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Paul

Again, the "urbanists" have embraced all manner of myths and fictions to deny the totality of the impact of their lifestyles making their arguements pretty much BS. They like to focus on people driving into the city and embrace the idea that gasoline is the ONLY form of energy that needs to be considered and embrace the fiction that city dwellers don't drive just as many miles out of the city to the malls and when they need a nature fix as the declining number of people driving into the city for work.

They ooo and ahhha abbout their city sky line and never seem to consider that it is that way because of the tens of thousands of street lights, traffic signals and buildings that consume electricity 24/7-365. Stoop-dwellers don't write the check directly to the power company for these things so the fact that the city of Pittsburgh which accounts for 25% of the counties 1.2 million total population consumes about 40% more electricity than the entire rest of the county some how doesn't factor in and they never seems to connect the lights on the streets outside their doors that make them feel safe and secure to that energy usage.

They make ridiculous comments about the cost of heating and cooling detached structures while failing to account for the fact that the majority of homes and buildings in the city were built near the turn of the last century when energy was cheaper than dirt and are amongst the least energy efficient structures imaginable ... while many suburban buildings were built post WWII and actually make use of energy efficient materials, incorporate the use of insulation and high efficiency heating and cooling systems and allow for upgrades to those systems as newer technology becomes available. My city dweller friends become visibly agitated when I show them the winter heating bills for our ranch style brick home and they can't seem to comprehend that the total of them is less than the single highest month it took to heat one of their similar sq footage three story stove pipes that blows hot air up the stairwell to their uninsulated third floor rooms that are so hot they can't even use them.

If you really want to see smoke start billowing out of the ears of the average urbanist twit when they are yapping on about the gasoline being used by people driving into the city for work, ask if they've bothered to consider the amount of gasoline consumed by the city's police force that patrols day and night just to keep the criminals at bay and the city from consuming itself.

I highly doubt anyone would ever undertake such a project, but just observing my own family's dramatic reduction in overall energy consumption since leaving the city and applying some common sense regarding public use of energy we no longer rely on; I'd bet anything that any comprehensive study that included all the energy required, in all its forms and uses, to keep a city functioning would show that the per-capita energy consumption of an individual living in the city is far great than one living in the suburbs.

The next time your approaching the City of Pittsburgh from a distance in a car or a plane, or perhaps the next time you see one of the night satellite photos of North America consider this; that big throbbing bubble of hazy light you see as you approach is energy being consumed to keep a city of 300,000 people functioning ... while the rest of the 900,000 who aren't squandering that energy out here in the suburbs we like it dark and quite on our streets at night.

Ed Heath

Well, it would be interesting to see about per capita energy usage of suburbanites versus city dwellers. When I get some time I will try to look into it. I imagine that as you move west, you would find more efficient homes in cities, compared to old cities like Pittsburgh.

And I am not sure what the rules of the game are here. Are we interested in energy usage only? Can I throw in the cost of housing in the suburbs versus the city? Of course, those people who buy (or rent) cheaper houses may not be able to or understand what they could do to upgrade them. But I have to say that I think (from personal experience) that it is usually very practical to upgrade older homes, even very cheaply if you are willing to do some of the work. Attic insulation and plastic on the windows can (cheaply) bring a $50,000 house to maybe 70% of the efficiency of the same size $300,000 suburban house, for a cost of maybe a couple of hundred dollars.

For that reason (and others), I wouldn’t mind a carbon tax on gas, natural gas and electricity. Of course, I would hope it would be either prorated for income, or offset by an increase in the earned income credit (or both). I mean, the cost of heating efficiently manufactured McMansions might be low per square foot, but much higher than the cost of heating my little Cape Cod in the city, despite the age of my little proletariat home. Too many square or cubic feet in a McMansion, you see. And whether you commute to the city (where you share our wasteful police, fire and ambulance services during the days) or commute to some other suburb to work, I am betting many suburbanites still drive more than the four miles I drive to work. And by the way, I get 31 MPG overall on my little subcompact, so even though I am driving, I’ve tried to find the best means of doing that. But I also have the option of eliminating the cost of a carbon tax on gas by biking or riding a bus (or both).

