rail funding selection myself.

Atlantic columnist Megan McArdle wrote a screed on the issue this week, arguing against the Administration’s decision to concentrate spending on the Florida project and the first stage of the California project (to run through the Central Valley). Ms. McArdle claimed that “To make it work, we need to get away from demonstration projects, and start with the projects that make good economic sense.” The problem with this logic, of course, is that the government did not have enough money to build those projects that “make good economic sense,” because they would have cost more than the $10.5 billion that has been allocated for this purpose by the Congress so far.

Mr. Salam signaled a similar approach to this issue, arguing that if only the right route had been picked, Tea Party members might not have referred to such projects as “trains to nowhere.” At a hearing last week, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-FL) played the same rhetorical game, suggesting that the Administration had done the wrong thing with its funds.

Do Ms. McArdle, Mr. Salam, or Mr. Mica in fact want more money for rail? Would any of them be willing to set aside the $117 billion Amtrak needs to upgrade the Northeast Corridor?

I would be the first to admit that the Northeast Corridor is the best place for high-speed rail in the country and that it deserves funding — I, for one, would love to be able to get from my perch in Boston down to Washington in just three hours. But conservatives were fighting against the rail program before the Department of Transportation made its selections! Is it honest to suggest that conservatives would have been supportive of more — far more — funding for intercity rail if they knew that funding was going to the “right” lines?

But what are those “right” lines? Singled out by the aforementioned commentators was the California project, which as framed by Ms. McArdle is particularly “ridiculous” because “there aren’t any, like, passengers.” “Could it be that Tea Party members have been referring to trains to nowhere because the first leg of the unviable California HSR effort link two cities with a combined population of 25,000?,” Mr. Salam advanced.

The story is more complex. The first section of the California project will connect Fresno and Bakersfield, stopping near Hanford on the way. Together, the three metropolitan areas this line would serve constitute the primary residence for more than two million people. More importantly, while the funding is not yet fully committed, California is well on the way to being able to connect this core segment with extensions to San Francisco and Los Angeles — the Central Valley, after all, lies between them. Northeast Corridor or not, no one should deny the national importance of connecting those two metropolitan areas. The state rail authority’s announcement today that it has received 1,100 expressions of interest in being involved financially in the project from private groups like Alstom and Virgin should provide evidence that this is not in any way a hopeless cause.

Yet even if we were to take the stand that the California project were not good enough — if only the Northeast is appropriate for federal rail investment — there would be no way to articulate a national transportation strategy that ignored the rest of the states given the political realities of representation in the U.S. Congress. In that case, not only would you have a problem achieving bipartisan consensus, but you would isolate rail supporters to just one section of the country. Yet this is in effect the course suggested in the arguments made by those conservatives who claim to support rail.

The fact of the matter is that we must have a nationwide investment in intercity rail; it would be very difficult to produce support for federal government spending for just one region. The alternative is no investment at all.

* For the sake of this argument, let’s ignore the fact that user fees do not actually cover the full costs of roads.

Categories
Urbanism

The Downtown Renaissance Extends Its Reach

» In terms of residential growth, U.S. downtowns are coming back, even in the face of continued sprawl and trouble elsewhere in center cities.

For many inner cities in the United States, the ten years that opened the third millennium were not easy. In the face of declining employment and ever-increasing suburban sprawl, the populations of many of the nation’s largest cities — especially in the Midwest — declined. According to the U.S. government, which has begun to release data from the 2010 Census, the troubles for a number of municipalities that have not successfully transitioned from industrial-age employment paradigms to information age ones continue to mount.

On the face of it, the statistics are gloomy for this representative group of cities:

  • Baltimore lost 4.6% of its population since 2000
  • Chicago: -6.9%
  • Cincinnati: -10.4%
  • Cleveland: -17.1%
  • Pittsburgh: -8.6%
  • St. Louis: -8.3%

These data imply that the long-heralded re-invigoration of U.S. urban cores remains stilted at best; if major cities such as these continue to lose population, how can planners and politicians continue to repeat the argument that Americans are moving back to the city?

