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Housing


We're building apartments to be far smaller than we used to

The average size of new apartments is shrinking in major cities all around the country. In DC alone, new apartments built between 2010 and 2016 are on average 9% smaller than those built in prior years. It's a trend that is both caused by and that helps to relieve high rent prices in the District.


Graphic by the author.

This is according to a recent analysis from RCLCO, a Maryland-based real estate advisory group. RCLCO gathered data from 20 urban apartment markets across the country between 2000 and 2016 to see where apartment size was changing the most and why.

According to the report, the average size of new apartments has decreased in almost all cities, nationwide. The largest decreases are seen in high- and moderate-cost markets like Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago, due to a combination of market forces:

Aggregating the markets by relative housing cost shows how pricing economics have influenced the change. Average unit size shrunk the most in moderate- and high-cost markets, where there has been an attractive combination of strong demand fundamentals for new product in general and larger base unit sizes relative to the very high cost markets. As a result, new supply in high- and moderate-cost markets today is sized much more comparably to that in very high-cost markets—the gap in size between the average new unit in New York and Washington, DC, for example, has closed quite a bit.

The report indicates some of this shrinking of the average apartment is due to smaller floor plans; the average 1-bedroom apartment in 2016 is smaller than its 2000 counterpart. However, the majority (~73%) of the decrease in average size is due to a shift away from multi-bedroom apartments in favor of studios and single bedrooms units.

In DC, "micro-units" are at the extreme of this trend. Micro-units are apartments under 600 square feet that have sprung up in high-demand areas such as the 14th Street, Dupont Circle, and the Southwest Waterfront. These units aim to use clever design, shared amenities, and compact appliances to offer a comfortable living situation in a small area. According to the report the nationwide prevalence of such units has doubled in recent years, despite efforts in cities like Seattle where some residents have banded together to fight them.

It would be wrong to characterize smaller living space as a completely new trend, when in at least one way, it's closer to historic norms. In terms of square feet of living space per capita, DC has been far more crowded in the recent past. In 1950, over 14% of the population lived in a residence with more than one person per room. The present rate is a third of that.

Where the present differs is in the trend towards more studios and one bedrooms. Developers are responding to an unprecedented number of individuals who, for any of a few reasons, want to live on their own. In 1920, 5% of the US population lived individually, a figure that is 27% as of 2013. For those who want to live on their own in DC, a smaller apartment for less rent makes a lot of sense.

The benefits of this shift are primarily economic: smaller apartments mean more people can be sheltered for less resources. In fact, DC's building boom in smaller apartments seems to have slowed rent increases—at least for luxury apartments. While this seems inegalitarian, it's only in the short run. Over time these benefits should eventually spread across all tiers of comparable housing, assuming enough new housing is being built.

On the other hand, more small apartments means that DC will be relatively less friendly to families in the long term. While small expensive apartments tend to eventually turn into small cheap apartments, they're still small. No matter how well-designed a single bedroom unit is, it's not going to work for a family. Making cities friendly for families is an important and complex issue, well beyond the question of how large an apartment should be.

Transit


Worldwide links: Does Seattle want more transit?

Seattle is about to vote on whether to expand its light rail, stirring up memories of votes to reject a subway line in the late 60s. In San Francisco, people would love to see subway lines in place of some current bus routes, and in France, a rising political start is big on the power of cities. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by VeloBusDriver on Flickr.

Subway in Seattle?: Seattle is gearing up for a massive vote on whether to approve a new light rail line, and a Seattle Times reporter says the paper is, on the whole, anti-transit. Meanwhile, lots of residents haven't forgotten that in 1968 and 1970, voters rejected the chance to build a subway line in favor of a new stadium and highways. (Streetsblog, Seattle Met, Crosscut)

Fantasy maps, or reality?: Transit planners in San Francisco asked residents to draw subway fantasy maps to see where the most popular routes would be located. They got what they asked for, with over 2,600 maps submitted. The findings were also not surprising, as major bus routes were the most popular choices for a subway. (Curbed SF)

Paris mayor --> French president?: Sometimes labeled as the socialist "Queen of the Bohemians", Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has quietly moved up the political ladder, and she's now a serious candidate to be France's future head of state. Hidalgo did the unthinkable by banning cars from the banks of the Seine, and her ability to make change at the local level makes her believe cities are, in many respects, more important than the countries they inhabit. (New York Times)

How romantic is the self-driving car?: In the US, driving at age 16 was a 20th century right of passage. But what happens when we take the keys away? What happens to people's love affairs with cars if cars drive themselves? Does turning 16 mean anything in terms of passage into adulthood? In this long read, Robert Moor wonders how the self-driving car will affect the American psyche, and especially whether older drivers will ever recover. (New York Magazine)

Pushing back on art in LA: Local activists in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles, are pushing back against artist spaces they feel are gentrifying the neighborhood. Research shows that the arts aren't necessarily a direct gentrifying agent, but planners do watch art spaces to analyze neighborhood change. (Los Angeles Times)

Quote of the Week

We've had this concentrated population growth in urban areas at the same time that people have been doing an increasing percentage of their shopping online. This has made urban delivery a more pressing problem.

