Thursday, May 31, 2007

Recycling Gray Water: Investments by Green Households to be Minimalist Resource Consumers

There are some serious greens in Oakland California. Mayor Jerry Brown should be careful because Laura Allen may try to recycle him.

May 31, 2007
The Dirty Water Underground


LAURA ALLEN’S modest gray house in the Oakland flatlands would give a building inspector nightmares. Jerry-built pipes protrude at odd angles from the back and sides of the nearly century-old house, running into a cascading series of bathtubs filled with gravel and cattails. White PVC pipe, buckets, milk crates and hoses are strewn about the lot. Inside, there is mysterious — and illegal — plumbing in every room.

Ms. Allen, 30, is one of the Greywater Guerrillas, a team focused on promoting and installing clandestine plumbing systems that recycle gray water — the effluent of sinks, showers and washing machines — to flush toilets or irrigate gardens.

To her, this house is as much an emblem of her belief system as a home. Although gray water use is legal in California, systems that conform to the state’s complicated code tend to be very expensive, and Ms. Allen and her fellow guerrilla, Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, are out to persuade the world that water recycling can be a simple and affordable option, as well as being a morally essential one.

They are part of a larger movement centered in the West — especially in arid regions like Arizona, New Mexico and Southern California — that includes both groups that operate within the law and ones that skirt it. The goal is the reuse of home gray water as a way to live within the region’s ecological means. Using their own experience and contributions from others, they have just published a do-it-yourself guide to gray water systems that is also a manifesto for the movement, “Dam Nation: Dispatches From the Water Underground.”

“A lot of people that care about water try to conserve it,” said Ms. Allen, an elementary-school teacher who installed several gray water systems after buying this home — which she named the “Haut House,” for House of Appropriate Urban Technology — four years ago with a housemate. “But this is about changing the way you interact with it.”

Mr. Woelfle-Erskine, a writer and teacher who lives on a houseboat with a gray water system in San Pablo, Calif., 10 miles north, added, “It’s about trying to use resources to their full potential and interact with ecosystems in a beneficial way.”

In 1994, California became the first state to establish guidelines for gray water use — as most other states have since — and it has become a leader in building industrial-scale gray water systems. The town of Arcata, for example, has an extensive system that serves the entire population of 17,000, and even the state’s oil refineries have gray water systems.

But many gray water advocates say that California’s plumbing code — which stipulates things like pipe sizes, burial depths and soil tests based on rules established for septic systems — is prohibitively complicated for private homeowners interested in recycling gray water, and that its requirements are prohibitively expensive.

“The code is so overbuilt that I’m beginning to think it’s better to just have everyone do it bootleg,” said Steve Bilson, the founder of ReWater Systems, a company that has installed around 800 code-compliant gray water systems at a cost of about $7,000 each, and who worked as a consultant on California gray water legislation in the 1990s.

As a result, many homeowners have installed unpermitted, illegal plumbing, relying on techniques developed by covert researchers like the Greywater Guerrillas. (It is difficult to know how many, since these systems are not registered with any government or organization, but Ms. Allen said that based on her observations there are probably around 2,000 homes equipped with gray water systems, a few legal but most illegal, in the Bay Area alone.)

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Woelfle-Erskine stood in the backyard of the Haut House and explained how one of the half-dozen gray water systems there works. A pipe running from the house deposits shower and sink water into an elevated bathtub in the yard that is filled with gravel and reeds, and the roots of plants begin filtering and absorbing contaminants. The water then flows into a second, lower, tub, also containing a reedbed, before flowing into a still-lower tub of floating water hyacinths and small fish.

“We’ve had the water tested,” Mr. Woelfle-Erskine said, “and it’s clean — there’s just a little phosphorous left, which the plants in the garden actually like.” Through trial and error, Mr. Woelfle-Erskine and Ms. Allen have found what they say is the best way to spread wastewater into the gravel beds (through a screened milk crate) and which plants best clean the water while not growing so vigorously as to block pipes (cattails).

Although this Rube Goldberg setup, known as a constructed wetland, cost only about $100 to build, it represents a pinnacle of gray water system design, which is usually far more modest, according to Art Ludwig, an ecological systems designer in Santa Barbara. (Mr. Ludwig’s Web site,, offers a practical introduction for do-it-yourselfers.) The vast majority of systems, Mr. Ludwig said, “cost less than a hundred bucks — it can be just a hose.” For example, a hose connects the sink to the toilet tank to create a gray-water toilet in one of the Haut House bathrooms.

In spite of the ad hoc nature of many illegal systems, Mr. Ludwig said, he has “never heard of a single case of health problems from using gray water, ever.” Similarly, Simon Eching, the chief of program development at California’s Department of Water Resources — the body that drafted the state’s gray water code — said he knew of no health issues arising from gray water use in California.

But Mr. Ludwig’s Web site also points out that there are a number of potential pitfalls. He strongly discourages ponds of exposed water like the one fed by the constructed wetland in Ms. Allen’s backyard, for example, because they can draw mosquitoes that carry disease. He cautions against crossing plumbing lines and contaminating clean water; using gray water in sprinkler systems or on fruits and vegetables that are eaten raw (it should only be used to irrigate roots); and allowing water contaminated by toxic cleansers, soiled diapers or contact with people who have infectious diseases to enter the gray water system.

Not even the Greywater Guerrillas would now condone the first system they built, in 1999. Back then, they were living with six housemates in a rented house in a rundown part of Oakland.

After receiving a water bill showing that the house was using 241 gallons a day despite their conservation efforts (the figure was actually less than half the national average of 70 gallons per person per day), the two headed to the basement with little more than a hacksaw and righteous enthusiasm. “We didn’t have a plan,” Ms. Allen said, “and we didn’t even have the materials. We were dumb, really.”

Their initial efforts dumped used shower water into the basement, forcing their housemates to forgo bathing for days. But before long, they were building a gray water system.

Two years later, as the Guerrilla Greywater Girls (at the time, Cleo Woelfle-Erskine was a woman) they published a “Guide to Water,” a crude sheaf of photocopies held together with a rubber band that combined plumbing instructions and design tips with an argument that water systems like dams and aqueducts were instruments of greed. “Dam Nation” is an expanded and less breathless descendant of the guide, with contributions from movement members as far away as Thailand.

Thousands of copies of the original were circulated while the Greywater Guerrillas honed their skills up and down the West Coast, installing systems from Seattle to Los Angeles for friends and like-minded people, and occasionally for hire, and connecting interested homeowners with plumbers willing to do illegal work. (Ms. Allen even took a plumbing course at a community college; she said that when the instructor began to sense what she was up to, he stopped answering her questions.)

