Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Future Vision of New York City as a Green City

This week New York magazine (not the one with the witty cartoons) has an interesting "science fiction" section discussing the future of New York City. What is striking about the published pieces is the emphasis on New York City's future as a "Green City". This is a clear consumer city where people will be willing to pay a lot of money in terms of home prices to have access to a safe, clean fun city.

When I skimmed this piece I couldn't find much discussion of the future of "affordable housing" in such a green, clean city. The monocentric model of urban economics combined with housing filtering would predict that the decaying boring 1950s vintage housing stock in the inner ring suburbs of Westchester county (I'm thinking of Mt. Vernon and Yonkers) might be the place where "affordable housing" will be found. Such housing will not be found on 125th street.

Building the (New) New York
The Bob and Jane way.

* By Alexandra Lange

We are a city of 8 million people, give or take a few hundred thousand. But we are building a city for 9 million. Literally. Right now. That will be New York City’s total population just a couple of decades hence, and politicians, bureaucrats, developers, architects, and engineers are, as you read these words, figuring out how to fit another million people onto the collection of islands and peninsulas we call home. We can’t just bulldoze and slap up some towers—we’ve learned some lessons from the sixties—and it isn’t just half a million new homes that we need. Those million need offices, factories, labs to work in. They need subways, buses (and ferries and trams) to commute in. They need places to park and places to play, plus the power to light their homes. All in a city that can’t sprawl.

This is Tomorrowland—a new city, a city larger than San Francisco, built on top of the city we know. In ten years, New York City will be transformed in ways we can only guess at. But in the pages that follow, you will explore our best guess, based on the plans, the dreams, the cornerstones, and the rising steel in nine city neighborhoods, spread over all five boroughs. In 2016, we won’t be able to be so parochial anymore—one Times Square isn’t going to be enough to fulfill the entertainment needs of that bigger, younger, more diverse population, and you’ll be talking about the lights on 125th Street. Fresh Kills will be three times the size of Central Park. If you imagine the city as a play—every neighborhood has a role—a lot of understudies are finally going to be called onstage.

New York in 2016

* The (New) New York
* Lower Manhattan
* Brooklyn and Queens Waterfront
* High Line
* Midtown West
* Harlem
* Fresh Kills
* Hunts Point
* Downtown Brooklyn
* Flushing
* How You'll Get Around

When New York didn’t get the Olympics or the Jets, there were lots of pitying articles about how Mayor Bloomberg’s (and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff’s) big dreams had died. But that was a complete misperception. City agencies went right on ahead with their plans. Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning, check. East River waterfront, check. Soon, Governors Island, Willets Point. Eventually, something new on those West Side rail yards.

And New York is—finally—getting greener. Mandated green city buildings, new sustainable towers in Battery Park City. Community groups dream of more green buildings on the ruins of the Sheridan Expressway. What is fascinating is the recovery and recycling of the works of the city’s greatest bogeyman, Robert Moses. He was responsible for the last great era of park building in the city, but he also sliced apart neighborhoods with highways and towers. Today’s mini-Moseses are combining his initiatives, building parks on the neighborhoods his roadways isolated, transforming infrastructure into landscape architecture. It is on the long-ignored waterfront that the most amazing transformation is occurring.

Sprinkled like jewelry across this new city fabric are projects, some fabulous, some already outdated, by both the dinosaurs and fledglings of the architectural pantheon. Yes, we’re getting our Gehry (one, two, three, four, maybe more), but also our Morphosis, our ShoP, our TEN Arquitectos.

But often in some peculiar locations. Piano across from the Port Authority? Gehry in Brooklyn? Viñoly by the Williamsburg Bridge? The New York of 2016 doesn’t husband all the new design ideas in Manhattan but spreads them out. (One can’t help but get a little giddy with all the big names, but there is a dark side to hiring all these out-of-towners. Too often they serve as ambassadors to the upper-middle class for owners with an agenda, cloaking the same old towers in a park.

The planning phrase on everyone’s lips is “eyes on the street,” the reductio ad absurdum of the argument of the late Jane Jacobs’s 1961 Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs argued that the lifeblood of her then-threatened neighborhood, the Village, was the shopkeepers and homeowners and stoop-sitters who watched the sidewalks and parks for free. Under City Planning commissioner Amanda Burden, neighborhoods are being contextually zoned to preserve their “special character.”

Jacobs’s vision was lovely but limited, with little room for new buildings, new neighborhoods. Rereading her arguments, one develops a sneaking admiration for the size of Moses’s thoughts. For the city to grow, it needed major change. Under Bloomberg, big thinking is happening again. What we have is a—some would say unholy—alliance of Bob and Jane. Exaltation of the neighborhood, coupled with the idea of building new ones from scratch. The Bloomberg administration still lags in taste at times. Why does every economic-development initiative have to be as big as possible? (Note to gadflies: Many of these projects are not yet set in stone. If you hate it, you can still change it. Start your blog now. But also start imagining an alternative—preferably in PowerPoint.)

Still, when Majora Carter, executive director of Sustainable South Bronx, stands on the newly green rooftop of the historic American Banknote Company Building and quotes Daniel Burnham, one can’t help but get a little chill. “Make no little plans,” she says. “They have no magic to stir man’s blood,” goes the rest of the quote. For Tomorrowland, little plans haven’t been made.

* NEXT: Downtown Becomes a Real Neighborhood

Links referenced within this article

Alexandra Lange
The (New) New York
Lower Manhattan
Brooklyn and Queens Waterfront
High Line
Midtown West
Fresh Kills
Hunts Point
Downtown Brooklyn
How You'll Get Around
NEXT: Downtown Becomes a Real Neighborhood 17144

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Self Protection Against Natural Disasters

We all know that modern life is safer than previous times. Thus, when shocks such as Hurricane Katrina hit they are pretty "shocking". This article below poses an interesting puzzle. Based on survey evidence, people living in hurricane zones are under-investing in self protection against the anticipated new wave of storms. Why?

Possible Answers:

1. They trust that government will ex-post save them (i.e moral hazard)
2. They under-estimate the probability that a storm will strike this year (if you believe in the law of small numbers then Katrina should have raised people's subjective assessment of a big storm this year)
3. They are risk lovers
4. To quote this NYT articles, "It's like a psychological issue — 'If I don't think about bad things, bad things won't happen.' " #4 here is interesting can it be tested?

May 31, 2006
As Hurricane Season Looms, States Aim to Scare

MIAMI, May 30 — Convinced that tough tactics are needed, officials in hurricane-prone states are trumpeting dire warnings about the storm season that starts on Thursday, preaching self-reliance and prodding the public to prepare early and well.

Cities are circulating storm-preparation checklists, counties are holding hurricane expositions at shopping malls and states are dangling carrots like free home inspections and tax-free storm supplies in hopes of conquering complacency.

But the main strategy, it seems, is to scare the multitudes of people who emergency officials say remain blasé even after last year's record-breaking storm season.

To persuade residents to heed evacuation orders, the Florida Division of Emergency Management is broadcasting public service announcements with recordings of 911 calls placed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

"The roof has completely caved in on us," a woman cries as chilling music swells, only to be told that rescuers cannot come out during the storm.

Speaking of the tactics, Craig Fugate, Florida's emergency management director, said last week at a news conference in Tallahassee, "We're going to use a sledgehammer."

This save-yourselves approach comes after government agencies were overwhelmed by pleas for help after last year's storms and strongly criticized as not responding swiftly or thoroughly enough to the public need. Now, officials have said repeatedly, only the elderly, the poor and the disabled should count on the government to help them escape a hurricane or endure its immediate aftermath.

Mississippi, where more than 200 residents died in Hurricane Katrina, unrolled a "Stay Alert. Stay Alive" hurricane awareness campaign in April. State officials told residents what to pack in a "go-kit" for evacuating (flashlight, radio, nonelectric can opener) and, like many others, commanded them to stockpile at least three days' worth of water and food.

Horry County, S.C., home to Myrtle Beach, held a hurricane exposition last month and is giving similar presentations at Kiwanis clubs and homeowners associations.

"The big shortfall is complacency with the community," said Randall Webster, director of Horry County Emergency Management. "Our main theme is, take interest as an individual and make preparations."

But will it work? Emergency management officials groaned this month at a poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc., which found that of 1,100 adults along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, 83 percent had taken no steps to fortify their homes this year, 68 percent had no hurricane survival kits and 60 percent had no family disaster plan.

"I can't rightfully say I see any increased sense of people getting ready," said Larry Gispert, emergency management director in Hillsborough County, Fla., home to Tampa. "It's like a psychological issue — 'If I don't think about bad things, bad things won't happen.' "

In Nags Head, N.C., Jimmy Austin, a former commercial fisherman who now operates his own seafood market, said he was unfazed by this year's predictions, some of which suggest that the Carolinas will be especially hard hit. He keeps his insurance current, Mr. Austin said, but sees no need for special precautions.

"I don't pay these things a whole lot of mind," said Mr. Austin, 69, a native of the Outer Banks. "Because they say so doesn't mean it's going to happen that way."

In Galveston, Tex., Keith Patterson, a resident there for 30 years, dismissed the urgency of a hurricane survival kit on Thursday. No use worrying about a hurricane until it is near, he said.

"When one is coming, I'll make preparations," said Mr. Patterson, 68, a retired purchasing clerk. "I'll get what I have to get then."

In Florida, the second annual tax holiday on hurricane supplies, from May 21 through June 1, has not drawn an overwhelming response, several store representatives said. But at least one store, the Lowe's in South Fort Myers, was selling more generators than barbecue grills last week, said John Sandford, operations manager there.

At a Home Depot, Brenda and Jerry Dyche of South Fort Myers were shopping for a generator last Wednesday. With that and a new roof, they said, they had no reason to flee.

"We'd just as soon be in our house," Mr. Dyche said. "Where are we going to go? I-75 is a parking lot by the time they evacuate everybody."

Likewise, Ronda Burke, who did not go inland last year to avoid Hurricane Rita but stayed on South Padre Island, Tex., to watch over her new health food cafe, Naturally's, said she would probably do the same this year if necessary.

