Security Consequences of Urban Planning


Modern urban planning in the U.S., as it has been conceived and implemented in the urban sprawl since WWII, poses serious security concerns that arise from its economic vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities are both explicit, in terms of direct transaction costs such as transportation to work, and more implicit, in terms of aggregate and individual worker productivity. Thus, did The Economist ("In a Jam," May 5, 2007, p. 38) describe the situation in the area where I live:

[The] Bay Area is not set up like a European metropolis. Most suburbanites have quite a drive just to get to an underground station, and must then win a vicious struggle for parking to make it onto a train.

The description fits well with my family's experience here.

In major American cities, workers have to drive long distances (of the order of 80 - 200 km / day) from home to work and back, and a significant increase in gas prices, without a similar increase in better communications technologies (that allow people to reduce trips to work to compensate for other losses) or a similar increase in energy efficiency of automobiles (at the same unit price) can cause perturbations towards lower growth rates.

Lack of adequate and efficient public transportation is not limited to major cities. One in eight who live in the U.S. live in California, just as I do. The state by itself has consistently accounted for one of the top 10 largest GDPs in the world for multiple decades, and it drives the U.S. economy with its vast consumption, tax base, farming and real estate, not to mention high technology. And yet, there are no super fast trains connecting any of its major metropolitan areas together: Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento Valley, etc.

The economic inflexibility of urban sprawl leads not only to higher overall transaction costs throughout the economy but also to instabilities in various sectors. For example, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 51 leading retail store chains have reported a collective 2.3% decline in same-store sales. Michael Niemira, chief economist of the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers says this is the weakest showing since he began tracking the closely watched industry measure of performance in 1970. People have blamed this on a soft housing market, bad wheather in March, a fast Easter or fuel prices. Fuel prices and a soft housing market seem to be the most likely explanations for why this drop has been as large as it has been. While the real estate industry benefits from generally cheap gas prices (which lead to better possibilities for greater urban sprawl) and may be willing to go to war for it (observe how the representatives of American economic power offered almost universal support, in 2002-2003, for aggression against and occupation of Iraq), the spending for war might come back to bite the real-estate and other industries in the form of rampant deficits and inflation, higher interest rates, higher fuel prices and general asset attrition. One would expect that the economic elites and political leaders of a super power to comprehend that peace, justice, stability and truly open commerce (of course, not in commerce of aggressive war machinary) remain the solid base and the best guarantors of mutual understanding and development, economic vitality and growth. However, "stability" is often confused with the extension of imperial rule. In the meantime, a rampant political jargon and an infected moral language equates mass aggression with liberation, injustice with natural rights, murder with "collatoral damange," etc. Such infection of moral language, publicly spread, will always fog people's minds and provide a kind of self-belief among the elites to perpetuate the rule of what becomes a militaristic economy unashamedly pursuing its ends until it exhausts all resources at its disposal (and reaches its own end) at a huge toll in human life and well-being.


"extention (sic)of imperial rule"

Why is this kind of twisted-logic America-bashing on Sun's blog site? Does Sun Microsystems employ lots of people like you?

Posted by Anonymous on May 13, 2007 at 12:23 AM PDT #

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous -

Thanks for catching my typo. It should have read "extension" not "extention" ... Yes, thanks for catching it, and it shows you had the patience to read the whole thing, and thanks for that, too!

Please note what I've said loud and clear on the top left corner of my weblog, in boldface: The opinions expressed here are purely my own, and neither Sun nor any other party necessarily agrees with them.

So, postulating otherwise would not only be quite silly but unreasonable.

Let me address one other point in your comment, as immediately as I can.

If I did not love the community I live in, I wouldn't even bother writing this particular entry. There are far better things to do in life. So, I have no idea with you mean by "America-bashing." Perhaps, you should explain.

As far as the rest of your comment, you don't seem to have the simple courage to say what you're saying with your own real identity, whatever that might be. Hiding behind "anonymous" only makes what you say hollow and impossible to deal with because I have no idea what kind of authority you are and what moves you to say what you're saying.

So, I'm lost what to say.

Perhaps you're trying to perfect the art of anonymous intimidation.

At least I have the courage not to hide behind "anonymous" when I say what I think.

To say that the U.S. has exercised imperial power in the world should be quite a non-controversial matter.

To say that empires tend to over-extend themselves beyond their means also carries a great deal of scholarship and authority behind it.

If you believe it is otherwise, please present your facts!

And again, in closing, I refer you to the top left corner of this blog:

The opinions expressed here are purely my own, and neither Sun nor any other party necessarily agrees with them.

If you think that anyone who has a job with some company should not say anything relevant to current topics and politics, I refer you to Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture. For a relevant extract, I refer you to: "A Taboo Against Political Discourse."

As an aside, I think you might also want to consult any of the books by Zbigniew Brzezinski, where he examines the challenges to the empire from a strategic perspective. Searching for recent Zbignew Brzezinski interviews on YouTube might also produce interesting results.

Yours truly,

P.S. I hope next time you write, you'll drop the "anonymous" so I may better be introduced to you and your ideas!

Posted by M. Mortazavi on May 13, 2007 at 06:34 PM PDT #

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