Four years ago, they worked with Babak Tondre, a co-founder of a demonstration home in Berkeley called EcoHouse, to install a gray water system there.

“When the Greywater Guerrillas came over, I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” said Mr. Tondre, 37. He was soon forced to remove the system when the nonprofit Berkeley Ecology Center, which runs the house, objected: “The board flipped when they saw it. It was totally illegal.”

Mr. Tondre then applied for a permit from the city. The resulting system, a more robustly engineered constructed wetland, funnels shower and laundry water underground, through a deep bed of gravel contained within a pond liner, and into a pipe at the other end of the gravel bed. More buried pipes direct water to the roots of plum, pear and cherry trees.

The system — which Mr. Tondre believes is the first and so far only residential constructed wetland in California built with a permit — cost $4,000 using volunteer labor. It can convert a maximum of 27,000 gallons of gray water into irrigation every year, enough for six fruit trees, along with the marsh plants in the wetland itself.

If gray water is starting to gain public acceptance, the Greywater Guerrillas are staying well ahead of the mainstream. At the side of the Haut House, next to a chicken coop, twin plastic barrels hold hundreds of pounds of waste from composting toilets inside the house.

While chickens pecked around her bare feet, Ms. Allen plunged a giant corkscrew into one of the barrels to mix the contents and speed the yearlong composting process. “Smell it,” she said. “Not bad at all.”

Intellectual Challenges that help the Old to Feel Young

What problems should older academics be working on? Some take up applied problems perhaps because consulting pays well. Others reduce their quantity of writing. I'm not sure if they are now devoting greater effort to their teaching duties? Below I report a letter published in the Times today by Herbert Kohl. He offers an optimistic vision that may be more broadly applicable than his single case study of himself.

Similar to Mr. Kohl, academics might consider "reinventing" themselves by branching into a new line of research. Perhaps when I'm 70, I'll return to macroeconomics?
A human capital theorist would say that my suggestion does not pass a dynamic cost/benefit test. It is difficult for "old dogs" to learn "new tricks" and if the time horizon is short then the expected PDV of such new investments in new skills would be low.

But, this Mr. Kohl sounds young at heart to me and genuinely curious about his new interest.

New York Times Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:

I am only 70 years old, but I certainly understand what Atul Gawande describes. I, too, have been through old-age crisis and believe that I have been lucky enough to have come out the other side.

My major decision was to take on a task that I could never complete no matter how long I lived and to fade into the night still working at it. I decided to take up Chinese landscape painting and found myself in a beginner’s class of 6- and 7-year-olds.

The children’s boldness, creativity and energy were infectious, and I found myself going from a fearful and slightly depressed elder to an energetic painter embarking on a task that I couldn’t possibly complete in a lifetime.

I recommend that older folk look toward impossible challenges at the end of their lives. You don’t need to tie everything up before you go. Try to do something difficult and essentially incompletable, and when you die, the unfinished nature of your challenge will be a mark that you’ve been here and still in the midst of living even at the very end of life.

Herbert Kohl
Point Arena, Calif., May 30, 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Planting Trees and Offsetting Your SUV

John Lennon sang a song "How Do You Sleep?" He also had another song "Whatever Get's you Through the Night, Is All Right". I wonder whether he would have any concerns about this offsetting. There is an ecological issue here. Given that trees are not all the same, how many of given type of tree must be planted to offset the greenhouse gas emissions caused by a gallon of gasoline consumption?

Environmentalists appear to be concerned that the "rebound effect" is real. If people feel comfortable that they can "atone" for their greenhouse gas emissions sins , will they really tighten their belt and live a simpler life? Is this new market option, too easy?

Do trees make it OK to drive an SUV?

By MICHAEL HILL, Associated Press WriterSun May 27, 8:36 PM ET

If you plant some trees, is it OK to drive an Escalade?

The question isn't as silly as it sounds. People worried about global warming increasingly are trying to "offset" the carbon dioxide — the leading greenhouse gas — they spew into the atmosphere when they drive, fly or flick on a light. One idea popular with the eco-conscious is to have trees planted for them. You get to keep driving and flying, but those trees are supposed to suck in your trail of carbon.

Whole forests have been funded by tree-loving celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Coldplay, and more modest packages tailored to typical consumers are proliferating.

But some researchers say planting trees — while a good thing — is at best a marginal solution to global warming. Still others decry tree planters who continue to jet off to Cannes, drive their SUVs or generally fail to reduce their fuel-hungry lifestyle. To those critics, plantings and other carbon offsets are like the medieval practice of selling indulgences to wash away sins: It may feel good, but it doesn't solve much.

"The sale of offset indulgences is a dead-end detour off the path of action required in the face of climate change," says a report by the Transnational Institute's Carbon Trade Watch.

Groups that offer tree offsets typically rely on Web calculators requiring users to type in how many miles they drive, how much electricity they use and how far they fly. Figure out how much CO2 someone is responsible for (output), compare it to the work average trees can do (input), and you have a formula for neutralizing a person's "carbon footprint."

While the band Coldplay famously funded 10,000 mango trees in India to soak up emissions related to the production of a CD, the average consumer can get off far easier. For $40, Trees for the Future will plant 400 trees in a developing country to handle your car emissions. In June, Delta Air Lines will allow online ticket buyers to help offset emissions of their flights through tree plantings in the U.S. and abroad: $5.50 for domestic round trips, $11 for international.

"It's easy to do and it makes a big difference," said Jena Thompson of the Conservation Fund, Delta's partner and one of many groups that will plant trees on your behalf.

The science is sound: Trees take in carbon dioxide as part of photosynthesis and store the carbon. But even conservationists caution it's not as simple as planting a sapling so you can crank up the air conditioning without guilt.

Offset groups use averages to estimate how much carbon a given tree or forested acre can capture. For instance, the nonprofit Conservation Fund figures that each tree planted captures less than 1 1/2 tons over 100 years.

To put that in perspective, consider that about 7.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide was produced from the burning of fossil fuels worldwide in 2003, the most recent estimate available.

And how much carbon dioxide a tree can soak up varies, said John Kadyszewski of Winrock International, a nonprofit that works on environmental projects. A huge California redwood might have 30 tons of carbon stored while a 100-year-old pine might have less than a ton.

"Trees are all different," said Kadyszewski, coordinator for ecosystem services for Winrock, "and the amount of carbon in the tree depends on how old it is and where it's growing and what kind of tree it is."