"We feel about our store like you feel about a person," said Ms. Burke, whose husband took their two young children to higher ground as Hurricane Rita neared the Texas coast (and eventually came ashore far from South Padre Island). "We'd probably ride it out again."

Meanwhile, government agencies are preparing more thoroughly than ever, stockpiling water and food, improving communication technology and outfitting supply trucks with global positioning systems.

Hattiesburg, Miss., is buying $4 million worth of generators for its public buildings and water system. Broward County, Fla., bought a $500,000 command post vehicle to shuttle emergency managers among crisis spots. Many areas will offer more hurricane shelters this year, though officials like Herminio Lorenzo, the Miami-Dade County fire chief, are portraying them bleakly to encourage people to make their own plans.

"The very last place you would want to go is a Red Cross shelter," Mr. Lorenzo said last week at a community hurricane preparation meeting. "You're so close to the people sleeping next to you that you can feel the hair of their mustache on the side of your head."

Some communities are coaxing the public to prepare in a piecemeal way, like saving old milk jugs as emergency water containers and buying one extra can of food on every grocery trip. Escambia County, Fla., is publishing weekly shopping lists to try to get residents to stock up little by little. Martiza Vazquez of Miami said that approach had made preparing more manageable.

"Every time I go to the supermarket I buy four or five cans of tuna or soup or whatever," Ms. Vazquez, 37, said. "I have a checklist that came with the paper the other day, and I am using that to figure out how much is enough."

Waiting for a taxi to take her to her job at McDonald's, Chanavia Williams of Galveston, who makes $5.75 an hour, laughed at the notion of buying provisions to sock away.

"We got food, but I got none saved," said Ms. Williams, 17, the single parent of a 2-year-old, who lives in public housing.

Ms. Williams said she would have to sacrifice buying diapers and baby clothes to afford a hurricane survival kit.

Still, Ms. Williams, who evacuated on a bus as Hurricane Rita neared, said she wanted to prepare, echoing others who had frightening experiences last year. Wayne P. Sallade, emergency management director in Charlotte County, Fla., which was devastated by Hurricane Charley in 2004, said the Mason-Dixon poll numbers on hurricane preparation were skewed by people in states that had not had hurricanes recently.

"You talk to people in cities here, and there's an absolute fever for information," Mr. Sallade said.

That is also true in New Orleans and along the Mississippi coast, where post-Hurricane Katrina anxiety has compelled many to prepare diligently this year.

But in Houston, Joe Laud, spokesman for the city's emergency center, said only 1,000 people with special needs had registered for public transportation to pick them up in an evacuation. During Hurricane Rita, Mr. Laud said, 25,000 such residents needed help evacuating.

Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, at his annual hurricane conference this month in Fort Lauderdale, sourly recalled the chaos after Hurricane Wilma last year, where throngs of residents lined up for free emergency supplies that quickly ran out.

"It makes it a lot harder when people line up in their Lexuses or Mercedeses to get ice and water at a public distribution site when the Publix is open a block away,"

Mr. Bush said.

As his audience of emergency workers applauded, he added, "I don't know about you, but it sure made me feel better to get that off my chest."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Terry Aguayo and Andrea Zarate from Miami; Joanna Hogan from South Fort Myers, Fla.; John DeSantis from Wilmington, N.C.; Karen Hastings from South Padre Island, Tex.; and Thayer Evans from Galveston, Tex.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Climate Change as a 2008 Election Issue?

We know that no Presidential candidate in 2008 will campaign on raising U.S gasoline taxes. While such a tax would induce green innovation, it wouldn't play well outside of Cambridge, MA. Perhaps, some candidates will claim that to insure our "national security" we need a strong defense and the development of alternate fuels and infrastructure investments to protect our coasts from future consequences of climate change.

I could imagine that democrats will try to claim that Republicans are beholden to oil interests and claim that the incumbents in power have made "bad decisions from the social good perspective" because they have been captured by this powerful special interest group.

Just to challenge the conventional wisdom, here is what Bjorn Lomborg's recent group had to say:

"Climate change, predicted by the UN to change the way most people live over the next 100 years, is the least important of the world's immediate problems, says a group of economists, including three Nobel prize winners, who were asked to prioritise how money should be spent on helping the world's poor.

The team of six American and two other economists, brought together by controversial environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg, said it was not worth spending money on climate change because the effects were expected to be far in the future. They recommended that people became rich first and that money should be spent on HIV/Aids, water and free trade.,,1331982,00.html"

What would Al Gore have to say to these folks? He has certainly enjoyed some good media coverage the last couple of days?

May 28, 2006
Political Memo
Back in the Limelight, Gore Insists He's Over Politics

WASHINGTON, May 27 — "I wanted it, and it was not to be," said Al Gore, the former vice president and two-time presidential candidate. "I am not pursuing it. I have been there, and I have done that."

Mr. Gore was on the telephone from New York, taking a break from promoting his book and documentary about global warming, to dismiss — with a combination of weariness and wariness, but with something approaching finality — speculation that his rising profile should be interpreted as the first stirrings of another bid for the White House.

"Why should I run for office?" Mr. Gore asked, the impatience evident in his voice. "I have no interest in running for office. I have run for office. I have run four national campaigns. I have found other ways to serve my country, and I am enjoying them."

After a period in which he had worn out his welcome in some quarters, these have been days of some vindication for Mr. Gore, the Tennessee Democrat who likes to introduce himself as "the man who used to be the next president of the United States," a melancholy reference to his defeat — a characterization he might be inclined to dispute — by President Bush in 2000.

The warnings of global warming that led former President George Bush to mock Mr. Gore as "Ozone Man" in 1992 hardly seem far-fetched in these days of melting ice caps and toasty winters. Mr. Gore's tough condemnation of the war in Iraq, once derided by the White House as evidence of Mr. Gore's extremism, seems positively mainstream today.

He and his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," have been celebrated from Cannes to Hollywood — "Even Bill O'Reilly liked it!" Mr. Gore said — as he has become the toast of the Democratic left and the blogosphere.

With some Democrats recoiling at the prospect of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as their party's nominee, there is entirely plausible speculation of how Mr. Gore could beat her and capture the Democratic presidential nomination, should he choose to do that.

Yet if Mr. Gore has any annoyance these days, it is at the suggestion that "An Inconvenient Truth" was nothing more than the calculated first stirrings of a campaign for president by a man who has spent most of his life practicing politics and is no stranger to its manipulations and machinations. "I am not trying to feed that or stimulate that," he said.

When Mr. Gore started promoting the movie, he methodically sought out environmental reporters rather than political reporters, an aide said, to head off the very kind of is-he-running stories that his friends insist offended him, even as they helped draw attention to his movie.

What Mr. Gore wanted to talk about in a call from New York the other night, as he waited for his daughter to arrive with his grandchildren, was the threat facing Planet Earth. "My whole objective is to change the mind of the American public so all the presidential candidates in both parties will want to talk about global warming," he said.

But in a feisty and frequently argumentative telephone conversation, Mr. Gore brimmed with disdain at the state of American politics and political journalism, urging his interviewer to quit a career of covering politics to turn to matters of real consequence.

"Stop covering politics; cover the climate crisis. It is not too late!" he said, with a boom of laughter.

"Have you read my book?" he asked a moment later. "Have you seen the movie?" Mr. Gore cluck-clucked at the "not yet but I will" response.

To hear Mr. Gore talk about the state of politics and journalism today — this from a man who has a history in both professions — it is hard to imagine him ever running for office again. Politics, he said, has become a game of meaningless, mindless battles, conducted by unscrupulous methods and people, designed to transform even the most serious policy debates into sport.

His documentary, he said, was trying to break through that.

"We need to shift gears in corporate America and in our politics and in our economy and in our culture," he said. "Most of all, political scribes have to take off their cynical lenses through which they view every moral challenge as political spin."

"It's getting a really good response," Mr. Gore said of the movie. "And people see it outside of a partisan context. Now, I know you will not see anything outside of the political context."

He laughed.

Mr. Gore's statement that he had no interest in running in 2008, if not the kind of ironclad assurance politicians and the journalists who cover them tend to demand, came about as close to approaching finality as any he has made.

It is not that Mr. Gore does not want to be president, as several of his friends said. When asked whether he thought he would have more influence fighting global warming in the White House or making movies, he responded instantly.

"I am under no illusions," he said. "There's no position anywhere equal to the president of the United States in terms of one's ability to influence policy."

Yet Mr. Gore has told friends that as much as he wants to be president, his pride, image and legacy — think the defining first clause in his eventual biography — could not absorb another race in which he lost again, or really lost. What that means is that Mr. Gore would only run, his associates said, if he was absolutely confident that he could win.

Mr. Gore is nothing if not a realist, not lured by this interlude in which he is more Democratic hero than goat, his friends said.

If Mr. Gore, who is 58, wanted to run, he would have no trouble enlisting the resources. Several analysts said Mr. Gore could bide his time before entering the race, confident that the power of the Internet would permit him to raise the kind of money almost instantly that once would have taken months of travel.

Several of his advisers said that if asked, they would join a Gore campaign for president, and his support from groups like and with many bloggers is hardly incidental.

The praise from the left suggests there is a ready-made base just waiting for him. "Our members are tremendously excited about him because at a time when politics is dominated by tactical sound-bite politics, here is someone who is a statesman who speaks with intelligence about much bigger issues," said Eli Pariser, executive director of, the liberal advocacy group that has sponsored a series of speeches by Mr. Gore.

Mr. Pariser's remarks also suggest that Mr. Gore had managed to shed much of his political baggage from 2000, when he was derided precisely for being a sound-bite candidate, captive of his consultants.

In that campaign, Mr. Gore rarely, if ever, talked about global warming, notwithstanding the fact that he had written a book on the subject, "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit," published in 1992.

And to Mr. Gore's benefit, the concern among some Democrats about the state of their field is certainly acute. The speculation about a Gore presidential bid was echoed this week by speculation, albeit softer, about the presidential ambitions of another Democrat, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who says he has no interest in running this time.

