Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Differing House Price Linkages Across UK Regions: A Multi-Dimensional Recursive Ripple Model

By Chris Hudson, John Hudson and Bruce Morley
Link to paper

The dynamics of the UK housing market have become increasingly topical following its role in the financial crisis of 2008. This study analyses the ripple effect across the UK’s regional housing market covering different housing types, whilst also incorporating any reverse effects back to the origin in London. This effect refers to the rippling out of changes in house prices in London to the surrounding regions and potentially also then reversing the ripple back to London. This ripple effect is important to the UK housing market as a whole, as movements in house prices usually originate in London, and recently London’s house prices have risen substantially after capital inflows from overseas were directed at the capital’s housing market. This has made the London market more volatile and thus more risky for investment purposes, but it is important to determine how this volatility in London could affect the rest of the UK housing market. 

The 2008 financial crisis initially started in the housing market when assets backed by the sub-prime housing sector collapsed in price, undermining the solvency of the international banking sector. As a result all central banks now monitor the relationship between financial stability and the housing market more closely, especially through macroprudential policies which are specifically targeted at housing, such as the loan to house value ratios. This also requires some idea about how house prices are likely to evolve over the near future, which is why the understanding of house price dynamics and the ripple effect have become so important.

House prices across types and regions

We can see in the Figure that the three types of house prices tend to move together, but there are differences. In particular in the period between 1990 and 2008, old and modern house prices caught up the new house prices. The Figure also shows the trend in old prices as we move north from London. Again there are similarities between the curves, but also substantial differences. For example, as we move northwards, and compared to London, the decline in prices in the early 1990s tended to be delayed and more muted, but the slowdown was then more prolonged. This gives plausibility to the hypothesis that shocks emanate in London and then spread out through the country. But our analysis suggests it is not that simple. Firstly, if there is some shock in another part of the country, we would anticipate it also rippling outwards including towards London and the South East. But secondly for the shock that does begin in London, as it ripples outwards so there will also be a recursive ripple back to London itself. The analogy can be made to a stone which is thrown into a pool of water. Waves will ripple outwards, but once they meet an obstacle they will begin to ripple back again.

This is complex enough, but our analysis, and this is one of its main contributions to the literature, suggests it is more complex still. It is as if there are three interconnected pools of water, with ripples from one impacting on the other two. A regional shock to new house prices will impact mostly on new prices in neighbouring regions and thence their neighbours. But there will also be some interaction between old, and in particular, modern house prices, both in the same region and neighbouring ones. A similar analysis applies to shocks to old and modern house prices.

Thus, a positive shock to new houses in London and Outer Metropolitan, will first impact on the South East and thence on the South West, the West and East Midlands and East Anglia. There will then be further knock on effects on e.g. the North West, all with differing speeds. Initially the largest impacts will be on other house types in London and new houses in adjacent regions. But the impact will eventually spread across all house types and regions. There will then be ripples, or echoes, back, from these regions to new, and other, house types in London. Hence the ripple acts recursively on at least two dimensions, firstly the spatial dimension and secondly the house vintage dimension. In effect there are multi-dimensional recursive ripples between different house types both within the same region and between regions.

There are lessons for policy makers in this. For example, if they introduce a policy which impacts on new houses, either across the UK or in a single region. Then there will be repercussions across all regions and all house types and it will take several years before the full effects have worked their way through the system. Policy makers should be aware of these repercussions and not just focus their attention on the new housing market or one particular region. 

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Autonomy Centres

Dr John Crossan , University of Strathclyde

Last month The Guardian newspaper ran an article entitled ‘How Punk Changed Cities – and Vice Versa’. The article, while focusing upon Punk music from the mid-1970s until the present, expands the idea of Punk beyond the riffs of Suburban Disease, Crass and the like, to include a wealth of socio-cultural and political activities that make up what has been termed D.I.Y. Counterculture. One such activity is setting up and running ‘autonomy centres’. Sometimes referred to as social centres, these D.I.Y. spaces are nodal points of creativity for this decentralised and diverse scene. (I use the term scene to capture a range of cultural tropes that link this collection of groups and individuals). According to the Guardian article, these centres are beginning to emerge as important places for those whose politics stands in direct opposition to the extremes of the far-right and the post-politics of the mainstream party system.  