Kadyszewski notes that most of the calculators use conservative numbers, meaning they're not likely to exaggerate benefits. The Conservation Fund and both say they plant more than enough trees to deliver on promised offsets.

There are other potential problems, however. Some researchers suggest forests in the snowy North might actually increase local warming by absorbing sunlight that would otherwise be reflected into space. And dead, decaying trees release some of that captured carbon back into the atmosphere.

Maybe most importantly, some researchers say it's simply not possible to plant enough trees to have a significant effect on global warming.

Michael MacCracken, chief scientist at the nonpartisan Climate Institute in Washington, said tree-planting has value as a stopgap measure while society attempts to reduce greenhouse gases. But University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver fears tree offsets could steal the focus of a problem that requires technological advances and behavioral changes.

"The danger is that you could actually think you're solving a problem," Weaver said. "It makes you feel good. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy, like changing a couple of light bulbs. But the reality is it's not going to have a significant effect."

Eric Carlson of the tree-planting nonprofit notes that his group does not promote trees as the only solution to climate change. Participants also can purchase offsets that support projects aimed at expanding renewable energy or improving energy efficiency.

Carlso bristles when critics focus on the perceived hypocrisies of the jet-setting, tree-planting rich people.

He fears the indulgence argument shifts the focus from what normal, everyday people can do to fight global warming: Cut down on electricity and gasoline use, support renewable energy and, yes, plant trees.

"You can find pluses and minuses to all the offset options," Carlson said, "but the worst thing is to do nothing."


On the Net:

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More Celebrities Near UCLA

Today was a typical saturday. We went to the Santa Monica Farmer's Market to buy fruit and veggies. From there, we go to the ocean and let my son dig in the sand for an hour. He made some good castles and we read the newspaper. From there, we walked to a nice restaurant called "The Lobster". It is located a block from Rand. My son managed to bankrupt us by ordering the most expensive thing on the menu (a Lobster) and then he ate 1/2 of it. Besides for this, we had a very nice meal and at the end of the meal --- I spotted a genuine celebrity.

Rick Springfield, the actor and musician, walked in with a posse. I wanted to go up and sing "Jesse's Girl" to him but I figured that wouldn't be too cool to have a fat, bald middle aged guy come up and sign to a thin, long haired fellow middle aged guy. So, I bottled up the urge and left him alone. He was there with a large crew of young people and fellow older guys who had suspiciously full heads of hair and looked like they thought they were also celebrities.

I thought it might not be him but when I got home I typed his name into Google and the computer says that he does live in LA so that's that.

As I have noted before, Boston just didn't offer the same set of celebrities as L.A.
These days my utility is gained from publishing papers and spotting celebrities.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Does Television Hurt Diabetic Children's Health? A Case Study of Selection versus Treatment!

This would appear to be a case where both selection and treatment play a role in generating the observed fact. The "fact" is that diabetic kids who watch a lot of TV have worse blood sugar control than diabetic kids who don't watch TV. The selection story is simply that "patient" disciplined kids watch less TV and do a better job complying with the rigorous requirements for tight blood sugar control. So in the language of statistics, an "omitted" variable (i.e patience and mental control) is generating the observed correlation. The researchers here are jumping to the conclusion that their fact is generated by "treatment". It is true that kids who watch TV are more likely to be snacking and less likely to be outside running around getting exercise. So, I'm sure there is some truth in the claim that this is a "causal" effect for some kids.

It does strike me that public health researchers need to do a better job separating out "selection versus treatment" before they jump to conclusions that the popular media embraces.

TV linked with poor diabetes control By LINDSEY TANNER, AP Medical Writer
Fri May 25, 7:50 AM ET

Diabetic children who spent the most time glued to the TV had a tougher time controlling their blood sugar, according to a Norwegian study that illustrates yet another downside of too much television.

The findings, based on a study of children with Type 1 diabetes, lend support to the American Academy of Pediatrics' advice that children watch no more than two hours of TV daily, said lead author Dr. Hanna Margeirsdottir of the University of Oslo.

Type 1 diabetes is the less common form of the disease and used to be called juvenile diabetes. It is not related to obesity and is caused when the body cannot make insulin, which converts sugar from food into energy. People with Type 1 must take insulin daily and regulate their blood-sugar levels.

Snacking and overeating can increase blood-sugar levels; physical activity can lower them. While TV-viewing is often accompanied by snacking, the researchers didn't examine diet or physical activity.

The study results "suggest that encouraging children with Type 1 diabetes to watch less television may be important for improved blood glucose control and better health outcomes," the study authors wrote.

Other experts said the study also might suggest something else. Diabetic children who already have consistently high blood-sugar levels could feel too sick to do much besides watch TV, said Jill Weissburg-Benchell, a psychologist and diabetes educator at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

"It's very clear that there is a relationship. Now the question is what underlies that relationship," she said.

Results of the Oslo research will appear in the June edition of the journal Diabetes Care.

The study involved 538 children with an average age of 13. In Norway, about 25,000 people have Type 1 diabetes. In the United States, there are 3 million with the condition and about 30 million worldwide.

The study evaluated results of a routine test that measured average blood-sugar control over three months. There was a continuous increase in the level of blood sugar with every hour of TV watched, rising to the highest level for those who watched at least four hours daily.

The results didn't surprise Chicago diabetes educator Monica Joyce, who founded a basketball camp for diabetic children.

Campers typically are asked how much TV they watch and are taught "they can get much better blood sugars if they're active," Joyce said.

If the researchers' theory is right, then turning off the TV could be added to a list of remedies "that are very low-cost to the health care system," said Dr. Francine Kaufman, head of a diabetes program at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.

"This has got to be the social norm that it's just not acceptable for kids to be baby-sat by TV," she said.


On the Net:

American Diabetes Association:

Norwegian Diabetes Association:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What Can $10 Million Buy You in Today's Property Market?

My wife and I are looking to buy a house out west and to sell a house on the east coast so information about the housing market always interests me. Below I report 3 data points that are just a pinch out of our price range. But, with the expected royalties we'll earn on our new book "The Social Face of War" maybe these "shacks" could be affordable.

NY Times
May 23, 2007
Property Values
What You Get for ... $10 Million

Miami Beach, Fla.