Still, the man who used to be the next president of the United States says he wants the world to know that he wants none of that.

"That was not to be," Mr. Gore said.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Atlanta: A Surprising Bastion of "New Urban" Living

Below I report an interesting case study of a public/private partnership that appears to have achieved its two goals of greening a big chunk of center city Atlanta and creating urban economic development. The article does not say how much public money was spent on this project so it is impossible to begin to do cost/benefit analysis here. I'm always interested in "demonstration effects". Will politicians from other rundown places such as in Queens, NYC see the Atlanta success story and consider making similar investments? Perhaps they might anticipate the likely gentrification caused by a successful project and be afraid of losing their voting bloc? Would Jane Jacobs oppose this type of "big push" project?

Some economists (see have argued that on average Superfund site cleanups do not lead to nearby home price appreciation. But, this cleanup of brownfields would seem to highlight the need to model the following kind of "interaction effects". If a center city becomes more a desirable place to live (perhaps due to temperate winter climate and falling crime and high per-capita income creating fancy culture and nightlife), then in such a city cleaning up a brownfield can lead to sharp land price appreciation relative to cleaning up a brownfield in a Buffalo or Detroit. If you disagree with this theory, then how do you explain the following case?

May 24, 2006
Square Feet
Building a City Within the City of Atlanta

ATLANTA — "Make no little plans" was the sentiment espoused by the celebrated architect and city planner Daniel H. Burnham at the turn of the last century, and it seems to be making a comeback at the turn of this one. From Denver to Dallas to downtown Los Angeles, multibillion-dollar large-scale mixed-used developments are taking shape. But Atlantic Station here is Exhibit A.

Atlantic Station is not only extraordinarily large, but it is also being built on a formerly contaminated site that was home to a hundred-year-old steel mill, which ceased operation in 1998. Now, the location has become a city within a city on 138 acres with retail, residential, commercial and public space in Midtown Atlanta, the commercial district. And the development seems to be exceeding the expectations of some people.

It will be several more years before the project, which is about half finished, is completed. If it all happens as planned, the $2 billion investment will create a total of 13 million new square feet — about 50 percent larger than the huge Atlantic Yards project proposed in Brooklyn.

The Atlanta development will ultimately include 6 million square feet of ultramodern Class A office space; 5,000 residential units (from luxury condo lofts to more affordable town houses and apartments); 2 million square feet of retail and entertainment space, including restaurants and movie theaters; 1,000 hotel rooms; and 11 acres of public parks.

"There are other projects like this around the country, but not on this scale with as many complicating factors," said James F. Jacoby, president of Jacoby Development Inc., an Atlanta-based development firm.

In 1996, he had the idea of redeveloping the steel mill property, despite the environmental concerns that had scared off many others. "To have this much property in the hands of one owner in a location like this, it's very rare," he said.

Atlantic Station has three areas: the District is the town center of sorts with commercial, retail and urban-style lofts; the Commons is predominantly a high-rise residential area; and the Village is low-rise housing as well as an Ikea store.

Much of the commercial property within the District — where the second Class A office building is coming out of the ground — is built atop a parking structure that will eventually have 15,000 spaces. (The structure was part of the environmental remediation to cap the area where the steel mill operated and it is built on top of the contained area.)

Since Mr. Jacoby first disclosed his plans for the project 10 years ago, it has been a target of critics and skeptics. Many doubted that the project would ever happen, only to wonder later if it could possibly live up to the hype.

But even Kyle Jenks, principal at Parkside Partners, a rival commercial development company that is not affiliated with Atlantic Station, said the project had been a boon to commercial real estate in Midtown Atlanta.

"Over all, the project has far exceeded expectations," Mr. Jenks said. "The residential component has been very successful, and equally impressive is the amount of Class A office they've been able to do in a tough speculative market.

"Three years ago, people would have said it was a Class B location, and yet they've gotten some very high-profile clients. That has only helped Midtown."

The main problem with the site was that in addition to being associated in people's minds with a polluted steel mill, it was separated from downtown by two merging Interstate highways. When the steel mill was built, this was the outskirts of town. But the city grew up around it, creating an enticing redevelopment spot. It has now been connected to the rest of downtown by a highway overpass and pedestrian bridge.

So far, all of the residences at Atlantic Station have been built by third-party developers. Mr. Jacoby says they have doubled their expected return on investment, and Jacoby Development will take over all future residential development. It intends to create upscale high-rises.

One current criticism of the project involves the retail segment, which opened last October and which has been faulted for relying heavily on national chains that are already in suburban shopping malls.

Yet, being able to walk from shops and restaurants to public parks and movie theaters — a rare experience in Atlanta — has attracted visitors from throughout the metropolitan area who drive in, park and spend the day.

"We're actively recruiting local retailers," said Derrick McSwain, chief financial officer for Atlantic Station. "But we had to have a critical mass first before local retailers could be persuaded to take a risk."

To avoid monotonous design, the developers also insisted that the third-party residential developers hire different architects and builders. Even so, everything is still so new that there is a somewhat sterile feeling, although that is expected to disappear over time as people continue to move in and occupy the space.

"There's a serious attempt to create some form of urbanity out of a relic of another world," said Douglas C. Allen, professor and associate dean of architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology. "But the site in its entirety appears to be overprogrammed. You have apartmentville, retail town and office town. I don't know if that's because of planning, or in order to accommodate all the different investors who were taking out pieces of it, but it falls short in some measure, particularly the architecture. But it will get better over time, especially as it's fully built out."

Susan S. Fainstein, director of the urban planning program at Columbia University, is chairwoman of a panel, "The New Mega Projects and Their Impact on Urban Life," that will be held in July at the World Congress of Sociology in Durban, South Africa. "It's hard to create texture when everything is brand new," Professor Fainstein said. "But given these kinds of sites, like old steel mills, you can't develop them incrementally. You need a whole new address. It isn't just a matter of momentum; you have to create a change in perception. And that requires a lot of capital and patient investors."

Indeed, the site could easily have become a failed large-scale urban redevelopment dream without a big investor — in this case, the American International Group. Mr. Jacoby said that once he was able to show that a cleanup was possible and that he had a master plan in place as well as support from the city in the form of tax increment financing, he wooed A.I.G. as a partner in the project in 1999.

"Many developers passed it up until Jim got it to the point where we could see some economic value," said Kevin P. Fitzpatrick, president of the AIG Global Real Estate Corporation.

The Environmental Protection Agency certified the property as safe for construction on Dec. 11, 2001, after years of environmental cleanup. It is said to be the nation's largest remediation of a brownfield, defined by the E.P.A. as contaminated property, usually where heavy industry once operated. It took another $250 million of infrastructure investment in roads, sewers and utility lines before construction of buildings could begin in 2002.

Brian Leary, vice president for design and development at Atlantic Station, said his company was working with A.I.G. on similar developments, including a large-scale waterfront project in Cincinnati.

"Unless it was hovering above water, Atlantic Station couldn't be more complicated," he said. "But there are other opportunities to export what we've learned to places with the same characteristics that Atlanta has: a growing economy, a high percentage of educated population, opportunity for public-private partnerships.

"It's not about replicating one building; it's about building a whole community."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Can Al Gore Catalyze a Climate Change Policy Shift? The New York Times Thinks So

Events such as Chernobyl, Bhopal, Three Mile Island, 9/11/2001 focus attention on an issue that people in their busy day to day lives may not have thought much about. Media coverage keeps the story "in the news" and it becomes cheaper for readers to become educated about the issue. Such educated voters may demand new regulation to reduce the likelihood of risks posed by the events listed above.

This logic chain suggests that a silver lining of nasty events is to help build policy coalitions who demand new regulatory action. People who want to minimize the risk of climate change face the challenge that there has not been "one" event that captures the world's imagination such as a "ozone hole". There have certainly been "events" such as melting ice caps and hot January days but reasonable people can convince themselves that these are "flukes" rather than forshadowing signs of future bigger problems if we don't act today.

In the absence of "real" catalytic events, policy advocates such as Al Gore are trying to use different media (film, books) to motivate and educate the public. I'm guessing that he has Rachel Carson's Silen Spring on the brain as his model for how to motivate a sleepy public.

The New York Times reviewer believes that Gore has achieved his goal. As I blogged recently, he faces a price discrimination problem. He really should give this book and the movie away for free or better pay conservatives to go see his movie and read his book. If he charges $10 for a movie ticket then his film will self select people who don't need to be convinced on this issue.

If you are Hilary Clinton's key staff member, how do you react to this media blitz? Will she make climate change a big part of her 2008 run?

May 23, 2006
Books of The Times | 'An Inconvenient Truth'
Al Gore Revisits Global Warming, With Passionate Warnings and Pictures

Lately, global warming seems to be tiptoeing toward a tipping point in the public consciousness. There has been broad agreement over the fundamentals of global warming in mainstream scientific circles for some time now. And despite efforts by the Bush administration to shrug it off as an incremental threat best dealt with through voluntary emissions controls and technological innovation, the issue has been making inroads in the collective imagination, spurred by new scientific reports pointing to rising temperatures around the world and melting ice fields in Greenland and Antarctica. A year ago, the National Academy of Sciences joined similar groups from other countries in calling for prompt action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A Time magazine cover story in April declared that "the climate is crashing and global warming is to blame," noting that a new Time/ABC News/Stanford University poll showed that 87 percent of respondents believe the government should encourage or require a lowering of power-plant emissions. That same month, a U.S. News & World Report article noted that dozens of evangelical leaders had called for federal legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and that "a growing number of investors are pushing for change from the business community" as well. And even Hollywood movies like the kiddie cartoon "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and the much sillier disaster epic "The Day After Tomorrow" take climate change as a narrative premise.

Enter — or rather, re-enter — Al Gore, former vice president, former Democratic candidate for president and longtime champion of the environment, who helped to organize the first Congressional hearings on global warming several decades ago.

