Tag Archives: economics

Is facadism/urban taxidermy bad?

In this piece, Are we killing Yonge Street? from NOW Toronto Magazine, there is a good discussion on what is happening to development on Yonge Street in Toronto. NOW reports that for a lot of development happening on Yonge Street, the facades of the existing building are kept and much of the development is happening behind it. The article argues that this is a bad thing, and they raise some good points.

What I think they don’t touch on are some of the alternatives. Toronto is fortunate in that there is development ongoing. For poor cities, the alternative is boarded up or demolished buildings and vacant neighborhoods.  Instead, we have neighborhoods and buildings being improved. That’s good.

Another alternative is the old buildings being torn down and replaced with new storefronts and new buidlings. I think some of that is good, but I also think preservation of old buildings is also good.

When it comes to preservation and improvements of old buildings, I also think that some of them should be preserved outright. However, Toronto is a growing city, and in some cases, we need larger buildings. In that case, facadism is a good compromise.

Now whether or not facadism is effective or not depends on at least two things. The first is how well the new architecture uses the existing architecture. Done well, the marriage of the old and new building results in something that enhances the area and preserves the city while allowing it to grow.  The second thing that determines if facadism is effective is how the new building affects the neighborhood. Here, I think, is the root of the problem. It’s not so much facadism as it is gentrification. Old buildings get preserved, but old stores do not. New developments can cause rents to rise, driving out the stores and organizations that made the neighborhood great. You get bank branches and big chain stores replacing old bookshops and cafes.

I hope the next phase of development tries to understand how to preserve not just the existing architecture, but the neighborhood as well. I realize that is a difficult task, but it is one worth trying to accomplish.


Want to know why it is so expensive to get tickets to special events?

Then you want to read these two really good pieces on why it is brutally tough to get tickets to an event without paying a fortune:

What it comes down to is a very limited supply and a very high demand. But that’s obvious. Read the pieces to see just how it really plays out.

Nate Silver and Paul Krugman on the importance of good models to understand and predict

This piece by Nate Silver, How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump in FiveThirtyEight, is ostensibly about how he messed up in his predictions on the rise of Donald Trump. What I think is worth reading is how he goes about his work and what he learned from his mistakes. Specifically, it’s a great study on how important models are and how a good model works and what it can tell us.

Related, Paul Krugman talks about his model here: Economics and Self-Awareness in The New York Times. Like Silver, he uses models both to understand and predict. Obviously they are modelling different things, but in both cases good models are the basis of their thinking and the work they do.

It’s likely too much to ask now, but eventually anyone doing analysis and making predictions should have to disclose the models they are basing their decisions upon. The opinions of anyone not having such models are likely not worth much.

Detroit: imploding city

While I knew things were rough in Detroit, this story, Volume of abandoned homes ‘absolutely terrifying’ (from DetroitNews.com), gives you a context of just how incredibly bad it is. Two take aways from that story. First, this statistic:

Since 2005, more than 1-in-3 Detroit properties have been foreclosed because of mortgage defaults or unpaid taxes

Two, this map of foreclosures:

The situation is terrible, but the story is worth reading and the visuals (e.g. a bigger view of that map) really illustrate the damage. Worth reading, especially if you have recently read some pieces, as I have, of good news coming out of Detroit.

An astounding interview of Yanis Varoufakis

This New Statesman interview of Yanis Varoufakis is astounding. The way he describes negotiations between Greece and other members of the Troika should not surprise me, and yet it does.

You might think: that can’t be right….he’s exaggerating for his own benefit. But many of the things Varoufakis states I have read referenced elsewhere, but in snippets.

Well worth the time spent reading it.

P.S. He has some interesting things to say about Piketty, as well. The link to his critique of Piketty is here.

Why aren’t we becoming more productive with all this new technology?

Vox raises that question here: All this digital technology isn’t making us more productive – Vox, and it implies that because people are slacking off on the Internet. I think that is incorrect, and here’s why.

The chart that Vox piece has shows big producitivity gains from 1998-2003 and smaller gains after that.

From 1998-2003 was the peak adoption of the Internet by companies. In the early 1990s, companies started to adopt email. In the later 1990s companies started adopting the Web. To me it is not surprising that companies would become more productive and they shifted away from snail mail and faxes to email. And then companies shifted further and started offering services over the Web, I imagine they became much more productive.

Slacking off on the Internet has been a problem since the Web came along. I know, because I used to monitor web server traffic.  I don’t think that is the issue.

I think it is more likely that companies grabbed the big productivity gains from the Internet at the beginning, and then those gains slowed down after.

So what about smartphones? Have they made people more productive? I think they have, but I also think that the gains in being able to access information remotely may have been overtaken by the sheer amount of information to deal with. Being able to deal with email remotely makes you productive. Having to deal with way more email than you ever had to in the 1990s because now everyone has it makes you unproductive.

Furthermore, many of the features on smartphones are aimed at personal use, not professional use. I think smartphones make us more productive personally,  but less so professionall.y


Janet Yellen, Forecasting Ace

I didn’t expect a positive review of Janet Yellen in the wsj, but this piece, linked to below, is really positive. Here’s a sample:

Steering central bank policy depends more than anything on assessing where the economy is heading. Yet, central bankers, surprisingly, are seldom picked for their forecasting acumen. More often they are former public servants, bankers or academics.

Then there is Janet Yellen.

Her forecasts as a Fed official have been strikingly accurate, as the release of 2009 transcripts to the Fed’s deliberations make clear. If she worked on Wall Street, she’d be a “hot hand.” This does not mean as chairwoman she is necessarily right; but it does suggest her forecasts deserve the benefit of the doubt.

via Janet Yellen, Forecasting Ace – Real Time Economics – WSJ. A really good piece.