WHAT: Five-bedroom house, plus one-bedroom guest house and service quarters

HOW MUCH: $9,995,000

PER FOOT: $1,575.25

Situated on Palm Island, a gated community off of the McArthur Causeway between downtown Miami and South Beach, this house has 217 feet of frontage along Biscayne Bay. With a private dock and boatlift, the property can accommodate a yacht and has access to the Atlantic. Built in 1930, this two-story Mediterranean-style house has 6,345 square feet. The double-height living room has arched doorways, a vaulted exposed-beam ceiling, ornate columns and a wall of windows with views of the bay. The estate has six and two half baths, a two-car attached garage and a four-car detached carport. There are ceramic, hardwood and marble floors throughout the home. The property is four-fifths of an acre in size, with a circular drive in the front and, along the bay at the rear of the house, a covered lanai, pool and spa with mature palm trees. The guest house has one bedroom and one bath, and there is a separate suite in the main house for use as service quarters. The community offers tennis, racquetball and basketball courts, as well as full-time security. Taxes are $92,055 a year. There is a voluntary homeowner’s fee of $500 a year. Barbara Hagen, Majestic Properties (305) 992-3749;

Bozeman, Mont.

WHAT: Five-bedroom house with two cabins

HOW MUCH: $10,000,000

PER FOOT: $2,789.40

This 3,585-square-foot house was built in 2002 and has three baths, a Tulikivi wood stove, a two-car attached garage and a covered porch. Each of the guest cabins — one has 648 square feet of space, the other 360 square feet — has an efficiency kitchen and a bath. The buildings have been clustered to preserve the habitat of black bear, elk, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions and moose. The 640-acre parcel of land allows for four residences to be built in addition to the existing log-style house, which could be a caretaker’s home, and the guest cabins. (The land has conservation easements held by the Montana Land Reliance stipulating that the parcel cannot be subdivided any further.) At an elevation of 7,200 feet, the property is situated at the base of the Bridger Mountains and surrounded by National Forest land. With views of the Crazy Mountains, the Paradise Valley and Yellowstone National Park, the property is 30 minutes north of Bozeman and 10 minutes from Bridger Bowl, a skiing area. Cache Creek originates on the property, and there is also a pond. The taxes are $6,831.43 a year. Vivian Bridaham, The Collection — Sotheby’s International Realty, (406) 586-4408;

San Francisco

WHAT: Six-bedroom house

HOW MUCH: $9,995,000

PER FOOT: $1,427

Built in 2006, this 7,000-square-foot four-story home in the Russian Hill area of San Francisco is within a block of shopping, restaurants and the Hyde Street Cable Car. Designed to optimize views, the house has oversized windows taking in the Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the Marina, the bay and the city. The house has a below-ground media room and garage with morotized lifts to accommodate four cars. The ground level has two bedrooms, a family room that opens to a landscaped garden, and an office with a private entrance. The middle level has a library, two bedrooms and a master suite with a Jacuzzi tub. The top level has a fourth bedroom, as well as the formal living and dining rooms and eat-in kitchen. A motorized skylight opens to provide access to a roof deck. The house has six and two half baths, four fireplaces, two elevators, and a wine storage room and tasting area with space for about 1,000 bottles. It is wired for digital services, cable for flat-screen televisions, electric shade installation, built-in audio speakers and an alarm system with video surveillance capacity. Taxes are expected to be about $124,937.50 a year. Betty Brachman, Sotheby’s International Realty — San Francisco, (415) 296-2215;

Cities Reap Benefits by Going Green

As academics get older, they publish in different places. I have found a new home at UCLA Today. The only constraint was that I was given only 500 words. A windbag like me loses some nuance with this binding constraint. To its credit UCLA Today does do a good job highlighting what is going on at UCLA. I find that many universities are unable to convey what their faculty actually do when they are not teaching. Since most faculty don't teach much, this provides faculty with too much "privacy".

To be honest, what I liked about this 500 word piece is that it allowed me to parsimoniously introduce myself to the UCLA community. As a brand new member of the faculty, this is helpful.

Cities reap benefits by going green
By Matthew E. Kahn

In the 19th century, dead horses littered the streets of New York City and thousands of tenement dwellers were exposed to stinking water, smoky skies and ear-shattering din. The skies above such major cities as Chicago and Pittsburgh were dark with smoke from steel smelters, heavy industrial plants and burning coal. Around the world, similar quality-of-life challenges were observed.

Over time, many major cities in the developed world have experienced sharp improvements in quality of life. In Los Angeles, there has been a dramatic reduction in local ambient air pollution. The number of days per year exceeding the federal one-hour ozone standard declined from about 150 days per year at the worst locations during the early 1980s, to 20 to 30 days per year today.

Air, water and noise pollution have sharply fallen in many major U.S. cities. While there are several causes for this progress, the net result is that the "production cities" of the past are transforming themselves into "consumer cities" where people want to live and play. Urban greenness enhances such experiences and makes such cities even more desirable.

Many of us have an intuitive sense of what sets a green city, such as Portland, Ore., apart from "brown" urban centers like Mexico City. Green cities have clean air and water and pleasant streets and parks. Green cities are resilient in the face of natural disasters, and the risk of major infectious disease outbreaks is low. Green cities also encourage green behavior, such as the use of public transit.

Green cities are a key engine of economic growth in the modern skills economy. Living and working close to the Pacific Ocean does not cause one to be smarter and more productive. Instead, green amenities select and attract the skilled, resulting in robust economic growth. Human capital, it is widely agreed, is the key determinant of growth.

There is no free lunch, however. A city that pursues greenness as an economic development strategy will experience gentrification. One consequence of this trend will be rising home prices that squeeze out poorer renters, new immigrants and even the middle class, compelling them to live farther from the city center or migrate to a cheaper city.

In 2007, is Los Angeles a green city? Optimists would point to the high day-to-day quality of life in our city and the sharp progress in urban smog achieved over the last 30 years. Pessimists would counter that the region's greenhouse gas production has increased as Los Angeles County's population grew by 29% from 1980 to 2000 and total automobile mileage grew by 70%.

As an economist, I would say that Los Angeles could be an even greener city if it could offer incentives to polluters to mitigate their production of greenhouse gases. The rise in fuel-efficient vehicles and buildings certified by the nationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system suggests that free market capitalism can help to reduce the threat of climate change without sacrificing our material standard of living.

Kahn, a professor at the Institute of the Environment, is the author of a recently published book, "Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment" (Brookings Institution Press). He blogs on environmental and urban economic topics at

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Challenging Job?

Who says that there are no more good jobs in the U.S? Below, I provide proof that not all "good jobs" have been outsourced. Can you guess who seeks to fill this position? I'd like to see some data on the duration of employment in this slot.