Fourteen years ago, during the 1992 campaign, the current president's father, George Herbert Walker Bush, dismissed Mr. Gore as "Ozone Man" — if the Clinton-Gore ticket were elected, he suggested, "we'll be up to our neck in owls and out of work for every American" — but with the emerging consensus on global warming today, Mr. Gore's passionate warnings about climate change seem increasingly prescient. He has revived the slide presentation about global warming that he first began giving in 1990 and taken that slide show on the road, and he has now turned that presentation into a book and a documentary film, both called "An Inconvenient Truth." The movie (which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday) shows a focused and accessible Gore — "a funnier, more relaxed and sympathetic character" than he was as a candidate, said The Observer, the British newspaper — and has revived talk in some circles of another possible Gore run for the White House.

As for the book, its roots as a slide show are very much in evidence. It does not pretend to grapple with climate change with the sort of minute detail and analysis displayed by three books on the subject that came out earlier this spring ("The Winds of Change" by Eugene Linden, "The Weather Makers" by Tim Flannery and "Field Notes From a Catastrophe" by Elizabeth Kolbert), and yet as a user-friendly introduction to global warming and a succinct summary of many of the central arguments laid out in those other volumes, "An Inconvenient Truth" is lucid, harrowing and bluntly effective.

Like Mr. Gore's 1992 book "Earth in the Balance," this volume displays an earnest, teacherly tone, but it's largely free of the New Age psychobabble and A-student grandiosity that rumbled through that earlier book. The author's wonky fascination with policy minutiae has been tamed in these pages, and his love of charts and graphs has been put to good use. Whereas the charts in "Earth in the Balance" tended to make the reader's eyes glaze over, the ones here clearly illustrate the human-caused rise in carbon dioxide levels in recent years, the simultaneous rise in Northern Hemisphere temperatures and the correlation between the two. Mr. Gore points out that 20 of the 21 hottest years measured "have occurred within the last 25 years," adding that the hottest year yet was 2005 — a year in which "more than 200 cities and towns" in the Western United States set all-time heat records.

As for the volume's copious photos, they too serve to underscore important points. We see Mount Kilimanjaro in the process of losing its famous snows over three and a half decades, and Glacier National Park its glaciers in a similar period of time. There are satellite images of an ice shelf in Antarctica (previously thought to be stable for another 100 years) breaking up within the astonishing period of 35 days, and photos that show a healthy, Kodachrome-bright coral reef, juxtaposed with photos of a dying coral reef that has been bleached by hotter ocean waters.

Pausing now and then to offer personal asides, Mr. Gore methodically lays out the probable consequences of rising temperatures: powerful and more destructive hurricanes fueled by warmer ocean waters (2005, the year of Katrina, was not just a record year for hurricanes but also saw unusual flooding in places like Europe and China); increased soil moisture evaporation, which means drier land, less productive agriculture and more fires; and melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, which would lead to rising ocean levels, which in turn would endanger low-lying regions of the world from southern Florida to large portions of the Netherlands.

Mr. Gore does a cogent job of explaining how global warming can disrupt delicate ecological balances, resulting in the spread of pests (like the pine beetle, whose migration used to be slowed by colder winters), increases in the range of disease vectors (including mosquitoes, ticks and fleas), and the extinction of a growing number of species.

Already, he claims, a study shows that "polar bears have been drowning in significant numbers" as melting Arctic ice forces them to swim longer and longer distances, while other studies indicate that the population of Emperor penguins "has declined by an estimated 70 percent over the past 50 years."

The book contains some oversimplifications. While Mr. Gore observes that the United States is currently responsible for more greenhouse gas pollution than South America, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, Japan and Asia combined, he underplays the daunting increase in emissions that a rapidly growing China will produce in the next several decades. And in an effort to communicate the message that something can still be done about global warming, he resorts, in the book's closing pages, to some corny invocations of America's can-do, put-a-man-on-the-moon spirit.

For the most part, however, Mr. Gore's stripped-down narrative emphasizes facts over emotion, common sense over portentous predictions — an approach that proves considerably more persuasive than the more alarmist one assumed, say, by Tim Flannery in "The Weather Makers." Mr. Gore shows why environmental health and a healthy economy do not constitute mutually exclusive choices, and he enumerates practical steps that can be taken to reduce carbon emissions to a point below 1970's levels.

Mr. Gore, who once wrote an introduction to an edition of Rachel Carson's classic "Silent Spring" (the 1962 book that not only alerted readers to the dangers of pesticides, but is also credited with spurring the modern environmental movement), isn't a scientist like Carson and doesn't possess her literary gifts; he writes, rather, as a popularizer of other people's research and ideas. But in this multimedia day of shorter attention spans and high-profile authors, "An Inconvenient Truth" (the book and the movie) could play a similar role in galvanizing public opinion about a real and present danger. It could goad the public into reading more scholarly books on the subject, and it might even push awareness of global warming to a real tipping point — and beyond.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Can Al Gore Stop Climate Change?

A movie about a politician giving "great man talks" about climate change will surely become a bestseller. My question for you is whether any movie like this can be a policy catalyst? There are 3 groups of people. Group #1 are people like al gore. They do not need to see this movie to be convinced that climate change is real threat. This movie may stir them up to keep being politically active.

Group #2 are people like George Bush. They will not see this movie. Such bayesians have a "prior" concerning climate change and they are not interested in paying $8 to update their prior based on Al Gore's information.

Group #3 are the people at the margin. What percentage of the population is this? Will they pay $8 to see this movie? Maybe Al gore should subsidize their attendance? This could be done by having famous celebrities do cameos during his movie?

The challenge for Al Gore is population heterogeneity. How do you build a policy coalition when there is uncertainty over the benefts and costs over climate change and these key parameters depend on where a person lives, one's occupation and one's altruism for people faraway and for natural capital on emay have never visited?

May 22, 2006
'An Inconvenient Truth': Al Gore's Fight Against Global Warming

The frustrations of a man whose long-sought goal remains out of reach are vividly on display in the first few minutes of "An Inconvenient Truth," a new documentary about former Vice President Al Gore's quest to spur action against global warming.

And the scene has nothing to do with the Supreme Court vote that denied Mr. Gore a chance to win the 2000 presidential election.

He is tapping on his laptop, adding yet another tweak to the illustrated climate lecture he has given more than 1,000 times since 1989 in ever more sophisticated ways: first with flip charts, then slides, then a mix of digital imagery, animation and high-tech stagecraft, and now through this film itself, which was screened at Cannes and opens on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles.

He laments being unable so far to awaken the public to what he calls a "planetary emergency" despite evidence that heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases are warming the earth, and even after Hurricane Katrina and Europe's deadly 2003 heat wave, which he calls a foretaste of much worse to come.

"I've been trying to tell this story for a long time, and I feel as if I've failed to get the message across," Mr. Gore muses.

The question now is whether the documentary, with the potential to reach millions of people instead of a roomful of listeners at a time, can do the job.

For the moment, opinions on its prospects range from hopeful to scornful, not so much a reflection on the film's quality as the vast distance between combatants in the fight over what to do, or not do, about human-caused warming.

In a recent interview in Manhattan, Mr. Gore said he was convinced that Americans would move on the issue, not just because of his documentary (and companion book), but also because of the vivid nature of recent climate-related disasters.

"The political system, like the environment, is nonlinear," he said. "In 1941 it was impossible for us to build 1,000 airplanes. In 1942 it was easy. As this pattern becomes ever more clear, there will be a rising public demand for action."

"An Inconvenient Truth" came about after Laurie David, a prominent Hollywood environmentalist, saw Mr. Gore give a short version of his presentation two years ago at an event held just before the premiere of the climate disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow."

Ms. David said she was stunned by the power of Mr. Gore's talk and helped organize presentations in New York and Los Angeles for people involved in the news media, environmental groups, business and entertainment. By the time she had done the Los Angeles event, "I realized we had to make a movie out of it," she said. "What's the guy going to do? There are not physically enough hours in the day to travel to every town and city to show this thing."

She helped recruit a team of filmmakers and investors and, after pressing Mr. Gore, persuaded him to be followed by a film crew.

In the film, directed by Davis Guggenheim, Mr. Gore comes across as a professorial guide who uses science, humor, his own life lessons, depictions of perilous climate-driven events and even cartoons to make his case.

Mr. Gore — who said he had veto power over all elements of the film but did not exercise it — tries just about every possible tactic to make his points.

One moment he is delivering his climate talk before an invited audience on a Los Angeles sound stage, rising in an electric lift to point to a soaring graph illustrating the buildup of heat-trapping gases. And in the next there are golden-hued restagings of wrenching moments in Mr. Gore's life. These include the loss of his sister Nancy to lung cancer, a subject explored as he discusses how industries, from tobacco to oil and coal, have run expensive media and lobbying campaigns to emphasize uncertainties in the science that points to risks of their products.

Mr. Gore tries to connect the dots between human-driven warming and recent shifts in mosquito-borne diseases, drought patterns, rates of extinction, storm strength and the pace of melting of polar ice sheets and sea ice on the Arctic Ocean.

In a lawyerly way, he often chooses his words to avoid making direct causal links that most scientists say are impossible to substantiate, but uses imagery and implication to convey that humans are fiddling with planet-scale forces.

Longtime critics of Mr. Gore and opponents of cuts in greenhouse gases who attended a Washington screening last Wednesday quickly assembled lists of complaints about his portrayal of the science, saying the dangers of warming are grossly overstated.

The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, in a clear jab at both the film and recent news media coverage focused on worst-case climate risks, unveiled two television commercials last week that amounted to a defense of the main gas linked to warming, each with the tag line: "Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life."

In interviews and e-mail exchanges, many climate specialists who have seen the film quibbled about details but tended to agree with Eric Steig, a University of Washington geochemist who posted his reactions at the Web log after a recent Seattle screening: "The small errors don't detract from Gore's main point, which is that we in the United States have the technological and institutional ability to have a significant impact on the future trajectory of climate change."

Initial media coverage, rather than focusing on the film's message, has examined it mainly through the lens of presidential politics.

Mr. Gore and his staff have repeatedly swept aside questions about 2008, insisting that Mr. Gore is not running for office, but is racing to save the planet.

