Friday, October 24, 2014

Dropbox, Airbnb, and the Fight Over San Francisco’s Public Spaces

Dropbox, Airbnb, and the Fight Over San Francisco’s Public Spaces


On most mornings in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, elderly Asian women practice tai chi under the pollarded sycamore trees. Last Thursday morning, this long-running scene was disrupted by protesters, who gathered on the steps of City Hall to speak out against the privatization of public parks. The plaza was surrounded by barricades and guarded by a group of private security guards. The space had been rented out to Salesforce, the city’s largest tech employer, for the company’s annual Dreamforce Gala and Benefit Concert. As the protesters chanted—“Mission Playground is not for sale!”—a trio of women performed slow, graceful tai-chi movements in the alcove of a staircase, across the street, leading to an underground parking lot.
The protest—which drew at least two hundred people, including several middle- and high-school students who said that their parents and school principals had approved their absence from school—was a response to a video that went viral on Bay Area social media on October 10th. The video, which was first picked up by the local blog Uptown Almanac, jumped to more than half a million views after a post on the blog Valleywag. It depicts an incident that occurred, in August, at the soccer field at Mission Playground, a public park in San Francisco’s historically Latino but increasingly gentrified Mission District.
In the video, a group of adults—mostly white males—approach a dozen or so Latino teen-agers and ask them to forfeit the field. A college student named Kai, who seems to be the leader of the neighborhood kids, explains the pickup rules (seven on seven, no time limit, whoever scores first keeps the field) and asks the men how long they’ve lived in the neighborhood. “Who gives a shit? Who cares about the neighborhood?,” one of the men mutters off-screen.

The men explain that they paid to reserve the field, and a man named Conor arrives with a printed document. “It’s pretty simple, man. We paid twenty-seven dollars to reserve the field for an hour,” Conor says to Kai, holding the piece of paper up to his face. “Read it. Read it.”
“I know how to read,” Kai says. “I’m an educated person. I also know that this field has always been a pickup field where you play seven on seven and wait your turn. You guys think that just because you have money you can buy the field and play.”
Journalists and activists soon identified the men as employees of Dropbox and Airbnb, the company that many residents blame for decreasing available housing and increasing the number of evictions. Residential evictions are inherently domestic affairs carried out in hasty court proceedings or hush-hush buyouts, but the standoff at Mission Playground gave the Latino residents in the area an opportunity to see their children publicly harassed.
Kai, who asked not to be identified by his last name, told me that he and his family have been evicted from their homes in San Francisco twice. The twenty-year-old said that the family lived in a rent-controlled apartment in the Mission District until their eviction, in 2005. They then moved to the Richmond neighborhood and were again evicted, four years later, thanks to California’s notorious Ellis Act. They now live in South of Market, a neighborhood that was once dominated by single-room-occupancy units but is currently the focal point of much of the city’s commercial and residential development.
White men sporting T-shirts with tech-company logos are, in some ways, the perfect avatar of the incoming population that’s transformed the city’s demographics. They are the wealthy, predominantly white tech employees who have been pouring into the formerly working-class immigrant neighborhoods, driving up the cost of housing, and giving the landlords increased incentives to evict longtime tenants from rent-controlled apartments. (Between 1990 and 2011, the Mission District lost fourteen hundred Latino households and gained twenty-nine hundred white ones; during the same period, the black population of the city was cut in half.)
Kai told me that he had heard over the summer that pickup-soccer players were regularly being kicked off the field in the evening by adults who had paid to reserve the field through the city’s Recreation and Park Department. Having grown up playing soccer on that field, Kai decided to try to help the neighborhood kids make a stand for the existing rules. “I’ve also felt kind of exiled from the community, because of my eviction, and I didn’t want to see the same thing happening,” he said.
Nathan, a middle-school student and one of the soccer players who spoke at the rally, compared the tech workers’ actions to a kind of eviction. “When the incident happened at the park, I was mad because they were kicking me out of my second home,” he said. Another one of the soccer players, Hugo Vargas, said, “If I lose the park, I lose my family. I lose my home.”

Jean-Denis Greze, an engineer at Dropbox who was part of the dispute, issued a brief apology on Twitter. Dropbox apologized as a company, stating, “We were disappointed to learn that a couple of our employees weren’t respectful to this community. . . . We’re sorry, and we promise to do better.” Airbnb also released a statement: “We want to apologize for the Airbnb team at the Mission Playground. Enhancing the neighborhoods and the cities we serve is our top priority and these employees didn’t live up to our values. We have reminded everyone on our team that we all have an obligation to uphold our shared values every day, no matter where we are.”
It is a strange phenomenon to see members of an industry that prides itself on the disruptive innovation of flouting regulation line up to apologize for their employees, who, in this instance, followed the rules. (Airbnb recently achieved a major victory in San Francisco with legislation that legalizes its short-term rentals, but it continues to operate outside the law in many cities. Its apology did not come with the estimated twenty-five million dollars that it allegedly owes the city in uncollected hotel taxes.) The city did allow for rentals of the park, for a twenty-seven-dollar fee, just as Conor had stated. The problem was that the two groups were following different sets of rules—one established by tradition and cultural norms, the other by city regulations. The city’s rules favor those with twenty-seven dollars to spare and either a credit card (phone reservations require a Visa or Mastercard) or the ability to go to the department’s office (a lengthy bus ride). The neighborhood’s rules favor those who’ve been around long enough to know how the pickup system works.
But while the tech companies were busy waging P.R. campaigns, the neighborhood youth and their supporters were pointing fingers at a bigger target: the local government and its tech-friendly policies. As Kai put it, “Who is making the policies that are encouraging tech workers to move into communities? And how are those spaces being emptied in the first place?” The Mission Playground was not underutilized (even in the middle of the workday last Thursday, a handful of Latino men were kicking a ball around). Last Thursday, the president of the Recreation and Park Commission, Mark Buell, said, “There is no profit associated with the fees that are charged for permitting. It doesn’t even cover the administrative cost. It’s a way of trying to provide a service to the community.” The question is: Which community is the department interested in serving?
San Francisco’s startup culture has thrived on monetizing commodities that were once free, like public parking spaces and restaurant reservations. It’s no wonder that the parks department wants in on the action. Activists are highly suspicious of the general manager, Phil Ginsburg, who they believe wants to turn the parks department into an enterprise agency—a government institution that generates its own budget (like the airport) by charging for access and services instead of relying on tax dollars. This practice, according to the parks department’s deputy director of public affairs, Connie Chan, is not new. In an e-mail, Chan wrote, “For over 100 years the Department has earned a portion of its operating budget—all of which goes to support programs and services. Our earned revenue constitutes about a third of our operating budget and provides visitors with enhanced park amenities such as bike rentals, food trucks and docent tours.”
Still, to several of the city’s residents, some of the parks department’s new programs feel like a betrayal. Dozens of residents spoke to the park commission last Thursday morning, almost all pleading with department officials to stop the privatization of public spaces.
According to the young men in the video (none of the adult tech workers have responded to requests for comment), after the camera was turned off, the groups agreed to divide the field and play separately, each on its own half. Now, thanks to the outrage engendered by the video, pickup rules will continue to prevail at Mission Playground—at least for now. Ginsburg met with some of the youth from the video the day before the protest and agreed to halt the evening rentals.
It’s a victory for the Mission’s remaining Latino community, but there’s no guarantee that the privatization of San Francisco’s other public parks and facilities won’t continue apace. The city may be willing to forgo the twenty-seven-dollar fee for one soccer field, but it’s hard to imagine the city giving up the money that it could earn from renting out Civic Center Plaza to corporations such as Salesforce. There seems to be no real resolution in sight, and, every time something similar to what happened at the Mission Playground occurs, it’s certain to polarize the city further. “It’s a literal interpretation of what our city is facing right now,” Edwin Lindo, a leader of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, said, at last Thursday’s rally. “Someone coming with a piece of paper who says you have to leave.”
Editor's Note:
This pretty much sums up the current attitude of our governments. "We own the property and request payment for its use". Wait until they institute VMT (vehicle mileage tax) to have "permission" to go down our public roads that have been paid for the taxpayers several times over through gas taxes. Suddenly we are back in the times of King George where the "king" owns everything. Steve Kinsey, Marin County Supervisor District 4 and MTC commissioner is advocating VMTs as a way to pay for all the development along 101.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Putting Bicycles Ahead of People

Putting Bicycles Ahead of People


This is a story of raw power, collusion and government corruption. A story that is taking place in countless towns all over America. A story of “reinvented” government, where self-proclaimed private “stakeholders” and pressure groups set the rules, local elected officials rubber stamp them, and non-elected regional governments enforce them, sometimes with an iron fist – all with no input from citizens, and apparently no rights for private citizens and property owners to stop them or even have a say.
It’s the story of the destruction of private property rights in America. Of injustice and tyranny. Of unaccountable government run amok. We need to take action! (See below, in blue, for what you can do.)

Jennie Granato is a tax-paying citizen of Montgomery County, Ohio. She and her family own a 165-year-old historic house and farm just outside of Dayton. They’ve lived there forty years. On July 31, Jennie’s front yard was demolished – thanks to local, county and planning commission bureaucrats!

The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission (MVRPC) has begun seizing people’s private property for its latest “essential” project – a $5-million bike path extension! It has seized almost all of Jennie’s front lawn. The bike path will come within just a few feet of her front door!

Jennie and her family tried for over a year to negotiate and reason with this unelected planning commission. Unfortunately, their neighbors were advised by lawyers not to say anything publicly about the pending land grab, so the media viewed it as a non-story. The county and its appraisers kept stalling, saying they wanted a meeting with Jennie, even as they ignored her pleas and offered a pittance for taking her front yard, and likely driving the value of her home down by tens of thousands of dollars.

The meeting never came – and officials didn’t even allow Jennie’s uncle to speak at a hearing. But the bulldozers certainly came! Last week, with no warning, they just started demolishing trees. Jennie and her family still own the property – BUT the county has barged in, torn out their trees and destroyed their front yard! They will never be able to walk out their front door again, without worrying that they will be run over by bicyclists roaring by at 10 or 20 miles per hour, just inches from their bottom step.

The government trucks and bulldozers also precipitated an even worse tragedy. Jennie’s 85 year old mother became so upset over seeing the government’s heavy machinery destroying her yard and favorite trees that she suffered a heart attack and died.

Of course the government refuses to accept any responsibility for this tragedy. It was just promoting the “public welfare” of the private “stakeholders” and pressure groups it works with.

That too has become far too common. The government and these groups want more and more control over our lives, more power to tell us what we can and cannot do with our property and lives. But they accept no transparency and no accountability, responsibility or liability when their actions hurt … or even kill … someone – or when they destroy the property values, peace and integrity of a home.

The MVRPC is an unelected regional government force driven by federal Sustainable Development grant money. It never faces voters over its actions or positions of seemingly unbridled power. It simply deals with other government agencies – local, state and federal – and with private groups like the American Planning Association, ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, and a hoard of other organizations that represent faux “conservation and environmental” interests whose real motivation is money, and the power to control our lives.

They are “stakeholders” only in the sense that they want something – and are holding the stakes that their government friends are driving through the heart of our constitutional rights.

With the assistance of Federal and State grant programs and willing politicians, who see another way to build their own power and get elected over and over, they rule over us like unaccountable dictators. It’s the same story in nearly every community in our nation.
Neither Jennie nor any of her neighbors voted to institute the agency or its policies.

* There was no vote for this bike path.
* There was no referendum on the ballot to approve this project or the spending of their tax dollars.

Yet the MVRPC imposed itself on privately owned property, giving the owner no say in the matter and giving her a pittance in exchange for the land it is taking away. Soon, strangers on bikes will be crossing her land, passing within seven feet of her front door. And she fears there is nothing she can do about it.

How does she secure her home? How can she ever hope to sell it? Who will compensate her for the loss of value, now that her once lovely and private front lawn is gone? Certainly not the MVRPC.

My American Policy Center has warned Americans over and over about the dangers of this fraud called “Sustainable Development” – and the enforcement of top-down control through non-elected boards and regional governments. Here is that reality, in all of its outrageous raw power.

Jennie’s neighbors, property rights activists and Tea Party leaders are joining forces to support her fight to stop this outrage. They have gathered at the property, to protest and take the issue to the news media – and will do so again. To its credit, the media are finally starting to notice what is happening. But if that is the extent of it, you know full well that these government officials will simply laugh, ignore the protests and news stories, wait for the attention to go away, and then grab someone else’s property.
That’s why concerned citizens across the nation need to join this fight and put power behind this effort to stop these bureaucrats from taking Jennie’s property. Freedom fighters need to build a huge protest fire and turn this into a national property rights issue.

Corrupt government officials use taxpayers as doormats, pawns, bank accounts and land holders for their agendas and power plays. If we continue doing nothing to stem the rising tide of government tyranny and corruption, we will watch our rights and property disappear, one by one.

Tom DeWeese is president of the American Policy Center and author of the book “Now Tell Me I Was Wrong.” 
The “construction limits” stake in this photo is less than 5 ft from the front wall of the Granato home. The “essential” bike path is just a foot from the sign, where the front yard used to be.
Heavy equipment tearing out the trees in front of the Granato home.
The plastic shows where the bike path will go – right up to the bottom step of the Granato home.
The magnolia and other trees largely gone. This is where the crew stopped briefly after Jennie Granato’s mother died of a heart attack.

When they force development in Marin, here are the people that are hurt.

Can you tell the difference?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

NY Times: China's great forced migration

See NY Times articles:

China’s Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million Into Cities

Articles in this series look at how China’s government-driven effort to push the population to towns and cities is reshaping a nation that for millenniums has been defined by its rural life.

LEAVING THE LAND: China's Consuming Billion from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.


Picking Death Over Eviction

EDITOR'S NOTE: In China, they don't bother with citizen's rights because they don't have any! That's not very "efficient". Government was not set up to be efficient. Our government was set up to find and maintain the right balance between social order and liberty which, by necessity, changes over time but I doubt requires this type of government land grab.  Plan Bay Area likewise is trying to concentrate people into narrow strips of land like the 101 Urban Corridor.  The idea is to keep people out of the "wildlands corridor". In Marinwood-Lucas Valley,  the urban boundary ends at Grady Ranch.

SB-1 is a proposed law to allow government to seize property through eminent domain WITHOUT the finding of blight.  It is the most significant land use legislation of our lifetime.  

How Planners & Politicians Are Killing Property Rights

Topic: "Private Property: How Politicians and Planners Are Killing the American Dream" 
People need to be aware of what is happening at the State, regional, and local level that could have significant impact on the traditional American way of life, wealth building , and upward mobility. All of these threats are being implemented right under our nose through administrative law and policies .It is the incremental implementation of collectivization of private property.

Most taxpayers are unaware that they are funding the demise of the way of life that made them successful and prosperous. The forces pushing this are well organized and funded. They use words like "sustainable development and smart growth" which sound very innocent on the surface but disguise an underlying and insideous effort to subvert property rights and control where and how you live, all in the name of saving the planet and instituting social equity.
The forces that want the fundamental transformation of America are counting on your ignorance, apathy, or isolation. Time to get educated and stand up for the Constitution.


Senate Committee Report Details Environmentalists' Inner Workings

Senate Committee Report Details Environmentalists' Inner Workings

Over the past fifty years, America’s environmental movement has grown from college kids adorning flowers to a billion dollar industry. With huge budgets to employ lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations professionals, many of America’s leading environmental non-profits are unrecognizable from their modest beginnings. What may seem like an organic, disparate movement is actually a well oiled machine that receives its funding from a handful of super rich liberal donors operating behind the anonymity of foundations and charities, according to a new report out today by the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW).
The EPW report titled The Chain of Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA meticulously details how the “Billionaires’ Club” funds nearly all of the major environmental non-government organizations (NGO), many media outlets, and supposed grassroots activists. The Billionaire Report continues by describing the cozy relationship many environmental groups have with the executive branch and the revolving door that makes this possible.
The most striking aspect of the Billionaire Report is the sheer amount of money that is in play. In 2011 alone, ten foundations donated upwards of half a billion dollars to environmental causes. Many of these foundations, whose assets are valued in the billions, meet and coordinate under the framework provided by the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA). Described as the “funding epicenter of the environmental movement,” EGA members doled out $1.13 billion to environmental causes in 2011. EGA’s membership is not public but its clout is self-evident given the amount of money its members direct to recognizable environmental NGOs.
Often times, EGA members will elect to indirectly fund organizations that are the face of the environmental movement. For example, instead of directly cutting a check to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) or the Sierra Club, the Hewlett Foundation or the Packard Foundation will contribute to the Energy Foundation. The Billionaire Report describes the Energy Foundation as “a pass through charity utilized by the most powerful EGA members to create the appearance of a more diversified base of support, to shield them from accountability, and to leverage limited resources by hiring dedicated energy/environment staff to handle strategic giving.”
The Energy Foundation’s funding paths are depicted in the Billionaire Report chart below.
Energy Foundation
Not all of this money is being used to write white papers about how wind is going to power our country or how the EPA should implement this or that regulation. In fact, millions of dollars from the Energy Foundation find their way into political spending. The Billionaire Report illuminates this process by showing how the Green Tech Action Fund is financed:
Between 2010 and 2012, both foundations [Hewlett Foundation and Packard Foundation] donated hundreds of millions of dollars to ClimateWorks Foundation, a 501(c)(3) foundation. ClimateWorks then gave nearly $170 million to the Energy Foundation. Hewlett and Packard gave directly to the Energy Foundation. The Energy Foundation then gave $5,676,000 to Green Tech, and ClimateWorks gave it $1,520,000. The Energy Foundation was incredibly brief, broad and vague in describing the purpose of its 2011 and 2012 grants of $1 million, respectively, to Green Tech. The 2011 description states: “To support clean energy policies,” while in 2012 the purpose is listed as: “To advance clean technology markets, especially energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.”
Green Tech, in turn, donated heavily to at least three 501(c)(4) far-left environmental activist organizations during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles.
This process is illustrated here:
Funding Flow bw Foundations, Orgs, Campaigns
In addition to playing in national politics through the Energy Foundation, New York and California based foundations use a handful of other charities to prop-up local activist groups. The Billionaire Report looks at the efforts in New York and Colorado to prohibit and hamstring hydraulic fracturing:
A pseudo-grassroots effort to attack hydraulic fracturing has germinated from massive amounts of funding by three foundations: Schmidt Family Foundation, Tides Foundation and Park Foundation…In typical secretive billionaire donor fashion, the foundations’ funding was funneled through fiscal sponsors. Funding through these intermediary organizations, such as the Sustainable Markets Foundation (SMF) and Food & Water Watch, create distance between the wealthy foundations and alleged community-based outfits….
One scheme, led by the New York-based Park Foundation and California-based Schmidt Family Foundation, provides numerous grants to the New York-based SMF, which serves as the fiscal sponsor for multiple New York groups engaged in this effort, including Water Defense, Frack Action and Artists Against Fracking. During 2011, SMF gave $147,750 to Water Defense. The following year, SMF funneled a $150,000 grant “to support Water Defense” from Schmidt. Notably, Water Defense was founded in 2010 by actor Mark Ruffalo, who has an estimated net worth of $20 million and was listed on Time Magazines’ 2011 “People Who Mattered” for his anti-fracking efforts. In 2011, SMF gave Frack Action $324,198, with $150,000 stemming from Schmidt grants to SMF. Ironically, one of the Schmidt grants specified that $100,000 go “to support Frack Action’s grassroots campaign fighting for a ban on horizontal hydraulic fracturing” (emphasis added).
However, the mere funding from the California-based Schmidt demonstrates Frack Action’s campaign is anything but grassroots. In 2012, SMF received $185,000 for Frack Action through grants from Park and Schmidt. While the amount of money funneled to Yoko Ono’s Artists Against Fracking cannot be identified, as SMF’s 2012 IRS Form-990 is unavailable, Artists Against Fracking’s now-removed website directs donations to SMF.
This process is illustrated here:NY anti fracking to Colorado
While even passive political observers are aware of environmentalists’ political activities – who could forget American Lung Association’s coughing baby? – few people fully appreciate how interconnected the environmental movement is with the current White House and its regulatory agencies. For evidence of the environmental movement’s influence, look no further than the EPA’s recent GHG regulation for existing plants. This regulation, hailed by its supporters as the crowning achievement of the Obama Administration, drew heavily from a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) model regulation. The New York Times wrote that the EPA used NRDC’s regulation as its “blueprint.” NRDC’s clout within Democrat circles is well known and inspired the 2009 Greenwire article “NRDC Mafia Finding Homes on Hill, in EPA .”
But NRDC is by no means the only activist group with alumni in key executive branch positions. The Billionaire’s Report calls attention to Deputy Administrator for the EPA Bob Perciasepe was the former Chief Operating Officer of the National Audubon Society. The EPA’s Region 9 Administrator used to work for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund as well as the NRDC. Acting Administrator/Deputy Administrator for the Office of Water Nancy Stoner was Co-Director and Senior Attorney for NRDC’s Water Program. EPA’s Region 2 Administrator was previously the Executive Director of the Environmental Advocates of New York.
While former hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer may be grabbing headlines over his pledge to spend $100 million dollars this election cycle, it is clear that the modern environmental movement is already well funded and organized. Totaling more than 90 pages and containing over 400 citations, the Billionaire Report will begin an important conversation about who really funds the environmental left and what they really represent.

Backyard Bucks in Marinwood

And now for a moment of beauty in Marinwood.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Critique of Common Core by Dr. Duke Pesta

Don't Eat Your Dog: The Surprising Moral Case for Free Enterprise

Kotkin, Gattis: Economic diversity helps Houstonians live well

Kotkin, Gattis: Economic diversity helps Houstonians live well

Lower costs help middle- and working-class residents enjoy higher standards of living

By Joel Kotkin and Tory Gattis | October 18, 2014
   FIle Photo.  The downtown Houston Skyline from the Rosemont Bridge spanning over Buffalo Bayou, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, in Houston.  ( Michael Paulsen / Houston Chronicle ) Photo: Michael Paulsen, Staff / © 2011 Houston Chronicle                                   
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a new urban paradigm that both maximizes growth and provides greater upward mobility. We call this opportunity urbanism, an approach that focuses largely on providing the best policy environment for both businesses and individuals to pursue their aspirations.

Although contrary to much of the conventional wisdom about cities and regions, this is not a break with traditional urbanism, but instead a reinforcement of old traditions. Long ago, Aristotle reminded us that the city was a place where people came to live, and they remained there in order to live better. "A city comes into being for the sake of life, but exists for the sake of living well." In the end, opportunity urbanism rests on the notion that cities serve, first and foremost, as engines to create better lives for the vast majority of its residents.

The Houston and luxury models

The Houston metropolitan area reflects the idea of opportunity urbanism more closely than any major metropolitan area. Across a broad spectrum - income growth, new jobs, housing starts, population growth and migration - no other major metropolitan region in the country has performed as well over the past decade. This was among the first major metropolitan regions to replace the jobs lost in the recession and has experienced by far the largest percentage job growth since, with Dallas-Fort Worth second.

In many ways, opportunity urbanism contrasts with the prevailing urban planning paradigm - variously called new urbanism or smart growth - which seeks to replicate the dense, highly concentrated monocentric city of the past. This approach posits the notion that policies of forced density, through regulatory mandates and often subsidies, are critical to attracting both young, educated people and the global business elite. This approach describes the successful city, in the words of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as "a luxury product."

This notion of the "luxury city" worked, at least for some, in well-appointed older cities such as New York, San Francisco and Boston. Unlike most American cities, these boast long-established dense cores and transit-oriented areas where residents are employed. They possess great amenities tied to their pasts, from world-class art museums and universities, to charming historic districts, parks and public structures.
But this model of urbanism does not fit the profile of most American metropolitan regions, which tend to be far more recent in their development, more dispersed and overwhelmingly dependent on cars in terms of commuting. Indeed, most of the fastest-growing regions in this country - Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Raleigh and Nashville - function in a highly multipolar model that contrasts sharply with that of cities like New York, Boston or Chicago.

Prospects for upward mobility

The luxury paradigm has worked for some in some cities, but has failed, critically, in providing ample opportunities for the middle and working classes, much less the poor. Indeed, many of the cities most closely identified with luxury urbanism tend to suffer the most extreme disparities of both class and race. If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth-highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 countries for which the World Bank reports data. New York's wealthiest 1 percent earn one-third of the entire municipality's personal income - almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.

Indeed, increasingly, New York, as well as San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed, are no longer places of opportunity for those who lack financial resources or the most elite educations. Instead, they thrive largely by attracting people who are already successful or are living on inherited largesse.
They are becoming, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, "the vast gated communities where the 1 percent reproduces itself."

Not surprisingly, the middle class is shrinking rapidly in most luxury cities. A recent analysis of 2010 Census data by the Brookings Institution found that the percentage of middle incomes in metro regions such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago has been in a precipitous decline for the last 30 years, due in part to high housing and business costs.
A more recent 2014 Brookings study found that these generally high-cost luxury cities - with the exception of Atlanta-tend to suffer the most pronounced inequality: San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In recent years, income inequality has risen most rapidly in the very mecca of luxury progressivism, San Francisco, where the wages of the poorest 20 percent of all households have actually declined amid the dot com billions.

Like other large cities, Houston also suffers a high level of inequality, but its lower costs have helped its middle and working class populations to enjoy a higher standard of living than their luxury city counterparts. The promise of the opportunity urbanism model also can be demonstrated by smaller income disparities between racial groups, higher GDP growth, less expansion of poverty and the greater production of high-paying mid-skilled jobs. In these aspects, opportunity cities like Houston greatly out-performed their often more celebrated rivals.

But for this model to continue to succeed, Houston must confront many challenges, some of which are a direct product of its successful growth. Opportunity urbanism is not a libertarian fantasy; government must and should play an important, even expanding role. There remains, as we spell out in our report, enormous need to expand the region's infrastructure, and, most important, to improve the educational institutions of the region, from the troubled grade schools to expanding vocational programs and building up the area's still inadequate higher education.

How to measure 'living well'

The one statistic that best encompasses the success of the Houston opportunity model and exposes the weakness of smart growth is the cost-of-living adjusted average paycheck (see chart on page B13).

Despite the assertions of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among others, that the Texas urban economy is based on low wages, Harris County's average household income is above the national average; close to that of Boston. But once the cost of living is factored in, Houston does far better for its citizens compared to any of the legacy cities.

Houston, with Dallas-Fort Worth a strong second, is able to provide its citizens the highest standard of living, as measured by average annual adjusted wages, of any major metro area in America. This is different from subjective "quality of life," but includes such basics as jobs, housing and overall cost of living.

In the end, the key advantage and promise of opportunity urbanism lies in finding ways to help residents fulfill the basic aspirations of citizens. Far more than glittery events or celebrity culture, what really matters is whether a city helps improve the often mundane conditions of life. "Everyday life," observed the great French historian Fernand Braudel, "consists of the little things one hardly notices in time and space."

This approach follows Aristotle's notion of the ultimate purpose of cities - about serving as an engine for improving lives.

It is a great thing that America continues to boast some of the most luxurious, edgy and attractive urban districts in the world. But we also need cities that can nurture new and innovative businesses, while accommodating families, middle- and working-class people with a high standard of living. Opportunity urbanism, and cities like Houston, provides that option.
Kotkin is an author, executive editor of and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. Gattis writes the Houston Strategies blog.