Technical Typist - Full Time

Prestigious Economics Professor seeks a full-time technical typist. Masters in mathematics or statistics highly preferred. Experience with LaTeX and Scientific Word required.

Pay competitive, commensurate with experience.

Hours: Our organization operates on a 7-day work week (including all holidays), so the work schedule is negotiable. However, this position requires flexibility and hours are greatly affected by deadlines.

Typical hours of operation:
9am-8pm Monday-Friday
11am-7pm Saturday and Sunday

Main tasks:
Type and proof-read technical economic, statistical, and mathematical documents.
Organize typed documentation in accordance with the current office system.
Coordinate with the research team on paper content, clarifications, and other editing issues.

Candidates must have extreme attention to detail, and have good English writing and speaking skills.
Candidates must be willing and able to work some holidays.
Candidates must be able to work in a fast-paced, stressful environment, without sacrificing attention to detail.
Candidates must already be authorized to work in the U.S. and be U.S.-based. (We do not pay relocation fees, but may be considered upon salary negotiation.)

Please send cover letter and resume to Alison Baulos (

Monday, May 21, 2007

Progress Not Regress: Green Power Can Be Produced in a Nasty Place

What should become of old Rust Belt steel towns? This article claims that they are reinventing themselves as "progressive" green power producers. The article is honest that these new wind turbines may not create as many "good jobs" as steel did back in the day but still it is a fun case study of creative destruction and the attempts at revitalization in areas that need a boost.

On an unrelated note, I must admit that I quite depressed by the news that Ken Sokoloff has passed away. He played a major role in recruiting Dora and I to UCLA and we were quite eager to be his colleague. Ken was a rare bundle. There are four types of economists:

set #1 non-distinguished and not nice
set #2 distinguished and not nice
set #3 non-distinguished and nice
set #4 distinguished and nice

In my travels, I have had the good fortune to not run into many of set #1 or set #3.
For better or worse, I've met a large number of economists who fall into set #2.
Ken was a rare #4. He was loved by his students and greatly respected by all. His recent work with Stan Engerman is important stuff and highlights the importance of economic history as a research tool for examining long run economic trends.

NY Times
May 22, 2007
An Old Steel Mill Retools to Produce Clean Energy

LACKAWANNA, N.Y., May 21 — Empty grain elevators and dormant railroad tracks line the Buffalo River to the east and Lake Erie to the west, interspersed with empty fields overgrown with gnarled shrubbery. Test wells that monitor decades of buried industrial waste dot the landscape. A passenger ship, rust overtaking its aqua paint, sits beside a decaying mill.

The road from Buffalo to this city to the south offers a stark reminder of the region’s faded past as a hub of industry and shipping.

Yet in the past few months, a different sight has emerged on the 2.2-mile shoreline above a labyrinth of pipes, blackened buildings and crumbling coke ovens that was once home to a behemoth Bethlehem Steel plant: eight gleaming white windmills with 153-foot blades slowly turning in the wind off Lake Erie, on a former Superfund site where iron and steel slag and other industrial waste were dumped during 80 years of production.

“It’s changing the image of the city of Lackawanna,” said Norman L. Polanski Jr., the city’s mayor and a former Bethlehem worker who lost his job when the company stopped making steel here in 1983. “We were the old Rust Belt, with all the negatives. Right now, we are progressive and we are leading the way on the waterfront.”

Christine Real de Azua, of the American Wind Energy Association, said Steel Winds, as this wind farm is known, is the largest to rise in a city, and according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, it is the first to rise on land overseen by New York’s brownfields program. (Brownfields are low-level toxic waste sites concentrated mainly around abandoned factories.)

“It’s a way to convert the Rust Belt to the Wind Belt,” Ms. Real de Azua said.

The turbines, owned jointly by BQ Energy of Pawling, N.Y., and UPC Wind of Newton, Mass., are able to produce a total of 20 megawatts of electricity a year, enough to provide power to 7,000 homes, said the project manager, Mark Mitskovski. The companies involved in the project plan to sell the energy to individual customers or utilities.

The company began construction of the wind farm in September 2006, six months after the federal Environmental Protection Agency declared the site clean enough to be removed from the Superfund list, allowing the state Department of Environmental Conservation to oversee its development.

The windmills are a welcome change for an area buffeted by the loss of jobs and environmental problems since Bethlehem’s steep decline began in the mid-1970s as cheaper imported steel, mainly from Japan, began flooding the United States.

At its peak during World War II and through the boom years that followed, Bethlehem employed more than 20,000 people here, most living within walking distance of the plant. But as the jobs vanished, the city’s population fell from a high of 30,000 in the 1960s to about 19,000 today.

Smoke from the blast furnaces and coke ovens coated the mill town with a layer of red ore dust, and artificial clouds glowed several times each day, when rail cars tipped their loads of slag into Lake Erie, creating a lavalike flow visible from miles away.

“As a kid, we’d be at the beach and you’d see the ladle cars going out there 24 hours a day,” said Michael Malyak, of Lackawanna’s Steel Plant Museum, who was a shipping clerk at Bethlehem for eight years before becoming an elementary school teacher. “The sky would light up, and you’d see this red-hot slag rolling down the hillside.”

Mayor Polanski said that as dangerous and unhealthy as it was, “it was a way of life.”

And one that passed through generations. Like many of his classmates, Mr. Polanski, who is 58, followed his father to Bethlehem, getting hired as an apprentice pipe fitter.

“I graduated in June of ’67, and at the end of July, I had a job at the steel plant,” he said. “I never figured I’d lose that job.”

But as the lower-priced imported steel began to dominate the market, Bethlehem started to shrink. About 7,300 workers lost their jobs when the company stopped making steel in Lackawanna, leaving only the coke ovens and several finishing mills in operation.

Bethlehem ended coke production in 2001, the year the company filed for bankruptcy. A much smaller mill that finishes galvanized steel and employs about 250 is now operated by Mittal Steel, which acquired Bethlehem’s assets in 2005 in a merger with International Steel Group.

About $300,000 in state and federal assistance was used to research wind patterns and evaluate the environmental impact, and the windmills each cost $4.5 million to build. Power lines left from the plant carry the electricity from the turbines, while paved roads, rail lines and an industrial port built by Bethlehem were used to bring much of the construction material to the site.

“It’s much easier to do this on farmland somewhere,” Mr. Mitskovski said. “But all the things you would need to build in a green field setting are already here.”