But many Democrats are watching Mr. Gore closely in the belief that he could emerge as a strong opponent from the left to the woman viewed as the front-runner for her party's nomination, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. The film does not do much to dispel this thesis. While it is being billed as an environmental call to arms, it begins, ends, and is peppered throughout with politics.

The film opens with Mr. Gore greeting an audience with his most famous, and anguished, punch line: "I'm Al Gore, and I used to be the next president of the United States."

It includes a few shots at Republicans including a piece of news film from the 1992 presidential campaign showing the first President Bush saying that Mr. Gore was so environmentally extreme that "we'll be up to our necks in owls and out of work for every American."

The film concludes with Mr. Gore stating that the one element missing in the fight against global warming was political will.

In a line that some have interpreted as a hint of electoral ambitions, Mr. Gore adds, "In America, political will is a renewable resource."

Some scientists said they were worried that Mr. Gore's inherently political nature would further polarize the issue and distract from the underlying science. But some environmental specialists played down the political angle, saying that if someone were seeking a political boost, climate change was hardly the issue to address.

"There are lots of things he could do with his life, and this is what he's chosen," said Jonathan Lash, the president of the World Resources Institute, a private research group in Washington. "I admire him as a political leader who's chosen to use his platform to speak about this issue, and to do so in both scientific and moral terms."

Adam Nagourney contributed reporting from Washington for this article.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Productive Year?

The Fletcher School's graduation starts in 45 minutes. So, I'm sitting in my office in Phil Cagan's old University of Chicago graduation gown (he gave it to me) waiting for the fun to begin. I'm actually in the middle of a reflective moment. Has it been a productive academic year?

While my teaching ratings wouldn't reveal it, I actually think I gave fewer bad lectures than usual. In all 3.5 classes I taught, I think that I did a pretty good job.

In terms of academic research, my main accomplishment is this:

Writing a book by yourself is hard work; much harder than writing an academic paper for a pure academic audience. I can't be that burned out because Dora and I are taking our 6 social capital papers and are writing a book about Social Capital during war time. We aren't simply "stapling" the six papers together into a book. Instead, we are re-writing, re-estimating and thinking about how the papers fit together into a coherent readable book.

All academics look forward to summer, not because teaching is done but because this is a time to make the big push. We have no more excuses and it is time to get down to business. For me, this means taking my computer file called "research plan" and turning the ideas listed there into actual papers.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Who Should Speak on Graduation Day? Tufts Picks Lance Armstrong

Tufts University's graduation day is this sunday May 19th 2006. I hope to see you there. The biker Lance Armstrong will be our graduation day speaker. Is he the right guy for the job? What is "the job"? When I was a student at the University of Chicago, I noticed Chicago asked nerds to speak. For example, Robert Lucas (the 1995 Nobel Laureate) gave a speach about causing a monetary depression at an amusement park by reducing the supply of ride tickets. That university has also had Kevin Murphy and Lars Hansen give graduation day talks. This strikes me as a very different model than having Jodi Foster (Penn this year) or Lance A. serve up some deep thoughts.

I must admit that at the 2005 graduation I was excited to see William Hurt (a Tufts graduate and star of many movies such as the Big Chill) sitting close to the President of Tufts as Hurt received an honorary degree. But, I'm ambivalent here. Should one end her undergraduate experience learning something from a professor or by smiling at a celebrity up on stage? Maybe portfolio theory would say that both events should take place. Let the celebrity give a speech and let a professor nerd from that campus also give a speech. Have a competition to see who can give the better talk and like American Idol let the graduates vote for their favorite using their cell phones.

Now that would be participatory democracy!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Can Queens, NY be a "Green City"?

Urban interest group politics is always interesting. Today burried deep in the New York Times is an interesting case study of the battle between "green" gentrification and ugly, dirty auto-parts stores in Queens, NYC.

Just two weeks ago, I drove from Manhattan to Queens to see my 94 year old grandfather. Queens is shocking. Just 2 miles from downtown NYC, you would never guess that you are so close to fancy real estate. All of a sudden you are surrounded by defunct industrial areas and ugly stores selling low value used parts. I wondered why such valuable real estate hasn't been converted to its highest value. Clearly, Mayor Bloomberg's staff have had the same reaction.

May 17, 2006
Square Feet
A Redevelopment Scuffle in Queens

The streets are strewn with garbage and littered with abandoned cars. There are potholes the size of craters but no sidewalks. Deep puddles linger long after a rainstorm, and business owners must make do with cesspools instead of sewers.

In all, Willets Point seems more like a neighborhood in a developing country than an easily accessible 75-acre enclave in the shadow of Shea Stadium in northern Queens.

In what is shaping up as a contentious development fight, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg hopes to transform Willets Point — also known as the Iron Triangle because of its concentration of small auto-parts and repair shops — into a retailing and entertainment district with a hotel and convention center. The redevelopment efforts have assumed added urgency for City Hall now that a new $700 million stadium is planned for the Mets. The new ballpark will be closer to 126th Street, just opposite Willets Point.

But there is one big obstacle. Apart from the streets and 13.5 acres owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the remaining 46 acres of Willets Point are privately owned and home to 250 businesses employing at least 1,200 people, by the city's count. Not all these businesses are expected to go quietly.

Undaunted by the nationwide furor over eminent domain resulting from a Supreme Court ruling last July — which upheld a decision by officials in New London, Conn., to force property sales to foster economic development — city officials say they are prepared to use their condemnation powers at Willets Point. Citing various environmental violations, including illegal dumping and open petroleum spills, they say the area is a public health hazard.

"In some ways, this is the most compelling case for eminent domain," said Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor who oversees economic development. "It has nothing to do with the uses. It has to do with intolerable conditions."

Mr. Doctoroff estimates that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up Willets Point. No private capital will be invested there if there are holdouts who might bring about further contamination, he said.

In February, the city invited eight development teams, including some of the most active companies in the city — like Forest City Ratner (which is the partner of The New York Times Company in its new headquarters building on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan), Vornado Realty Trust and the Related Companies — to submit proposals for the "creation of an experience unique to the New York metropolitan region" at Willets Point.

Steeped in the language of the New Urbanist movement, the New York Economic Development Corporation's request for proposals seeks "pedestrian-friendly urban design and superior architecture." Maintaining that the borough is "significantly underserved by retail," the agency asked for letters of intent from retailers that are "unique" to Queens. Housing may be included but is not mandatory.

A hotel and exposition center is envisioned for the northern end of Willets Point. In a 2004 feasibility study, HVS International, a consulting company based in Mineola, N.Y., that specializes in the hotel and convention business, identified Willets Point as the best location in Queens for a 125,000-square-foot conference center with a 250-room hotel because of its proximity to major highways and "the large amount of contiguous land" that could be redeveloped.

Developers' submissions are due in mid-June, with the rezoning process set to begin in January. A development partner will be selected once the plans are approved by the City Council.

Administration officials say the request for proposals was preceded by a planning process that began in 2002, when Mr. Doctoroff organized a task force of business and community leaders to come up with development goals for downtown Flushing, which lies across the Flushing River from Willets Point. About four miles from La Guardia Airport and easily accessible by highway, subway and train, Willets Point is bordered on the north by Northern Boulevard, on the east by the Van Wyck Expressway, on the west by 126th Street and on the south by Roosevelt Avenue.

The administration's strategy is being attacked from several directions, even by those who say eminent domain is sometimes necessary for urban redevelopment.

One such critic is Brad Lander, executive director of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, who said the city should have led "a public process, informed by data" before asking developers to submit detailed proposals.

"This seems to me to fly in the face of one of the few things that Kelo says you have to do," he said, referring to the majority decision in the Supreme Court eminent domain case, Kelo vs. New London. "You have to have a planning process to determine if there's a public good to the thing you're doing."

Others say the mayor has underestimated the neighborhood's role in the city's economy. Several local business owners say they were offended to hear the mayor refer to Willets Point as a haven for "chop shops and deserted warehouses" in a recent radio interview. "There's no real economic activity there," Mr. Bloomberg declared.

During a recent tour of the neighborhood, Hiram Monserrate, a city councilman who represents Willets Point, said most of the businesses there are operating legally and offer entry-level jobs to immigrants.

Tom Angotti, a professor of urban affairs and planning at Hunter College who has just completed a study of the area, said these businesses form a cluster that would be hard to duplicate elsewhere.

"This is the kind of community economic development experts are trying to create, and it's already here," Dr. Angotti said at a recent news conference to unveil his report. "The question should be: How do you nurture this? How do you make it better? Does it make any sense to get rid of them and bring in somebody new?"

Janice Serrone, who runs an auto glass company on Willets Point Road that draws customers from as far away as Connecticut, said: "We're kind of all dependent on each other. People know that over here you can pay $140 for a windshield. In Connecticut, they're going to pay $340."

While auto-related uses predominate in Willets Point, about 500 people work for the larger, long-established family businesses. These include the Tully Construction Company, which operates a waste transfer station and recycling plant; House of Fodera, a national distributor of flour and other ingredients used in bagels, muffins and croissants; and House of Spices, where food imported from India, like basmati rice, is cleaned, repackaged and sold to restaurants.

"My employees have no cars," said Neil Soni, a vice president of House of Spices, which has 110 employees. "If I moved to the Bronx, how will they get there?"

These property owners, who have hired Peter F. Vallone, the former speaker of the City Council, to lobby for them, say that, because of its location, Willets Point would thrive as an industrial area with more distribution centers if the city would just pave the streets and hook up the sewers. They say the neighborhood has been neglected by successive administrations because of its potential as a redevelopment site.

"We don't need a private developer to come in and try to develop our land," said Peter K. Tully, the president of Tully.

Mr. Doctoroff said that the city had identified 16 other places suitable for the development of distribution centers but that La Guardia had no room to grow. "This just isn't the right place for it," he said.

Helen M. Marshall, the borough president of Queens, said the community supported redevelopment. "I know there are good solid stakeholders" in Willets Point, she said, but "we can't afford to have this kind of place in Queens anymore."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Shrinking the Ecological Footprint: Scale versus Technique

Suppose you own a car that travels 25 miles per gallon and you drive 10,000 miles per year. Some deep math shows that if you increase your driving up to 12,000 miles per year using a car that gets 35 miles per gallon your consumption of gasoline would decrease from 400 gallons to 343 gallons or a 14% decline.