- Anne Goodchild on the growth of smaller freight traffic in urban areas. (Associated Press)

History


This video compares LA's streets of 70 years ago to today's

How does a street change in 70 years? In some ways a lot, and in others, not at all, as this video of Los Angeles from the New Yorker shows.

Beyond the increased build-out along the streets, in some places the older streets seem more welcoming to people walking; in others today's streets seem friendlier. While this video is of LA, one can imagine a similar then-and-now for DC.

Would you be willing to create something like this, but for DC? For example, you could grab a Go-Pro and follow the route of the 82 streetcar today.

What else do you notice about the video? Tell us in the comments.

Links


National links: Our cities are growing

The population in nearly all of the US' big cities is increasing, Seattle's mayor wants to reward streets that aren't just for cars, and a new kind of wood could change building design. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by theirmind on Flickr.

Growing cities: New US Census numbers show cities continuing to grow, with 19 of the top 20 cities gaining population over the last year. Only Chicago showed a decrease. Smaller cities like Austin saw rapid growth, while Detroit continues to decline. (USA Today)

Seattle and the "war on cars": Seattle's mayor wants to rank streets based on how many single-occupant vehicles use them, and make development decisions based on the rankings. A Seattle Times opinion writer says there's no denying that the city is engaged in a war on cars, but a former mayor says designing places just for cars leads to an inability to walk places, struggling retail and housing, and more crime and blight. (Seattle Times, Crosscut)

Invisible wood: Scientists have created a clear wood that's stronger than normal. It could one day be used in place of plastic building materials or glass for windows, as it should help lower both heating costs and fuel consumption. (CNN)

Transit progress in LA: A new stretch of track, called the Expo Line, started running between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles last week. This isn't just a new line for LA's rail network (though the 7 new light rail stations are nice). It's an approach to reconnecting the region that's built on the original transit system. (Los Angeles Times)

Revamping transit advocacy: The American Public Transportation Association, which advocates for transit all over the US, has come under fire lately; it even lost by far its largest member, New York's MTA. One way the organization can move forward: focus less on supporting transit at all costs, and more on transit that riders want to use. (TransitCenter)

In simple terms: Urban sewer systems and watersheds are complex, so the Center for Urban Pedagogy (n. the method and practice of teaching) created a diorama to explain them. The teaching tool won a national design award from the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Museum, and is just the latest project from an organization that helps people, especially those who may not be able to read or speak English, understand the world around them. (Smithsonian Magazine)

Quote of the Week

"When I was 13, I built a very intricate Lego city that suffered a huge tragedy when it was accidentally hit with a vacuum cleaner. As I rebuilt the buildings I created memorials with plaques that I printed out on my dot matrix printer commemorating The Great Vacuum Incident of 1988. Legos didn't make me love architecture, but they gave my love of architecture a place to develop." - Renowned architect Mark Kushner discussing how adult architects play with Legos. (Fast Company Design)

Links


National Links: The housing market

Not everyone has recovered from the US housing market's collapse, you're most likely to try a new way of getting around when you move to a new place, and traffic studies usually mean faster roads, not necessarily better planning. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Images Money on Flickr.

Winning the housing game: The US housing market has recovered from the recession, but not everyone is on solid ground. Housing prices have increased dramatically in cities, but not so much in sprawling and rural areas. Maps in this feature show the stark differences. (Washington Post)

Moving moves us: People are most open to considering new modes of transportation right after they move into a new place, according to research out of Cardiff University. (CityLab)

Traffic studies make things worse: Virtually no development goes up without a traffic study, but are traffic studies bad for cities? When the results are plans that focus on moving the most cars quickly, pedestrians and other modes usually get the short end of the stick. (Fast Company Co-Exist)

LA, it is a changin: Los Angeles has long been known as the domain of the car. But before it was, LA had a huge transit system that connected far off parts of a large region. Writer David Ulin believes things are shifting back, and the region will be a nicer place because of it. (New York Times)