Steel Winds has permits to build two more turbines and plans to put up as many as 27 in all. This month, local officials announced plans to move a rail line and build new roads in an effort to open 400 more acres of brownfields at the former Bethlehem site for redevelopment and to revitalize the Lake Erie port there, which is large enough to handle eight oceangoing ships at a time.

The economic effect of the wind farm on this city will never rival that of the steel giant. Mr. Mitskovski estimated that Steel Winds will ultimately employ a few dozen people, compared with the tens of thousands who punched the clock at Bethlehem. And though there are incentives for clean energy production, taxes generated by the wind farm will never match those paid by the steel mill, which at one time subsidized most of Lackawanna’s government.

The greatest effect of the eight windmills, however, may have more to do with attitude.

“A community that has had difficulty moving forward has accepted a technology that leapfrogs other forms of energy generation,” Mr. Mitskovski said. “Decades of steel-making created this environmental legacy. But that also created the opportunity to take this fallow, contaminated land and reuse it.”

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Housing Prices Near UCLA: One Data Point for Your Hedonic Analysis

A quick geography lesson about West Los Angeles. UCLA is in Westwood. If you want to be a "Wizard" of Westwoodk it will cost you. Here are some details about just one house for sale. For a mere $1.7 million, you can own a 2,442 square foot house that is close to UCLA but is also within .5 miles of the 405 highway. Now that's a bundle of amenities and disamenities! Priced per square-foot, is this cheap real estate?
I do like the idea of having a pool. Maybe I would grade students' papers while sitting in it?

I doubt that any celebrities live on Greenfield Avenue. I'm hoping that the Case-Shiller LA metro price index predicts a 20% decline in LA home prices. If you know what this future's market is predicting, please email me this useful information. From the Chicago Mercentile Exchange webpage, I couldn't find this info.

2016 GREENFIELD AVE, Westwood - Century City, CA 90025**

Listing Price: $1,695,000


Remodeled 2 story spanish charmer-old world details retained. 4 bedrooms+den 3 baths. Expanded in 2006. Nice garden/w beautiful landscaping, pool + spa. Viking kitchen. First showing may 8th.

Interior Features



Floor Coverings: HARDWOOD



Living Room: YES


Exterior Features




# of Stories: 2

Stories Desc.: 2 STORIES


Lot Size: 6,750 Sq. Ft.

School Features

Elementary School: WESTWOOD CHARTER

Middle School: EMERSON

High School: UNI HIGH

Home Information - SFR



Full Baths:


Square Feet:


Partial Baths:


Listing Date:


Year Built:


MLS #:





Heating: CENTRAL



General Features

County: Los Angeles


Zoning: R1


Is Curitiba Brazil a Green City?

Today's New York Times Magazine is devoted solely to environmental issues. Al Gore gets a plug and some green architects are celebrated. I thought that this (below) was the most interesting article. It is a case study of Curitiba, Brazil. While urban planners initially built a "green city", certain trends appear to be undermining this "greeness".

While the article presents several interesting facts, it doesn't provide any estimates of the cost of providing "green" infrastructure or facts on the public finance of whose taxes were increased to pay for the these public projects. The article also doesn't discuss what are the private benefits to citizens from substituting to "brown" technologies such as private cars over buses.

The article also hints (and should have expanded this section) that the urban planners would not have been able to achieve their "utopia" if Brazil had been a democracy. This struck me as "benevolent paternalism" if the planners do not believe that they could have convinced the median voter to adopt their policies if the political system had been more competitive.

May 20, 2007
Recycle City
The Road to Curitiba

On Saturday mornings, children gather to paint and draw in the main downtown shopping street of Curitiba, in southern Brazil. More than just a charming tradition, the child’s play commemorates a key victory in a hard-fought, ongoing war. Back in 1972, the new mayor of the city, an architect and urban planner named Jaime Lerner, ordered a lightning transformation of six blocks of the street into a pedestrian zone. The change was recommended in a master plan for the city that was approved six years earlier, but fierce objections from the downtown merchants blocked its implementation. Lerner instructed his secretary of public works to institute the change quickly and asked how long it would take. “He said he needed four months,” Lerner recalled recently. “I said, ‘Forty-eight hours.’ He said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m crazy, but do it in 48 hours.’ ” The municipal authorities were able to accomplish it in three days, beginning on a Friday night and installing paving, lighting, planters and furniture by the end of the day on Monday. “Being a very weak mayor, if I start to do it and take too long, everyone could stop it through a juridical demand,” Lerner went on to explain. “If they stop the work, it’s finished. I had to do it very fast, at least in part. Because we had discussed it a great deal. Sometimes they have to have a demonstration effect.”

The demonstration worked. Within days, impressed by the increase in their business, the once-recalcitrant shop owners were demanding an extension of the traffic-free district. Some diehard motorists, however, sulked. Lerner heard that a group of them were planning to disregard the prohibition and drive their cars into the street on a Saturday morning. So he contrived an unbreachable defense. With the cooperation of the city’s teachers and a donation of rolls of newsprint and boxes of paint, on that morning he assembled several hundred children in the street, where they sat and drew pictures. “It was to say, ‘This is being done for children and their parents — don’t even think of putting cars there,’ ” he told me. The sputtered-out protest was the last resistance to the pedestrianization of the shopping area, which has since expanded from the original 6 blocks to encompass about 15 today. “Of course, this was very emblematic,” Lerner recounted. “We were trying to say, ‘This city is not for cars.’ When many mayors at the time were planning for individual cars, we were countervailing.” He observed that it was emblematic in another way also: “From that point, they said, ‘If he could do this in 72 hours, he can do anything.’ It was a good strategy.”

An opening salvo, the creation of the pedestrian zone inaugurated a series of programs by Lerner and his colleagues that made Curitiba a famous model of late-20th-century urban planning. In the early 1970s, when Brazil was welcoming any industry, no matter how toxic its byproducts, Curitiba decided to admit only nonpolluters; to accommodate them, it constructed an industrial district that reserved so much land for green space that it was derided as a “golf course” until it succeeded in filling up with major businesses while its counterparts in other Latin American cities were flagging. Through the creation of two dozen recreational parks, many with lakes to catch runoff in low-lying areas that flood periodically, Curitiba managed, at a time of explosive population growth, to increase its green areas from 5 square feet per inhabitant to an astounding 560 square feet. The city promoted “green” policies before they were fashionable and called itself “the ecological capital of Brazil” in the 1980s, when there were no rivals for such a title. Today, Curitiba remains a pilgrimage destination for urbanists fascinated by its bus system, garbage-recycling program and network of parks. It is the answer to what might otherwise be a hypothetical question: How would cities look if urban planners, not politicians, took control?