While your scale of driving has increased, the technique effect (mpg) has been greened enough to offset the scale effect such that your ecological footprint would shrink. The New York Times article below fleshes out this example.

This raises the question of when will a consumer purchase greener products. Surely higher energy prices will encourage this. In the past, I have blogged that shame and ostracism can be effective social incentives for encouraging greeness. The induced innovation hypothesis says that higher expected energy prices will provide profit maximizing producers incentives to produce such green products.

May 14, 2006
Greening Up With the Joneses

WHEN Megan Hess, a political fund-raiser living in Alexandria, Va., who never considered herself particularly "green," finally decided to take a stand against global warming, she figured the first step was obvious: ditch her sport utility vehicle.

The problem was, her four-wheel-drive Toyota 4Runner was her only car, and trains or buses were not an option. So as a half-measure, Ms. Hess, 30, decided last year to start car-pooling with a neighbor who also had an S.U.V.

Now, at least, they could feel guilty together.

On their 11-mile commute into Washington, they found themselves talking about trading their fume-spewing S.U.V.'s for hybrid cars, Ms. Hess said. But the solution wasn't that simple.

"I realized if I sold my S.U.V. it would just be bought by someone else who would almost certainly drive it a lot more than I would," said Ms. Hess, who drives less than 25 miles a day. "There still isn't one less S.U.V. on the planet," she said, with a hint of frustration.

Conservation is becoming a subject of recrimination and debate inside many American homes, perhaps to the greatest extent since the 1970's. Whether prompted (or shamed) by rising gas prices, a dependence on foreign oil or dire warnings about global warning, some Americans who have never allied themselves with the environmental movement are taking it upon themselves to drive less, consume less and recycle more, environmental organizers said.

Over the last two years, environmentalists say, they have been fielding more inquiries from people seeking practical solutions to combat global warming.

"I certainly see that the more mainstream, middle-class — really, all classes — are more aware of energy problems, including people who you wouldn't think of as environmentalists, but will acknowledge that their S.U.V. is burning way more than it ought to," said Bob Schildgen, a columnist for Sierra magazine, published by the Sierra Club. "There is much broader concern than there was even two years ago."

But for many, it is not so easy to conserve within a culture of affluence whose environmentally costly components have almost become entitlements: the S.U.V.'s; the dream homes; the remodeled kitchens with double-ovens, double-dishwashers and thermoelectric wine chillers; the second homes (also remodeled); the plasma television sets and surround-sound home theater systems all plugged in and ready to go. Where to begin?

David Brotherton, a communications consultant who lives in Seattle, said he and his wife, Kim, decided to maintain a markedly greener household over the last few years, prompted largely by dire warnings about climate change.

The trick, Mr. Brotherton said, was not to give up nice things, but to buy nice things that were ecologically sound. "I don't even pretend to be a hard-core environmentalist," Mr. Brotherton explained. "But I do aspire to be a 'light green' kind of guy — one who thinks carefully about the choices I make as a consumer and tries to tread as lightly on the planet as possible, within my chosen lifestyle."

The couple went ahead with remodeling the kitchen, for example, but ruled out a prefabricated kitchen from the local big-box retailer, believing it was constructed and packaged wastefully. Instead they paid a premium of about 15 percent to install a kitchen featuring "sustainably harvested" cork floors, recycled glass tiles, and sturdy countertops made — to the surprise of their friends — from recycled paper.

But Mr. Brotherton said the next hurdle could prove tougher for them: the issue of trading up in housing to keep up with their friends. "A lot of our peer group are buying bigger, more expensive homes," said Mr. Brotherton, who lives in a three-bedroom starter home from the 1950's that he and Kim planned on living in for less than 10 years. "It would be nice to have a little nicer house than this, but we don't need that."

"What's enough?" he asked. "How much do we need to enjoy life and get by?"

Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said that if the buzzword for traditional environmentalists is conservation, for the newest converts — the light greens — it's efficiency. "It's about getting better results from the same behavior," Mr. Pope said. So while these newly minted environmentalists are not overhauling their lives, many are trying to edit them.

Lucinda Holt, the chief executive of an online marketing company, the Pre-Commerce Group, in King of Prussia, Pa., said she considers herself a hard-driving "serial entrepreneur." Until recently, Ms. Holt, who lives in what she calls a 4,000-square-foot "McMansion" in an affluent suburban neighborhood, had never found time to make any pro-green gesture grander than putting out the recycling. But less than a year ago, she had an epiphany.

"I had read a statistic about projected sea level rises of as much as 12 feet," said Ms. Holt, referring to alarming reports about the effects of global warming. "I had just been to the Florida Keys and driven across that long bridge there and thought, man, that's gone. All the animals, everything. It all of a sudden got very tangible to me."

She traded her Volvo station wagon, itself once a symbol of ecoconsciousness, for a smaller car: a fuel-efficient, but still stylish Mini Cooper. She and her family endured last summer without running the air-conditioning. To save trees, which take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, she forces herself to respond to each piece of junk mail, asking to be removed from all mailing lists.

"I actually tear each piece open, send them back with a note saying, 'Take me off your list, don't send me catalogs,' " she said. "It's a pain."

But anything less, she explained, now just seems "irresponsible."

Though many people may agree that trying to reduce their impact on the earth is something of a pain, the stakes of the new environmentalism appear grave, as detailed in a documentary on global warming featuring Al Gore, "An Inconvenient Truth," to be released on May 24. Mr. Gore, a longtime environmental advocate, presents scientific evidence that global warming could already be a factor in making recent hurricanes and droughts more deadly, and within decades could cause severe flooding in coastal cities from Shanghai to New York if rapidly increasing carbon dioxide emissions continue unchecked.

That message appears to be hitting home for many people who considered it enough to simply turn out the lights whenever they left a room, said Mr. Pope of the Sierra Club. Mr. Pope cites Palo Alto, Calif., as evidence of growing popular altruism. In that city, 14 percent of the households have signed up for the local utility's "green power" option — electricity generated by renewable sources like wind, not fossil fuels — even though it costs about $10 extra a month and provides the consumer no direct benefit.

Mr. Pope says it is time for environmental groups to spread not just anxiety, but useful information about how consumers should set priorities for their environmental efforts. He said, for example, that the Sierra Club continues to receive many inquiries from people who are confused about debates over issues like diaper services versus disposable diapers, or paper grocery bags versus plastic. These issues are less important than those involving "big-ticket" energy-consuming items, he said, like the size of the house you live in, and how well it is insulated, or the type of car you drive.

Although more households may be exploring the smartest strategies for going green, they don't always proceed as a united front.

Jasmin Chua, a magazine copy editor who lives in Jersey City, said she decided to become more environmentally conscious this year, after reading alarming reports in the news media and on blogs.

Before long, Ms. Chua, 27, was toting heavy canvas bags to the supermarket to carry her groceries, prompting "funny looks" from the checkout clerks, she said. She tried to buy as much locally grown produce as possible to reduce fuel burned in its transportation. An avid reader, she even put off buying books to save trees, and now borrows them from the library.

But her husband "took a lot of persuading" when it came to joining the crusade. "He's very resistant to change," Ms. Chua explained gingerly.

He was especially resistant when Ms. Chua asked him to pick up a new rolling pin, she said. He returned proudly with an expensive, attractive model — made of hardwood shipped all the way from the forests of Thailand.

"It led to a huge discussion," she recalled. "He said, 'I didn't ask to be married to a hippie.' "

Several people also said they found that, when they decided to go green, it soon became hard to know when to stop.

When Neeraj Desai, 24, moved from Texas recently to take a job as a banking executive in Charlotte, N.C., he vowed to live downtown in an apartment, largely for conservationist reasons. "Even though I grew up in an environmentally conscious household," he said, "I never really thought about my environmental footprint." A smaller home, he knew, would consume less energy, and living near the office would allow him to walk to work.

But soon enough, the question of limits arose. Mr. Desai has a car, but rarely drives it, relying on his sleek Vespa scooter for most trips beyond walking distance. But now even the Vespa seems a little suspect.

"It's Euro 2 compliant — the high European emission standard; it's pretty nonpolluting," Mr. Desai said. "But I always think, why can't I just take my bicycle the extra two miles and show up sweaty?"

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Learning and Adaptation in a Hurricane Zone

I predict that we will soon see a large number of papers written about adaptation in the face of climate shocks. I read one interesting paper that argued that rural to urban migration will accelerate in LDC nations where farmers are not able to adapt to climate change shocks.

Below, the New York Times suggests that some Florida homebuyers are self protecting by moving inland to reduce their asset's exposure to flooding risk. Note that the end of the article, the article mentions higher insurance premiums for coastal properties. If such premiums' prices vary spatially within Florida as a function of flood risk, then this provides home buyers with an incentive to adapt and move to "higher ground". Higher insurance premiums would also signal to homebuyers the higher probabilistic risk they face from living on the water. It isn't clear whether such homebuyers would be aware of this risk.

A structural economist would ask, what is the marginal cost of adaptation? In this example, it hinges on how much households value living on the water versus a little bit inland.

May 14, 2006 New York Times
National Perspectives
Add 'Elevation' to 'Location, Location'

ACCORDING to Larry Davis, who has sold real estate in the Florida Panhandle for 15 years, "nothing can compete with Seaside," the original New Urbanist community where pastel-colored houses carry million-dollar price tags.

But his new development, Owl's Head, near Freeport, Fla., has something Seaside can't offer: elevation.

"It's a pretty slow rise as you drive up from the beach," Mr. Davis said. "But by the time you get to Owl's Head" — due north of Seaside and about 15 miles inland — "you're at about 100 feet."

By Florida standards, he said, "this is nosebleed country."

And that, to some buyers, could be a blessing. After two seasons in which hurricanes battered the Gulf Coast, destroying houses and much of the beach itself, some customers may like the idea of living inland, where they are protected from storm surges.