No more surging: With autonomous vehicles around the corner, Uber considering ending surge pricing. It won't happen right away, but the company expects that at some point, as its systems get smarter, surge pricing won't be needed. (Minnesota Public Radio)

Walk this way: Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov predicted moving sidewalks would be everywhere in our cities—by 2014, he said, New York would be covered with them. But the realities of wear and tear have slowed the technology down. (Inverse)

Quote of the Week

"We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists." Economist Jed Kolko on the demographics of America today versus 1950. (Five Thirty Eight)

Links


National Links: From Florida to California

Miami is moving forward with big transit plans, Connecticut towns have a unique model for building affordable housing, and many have trouble seeing LA as urban because of how car-centric its past is. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Humberto Moreno on Flickr.

Sunshine State expansion: Six rapid transit projects are now part of Miami's Metropolitan Planning Organization's long range plan. Many of these lines have been in previous plans, but they're now being made top priorities, which bodes well for their future completion. (Miami New Times)

New Affordability, CT: Cities in Connecticut are required to have 10% of their homes be affordable. If that isn't the case, developers can effectively ignore the zoning code as long as they build 30% affordable. This has led wealthier communities pushing for affordable housing. (New York Times)

Dirge for dingbats: The "dingbat," an infamous Los Angeles architecture form that's basically just a box-like apartment stuck on top of an open carport, is slowly disappearing for more aesthetically pleasing, dense, and safe structures. Are they worth restoring and preserving? (LA Weekly)

Edge City redux: Outside of Miami, the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades make it so there isn't space to keep sprawling out, so buildings are going upward. Translation: Urban city centers are going up in the suburbs. (The Economist)

LA through #nofilter: Many still see Los Angeles as an ugly ode to cars and endless concrete, even as the city shifts toward becoming more traditionally urban, dense, and walkable. Why? It's hard for people to see beyond LA's built origins as a car-centric city. (Colin Marshall)

Uber exit: Uber is threatening to leave Houston if the city does not repeal regulations that require drivers get fingerprints taken and go through a licensing process. The company has already left three cities in Texas and is threatening to leave Austin as well. (Texas Tribune)

Tashkent trams: The capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, is shutting down its tram system. Opened in 1912, it is one of the oldest in central Asia. A lot of locals say the city is losing both a convenient and green form of transport, and a piece of its charm. (BBC)

Quote of the Week

"The idea is that by using a cryptographically secured and totally decentralized authority that can work at the speed of a computer, we should be able to keep power distribution, water treatment, self-driving transportation, and much more from ballooning beyond all practical limits as cities continue to grow." Graham Templeton on using Bitcoin Blockchain to run smart cities. (Extreme Tech)

Arts


David Alpert will take over AMC's The Walking Dead

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

AMC Networks has announced that it has hired David Alpert, founder and president of Greater Greater Washington, to be the new Executive Producer of its hit show The Walking Dead. In other news, The Walking Dead Executive Producer David Alpert will take over as President of Greater Greater Washington.

"We're really excited about this new direction for both our organizations," said Alpert. Alpert said, "This is an opportunity for both organizations to explore new directions."

The AMC show will be rebranded as The Walkable Dead and will focus on telling stories of the ways road design can keep people from facing serious injury or death. Jeff Speck will become the series' new head writer.

"I'm certain that audiences all around the nation will be just as riveted by the intricacies of sidewalk widths, traffic calming, and on which side of parked cars to put bike lanes as they are by stories of a world overrun by zombies," said Alpert.

For his part, Alpert plans to steer Greater Greater Washington toward more first-person narrative stories. An upcoming series of posts, tentatively called a "season," will depict a ragtag band of desperate survivors in Alexandria, Virginia who find their world, and neighborhood, completely destroyed by a pair of painted bike lanes on King Street.

An upcoming episode, previewed for the press, shows a suburban office worker having to wait a full 30 seconds to get out of his driveway as a few cyclists pass by. Having to back up very slowly and repeatedly look both ways epitomizes the difficult struggle to survive in a world suddenly filled with these two-wheeled menaces, who seem single-mindedly intent on getting to their destinations with their brains intact.

Alpert, who graduated from Harvard, said his past experience producing the TV show, which purportedly takes place in Alexandria, perfectly prepares him for the role of managing a blog and advocacy organization. He said, "I get it: density good, neighbor opposition bad, transit/biking/walking good, cars bad ... How hard can this be?"