Autonomy centres have sprung up all over Europe and the US over the last century or so and each centre has its own story, very much related to the towns and cities they are found in. What follows is a very short history and geography of European autonomy centres and the autonomous scene in Europe more widely (for further insight see Chatterton, 2008 and Miguel Angel Martinez Lopez, 2016). Three waves of autonomy centre activity preceded the latest centres mentioned in the Guardian article. Understanding the political dynamic within today’s centres and what purpose they might serve is made easier through understanding their history. 


 The first wave: socialism from below:

Today’s autonomy centres are the descendants of a libertarian socialist current that utilized factory buildings, farmhouses, churches, bars, and schools, and that stretches across Europe and back to the early 20th century. Schmidt and van der Walt (2009: 185) write about the Libertarian Athenaeums in the early years of last century “that existed in every district and village of anarchist strength in Spain”. A type of anarchist community centre, the Athenaeums, with their plays, picnics, dances, language classes and more, were a critical component of the Spanish syndicalist unions. During the same period, the Bourses du Travails (labour exchanges) in France were used by revolutionary syndicalist Fernand Pelloutier (amongst others) as centres of radical libertarian counterculture.

It is important to understand these community spaces as one arm of a dual strategy employed by anarcho-syndicalists in Spain and France, the other arm operating in the workplace. This dual approach points towards recognition by anarchist-syndicalists of the importance of struggles taking place outside the factories in the sphere of reproduction. For Rocker (2004 [1937]) it was here the ongoing “educational work […] directed toward the development of independent thought and action” would make “clear to the workers the intrinsic connections among social problems”. While the content and aims of each space differed in line with the political context of the participants (consider for example the different terrains of struggle of the industrial worker and the rural peasant), these early examples were very much rooted in a culture of mass participatory democracy and community self-determination. Alongside the strike, sabotage and the printed word, these early examples of autonomy centres formed the weaponry of those no longer willing to accept their lot under conditions set by an industrial bourgeoisie protected by the liberal state.


 The second wave: reclaiming the city

Influenced by the student and working-class revolts of 1968, we see a second wave of centres springing up across Europe in the 1970s. Many of the voices in the revolts of 1968 spoke out against not only the ‘rebirth’ of capitalism post-1945 but also the revolutionary torpor of political parties claiming to represent the working classes during this period. Political anti-establishmentarianism was somewhat mirrored in a renaissance of culture with political folk music and countercultural literature enjoying a wide audience. The OSCs (Occupied Social Centres) in Italy, for example, utilised empty buildings and public spaces as countercultural hubs in their struggle against the state, capital and the paternalism evident within the political left during the period.

Montagna (2006: 296) tells us that the OSC movement was rooted in the “antagonistic juvenile social movements” of this time in Italy. Disillusioned with ‘capitalist work’ and the socialist parties (which they felt had been de-radicalised by their pursuit of state power) “groups of young people started a process of ‘claiming the city’ through widespread squatting” (Ruggiero in Montagna 2006: 297). For Mudu, the Italian centres were part of a critical response to what was seen by many on the left as the development of both a crude workerism within the Italian communist movement and, supporting Montagna’s claim, “a drift towards more moderate institutional political programmes” (Mudu 2004: 919). For the mainstream left, the workplace and the high corridors of political power came before the sphere of reproduction as important arenas of struggle (Katsiaficas 2006). Unsurprisingly then, woman played a key role in challenging the paternalistic character of workplace and institutional politics. Silvia Federici’s (2009) paper ‘The reproduction of labour-power in the global economy, Marxist theory and the unfinished feminist revolution’ details the extent of women’s revolt throughout the 1970s. Autonomy centres became the conspicuous platform from which these voices of dissent were heard outside of the private sphere.

This second wave is when we first see the D.I.Y punk ethos establish itself within the autonomous scene. In the UK, key political struggles for centre participants revolved around the setting up of Claimants Unions, and organizing anti-fascist and animal liberation actions (Hodkinson and Chatterton 2006).


 The third wave: re-territorializing struggle

The late 1990s saw the much wider alter-globalisation movement informing a third wave of autonomous centres. The politically plural message behind terms like ‘one no, many yeses’ and the participatory democratic tools developed in the temporary autonomous zones of protest camps and mass mobilizations such as at the G8 summit in Seattle (1999) and Genoa (2001) achieved within autonomous centres a degree of stability in the streets of towns and cities.