It's too early to say if repeated hurricane threats will change the dynamics of Florida real estate, in which beachfront property has always been the holy grail. But some developers, including Mr. Davis's employers, clearly believe that higher ground can be a selling point.

(In fact, after Owl's Head introduced the slogan "Florida's Coastal Inland Heights," the Walton County Chamber of Commerce decided to use it, too. On May 24, the chamber will be the host for a kickoff event complete with an "oxygen bar" for people who aren't accustomed to the altitude, said Dawn Moliterno, the chamber's president.)

For his part, Mr. Davis — whose half brother, Robert, conceived and developed Seaside — carries an altimeter when he walks the Owl's Head property with customers. The altimeter, which resembles a watch and cost $150, "reinforces the idea that we're not at sea level anymore," Mr. Davis said, adding that his marketing team suggested he buy the device.

It must be working. Mr. Davis said that 60 lots have already been sold at Owl's Head for $80,000 to $285,000.

That's a pittance compared with prices on the coast. At Seaside and Rosemary Beach, another New Urbanist community on the Gulf of Mexico, where owners include Karl Rove, water-view lots are listed for around $2 million.

Yet brokers in the area say the market along the coast has slowed nearly to a halt since Hurricane Dennis last summer. "Nothing's selling," said Stephen Robbins, an agent for Seagrove on the Beach Realty in Seagrove Beach.

"Wealthy buyers will continue to want the ultimate, which means living on the water," he said.

But otherwise, he said, "I can understand people who want a buffer."

For one thing, people who live on the coast have to evacuate whenever a big storm seems to be headed their way. "I've had to leave my house 10 times in the last 10 years," Mr. Robbins said. "Sometimes, I've had tears in my eyes."

David S. Nolan, a professor of meteorology at the University of Miami, said, "Certainly, at 110 feet they're protected from storm surges."

But he added that houses at Owl's Head could still suffer hurricane damage, particularly because much of what separates them from the Gulf of Mexico is a bay. In the face of a powerful storm, Dr. Nolan said, Owl's Head residents "might still want to leave."

In 2004, Forrest A. Westin, then a graduate student at M.I.T., studied real estate in four Florida counties and determined that from 1977 to 2002, waterfront property, already much more expensive than inland property, also gave investors a greater return.

Reached in Berkeley, Calif., where he is now a developer, Mr. Westin said he didn't know if that relationship was changing, but he noted that "there were obviously a number of hurricanes in that period of 25 years, and if you held onto your house long enough, you came out ahead of someone who was inland."

Dean H. Gatzlaff, a professor of business administration at Florida State University in Tallahassee, believes that at least until 2004, hurricane activity was factored into prices of waterfront property. However, he wrote in an e-mail message, the higher level of hurricane activity in 2004 and 2005, to the degree it surprised buyers, "would not have been priced."

"If the level of hurricane activity is again surprisingly high in 2006," he wrote, "we'll continue to see a dampening of prices."

Mr. Davis, the Owl's Head broker, lives about 150 yards from the gulf, in Inlet Beach. He moved to Walton County 18 years ago and took a job working for his half-brother, Robert, in Seaside's rental program. Later, he created Davis Properties, which sells real estate throughout the Panhandle.

Last year, he was brought in by three Atlanta businessmen who had purchased the land for Owl's Head. Jeff Tucker, who described himself as the "primary development partner," said they paid about $22,000 an acre.

The developers are selling "peace of mind," Mr. Tucker said, but there are other advantages to being inland. Along the coast, the need for structural reinforcements and hurricane-proof windows can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new house.

Then, too, the price of insurance along the coast is high and getting higher, Mr. Tucker said. Several brokers in the area said that insuring a house along the gulf can cost at least twice as much as insuring a similar house inland, though they declined to give specific figures because, they said, every situation is different.

Two years ago, Mr. Tucker and his partners hired Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, the Miami architecture firm that designed Seaside and Rosemary Beach, to lay out Owl's Head, one of the few New Urbanist towns to incorporate a golf course.

Such pairings are rare because the usual goal of developers — to use the course as a bucolic setting for as many lots as possible — is inconsistent with the New Urbanist goal of grouping houses together in a tight block.

But the Owl's Head course, which carries the Arnold Palmer brand name, occupies a discrete part of town and is approachable from public streets.

Marina Khoury, an architect with Duany Plater-Zyberk, said, "We went to great lengths not to privatize the golf course, so that it becomes an amenity that's available to everybody."

Thad Layton, the landscape architect with the Palmer Course Design Company in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., who is designing the Owl's Head course, said the hilly topography makes it more interesting than many other courses in the state. "Some of the holes in the back nine are going to have quite a lot of elevation change," he said.

But "quite a lot of elevation change" is relative. The highest point in Florida — Britton Hill in Lakewood (also in Walton County) — is a mere 345 feet.

Of the highest points in the 50 states, it is the lowest.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Equality in France

If you are a U.S university professor who sometimes envies colleagues at richer universities, the New York Times article reported below will cheer you up.
The French have done it again.

The intellectual puzzle to me is given the U.S example, private, excellent high amenity research universities, why haven't more universities in Europe experimented with adopting our model. I have heard that a couple of schools in Italy have. I'm always interested in the deep question of: "when a bad equilibrium exists will it persist?" Are there market forces and political forces such that an optimist can convince himself that this current sad state of affairs won't persist? Reading this article, it appears that the french reformers have had little success moving away from the status quo policies.

Equality has its costs!

May 12, 2006
Higher Learning in France Clings to Its Old Ways

NANTERRE, France — There are 32,000 students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris, but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system.

The 480,000-volume central library is open only 10 hours a day, closed on Sundays and holidays. Only 30 of the library's 100 computers have Internet access.

The campus cafeterias close after lunch. Professors often do not have office hours; many have no office. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that at exam time many students have to find seats elsewhere. By late afternoon every day the campus is largely empty.

Sandwiched between a prison and an unemployment office just outside Paris, the university here is neither the best nor the worst place to study in this fairly wealthy country. Rather, it reflects the crisis of France's archaic state-owned university system: overcrowded, underfinanced, disorganized and resistant to the changes demanded by the outside world.

"In the United States, your university system is one of the drivers of American prosperity," said Claude Allègre, a former education minister who tried without success to reform French universities. "But here, we simply don't invest enough. Universities are poor. They're not a priority either for the state or the private sector. If we don't reverse this trend, we will kill the new generation."

It was student discontent on campuses across France that fired up the recent protests against a law that would have made it easier for employers to dismiss young workers. College students were driven by fear that their education was worth little and that after graduation they would not find jobs.

The protests closed or disrupted a majority of France's universities for weeks, labor unions declared solidarity and eventually the government was forced to withdraw the law.

"Universities are factories," said Christine le Forestier, 24, a 2005 graduate of Nanterre with a master's degree who has not found a stable job. "They are machines to turn out thousands and thousands of students who have learned all about theory but nothing practical. A diploma is worth nothing in the real world."

The problems stem in part from the student revolts of May 1968, which grew out of an unexceptional event at Nanterre the year before. One March evening, male students protesting the sexual segregation of the dormitories occupied the women's dormitory and were evicted by the police.

A year later, Nanterre students protesting the war in Vietnam occupied the administration building, the first such action by students at a French university. The student revolt spread, turning into a mass movement aimed at transforming the authoritarian, elitist French system of governance. Ultimately 10 million workers left their jobs in a strike that came close to forcing de Gaulle from power.

One result was that the country's university system guaranteed a free — or almost free — college education to every high school graduate who passed the baccalauréat exam. University enrollment soared. The value of a bachelor's degree plummeted.

But the state failed to invest much in buildings, facilities and professors' salaries to make the system work. Today the French government allocates about $8,500 a year to each university student, about 40 percent less than what it invests in each high school student.

Most students are required to attend the universities closest to their high schools. Although certain universities excel in specific fields of study, the course offerings in, say, history or literature are generally the same throughout the country.

Compounding the problem, France is caught between its official promotion of the republican notion of equality and its commitment to the nurturing of an elite cadre of future leaders and entrepreneurs.

Only 4 percent of French students make it into the most competitive French universities — the public "grandes écoles." But the grandes écoles, along with a swath of semiprivate preparatory schools, absorb 30 percent of the public budget.

They are well-organized, well-equipped, overwhelmingly white and upper middle class, and infused with the certainty that their graduates will take the best jobs in government and the private sector. Students are even paid to attend.

The practice in the United States of private endowments providing a large chunk of college budgets is seen as strange in France. Tuition is about $250 a year, hardly a sufficient source of income for colleges.

But asking the French to pay more of their way in college seems out of the question. When the government proposed a reform in 2003 to streamline curriculums and budgets by allowing each university more flexibility and independence, students and professors rebelled.

They saw the initiative as a step toward privatization of higher education that they feared would lead to higher fees and threaten the universal right of high school graduates to a college education. The government backed down.

At Nanterre, Alexandre Frydlender, 19, a second-year student in law and history, complained about the lack of courses in English for students of international law. But asked whether he would be willing to pay a higher fee for better services, he replied: "The university is a public service. The state must pay."

A poster that hangs throughout the campus halls echoed that sentiment: "To study is a right, not a privilege."

Professors lack the standing and the salaries of the private sector. A starting instructor can earn less than $20,000 a year; the most senior professor in France earns about $75,000 a year. Research among the faculty is not a priority.

Because students generally are required to attend the university closest to home, most do not live on campus.

At Nanterre, for example, there are only 1,050 dormitory rooms and a long waiting list. The amenities are few. Twenty-two students share three toilets, three showers and a small kitchen furnished with only a sink and a few electric burners.

"There's no place where students can hang out, no place to play cards or to watch a movie," said Jean Giraud, 20, a second-year law student who lives in one of the dorms. "People come for class and then go home."

While students are ready to protest against something they dislike, there is little sense of belonging or pride in one's surroundings. During the recent protests over the contested labor law, that attitude of alienation contributed to the destruction of property, even computers and books, at some universities.

