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Worldwide links: Cheap(ish) houses

Cheaper housing is doable, but it's about way more than just construction costs, strict rules are killing Sydney's night life, and a potential light rail line from Brooklyn to Queens. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Hans Drexler on Flickr.

A house, on the cheap: Auburn architecture students have developed a house that costs $20k to build and that, by conventional standards, is very nice. But building costs are only one challenge to affordability; remaining hurdles include formidable zoning codes, trouble securing mortgages, and finding a knowledgable contractor. (Fast Company Co-Exist)

Say goodnight, Sydney: Regulations that restrict alcohol servings and bar hours in some key entertainment districts are killing Sydney's night life. From 2012 to 2015, foot traffic dropped by 84%, and 42 businesses in the night life industry shut down. (Linked In Pulse)

Big Apple transit: New York City is considering a 16-mile light rail line that'd run between Queens and Brooklyn. The Mayor hopes that it will connect places on the waterfront but the idea is getting mixed reviews from residents and pundits. And those on Staten Island wonder when their time for investments will come. (New York Times)

Even on trains, voices carry: Thanks to new technology, it's now less likely that a train operator or bus driver makes an announcement on a transit system, and more likely that it comes from a pre-recorded or even non-human voice. That can mean more consistency, but matters like pronunciation have left some riders unhappy. (Guardian Cities)

Consider the flip side:Do the usual anti-transit suspects make you want to pull your hair out? Jarrett Walker, the author of Human Transit, says its worth considering the good points they make even if they're buried in bad ones. (Human Transit)

Alley cats: Hong Kong's alleyways can be cluttered, messy, smelly... and beautiful. Cleaning them up, says photographer Michael Wolf, can lead to a feeling of "sterilization" that dismisses character and charm. (Smithsonian Magazine)

Quote of the week: "Soon enough, the park could be growing trees from trash and rats would no longer have a buffet of garbage to feast on every night." - Cole Rosengren writing about a future in which vacuum tubes take our compost away. (Fusion)

Transit


New York opened a subway extension on its booming West Side

A long-awaited extension of New York's 7 train opened on September 13, taking the line to the west side of Manhattan. The new station is impressive, and it's expected to rejuvenate its surrounding neighborhood.


All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The 1.5-mile subway extension runs from Times Square to a new station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, in the center of the future Hudson Yards redevelopment. Deep underground, the station requires two sets of escalators or an incline elevator to reach the platform mezzanine.


Incline elevators in the Hudson Yards station. Photo by Jason Rabinowitz.

The mezzanine runs the length of the station, which features a wide island platform that would be well suited to the crowds of a major transfer station.


The station mezzanine.


The Hudson Yards station platform. Photo by Jason Rabinowitz.


A 7 train departs the new 34th St/Hudson Yards station.

The station entrance sits amidst a new park that will one day be surrounded by skyscrapers.


34th St/Hudson Yards station entrance.

The Hudson Yards station is the first to be added to the New York City subway since 1989, not including a replacement South Ferry station that opened in 2009. While a definite achievement for the city, Yonah Freemark, author of The Transport Politic, tweets that other global cities like London and Paris have opened far more new subway stations during the same period.

The new Hudson Yards station is part of a massive redevelopment plan for the West Side of Manhattan. The master plan calls for 17 million square feet of new commercial and residential space and 14 acres of green space for the neighborhood.

This is similar to what the NoMa-Gallaudet University Metro station did for the near northeast neighborhood of Washington DC. When it opened in 2004, it primarily served empty lots and the former Greyhound Station. Today, it is at the center of booming NoMa, a neighborhood that NoMa BID president Robin Eve-Jasper has said will become the densest in the District when it is built out.


M Street NE in NoMa. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

The 7 train extension, like so many things in New York, is bigger in almost every aspect than its Washington DC counterpart. But it achieves the same means—as a catalyst for a new and vibrant neighborhood.

Development


Think the rent's too high? Try your hand at managing a landlord's budget

The rents in the brand-new apartment buildings all around town have caused some serious sticker shock. If you've wondered just how the rent got to be so damn high, you might find a few minutes with a new online game to be instructive.


Image from the author. And yes, he lost on his first try at the game.

"Inside the Rent," created by New York City's Citizens Housing & Planning Council, lets you examine the construction and operating budget for a new-build apartment building—and translates those up-front costs into average monthly rents.

Players get to choose between various factors like location, construction type, and how much to pay construction crews and maintenance staff. Then they watch the costs add up. In the likely scenario that the costs exceed the player's "market price," the player can also apply for various government subsidies, like tax breaks or free land.

Although construction costs and land prices in the Washington region aren't quite at New York City levels, many factors apply nationwide. For instance, federal law requires that subsidized housing pay "prevailing wages" to construction workers, which raises costs.

One quirk that I noticed in the game: the game shows that construction of high-rise buildings costs 25% more than mid-rise buildings. (Here in DC, the same 25% cost differential exists between mid-rise and low-rise buildings.) However, the game doesn't acknowledge that high-rise buildings can fit more units onto the same piece of land, and thus reduce the land cost per unit. Another cost that isn't part of CHPC's game, but which can very substantially raise rents, is the high cost of building parking.

Interestingly, one of the few "costs" that is fixed in all game scenarios is the developer's minimum profit, which is 5% in all cases. That might seem generous at a time of near-zero interest rates, but consider that for investors, a whole lot more can go wrong with a construction project than with with long-term bonds, which are often considered a comparable (but less risky) asset. Indeed, as the prices to buy or build apartments have risen, the profit margins that investors make on operating those apartments have fallen to new lows.

If you're the type of geek who prefers to examine Excel spreadsheets rather than constantly reload your phone's browser, CHPC has also made the spreadsheet underlying the game available.

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