The alter-globalization movement has, within its ever-shifting ranks, a vast array of political opinions on display. For example, the movement is populated with Marxist and Leninist groups as well as International NGOs such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. To this constellation of organizations and ideologies we can add numerous anarchist-influenced groups (e.g. anarchist-communists and anarchist-feminists). This last group has a longer history of association with autonomous centres but, in my experience all the above political sensibilities are active in influencing the direction of their particular centres. 

Routledge, Cumbers and Nativel (2008) argue that the ephemeral, transitory and to this we might add de-stratified role (‘belonging to no class’) of the alter-globalization activist fighting on the streets of Seattle and Genoa, defending the forests of Oregon and Ecuador, is a position open only to a privileged few. Juris (2005) suggests that an unintended effect of such actions is to de-territorialize struggle, positioning it in the ‘out-of-reach’ imagined geographies of the global. For most people struggling against capitalism, patriarchy, classism etc., the parameters of a stratified existence places limits on their geographical horizons. The third wave of autonomous centres, although influenced by the alter-globalization movement, is a critique of and response to these more exclusionary practices. These autonomous centres are firmly situated in territorial struggle – the territory in question being the city.


 A fourth wave …

Roberto Unger, writing about radical democratic potential, noted what he understood as “an astonishing gap between the alleged interest in alternatives and the lack of any tangible signs that this interest is real” (Unger in Harvey 2000: 188). The presence of newly formed autonomous centres such as those mentioned in the Guardian Article is heartening. This fourth wave is emerging because people – whose interest in alternatives is real – are working hard to make these alternatives visible and accessible. Struggling against 30 years of neoliberalisation has certainly made realizing alternatives extremely difficult. A far longer and arguably more banal history of top-down organisational structures has exacerbated this condition. The ability of communities to effect substantive change in their urban environments has long been undermined and prohibited by top-down command and control structures. Autonomous centres are important in this regard because they give us the opportunity to collectively define our urban lives through our active relationship in and with urban space.   


Chatterton, P. (2010). So What Does It Mean to be Anti-Capitalist? Conversations with Activists from Urban Social Centres, Urban Studies, 47, 6, 1205–24

Federici, S (2009) ‘The Reproduction of Labour-Power in the Global Economy, Marxist Theory and the Unfinished Feminist Revolution’. Paper presented at the seminar on the Crisis of Social Reproduction and Feminist Struggle, 27 January 2009, University of California, Santa Cruz . Available at: https://caringlabor.wordpress.com/2010/10/25/silvia-federici-the-reproduction-of-labour-power-in-the-global-economy-marxist-theory-and-the-unfinished-feminist-revolution/

Harvey, D. (2000). Spaces of Hope. Edinburgh Edinburgh University Press.

Hodkinson, S. & P. Chatterton (2006) Autonomy in the City. City, 10, 305-315.

Juris, J. (2005) Social forums and their Margins: networking Logics and the Cultural Politics of Autnomous Space, Ephemera, 5, 253-272.

Katsiaficas, G. (2006). The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Movements and the Decolonisation of Everyday Life, Edinburgh: AK Press.

López, M (2016) Squatters and migrants in Madrid: Interactions, contexts and cycles, Urban Studies, First published date: March-29-2016, 10.1177/0042098016639011

Montagna, N. (2006) The decommodification of urban space and the occupied social centres in Italy. City, 10, 3, 295-304.

Mudu, P. (2004) Resisting and Challenging Neoliberalism: The Development of Italian Social Centers, Antipode, 36, 917-941.

Rocker, R. (2004). Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice. UK: AK Press.

Routledge, P., Cumbers, A., & Nativel, C. (2008) The entangled geographies of global justice networks, Progress in Human Geography, 32, 183-201.

Schmidt, M. & van der Walt, L. (2009) Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Counter-Power vol. 1), England: AK Press.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Home of last resort? Fighting over land in Kibera’s Slum