The protests also were the latest warning to the French government and private corporations that the university system needs fixing. Officials, entrepreneurs, professors and students alike agree that too many students are stuck in majors like sociology or psychology that make it difficult to move into a different career in a stratified society like France, given the country's troubled economy.

The fear of joblessness has led many young people in different directions. Students who have the money are increasingly turning to foreign universities or private specialized schools in France, especially for graduate school. And more young people are seeking a security-for-life job with a government agency.

In a speech at the Sorbonne in late April after the labor law was rescinded, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin pledged "a new pact between the university and the French people."

Mr. de Villepin, a graduate of the École Nationale d'Administration, the grandest of the grandes écoles, promised more money and more flexibility, saying that as in the United States, a student with a master's degree in philosophy should be able to become a financial analyst.

When a student asked him to explain how he proposed to do that, Mr. de Villepin had no concrete answer. Instead he talked about the "happiness of the dog that leaves its kennel."

But flexibility is not at all the tradition in France, where students are put on fixed career tracks at an early age.

"We are caught in a world of limits where there's no such thing as the self-made man," said Claire de la Vigne, a graduate of Nanterre who is now doing graduate work at the much more prestigious Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris. "We are never taught the idea of the American dream, where everything is possible. Our guide is fear."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Technological Advance Improves Urban Quality of Life

Now that classes are done, I have more time to blog and to scribble academic stuff. One new paper of mine (joint with Joel Schwartz) that I'm mildly excited about is titled: "Urban Air Pollution Progress Despite Sprawl: The “Greening” of the Vehicle Fleet". This paper uses a variety of California vehicle emissions data bases to explain why average vehicle emissions have been falling over time. Why is this interesting?

Your intuition tells you that as people grow richer and as more people move to California, California's urban air pollution will grow worse. More people, more cars driving more miles means more smog. But!!!, technological advance has reduced the average vehicle's emissions enough to offset these scale effects. I'm fascinated about this "battle" between capitalism's quantity effects versus its "quality" effects. My forthcoming book "Green Cities" spends a fair bit of time on this point.

Here is part of the Kahn and Schwartz Conclusion that merits future work:

By documenting the role played by technological advance and diffusion of technologies in reducing vehicle emissions, this paper touches on a broader theme in urban economics. Technological advance has reduced many of the social costs of city bigness. It has reduced both air emissions and noise emissions associated with urban economic activity. Information technology has allowed cities to start road pricing programs reducing the transaction costs of tracking which vehicle has entered what zone at what time. Like many big cities, New York City has used a spatial mapping program called “CompStat” to monitor the spatial distribution of crimes. This has allowed police forces to allocate scarce resources to troubled “hot spots” and holds police precinct commanders accountable for surprising crime trends.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Happiness Research and Harvard's Dan Gilbert

Below, I report an interesting book review published in today’s New York Times.

I would like to ask Professor Daniel Gilbert a few questions.

1. How would he define what is “good” public policy? For issues such as the war on terror and responding to 9/11/2001, the war on cancer, environmental policy, education policy --- if our internal “hedonic thermostat … is constantly resetting us back to our emotional baseline” what’s the value of activist government? If we are “deluded” is Gilbert ready to delegate our choices to a “benevolent government”? Does he believe in benevolent paternalism?
2. Does he acknowledge that there is population heterogeneity? I’m sure that he is right that people need a high level of self esteem to feel good about themselves to give themselves the inner strength to push on each day but Dr. Gilbert should not forget comparative advantage. A guy who makes $35,000 a year but is a great bowler might take great pride in this objective skill. He may be the “king” of his local peer group despite the fact that he’s lower middle class. In a similar way, professors who aren’t great researchers take pride that they are good teachers or loyal university administrators. Each of us finds our niche.
3. Dr. Gilbert does not seem to be an adherent of rational expectations. I hope that Bob Lucas or Tom Sargent reviews this book for the Journal of Economic Literature. It would interest me if his book reviews what empirical economists have learned about how expectations of future events influences choices today. For example, this paper on savings behavior might surprise him

May 7, 2006
'Stumbling on Happiness,' by Daniel Gilbert
The Joy of Delusion
What would have happened if, at the end of "Casablanca," Ingrid Bergman had stayed with Humphrey Bogart in Morocco, rather than boarding the plane to Lisbon with her Nazi-fighting husband? Would she have regretted it? Or did she end up lamenting the decision she did make? According to Daniel Gilbert, odds are that either decision would have made her equally happy in the long run.
If this sounds like an odd question for a professor of psychology at Harvard to ask in a serious book about cognitive science, there are dozens more where that came from. Is it really possible that Christopher Reeve believed himself in some ways better off after he became a quadriplegic, or that Lance Armstrong is glad to have had cancer, or that cancer patients in general tend to be more optimistic about the future than healthy people? (Answers: yes, yes and yes.)
Which raises another question: If people who we think should be unhappy are not, is it also possible that some people are happy and don't know it? (Clinically speaking, yes. There is a syndrome called alexithymia in which a person experiences the same physiological response associated with an emotion as a normal person, as recorded by an M.R.I. scan, but is unaware of having the emotion.)
Gilbert is an influential researcher in happiness studies, an interdisciplinary field that has attracted psychologists, economists and other empirically minded researchers, not to mention a lot of interested students. (As The Boston Globe recently reported, a course on "positive psychology" taught by one of Gilbert's colleagues is the most popular course at Harvard.) But from the acknowledgments page forward, it's clear Gilbert also fancies himself a comedian. Uh-oh, cringe alert: an academic who cracks wise. But Gilbert's elbow-in-the-ribs social-science humor is actually funny, at least some of the time. "When we have an experience . . . on successive occasions, we quickly begin to adapt to it, and the experience yields less pleasure each time," he writes. "Psychologists calls this habituation, economists call it declining marginal utility, and the rest of us call it marriage."
But underneath the goofball brilliance, Gilbert has a serious argument to make about why human beings are forever wrongly predicting what will make them happy. Because of logic-processing errors our brains tend to make, we don't want the things that would make us happy — and the things that we want (more money, say, or a bigger house or a fancier car) won't make us happy.
Happiness is a subjective emotional state, so when you and I say that we are "extremely happy" we may mean completely different things. Most people would find the idea of being a conjoined twin to be a horrible fate. You couldn't possibly be happy in that condition, right? Then how come conjoined twins rate themselves as happy as nonconjoined people, Gilbert asks. Is that because they don't know what "real" happiness is? Or are you wrong to think that you couldn't be happy as a conjoined twin?
Not knowing what makes other people happy is one thing. But shouldn't we be able to figure out what will make ourselves happy? No, Gilbert argues, for the same reasons we can't imagine accurately how happy we would be as a conjoined twin. For one thing, we change across time; the person you are when you are imagining what it would be like to have that fancy new car is not the person you will be when you actually have that fancy new car.
"Teenagers get tattoos because they are confident that DEATH ROCKS will always be an appealing motto," he writes. "Smokers who have just finished a cigarette are confident for at least five minutes that they can quit and that their resolve will not diminish with the nicotine in their bloodstreams." For another, as Gilbert shows through a series of logic games and diagrams meant to dupe the reader (they worked on me), we misperceive reality — as philosophers since Kant have recognized — and then use those misperceptions to build a mistaken view of the future.
Events that we anticipate will give us joy make us less happy than we think; things that fill us with dread will make us less unhappy, for less long, than we anticipate. As evidence, Gilbert cites studies showing that a large majority of people who endure major trauma (wars, car accidents, rapes) in their lives will return successfully to their pre-trauma emotional state — and that many of them will report that they ended up happier than they were before the trauma. It's as though we're equipped with a hedonic thermostat that is constantly resetting us back to our emotional baseline.
The book is studded with research supporting this notion: Gore voters in the drawn-out 2000 election who wrongly predicted how unhappy they would be, and for how long, if Bush were declared the victor; college students who mistakenly predict how miserable they would feel if their football team lost; and people who overestimated how long they'd feel blue over a lost love or a lost job.
We even "mispredict" how things that we have already experienced will feel when they happen again. The classic example here is childbirth, which women seem to misremember as not being all that bad. We "expect the next car, the next house or the next promotion to make us happy even though the last ones didn't and even though others keep telling us that the next ones won't."
Gilbert argues that what he calls the "psychological immune system" kicks into gear in response to big negative events (the death of a spouse, the loss of a job) but not in response to small negative events (your car breaking down). Which means that our day-to-day happiness may be predicated more strongly on little events than on big ones. On its face, this sounds preposterous, but Gilbert cites study after study suggesting that it's true.
In an important sense, "Stumbling on Happiness" is a paean to delusion. "How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners and deflated soufflés?" Gilbert asks. "The answer is simple: We cook the facts."
At least since Freud, one of the abiding strains in psychological thought has been the idea that our behavior is often motivated by impulses beyond conscious awareness. Gilbert's argument is the cognitive scientist's version of Freudian delusion, with faulty logic — rather than the hidden longings of the unconscious — causing us to misperceive reality, and make decisions that are not in our rational, happiness-maximizing interest. What gets us through life, evidently, is just the right amount of delusion — enough to fool us into feeling relatively good about ourselves (as in Lake Wobegon, we all believe ourselves to be above average; 90 percent of drivers certainly do), but not so much as to exceed our own credulity. "If we were to experience the world exactly as it is, we'd be too depressed to get out of bed in the morning," Gilbert writes. "But if we were to experience the world exactly as we want it to be, we'd be too deluded to find our slippers."
Can awareness of these cognitive mechanisms make us happier, or at least less deluded? Alas, not really. In fact, that's sort of Gilbert's point: imagination (or projecting ourselves into the future) ought to be the key to predicting what will make us happy, but we're incapable of imagining accurately.
Interestingly, the clinically depressed seem less susceptible to these basic cognitive errors. For instance, healthy people can be deluded into greater happiness when granted the mere illusion of control over their environment; the clinically depressed recognize the illusion for what it is. All in all, it's yet more evidence that unhappy people have the more accurate view of reality — and that learning how to kid ourselves may be a key to mental health.
Scott Stossel is managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly.