Archive for the ‘Urban and Regional Economics’ Category

public transportation for home deliveries

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Is Amazon riding a wave of the future?

The online retail giant [Amazon] has started delivering parcels to its Manhattan customers using the city’s underground train network, having discovered what New Yorkers have known for years: it can be much quicker than driving.

In December, Amazon started piloting an ultra-fast service, Prime Now, which promises to deliver popular items such as phone chargers, soap and pet food in as little as an hour for $7.99, or within two hours for free. The scheme was launched in New York, but has since been rolled out in a handful of other US cities, including Miami and Dallas. ….

Amazon confirmed it was using the subway for Prime Now orders: “In Manhattan, our folks bike, walk or use public transportation. They only drive if the item is large like a flat screen TV.”

David Crow, “Amazon trolleys take a ride on New York subway“, Financial Times, 18 May 2015 (metered paywall).


killer police in the USA

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Two recent police killings of black men unleashed angry protests when, in each instance, charges were dropped. This raises two questions. First, how many instances of police killings of suspects are there in the USA? Second, how often do police officers face criminal charges for their killings?

BBC journalist Taylor Kate Brown looked into this. She discovered that the total number of individuals killed by police officers is not known, because reporting to the FBI is voluntary. The “several thousand” police killings recorded by the FBI between 2005 and 2011 is thus an underestimate.

An estimated 41 of these “several thousand” cases went to trial. In the remaining “several thousand” cases, all charges of murder or manslaughter were dropped, without trial. Astonishingly, the legal system treats corruption and other white collar crimes more harshly. “[T]his tendency to not charge”, Ms Brown writes, “does not exist as strongly for police officers investigated for non-violent crimes”.

This bears repeating. Only a small number (perhaps 41) of “several thousand” killer police officers were charged with a crime for killing an individual while on duty. These are the cases that went to trial. The number of convictions is even smaller.

“Everybody knows policing is violent, and [jurors] don’t want to second guess those decisions,” says Philip Stinson, a researcher at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and former police officer.

Juries – both grand juries and trial juries – tend to “give every possible benefit of the doubt” when it comes to police officers who have killed while on-duty, Dr Stinson says.

But the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings make it hard to know why that was. ….

Comprehensive nationwide numbers of how many police officers kill individuals while on duty do not exist. ….

Mr Stinson’s own research found 41 police officers were charged with murder or manslaughter between 2005 and 2011. In the same time period, the FBI recorded several thousand justifiable homicides.

Taylor Kate Brown, “The cases where US police have faced killing charges“, BBC News, Washington, 5 December 2014.

Ms Brown describes several of the 41 trials of police killers. One caught my attention.

In Baltimore in 2008, Police Officer Tommy Sanders was indicted for voluntary manslaughter while on duty when he shot and killed Edward Lamont Hunt.

Mr Sanders told the court Hunt had been staring at him across a car park at a shopping centre. As he was searching Hunt, the officer said Hunt assaulted him and ran off. After giving chase, Sanders told the court he saw Hunt reach for something.

Mr Sanders fired three shots, two hitting Hunt in the back.

During the trial, multiple witnesses said Hunt had never assaulted the officer, nor did he reach into his coat while running.

Hunt was unarmed.

While the evidence led a grand jury to charge Hunt, he was eventually found not guilty.

But the case was slightly different than recent cases of white police officers being accused of bias in handling of black suspects – Mr Sanders himself is black.

This is the type of justice we might expect in an oppressive dictatorship, not in a prosperous democracy, not in the “land of the free”.

For more information, click on the ungated link above.


militarisation of US civilian police

Friday, December 5th, 2014

The Financial Times today published a strongly-worded editorial in the wake of killings by police officers of two unarmed men: one in Ferguson (Missouri) and another on Staten Island (New York City).

Protesters have understandably focused on the fact that both men — Michael Brown and Mr Garner — were African-American and that their police killers were white. It is undeniable that black Americans are disproportionately more likely than other ethnic groups to be the victims of police shootings ….

There is a huge imbalance in the US penal system. All Americans should be concerned. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, more than half of the 426 “justifiable homicides” that occurred in 2012 were white. By comparison there were zero police killings in neighbouring Canada that year. …. [Emphasis added.]

Using armoured personnel carriers and stun grenades, these operations [50,000 Swat raids on private homes each year] could as well be taking place in Baghdad during the height of the Iraq insurgency. Often they result in deaths. Invariably they spread terror.

It would be a travesty were Mr Obama’s plea for dialogue to be monopolised by race. That would imply the US justice system was basically sound except for its racial bias. The latter is a window on a far larger problem. Put simply, America’s civilian police culture is turning paramilitary.  [Emphasis added.]

The crisis of America’s shoot-first justice system“, Financial Times editorial, 5 December 2014 (metered paywall).


Vancouver’s high property prices

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Why are housing costs high and rising in Vancouver, while they are low and falling in Victoria, capital of British Columbia? Victoria is smaller than Vancouver, and lies on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, so is cut off from the mainland. But that does not explain why the two housing markets are out of sync. For whatever reason, global demand for residential property is high in beautiful Vancouver compared to equally beautiful Victoria.