Emma Elfversson & Kristine Höglund


Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slum settlements, is not a pleasant place to live. Like many informal settlements in Kenya and elsewhere, it lacks access to basic services and infrastructure. Tiny, dilapidated shacks crowd together amidst narrow dirt alleys that turn to mud when rains come. Limited access to sanitation and garbage disposal result in an unhealthy environment. Yet, the legal rights to Kibera are intensely contested, both among the communities living there and on the national political agenda. In particular, the Nubian community, Kibera’s original inhabitants and today a shrinking minority within the slum, have for decades fought for the right to the land. Why is Kibera so important? How has the Nubian community’s struggle affected their relationship with other groups living in Kibera?
These questions led us to analyze the Nubian community’s pursuit of an ‘ethnic homeland’ in Kibera, Nairobi. Our analysis shows how the land question has over time become closely intertwined with claims to identity and citizenship. In turn, this has made the conflict more complex and difficult to manage. More broadly, our research contributes to an understanding of how identity-based groups compete for land and opportunities in urban slums, and how such conflicts interact with urban governance and politics. The developing world is rapidly urbanizing, and when this urbanization takes place in countries where group identities are strongly politicized, these questions become urgent and highly policy-relevant.  
The Nubian case highlights how, in countries such as Kenya, land is at the center of citizenship, belonging and political rights. The Nubian community, and their settlement Kibera, originates from Sudanese soldiers who came to Kenya in the service of the British during colonialism. Following Kenya’s independence, the Nubians adopted a narrative of being a distinct tribe with Kibera as their ethnic homeland. This made sense in the context of a political system closely connected with ethnic identity, and unlike other groups, the Nubians had no other place to call home within Kenya. In the words of one of our interviewees, it is their “home of last resort.”

Figure 1. Kibera hosts the Nubians’ main burial site that increases its symbolic importance and it is used to reinforce the community’s claim to the land (Source: Emma Elfversson)

While the struggle for an ethnic homeland made sense in the context of Kenyan national politics, it had negative implications for the interactions with other communities living in Kibera. As other communities living in Kibera increased in size, and the settlement became an important electoral mobilizing ground, intergroup tensions grew and have erupted into intense violence on numerous occasions. At the same time, the land has become increasingly valuable, due to its location close to Nairobi’s center. However, for the Nubians, the value of the land is also symbolic for cultural and political reasons: the aspiration to a communal land title is intertwined with claims to be recognized as a community with a legitimate right to belong in Kenya.
Our analysis also shows how institutional uncertainty – the existence of numerous and overlapping formal and informal institutions to which people turn to manage conflicts and pursue claims – has complicated the conflict over time. Promises made by certain agencies may lack legal authority or contravene interests closer to the center of power. More profoundly, given the Nubian community’s minority status, their political weight is small. One interviewee referred to the Nubians as a ‘step child’ of political patrons, who will prioritize the interests of their own community first.
In summary, the Nubian case illustrates how urban land conflicts can become very salient and complex. Urban planners must consider the challenges of political, symbolic and identity-related aspects of land in order to achieve sustainable urban development and reduce the risks for conflict.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Home-ownership as a social norm and positional good: subjective well-being evidence from panel data

Watching TV the other night, the advert below came on. It reminded me of Craig Gurney’s (1999) paper on how the UK state (and society) has acted to normalise home-ownership in the UK through imbuing home-owners’ dwellings with warmth and security, associating home-ownership with a set of values that constitute a ‘good citizen’, and portraying home ownership as meeting a deep and natural desire for independent control. Almost two decades later, and despite declining rates of home-ownership, these discourses are still evident in the advert below: in the mother, happy at ‘being able to say “this is mine” as she paints her front door; and in the father, nodding proudly to his children, and to “their future”. One of the main purposes of our study was to quantitatively examine what this normalisation of home-ownership means for the subjective well-being of home-owners, and renters.

If home-ownership is a social norm, then being a home-owner will carry social status. Furthermore, the extent of this social status will depend on the strength of the home-ownership norm among one’s relevant others (which we defined as people of a similar age, education, and geographic region): if one’s friends/family attach a high value to home-ownership, then being a home-owner will bring more pride, self-esteem, praise or respect than if one’s relevant others were bohemian aesthetes who attach a low value to home-ownership. Using the British Household Panel Study (BHPS), we found that as relevant others’ home-ownership values strengthen over time, the subjective well-being (in terms of mental health and life satisfaction) of owners increases, while the subjective well-being of renters decreases. Similarly, the graph below shows that as the social norm of home-ownership strengthens among one’s relevant others, so the uplift in subjective well-being associated with becoming a home-owner – i.e. moving from renting (dark line) to owning (grey line) -  increases. All of the above suggests that home-ownership is a social norm, and that the normalisation process benefits owners at the expense of renters.

As well as ‘being/acting normal’, an individual’s social status is also likely to be affected by their relative wealth. Being able to purchase one’s own home requires a greater level of wealth than renting. Thus, becoming a home-owner signals an increase in relative wealth. However, as the proportion of the population who can access home-ownership increases, the relative wealth that home-ownership signals will decrease, and so will the social status that home-ownership carries. Consistent with this logic, we found that as home-ownership rates among one’s relevant others increase, the life satisfaction of existing home-owners decreases. Therefore, as well as being a social norm, our findings also suggest that home-ownership is a positional good’; a good whose subjective well-being (or ‘utility’) depends strongly on the consumption others.

In sum, our findings suggest that being a home-owner carries social status. This social status (as opposed to autonomy or security) may partly explain why some studies have found home-owners to have higher subjective well-being (e.g. Zumbro, 2014), ontological security (Saunders, 1990) and better educational outcomes (see Dietz and Haurin, 2003) than renters. It may also partly explain why home-ownership aspirations are so strong in the UK. Policymakers and researchers should explore (or at least account for) this social status pathway. Otherwise, they risk overlooking the possibility that some of the apparent benefits of home-ownership may in fact depend on the stigmatisation of others.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Vulgar Magnificence of Neoliberal Architecture

Dr John Crossan, University of Strathclyde, International Public Policy Institute (IPPI)

I recently returned from a few days’ holiday in the Spanish city of Valencia. I have visited the city many times. The restaurants and bars that lead off from the Plaza de Virgen, and the promenade that stretches the combined length of La Arenas, Malvarrosa and El Cabañal beaches, are some of my favourite haunts. The city’s Jardines Del Turia (The Turia Gardens) is where I spend most of my visits. The gardens run from West to East some nine kilometres on the former river bed of the Turia, whose course was altered in the late 1950s to prevent constant flooding. Jardines Del Turia boasts an itinerary of palm, pine and orange trees; fountains; playparks; floral labyrinths; numerous sports facilities, cafes, bars and public monuments. The real charm of the gardens cannot be found in a single location but in their use. The citizens of Valencia, the great and good, can be seen in significant numbers meandering along the contours of this beautiful public place.

This scene comes to an abrupt end towards the Eastern stretch of the gardens. The grounded, understated and at times quietly eccentric earthy urban commune of Jardines Del Turia is shattered by the vulgar magnificence of the Palau Des Arts Renia Sofia (Palace of Arts). Designed by the Valencian-born and internationally known architect Santiago Calatrava, the building, opened in 2005, rises 14 stories above ground and includes three stories below ground. The building’s height and metallic, expansive shell-like roof structure, 230 m in length, speaks a visual language that comes from a distant place somewhere between science fiction and the type of mega yachts owned by the super-rich. The aesthetic and spatial language of the complex could not be further removed from The Turia Gardens or from the city centre of Valencia more broadly. Look through the many online city marketing images of the building and you will notice that people are missing. I asked a few of my friends who have, like me visited the city on numerous occasions, if they had spent any time in or around the building. Like me, they had not. The Palau Des Arts Renia Sofia and its grounds do not invite human engagement. Critically, this is not a piece of architecture removed from the emotional landscape of Valencia’s communal urban charm. Rather, it disturbs that landscape by being plonked upon it.

Palau Des Arts Renia Sofia in Valencia falls under the category of neoliberal mega-project. These are large-scale architectural projects and city events such as the London Olympics or Glasgow Commonwealth Games. A recent paper in this journal by Amparo Tarazona Vento (2017) has a particular focus on Valencia’s mega-projects, including the Palace of Arts. In the paper, Vento shows how Valencia’s mega-projects, designed to generate economic activity and employment, have had an adverse effect, helping to propel regional government towards financial crisis. He writes:  

The most evident results of Valencia’s urban policy, besides the physical transformation, were social inequality, underinvestment in social services and fiscal crisis, in short, a net transfer of wealth from the public to the private sector through the built environment (Vento 2017: 80). 

Vento also highlights the depoliticizing effects of such projects. There is an artful deviance at play in the depoliticizing process. It is presented as a participatory exercise in democratically motivated city planning. The managerial expertise of the state partners the entrepreneurial skills of a private sector eager to fulfill its responsibilities as corporate citizens. This partnership is then extended to the broader citizenry, via public meetings, participatory design charrettes, and the obligatory interactive project website. “In practice” writes Vento “only a limited group of professionals and members of the elite – architects, planners, developers, financiers and business leaders” – make the decisions. Attempts to present a more critical challenge to these projects are often curtailed by restricting access to relevant information and data that is deemed too sensitive by the elite partners for public consumption (Swyngedouw et al 2002).

De-politicization becomes both cause and effect of a dual process of political and social exclusion. In the first instance, certain publics and their ideas are excluded from the planning process because they are deemed reactionary by ‘experts’ who tightly stage-manage the political process. In the second instance, certain publics are excluded by hard and soft forms of neoliberal discipline. By hard I am referring to the brute control of those publics that do not complement the sanitized mega-project aesthetic. By soft I am referring to more, subtle, but no less effective forms of discipline that work through a process of ideological saturation, whereby spatial symbols, prompts and cues of the dominant ideology are imposed upon the contours of a city.

John Allen (2006) refers to this soft form of discipline as ambient power. Ambient power is the affective component of a ‘decided finality’ that cannot accommodate difference because its diameters are always already set. The tight choreographies of the mega-project limit our ability to think these places could be anything other than what they have become. Resonating with Walter Benjamin’s remarks on the nineteenth century Parisian arcades, the ambient power of the mega-project works to suppress our critical awareness and, along with the political power that facilitates such projects, manufactures a depoliticized environment. Douglas Spencer, author of The Architecture of Neoliberalism, writes “the neoliberal eye does not apprehend, calculate or gauge”. Rather, it “surfs the field of vision, revelling in the sensuous freedoms offered up to it”. Those sensuous freedoms are the freedom to disregard context, to ignore the social life of the city, to be ruthless.

Architects have an important role to play in re-politicizing the city. The architecture that will help this process need not be conservative, but it should acknowledge and respect its surroundings. Crucially its focus must be on the human-scale.

References (without hyperlink):
Benjamin W (2002) The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Spencer D (2016) The Architecture of Neoliberalism: How Contemporary Architecture Became an Instrument of Control and Compliance. London and New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Can bicycle and transit investment increase home values?

Wei Li, Texas A&M University, USA

Kenneth Joh, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, USA 

Efforts to coordinate bicycling and transit use have garnered attention among US planners in recent years.  The proliferation of bike sharing programs such as Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare combined with ambitious investments in on-street bike lanes and bike paths reflect a coordinated effort to integrate bicycling with existing transit networks.  The marriage of bicycling and transit can help solve the first and last mile problem by improving access to transit stations, which could increase ridership for both modes.   

Among millennials and young professionals in particular, bicycle and transit friendly neighborhoods are especially attractive as they are more likely than others to give up their cars.  Their preference for “green” modes is reflected in the growing demand for housing in these neighborhoods, particularly in urban settings.  While the environmental and public health benefits of bicycling and transit have long been recognized by planners, the synergistic impact of bicycle-transit integration and property value premiums attributed to these impacts is not well understood.  

Our article addresses this gap by assessing the property value impact of neighborhood bikeability, transit accessibility, and their synergistic effect by analyzing 3,495 condominium and 12,149 single-family property sale transactions from January 2010 through November 2012 in Austin, Texas (USA).  Bike Score and Transit Score are used as indices to measure neighborhood bikeability and transit accessibility, respectively, and we assess the residents’ willingness to pay to live in bike/transit friendly neighborhoods, controlling for various sociodemographic and built environment factors.    

We first estimated the direct effects of bicycle and transit accessibility on property values independently.  Keeping all structural and neighborhood characteristics constant, a one percent increase in Bike Score increased condominium property values by 0.30 percent and single-family property values by 0.03 percent; a one percent increase in Transit Score increased property values of condos by 0.39 percent and 0.10 percent for single-family homes.  In sum, the independent effects of increasing bike and transit accessibility were small but significant.       

We then examined the synergistic effects of bicycling and transit on property values.  For the sake of simplicity, we report only the total effects translated into dollar values in this blog. 
On average, a one percent increase in bikeability translated into the following increases in property values in neighborhoods across varying levels of transit accessibility:

Poor transit access: $67.59 for condos, $173.28 for single-family;
Good transit access: $1,030.77 for condos, $1,000.92 for single-family;
Excellent transit access: $3,900.46 for condos, $2,054.23 for single-family. 

Similarly, on average, a one percent increase in transit accessibility raised individual condominium (or single-family) property values by $509.18 (or $88.86 for single-family) if minimal bike infrastructure is available, compared to $1,329.92 (or $2,080.32 for single-family) if the neighborhood bikeability level allows daily errands to be accomplished by biking.