Jonathan Potts

What, there are no street lights in the suburbs? I grew up in a subdivision in Westmoreland County. It was relatively affluent--and we had to install street lights when I was a kid because of vandalism and petty crime. I think it was just as well-lit as my street in Brookline. And yes, my wife and I do shop at times in the suburbs. Sometimes at night, when strip-mall parking lights are flooded with lights. I can mow my lawn in about 30 minutes, a quarter of the time (and gasoline) it took me to mow the lawns in my neighborhood growing up. (Though it was a great way to earn under-the-table dollars.) Many of my neighbors in Brookline don't even have lawns.

The point, though, is not to argue over whose lifestyle is superior; people with means have always exercised their freedom to live wherever they choose. The point is to craft public policy that does not subsidize those choices at the expense of everyone else.

Paul

It's probably true that as you move west housing types change, but this is antirust and I'm under the impression were taking about the conditions we have here.

The choice you present, between a $300,000 suburban home and a $50,000 city home is a false one and demonstrates one of myths that urbanists rely on to justify their choices. Most people buy according to what they can afford and what meets their needs. The family who buys a $300,000 in the suburbs isn't likely to be willing to put the safety, education and future welfare of their children at risk to save a few bucks and even consider any $50,000 home you're talking about. Anyone earning enough to buy a home for $300,000 and considering the city is going to be looking at homes in Sq Hill, Point Breeze, Shadyside so comparing apples to apples is usually helpful. We spent nearly three years looking for a home before moving and can personally attest to the fact that in this area the best values for homes are nearly always found in the suburbs. Our four bedroom two bath house in Shaler that we bought last year didn't cost $300,000, nor did it cost half that... and it wasn't the lowest price home we looked at by far. The $50,000 city home you're talking about is better compared to the many $100,000 to $150,000 houses available in the suburbs which is going to be far more energy efficient, require little renovation and less maintenance - while the $300,000 suburban home should be compared to one of those energy sucking behemoths in Point Breeze.

As for making Pittsburgh's city homes nearly as efficient I'd say nonsense... You can make those older city homes more efficient, but 70% as efficient as any comparably sized and priced suburban house? Highly doubtful. Many of the multi-story home you're talking about for $50,000 don't even have attics to put insulation in, the need for space typically necessitated using the top floor as living space - that top floor bedroom with the slanted ceilings that's 110 degrees in the winter city dwellers are so familiar with. Many of them have those lovely flus in every room that used to serve the old fancy cast iron gas heaters and a whole host of other features that would require major renovations to make them as efficient as you describe. At the end of the day it is still a fact that hot air rises so any house that is built up is going to be less efficient than one built out. You'd have to spend a lot of money and you'll still never make a two and half or three story wood frame house with no insulation in the walls, a gravity flow hot water heating system, single pane double hung windows (not to mention the stained glass that is very common) as efficient as as a 1400 sq ft brick ranch, with a forced air furnace controlled by a $40 programmable thermostat, insulated vinyl double pane casement windows and 18 inches of insulation in the attic. Just can't be done.

Energy efficiency is not a matter of total dollars spend to heat and cool a unit, it's the amount of energy needed to maintain temperature per square foot of any house. That hypothetical suburban house is likely to be at least twice the size and you'll never get close to the per square foot heating and cooling cost with your $50,000 city home.

Jonathan Potts

I think you make some good points. But in your previous comments, I think you blurred the distinction between rural and suburban. And if we are talking specifically about the Pittsburgh region, then we need to acknowledge that unlike other urban areas, a plurality--if not a majority--of jobs are concentrated in the city center. (Particularly if you include Oakland.) Which means that most suburbanites are commuting into the city to work. And most city dwellers are also commuting to the city to work. Which means they are scarcely commuting at all.

Paul

Are there street lights in the suburbs? Sure. Is every street in the suburbs awash in light 24/7 - no, not even close. I think theres a set at the major intersections near my home about 2.5 mile apart. Stoop-dwellers seem to have the expectation that they should be able to walk out their door and never know the difference between night and day, go to any other part of the city at any hour and have every street well lit.

We have traffic signals as well, three of them in fact during my the first five miles and eight minutes of my daily commute into work. As soon as I cross the river and enter the city I see the first of twelve I'll encounter on the final two and a half miles and twenty minutes of the remainder of my trip. Somehow in the 'burbs we make do with stop signs.

IF "The point is to craft public policy that does not subsidize those choices at the expense of everyone else." Then why is the city trying to get the rest of the region to pay for their excesses?

Let's stop here and think about this for a second; it is the city which has run itself into bankruptcy, it is the city school system that is churning out functionally illiterate students and watching enrollment decline, it is the city where streets are going unpaved and those that get done cost more per mile to do than any community within seven counties, it is the city that that has tax rates three times the rate as most surrounding communities and still can't make ends meet. Jut how efficiently are they operating?

City dwellers have convinced themselves of a set of lies, one of which is that their lifestyle is more efficient, but the facts of the circumstance tell a different story. The fact is that the city consumes MORE energy to provide services to its 300,000 residents than all the combined governments serving the rest of the county's 900,000 residents. The city spends more money and uses more resources providing all manner of services, lower quality services, to its residents than the rest of the governments in the county. Individuals who think they're living more efficiently because they can take a bus or ride a bike to work, but fail to consider the massive amounts of energy and resources being expended to support the infrastructure on top of which they live are simply fooling themselves. When I'm sitting on my back porch tonight at 11pm I'll look up and see stars through an almost black night, hear crickets and not much else. Do the same in the city and then ask if the sound of the sirens running, near empty buses droning endlessly, the hum of the transformers lighting your block, the switching of the street lights for almost non-existent traffic, etc is really as efficient as you've convinced yourself it is.

The truth is that calls for regionalism in government is a call for public policy that forces everyone else in the county to pay for the excesses and inefficiencies and failures of the government and institutions of the city.

Jonathan Potts

I'm glad you live in such a bucolic paradise. Apparently you've never driven down Route 22 in Monroeville, or Route 19 in Cranberry. Or McKnight Road. Plenty of traffic lights, and I'm guessing there are plenty of strip malls whose lights are either on 24/7, or damn close to it.

I don't know if you've ever read my blog, but I'm no fan of excessive government spending. I've been very critical of how the city provides services (hell, I'd love to see some more energy wasted plowing my streets in the winter)) and I've repeatedly written that the city needs to shrink its government. Yet somehow I don't think government waste is confined to the city. I've been to plenty of suburban communities with outsized police departments and excessive spending on fire departments. Mt. Lebanon has a SWAT vehicle, for Christ's sake.

You can't seem to decide what you want to talk about. We've gone from discussing whether high-density or low-density development is more energy efficient to ad-hominem attacks on the city schools (which are better than most people give them credit for) and regionalism.

And yes, there are too many buses, though that is less of a problem now than it was a few months ago. But I've got news for you--a lot of people from the suburbs ride them too. And if you think your commute into the city is unpleasant now, try doing it if there were no public transportation.

Paul

"Which means that most suburbanites are commuting into the city to work. And most city dwellers are also commuting to the city to work. Which means they are scarcely commuting at all."

Well like I said. This used to be true and when it was perhaps living in the city made more sense. Is it really they case now? According to city-data.com:

http://www.city-data.com/city/Pittsburgh-Pennsylvania.html

... and the Census Department there were 236,196 people working in the city of Pittsburgh on any given day in 2006. 138,191 commuted from outside the city, 98,005 lived in the city and of those living in the city 8,200 worked for the city and until recently were all subject to residency requirements... as of 2004 (last official number) 679,552 Allegheny County Residents were employed in private nonfarm jobs that certainly looks like twice as many jobs outside the city held by both suburbanites and city residents and at least two and a half times the number of people who live and work in the suburbs as live in the suburbs and work in the city.
It's one of the many reasons public transportation in Allegheny County gets so little use and support; nobody needs buses that are routed by the outdated notion that people need to get from outlying areas to Oakland and Downtown in large numbers.

Again, of the dozen couples we keep in touch with from our city days 1 works in the city and the rest live in the city and work in Cranberry Woods, Monroeville, RIDC Park O'Hara, Sewickly, Moon and other non-city locations.

Another of the myths that urbanists have embraced is that the city is were all the action is and jobs are. At least in Pittsburgh it's just not the case anymore and unless trends change it will be less the case as we go forward.

Jonathan Potts

As I said, it is possible that only a plurality of people work in the city--I'm guessing that no other single area rivals the nearly 35 percent of jobs in the region held by the city. If I'm not mistaken, ridership on Port Authority buses is actually relatively high when compared to other metro regions.

But again, no one in this discussion is saying that the Port Authority is not in need of significant reform. Part of the problem is that too many buses are routed through Downtown. (More should go directly to Oakland.) The bus I rode to Oakland from Mt. Lebanon when I lived there was standing room only well before it got to the Liberty Tunnel. And since the recent round of cuts, the bus I take Downtown from Brookline every morning is standing room only by the time it leaves Brookline Boulevard.

Also, the argument is not just about city versus suburb. It's about high-density versus low-density. I love Sewickley's business district, for example. And my wife and I loved our apartment off Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon.

Jonathan Potts

Some discussion of local transit use:

http://nullspace2.blogspot.com/2007/06/commuting-across-nation.html

Jonathan Potts

And here Chris Briem notes that the number of jobs in the city has remained stable over 50 years:

http://nullspace2.blogspot.com/2007/05/neverending-story.html

"The point is to craft public policy that does not subsidize those choices at the expense of everyone else."

That would appear to be the case in a lot of debates. But not in others. This so often takes on a moral and ethical component. It always has. And it always will. Let's say that we could magically make everyone "pay their own way." Well,the fact of the matter is, a lot of people would still choose a Hummer. A lot of anti-Hummer people would be OK with that as long as the bad guys had to pay the "full cost." But I suspect a lot of them wouldn't. Especially when you start bringing in nebulous calculations like "environmentalism" and "sprawl."

Should downtown have to protect its original, 1492 wetlands in the same way a new suburban development should? How do we calculate the "costs" of such things?

I think road building and train building and subsidies have mangled these questions immeasurably. But even if we could unwind them completely (we can't) we'd still be fighting over all of this. Because I think there is at least a subset of people who don't just want suburbanites to pay more for roads. They want them to STOP LIVING THAT WAY, even if they did have to pay the full price and were willing to pay it. And there is a subset of people who hate everything that cities represent. and they would love to tear up the train tracks.

Paul

"And if you think your commute into the city is unpleasant now, try doing it if there were no public transportation."

Funny thing about that; during the period we lived in the city there were two bus driver strikes, the first rather long. On both occasions traffic problems downtown and elsewhere in the city all but vanished.

Two more myths the urbanist like to bandy about; public transportation reduces traffic congestion and reduces fuel consumption.

From Sq Hill to my office in Oakland my trip was 2.5 miles and 25 minutes in good weather. My trip from Shaler to the same office is 7 miles and takes me 25 minutes - how's that? Buses. From SqHill to Oakland is buses stopping every other block, buses kneeling through multiple lights to pick up the elders, buses trying to turn from one street to another when there's not enough room to do so... if you don't get this take a trip downtown, stand at the corner of Stanwick and Blvd of the Allies about 4pm and watch the affect that buses pulling to the curb to pick up people then try to turn left on to the BA and gridlock 16 lanes of traffic in the process.

There's a reason cities like Boston have begun limiting access to downtowns by buses and the reason is buses don't reduce traffic congestion they create it. A vehicle five times the largest car in production stopping frequently on main roads is a problem, not a solution.

Oh but they save fuel... really do they? Sure looks like that during rush hour when they're packed, but what about the other 18 or 20 hours when the same bus, burning the same fuel, is carrying one or two passengers? How much fuel is being saved? How about weekends? If buses are so efficient why is their cost per mile to operate so much higher than cars, trains or even airliners? Now if you want to talk about light rail as a means of public transportation okay then, but buses? I'd just as soon see every PAT bus taken of the road tomorrow.

Just more myths of the urbanist clan, convenient fictions they've embraced to shield their eyes from the true cost of maintain their urban culture.

Paul

"Also, the argument is not just about city versus suburb. It's about high-density versus low-density."

Yes I know and the part some people don't get is that high density living creates a set of problems. Increased crime from more people closer together requires larger police presence, more lights on the streets to deter criminal activity, surveillance cameras on problem corners being monitored remotely, restriction on privacy and property right etc etc. Do some people have less of a commute, sure. Which has the greater impact, has anyone ever bothered to a comprehensive study?

My point is that those promoting high density living would have us believe what it solves certain problems when in fact any close examination reveals it simply substitutes one set of problems for another.

Ed Heath

I should have paid attention to this thread, I lost track of it. Paul, there is something you keep saying the bothers me, about the 110 degree third floor. Even assuming you mean 77 degrees, the notion is counter-intuitive. If a city house has no attic insulation, that heat is going to escape out via the roof. And that had been my experience growing up in Squirrel Hill, that second and third floors were colder and draftier. The first floor was rather well insulated, with a conditioned living space above. Your hot third floor sounds like a very tight, efficient house.

This is the straw man you present: “You'd have to spend a lot of money and you'll still never make a two and half or three story wood frame house with no insulation in the walls, a gravity flow hot water heating system, single pane double hung windows (not to mention the stained glass that is very common) as efficient as as a 1400 sq ft brick ranch, with a forced air furnace controlled by a $40 programmable thermostat, insulated vinyl double pane casement windows and 18 inches of insulation in the attic. Just can't be done.” So programmable thermostat’s are not available in the city? My earlier point was exactly that you can add cheap programmable thermostats, plastic on the windows, insulating foam into cracks and rolls of attic insulation to city houses and make a huge difference in energy bills, for at most a few hundred dollars. As I understand it, radiators are fairly efficient means of heating houses, and avoid the issues with forced air heating/cooling of leaky or semi-clogged duct work.

Understand, I am aware that many city houses are very inefficient, and overall the age of a house does matter. I certainly agree Point Breeze, Squirrel Hill, Friendship and Highland Park have huge houses with third floors instead insulated attics that are energy hogs. I just don’t like the generalizations about all city housing. City dwellers can be just as energy conscious as suburbanites, and we have more money from our cheaper purchases to work with. You can add insulation to wood framing as well as to brick walls (actually, can you add insulation to brick walls?). In my city neighborhood, in Stanton Heights, the area is actually new, post war residential stock (from a converted golf course). Every house has gable vents, ridge vents or roof vents, indicating uninhabited attic space, available to be insulated.

Now. I doubt my neighbors have all made tremendous improvements to their houses, in fact, I would guess only a fraction of them have despite the potential. But that is the nature of the beast. The thing is, I don’t think suburbanites are particularly wiser, energy wise, as a group. That their houses are newer is no help if they leave the programmable thermostat at 75 degrees all the time. There are certainly the stories of affordable “Ryan-Home” type suburban housing made with substandard cheap materials. Even if the materials are good, lots of builders did not and still do not know how to properly ventilate roofs. Or the house has a huge air conditioning unit, because the builder added an extra half ton for “good measure” (actually poor measure), and the AC blows infrequently, too cold, and you live in a freezing, damp house in the summer. Or the too tight, “sick” house. Or the tendency toward McMansions with cathedral ceilings and two story atriums. These are my anecdotes of suburban housing, and builders learn from these stories (we hope), and my point is that the city’s housing stock is actually fairly diversified too.

I think also that crime in the city is overstated for most residents, many of us go for all our lives without having a break in or a stolen car. Or at least my car is as likely to be stolen from a suburban mall as from in front of my house. The school factor is different, but people from the suburbs pay lower property tax percentages on higher priced houses to send their kids to school systems with higher budgets. As Jonathan put it: “people with means have always exercised their freedom to live wherever they choose”. All this is without touching the idea of the distance of commuting (versus the time, but you really must not have know Squirrel Hill to take twenty five minutes to go 2.5 miles), and the energy costs there in.

Jonathan Potts

Incidentally, your figures noted that about 98,000 people working in the city also lived in the city. Let's deduct the 8,000 who worked for the city. So 90,000 people of a total population of 330,000 worked and lived in the city. I'm guessing that if you eliminate children, the unemployed and people who are retired, then you are looking at a high percentage of the city population that both lives and works in the city.

I suspect crime has at least some correlation to socioeconomic status, which I would suspect has more bearing on urban crime rates than density.

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