Although the children who paint on Saturday mornings are no longer needed to protect the downtown shopping street from cars, the battle to keep Curitiba green is never-ending. Indeed, some say it is going badly these days. The rivers, once crystalline, reek of untreated sewage. The bus system that has won admirers throughout the world appears to be nearing capacity; what’s more, Curitiba, by some measures, has a higher per capita ownership of private cars than any city in Brazil — even exceeding BrasÃlia, a city that was designed for cars. Curitiba’s garbage-recycling rate has been declining over the last six or seven years, and the only landfill in the municipal region will be full by the end of 2008. Jorge Wilheim, the São Paulo architect who drafted Curitiba’s master plan in 1965, says: “When we made the plan, the population was 350,000. We thought in a few years it would reach 500,000. But it has grown much bigger.” The municipality of Curitiba today has 1.8 million people, and the population of the metropolitan region is 3.2 million. “I know the plan of Curitiba is very famous, and I am the first to enjoy it, but that was in ’65,” Wilheim continues. “The metropolitan region must have a new vision.”

It is often said of Curitiba that it doesn’t feel like Brazil. Depending on who’s speaking, that can be intended as a compliment or a criticism. Populated by European immigrants in the 19th century, Curitiba has a demographic makeup that is largely more fair-skinned and well educated than that of Brazil’s tropical north. It is also unusually affluent. Unlike São Paulo, with its startling extremes of wealth and poverty, much of Curitiba to an American eye looks familiarly middle class. Even the scruffy used-car lots have a seediness reminiscent of Los Angeles, not the Rio de Janeiro of “City of God.” The city, especially the large downtown, is very clean, thanks to municipal sanitation trucks and the freelance carrinheiros, or cart people, who pick up trash to sell at recycling centers.

During my visit to Curitiba in March, the city was the host of an international biodiversity conference. While I hadn’t known of it when I scheduled my trip, the coincidence was about as remarkable as finding a design show to greet you in Milan or a wine festival under way in Bordeaux. Environmentalism is the heart of Curitiba’s self-identity, and the municipal government is always devising new schemes that showcase the brand. The rest of the world has caught on, if not yet caught up. Ecological awareness is architecturally trendy. This year’s winner of the prestigious Pritzker Prize is Richard Rogers, a longtime proponent of mass transit, lower energy consumption and ecologically sensitive buildings. Commercially, real-estate developers from Beijing to Santa Monica are brandishing their LEED certificates (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as they market condominiums and office suites to green-minded consumers. While it is unusually ambitious, the 25-year plan that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed last month for New York is part of an international wave of recognition that cities must live more responsibly, especially when it comes to their effusions of climate-warming gases and their excretions of mountains of solid waste. Bloomberg’s most contentious idea — a “congestion tax” on cars entering traffic-clogged districts during peak hours — has been working for more than four years in London (and more than 30 years in Singapore) to increase the numbers of people using public transportation. Interestingly, Curitiba adopted an opposite approach, brandishing a carrot instead of a stick. The city planners suspected that public transportation would attract more users if it was more attractive. And that reasonable assumption turned out to be correct.

The efficient buses that zip across the Curitiba metropolitan region are the most conspicuously un-Brazilian feature of the city. Instead of descending into subway stations, Curitibanos file into ribbed glass tubes that are boarding platforms for the rapid-transit buses. (The glass tubes resemble the “fosteritos” that Norman Foster later designed for the metro in Bilbao, Spain.) Curitiba has five express-bus avenues, with a sixth in development, to allow you to traverse the city with speedy dispatch. In the early 1970s, most cities investing in public transportation were building subways or light-rail networks. Curitiba lacked the resources and the time to install a train system. Lerner says that compared with the Curitiba bus network, a light rail system would have required 20 times the financial investment; a subway would have cost 100 times as much. “We tried to understand, what is a subway?” he recalls. “It has to have speed, comfort, reliability and good frequency. But why does it have to be underground? Underground is very expensive. With dedicated lanes and not stopping on every corner, we could do it with buses.” Because widening the avenues would have required a lengthy and costly expropriation process, the planners came up with a “trinary” system that embraced three parallel thoroughfares: a large central avenue dedicated to two-way rapid-bus traffic (flanked by slow lanes for cars making short local trips) and, a block over on each side, an avenue for fast one-way automobile traffic.

When the bus system was inaugurated, it transported 54,000 passengers daily. That number has ballooned to 2.3 million, in large part because of innovations that permit passengers to board and exit rapidly. In 1992, Lerner and his team established the tubular boarding platforms with fare clerks and turnstiles, so that the mechanisms for paying and boarding are separated, as in a subway. To carry more people at a time, the city introduced flexible-hinged articulated buses that open their doors wide for rapid entry and egress; then, when the buses couldn’t cope with the demand, the Lerner team called for bi-articulated buses of 88 feet with two hinges (and a 270-passenger capacity), which Volvo manufactured at Curitiba’s request. Comparing the capacities of bus and subway systems, Lerner reels off numbers with a promoter’s panache. “A normal bus in a normal street conducts x passengers a day,” he told me. “With a dedicated lane, it can transport 2x a day. If you have an articulated bus in a dedicated lane, 2.7x passengers. If you add a boarding tube, you can achieve 3.4x passengers, and if you add double articulated buses, you can have four times as many passengers as a normal bus in a normal street.” He says that with an arrival frequency of 30 seconds, you can transport 36,000 passengers every hour — which is about the same load he would have achieved with a subway.

Unfortunately, the trends of bus usage are down. While the system has expanded to cover 13 of the cities in the metropolitan region, charging a flat fare that in practice subsidizes the trips of the mostly poorer workers who live in outlying areas, bus ridership within the Curitiba municipality has been declining. “We are losing bus passengers and gaining cars,” says Luis Fragomeni, a Curitiba urban planner. He observes that, like potential users of public transport everywhere, many Curitibanos view it as noisy, crowded and unsafe. Undermining the thinking behind the master plan, even those who live alongside the high-density rapid-bus corridors are buying cars. “The licensing of cars in Curitiba is 2.5 times higher than babies being born in Curitiba,” he says. “Trouble.” Because cars are status symbols, attempts to discourage people from buying them are probably futile. “We say, ‘Have your own car, but keep it in the garage and use it only on weekends,’ ” Fragomeni remarks. And the public-transport system must be upgraded continuously to remain an appealing alternative to private vehicles. “That competition is very hard,” says Paulo Schmidt, the president of URBS, the rapid-bus system. During peak hours, buses on the main routes are already arriving at almost 30-second intervals; any more buses, and they would back up. While acknowledging his iconoclasm in questioning the sufficiency of Curitiba’s trademark bus network, Schmidt nevertheless says a light-rail system is needed to complement it.