The most expensive housing market in North America is not where you’d think. It’s not New York City or Orange County, California, but Vancouver, British Columbia. Now, Vancouver is a beautiful city—a thriving deep-water port, a popular site for TV and movie shoots. By all accounts, it is a wonderful place to live. But nothing about its economy explains why—in a city where the median income is only around seventy grand—single-family houses now sell for close to a million dollars apiece and ordinary condos go for five or six hundred thousand dollars. ….

When price-to-income or price-to-rent ratios get out of whack, it’s often a sign of a housing bubble. But the story in Vancouver is more interesting. Almost by chance, the city has found itself at the heart of one of the biggest trends of the past two decades—the rise of a truly global market in real estate. ….

If there are enough rich people in China who want property in Vancouver, prices can float out of reach of the people who actually live and work there. So just because prices look out of whack doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a bubble. Instead, wealthy foreigners are rationally overpaying, in order to protect themselves against risk at home. And the possibility of losing a little money if prices subside won’t deter them. [Andy] Yan says, “If the choice is between losing ten to twenty per cent in Vancouver versus potentially losing a hundred per cent in Beijing or Tehran, then people are still going to be buying in Vancouver.”

James Surowiecki, “Real Estate Goes Global“, The New Yorker, 26 May 2014.

Mr Surowiecki interviewed Andy Yan, an urban planner at Vancouver-based Bing Thom Architects.

urban versus rural retirement

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Here’s a pattern familiar to all of us: a retired married couple with an empty nest sell their overpriced home in the city centre and move to the country to enjoy peace, quiet, gardening and fishing. ….But there are signs the trend may be reversing. And indeed, there are some very good reasons why this reversal is a good thing. ….

When you consider the plethora of free or low-cost cultural services available to older adults in London alone – free bus fares, admission to the best museums and galleries in the world, discounts at cinemas and theatre – the question becomes not whether you should retire to the country. Instead, it is “Why leave the city at all?” ….

Among other factors, the inability to drive a car is often an immediate precursor to the greatest threat to elderly wellbeing: social isolation. In other words, retirement and old age spent in a rural setting without close family nearby can be the opposite of idyllic. ….

[F]or those looking to maximise their chances of a comfortable retirement, the signs are pointing in one direction: move to the city!

Norma Cohen, “City living is good for you“, Financial Times, 3 May 2014.

Journalist Norma Cohen is demography correspondent at the Financial Times.

I agree that urban living trumps rural living. I would add that retirees living in high-cost cities like London and New York should – unless they are very affluent – relocate to a less expensive city. Any selected city must, however, offer public parks, cultural amenities and – above all – good public transportation. I relocated from New York to such a city in central Europe, where many attractive, inexpensive cities exist. The United Kingdom also has wonderful, smaller cities where living costs are much lower than London. North America is difficult, because of a car culture and lack of public transportation. Desirable North American cities with good public transit systems (such as New York City and Vancouver) tend also to be very expensive.

housing markets around the world

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

The online “Global Property Guide” provides easy access to information – loaded with charts – on housing markets in every corner of the world. Even if, like me, you are not in the market, it is interesting to learn what is going on in markets around the world. (more…)

poverty and transportation

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

“A developed country is not where the poor have cars … it is where the wealthy use public transportation.”

Yet another illustration of the adage that “services for the poor are poor services”.

I would add that, all else equal, lack of adequate public transportation means the poor are poorer, because they are forced to purchase a vehicle or walk long distances. This fact is overlooked in measures of poverty.

And, of course, a private automobile harms the environment much more than use of public transportation does.


Source: ILDES  (Instituto Latinoamericano para el Desarrollo Económico Sustentable).

intergenerational mobility in the US

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

The distribution of income in the United States is more unequal than in other developed countries. Moreover, those born into poverty are less apt to climb out of it in the US than in other high-income countries. Numerous researchers have confirmed this, using data for the country as a whole. A team of four economists from Harvard and the University of California-Berkeley have shown, however, that social mobility is far from uniform in the US. In fact, intergeneration mobility varies widely across US cities.

The US is supposed to be the land of opportunity. This column presents evidence that is better thought of as the ‘lands of opportunity’. Economic mobility varies dramatically across US cities. Some have upward-income mobility comparable to the most mobile countries in the world. Others have rates below that of any developed country. These geographical differences are correlated with five factors: segregation, income inequality, local school quality, social capital, and family structure.

Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline and Emmanuel Saez, “Where is the land of opportunity? Intergenerational mobility in the US“, Vox, 4 February 2014.

The full 94-page paper, on which this column is based, is available as an NBER Working Paper (No. 19843, January 2014). Here is an ungated link to the paper.


social pensions in Mexican states

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

For easy access to all TdJ posts on social pensions at the sub-federal level in Mexico, I have added the tag “Mexican States”. For access to information on states that have – or had – social pensions, click on the tag, or on

Tagged posts include the Federal District (DF), which contains Mexico City, as the DF is governed the same as any state in Mexico, with an elected governor and local Congress.

housing supply and demand

Friday, October 11th, 2013

It is amazing how far simple supply and demand analysis will take us in analysing government policy. Using this tool, FT columnist Martin Wolf explains that the UK government’s “Help to Buy” scheme is primarily a scheme to keep housing prices high, which benefits today’s owners, financial institutions and housebuilders, not first-time buyers. (more…)