Indeed, even if some cities like New York are seeing their populations expand, the failure of many rust belt cities to keep up despite growth in their respective metropolitan area populations suggests that there is no unified “return to the city” movement.

Yet it would be difficult to go to the center of any of the cities listed above and not notice all the new construction that has occurred over the past ten years. Who lives in all of those buildings? Who is patronizing the redeveloped retail and restaurant districts that grace each of these towns?

Other Census data tell a different, more polished, story about some of these same cities, requiring a very different explanation:

Thus, even as citywide population declined in these cities, downtown population increased — in some cases quite dramatically. This points to both an increasing demand for downtown living in cities nationwide and growing problems in the parts of central cities located outside of the downtown. After all, if downtowns grew significantly, then other parts of these cities lost an even higher percentage of their population then their citywide population changes listed above indicates.

How do these performances compare to those of downtowns in cities that have grown over the past ten years? Consider the following growing cities, all of which relied on densification alone, not annexation,* to provide for population growth:

  • Los Angeles added 2.6% to its citywide population since 2000 (reaching a historic peak)
  • Newark: +1.3% (first gain in a decennial census since 1950)
  • New Haven: +5.0%
  • Philadelphia: +0.6% (first gain since 1950)
  • Portland: +10.3% (historic peak)
  • San Francisco: +3.7% (historic peak)
  • Seattle: +8.0% (historic peak)

Among many of these cities, too, downtown growth significantly outpaced overall citywide increases, which means that in some cases even these growing cities may have lost population outside of their downtowns.

  • Los Angeles‘ downtown, once assumed to be dead for good, grew from 35,884 to 51,329 in the number of people calling it home.
  • Philadelphia‘s Center City District increased in population from 60,000 in 2000 to more than 70,000 in 2010, accounting for more than the entire city’s growth during that period (which was about 8,600).
  • San Francisco‘s South of Market Mission district, adjoining downtown, increased in population massively.
  • Seattle‘s downtown and the adjacent South Lake Union neighborhood expanded from around 16,000 to more than 23,000 people.

How can we process this information?

Clearly, there is a strong and increasing interest in living downtown, whether in the winds of Chicago or the fog of San Francisco. This downtown growth falls closely in line with the narrative that Americans are moving back to the city — it’s just that in many cases they’re only moving to a specific part of it: The high-density downtown. Thanks both to public and private sector investments, these built-up cores offer the amenities people think of when they imagine living in the city: The ability to walk to and from retail, easy access to public transit, and more.

The problem is that other sections of major cities provide few of those attractions. While Philadelphia and St. Louis may have once had vibrant, walkable neighborhoods throughout, too many of those communities have been degraded over time and now offer their residents almost nothing in terms of livability. Moreover, the physical form of these areas is frequently very similar to that of safer, sometimes less-expensive suburbs — which may explain why an exodus from many cities continues at the municipal level. You cannot beat the suburbs at their own game.

The message for planners is straight-forward: The most successful sections of America’s center cities are their downtowns, which feature high densities and a mix of uses. In order to restore growth in struggling cities, emphasizing public policies that encourage the extension and growth of such areas is the right move.

* Unlike, for instance, Columbus, Ohio or Raleigh, North Carolina, both of which gained significant population between 2000 and 2010, but mostly because each “city” includes areas that are not fully developed. Image above: Downtown St. Louis, from Flickr user camphellview13 (cc)

Update, 24 March: The New York Times has updated its mapping system, showing population change in American cities between 2000 and 2010. In the maps below taken from that site (all at the same scale), note the significant growth (shown in blue) in downtowns and decreases in population outside of them (in yellows and browns).

Baltimore San Francisco Bay Philadelphia
Washington Cleveland Twin Cities
Los Angeles Chicago St. Louis