Our results show that high-quality bicycle and transit investments have the potential to increase property values for both condominium and single-family housing markets. In neighborhoods with good transit service or better, investing in bicycle infrastructure would yield a much greater payoff in terms of property values of both housing types compared to neighborhoods that are not well-served by transit.  The effects would behoove policy makers to pursue the coordination of bicycle master plans with regional transit plans and consider strategies of spatially-joint bicycle and transit investment. Such plans and strategies are not only for economic benefits in terms of property values and tax revenues which could be used to make further improvements to bicycle and transit systems, but also to promote increased public health, transportation options, and social equity.

Landscapes of Local Business, Microclimates of Reinvestment

By Jennifer Minner

Churn and change along commercial strips: Spatial analysis of patterns in remodelling activity and landscapes of local business 

Figure 1. Photo of South Congress Avenue, in Austin, Texas by Todd Dwyer (cc) on Flickr.

Small, independent businesses are integral to the cultural landscapes and spirit of entrepreneurialism that are integral to the identity of Austin, Texas. A mix of restaurant, retail, and leisure businesses creates destinations along ordinary commercial strips within the capital city of Texas. Commercial strips, which are long linear stretches of commercial development oriented to the road, have long been a ubiquitous part of the North American landscape. Commercial strips offer goods and services, opportunities for social interaction and public life, and opportunities for entrepreneurialism.

I was first drawn to neon lit leisure zones in Austin while studying for a PhD in community and regional planning. My dissertation Landscapes of Thrift and Choreographies of Change: Reinvestment and Adaptation along Austin’s Commercial Strips focused on the rapid change along commercial strips during a continuing construction boom as well as an economic recession that barely stalled redevelopment activity. I was fascinated by the way that ordinary, existing commercial buildings were modified in creative ways to attract tourists and residents. Gas stations were being converted into bars with outdoor seating (figures 2A-C). Auto repair shops became new restaurants. It seemed that new microclimates of small business were emerging along Austin’s commercial strips. I also noted longstanding businesses that I dubbed ‘landmarks of thrift,’ which retained a sense of history through informal acts of preservation.

Figure 2A. Sinclair Service Station on South Lamar. Image ND-55-395-01, Austin History Center,
Austin Public Library.

Figure 2B. Former Sinclair Service Station stripped for conversion to bar. Photo by Jennifer Minner.

Figure C. Former Sinclair Service Station as the Corner Bar in 2011. Photo by Jennifer Minner.
Variety in the types of businesses, neighborhoods, and urban forms along Austin's commercial strips and the pace of change along them, made for an ideal laboratory to study commercial landscapes, and the dynamic interactions between urban planning, real estate and development, and small business development. While my dissertation used mostly qualitative methods to understand the role of a multitude of actors -- merchants, developers, property owners, public officials, artists and neighborhood residents -- who were shaping the commercial strip. 

I wanted to develop spatial analysis methods to probe deeper into patterns of change. I began collaborating with Xiao Shi, then a dual master’s student in City and Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture at Cornell University. She had never been to Austin, but she soon became fascinated by it through our conversations, Google Streetview, building permits, and GIS data. We began to devise new ways to both qualitative and quantitatively measure the relationship between landscapes of local business and redevelopment along Austin’s commercial strips. 

In the article “Churn and change along commercial strips: Spatial analysis of patterns in remodeling activity and landscapes of local business,” we outline both the spatial analysis methods we employed and a new way to categorize investments in the landscapes of local business. We found some evidence to support the hypothesis that new zones of restaurant, retail, and leisure oriented businesses created a new sense of place that attracts additional investment. The methods we share are intended to advance conversations about how commercial strips change over time. 

Figure 3. A new upscale upholstery shop next to auto insurance business. Photos depicts businesses that market to different customers along N. Lamar Boulevard in Austin, Texas. Photo by Jennifer Minner

This research focused on the relationship between small urban remodels and larger scale redevelopment. An important question that remains unanswered in this research: What are means to ensure that the unique sense of place and a diverse commercial ecology within which longstanding and new merchants can thrive in the long term. Does the unique sense of places created through landscapes of local business necessarily lead to chain stores and luxury boutiques and the loss of Austin’s treasured, everyday small businesses? While new, higher density, mixed use development is in many ways desirable, equally as important is the question of how to maintain landscapes of local business in the face of economic pressures such as rising rents, and threats of gentrification and displacement.