Alpert, meanwhile, said he's confident that his degree from Harvard will prepare him for keeping The Walkable Dead one of the top shows on TV. He has been to Atlanta (where the series is filmed) a couple of times. "Most of Metro Atlanta already looks like a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland," added Alpert.

An additional revelation was promulgated by Alpert: In anticipation of the substitution, the phraseology that will be utilized in the production of Greater Greater Washington will entirely be composed of passive voice and nominalizations.

Links


National links: Los Angeles' transit fight

Los Angeles County is arguing over how to spend $120 billion on transit, Cuba is not alone in neglecting communities around stadiums (hint: we do it in the US all the time), and Uber's business model doesn't work for everything. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Eva Luedin on Flickr.

LA County pushback: Politicians from more suburban jurisdictions in Los Angeles County are arguing that a recently-released 40-year/$120 billion transit plan puts too much emphasis on downtown LA, and that projects in their districts should have faster timelines for completion. The county requires a super majority on sales tax votes, so the plan's opposition is a real threat. (LA Weekly)

Stadium shame: ESPN broadcasted a baseball game from Cuba, then shamed the country on Twitter for slums just outside the ballpark. People across the United States shot back with images from this country of oft-ignored poor neighborhoods near stadiums. (Boing Boing)

A business model, lost in translation: For everyone except Uber, the Uber model for on-demand delivery apps is faltering. As venture capital funding slows down, there's a greater need to make a profit on these services, causing some to wonder if the business model is viable given the true costs. (New York Times)

Taking a Texas-sized toll: In Texas, tollways were all the rage for a time. But the operator of a major toll road east of Austin recently went bankrupt, and they're showing themselves to be a risky investment because truckers are reluctant to pay fees as high as $33 to avoid downtown rush hours. (Dow Jones Business News)

Filling our congested roadways: During rush hour, millions of seats in cars around the country are unused. In fact 85% of cars on the road have one occupant. Is there a way to use new technology to put this existing capacity to use? (Mobility Lab)

Humans in architecture drawings: Before computers and photoshop, architects had to draw their own human figures for renderings. Architect Noor Makkiya argues that drawing humans made architects more aware of how they fit with designs, and collected 21 drawings of humans by famous architects, like Leon Krier and Le Corbusier. (Fast Company)

Transit Trends on YouTube

I am co-hosting a web show called Transit Trends with Erica Brennes of Ride Scout. This week, we talk about High Speed Rail and San Francisco's new Transbay Terminal with German Marshall Fund fellow Eric Eidlin.

Links


National links: Seattle's transit-oriented approach to affordable housing

Transit projects in Seattle may boost affordable housing, General Motors is subsidizing Lyft, and Philadelphia is capping a large rail yard with parks. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

Transit-oriented affordable housing?: The Washington State Legislature has asked that if Sound Transit's ballot measure is passed in November, that the agency buy projects staging land in parcels that will later be usable to build affordable housing. Previous projects have bought just slivers of land that are hard to build on after projects are completed. This innovative step towards TOD, to their knowledge, has never been done before at any transit agency. (The Stranger)

Lifting up Lyft: General Motors is investing in the ride hailing company Lyft, providing drivers with vehicles at reduced costs, or for free if they they complete 65 rides a week. GM sees removing barriers to working in ride hailing as a step into the self-driving car market. (Vanity Fair)

Philly renovation: Philadelphia's 30th Street Station is getting an upgrade, and redevelopment is coming to its adjacent rail yards. A cap over 80 acres of rail yards is part of a project to essentially create a new, desirable neighborhood. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

More transit in LA: Los Angeles Metro has big plans, including a toll and transit tunnel under Sepulveda Pass, a notoriously congested corridor in the region. In November, LA County voters will decide whether to fund the new projects with a tax increase that would bring in $120 billion in new revenue. (Los Angeles Times)

First cities:The city of Alexandria is often hailed as one of the first great cities, but great for whom? Dinocrates designed Alexandria for Alexander the Great, and making sure the city functioned for everyday people wasn't a priority. (The Guardian Cities)

Pigeon Air Patrol: Many cities around the globe are grappling with air quality issues and London is no exception. London is creating awareness by strapping tiny sensor backpacks to pigeons, which will measure pollution in the air and tweet their findings. (Grist)

Quote of the Week

"If you were to check your Facebook on the phone, it would happen in front of the funny shops, among the other people. If you had to tie your shoelaces, it would happen there. If you have to park your bike, it would happen there. We found that all kinds of activities in street were drawn over to where the activity was and people resisted doing anything in front of the inactive place."

International Urban Designer Jan Gehl on the importance of having active ground floor facades. (Plan Philly)

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