When it comes to modifying human behavior, persuading urban dwellers to sort their garbage can be harder than coaxing them to garage their cars. Lerner and his allies have claimed that they have succeeded beyond the dreams of environmentalists in far more eco-friendly countries, including Japan and Sweden. Curitiba was a pioneer in separating recyclable materials, with its “Garbage That Is Not Garbage” program, inaugurated in 1989. (The city leaders have a flair for slogans.) Recycling has assumed a new urgency, because the entire metropolitan area contains only one landfill, and it will be exhausted by the end of next year. José Antonio Andreguetto, Curitiba’s secretary for the environment, told me that 22 percent of the city’s garbage is being separated for recycling, a rate that has been declining over the last half-dozen years; he says he hopes to bring the number up to 34 percent by the end of the current mayor’s term in 2008. Lerner says the numbers have been eroding until recently because some recent mayors haven’t emphasized the issue, but he maintains that the recycling rate in Curitiba is still the highest in the world.

It is very hard to determine how accurate the estimates are for garbage separation. “Curitiba began early to look at recycling garbage — that is true, and it is good,” says Teresa Urban, a local journalist and environmental activist. “But the separation of recycled garbage is a little part of all the garbage we have here. There is no tradition of participation here. The mayor sold to the people the idea that this is a wonderful city. And the people think, This is wonderful, I don’t have to do anything.”

Like other left-wing critics, Urban traces the lack of participation to an original sin. The progressive urban planning of Curitiba was not initiated by a democratic process; it was set in motion by the military dictatorship that seized power in 1964 and ruled Brazil until the mid-’80s. Its environmentalism is rooted in authoritarianism. “They didn’t have to confront the public through public participation, and the decisions could be made by urban planners — architects acting as politicians,” says Clara Irazábal, who has written a book comparing the urban planning experiences of Curitiba and Portland, Ore. The city that has been called the most forward-looking in the Western Hemisphere is an outgrowth of an era that many Brazilians prefer not to look back on. Jaime Lerner, the archangel of the Curitiba green movement, was anointed by the dragons of war.

Always an anomaly, Curitiba became a model for our day by defying the spirit of the time. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, urban developers throughout the world, influenced by Le Corbusier and his followers, were remodeling cities to facilitate the easy circulation of people in automobiles. But in Curitiba, an informal group of young architects, urban planners and civil engineers at the city’s Federal University of Paraná, which is the oldest university in Brazil, objected more effectively to the mayor’s widening of streets and a proposed highway bypass that threatened the historic city center. As luck would have it, one of these outraged civil engineers, Fanchette Rischbieter, was married to the chairman of the government-controlled investment company that was financing the construction of roads in Paraná, the largely agricultural state of which Curitiba is the capital. “I said, ‘It doesn’t make sense, my wife and her friends are against these people — why don’t we make a plan?’ ” Karlos Rischbieter recalls. Selected by the city, Jorge Wilheim came up with a master plan that concentrated high-density construction along two long rapid-transit axes that skirted the center. At least as important as his transportation and zoning recommendations was Wilheim’s request for an urban-planning institute to implement them. In retrospect, the enthusiastic and talented staff of the Institute of Urban Research and Planning of Curitiba, which is known by its Portuguese acronym, Ippuc, ensured the success of Curitiba’s redevelopment.

Still, there was a lag of five years from the formal adoption of the master plan in 1966 until its implementation, which began with the governor’s selection of Lerner, who was president of Ippuc, to be mayor in 1971. Wilheim the planner needed Lerner the doer to turn abstract ideas into inventive reality. Curitiba has been studied more than copied (one notable exception is a Curitiba-style bus system in Bogotá, Colombia) because unlike Lerner, most mayors stumble over political obstacles. “I always tell a story of the ’80s,” Rischbieter says. “A friend from São Paulo came with his wife and son to visit Curitiba. He did not know this city. I took my car and showed him Curitiba for three hours. When I left him at the hotel, he said, ‘What did you show people before Jaime Lerner?’ ”

A spark plug of ideas, Lerner, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, combines salesmanship and pragmatism. Following his mayoral terms, he won election twice as governor of Paraná State, retiring in 2002 at the age of 65 to devote himself to his architecture firm and to worldwide speaking engagements espousing green urban planning. He has a large head that seems to rest directly on wide shoulders; knowing his passion for recycling, you might almost believe that his thick-set body has been through a compactor. He radiates a highly compressed and infectious energy, with a can-do assertiveness that borders on arrogance. “He never asked if something was good or not,” Rischbieter remarks. “He would say, ‘I’ll go do it.’ I would say, ‘You have to go ask people and get their opinions.’ He would say, ‘No, they won’t agree with me, and it has to be done.’ He is not a political animal, he is a dictator.” Rischbieter admires Lerner; others, however, using the same descriptive terminology, do not. In the rough-and-tumble of Brazilian politics, it has become customary for supporters of populist parties to disparage Lerner (who personifies his talented team to allies and foes alike) as a creature of the dictatorship. According to this argument, the generals detested politicians; they admired technical experts. In Curitiba, they found a showplace to display their accomplishments to the world. “The military are addicted to planning,” says Fragomeni, who has an ambivalent attitude toward Lerner. “If they don’t plan, they don’t go forward. They invested in Curitiba. Mr. Lerner may like it or not. His continuity was ensured by the military government.” For his part, Lerner says that he had a far harder time with the military dictatorship than he did later, as an elected official. Under the military regime, he served at the pleasure of the governor and the state assembly. “I could be fired the next day,” he says. “Being an elected mayor, I was stronger. Nobody could fire me.”

In two terms (1971-75 and 1979-83) under the military regime, and then in an elected third term (1989-92) after the restoration of democracy, Lerner translated the master plan into concrete and leafy reality. Like an impatient muralist, he worked on a wide scope at high speed. “I know cities that plant 10,000 trees, and they make a whole festival,” he told me. “We planted a million trees. I am obsessed with scale.” He sought to make a livable city; over time that segued smoothly into an ecological city. Parks initially intended as recreational areas would also absorb floodwaters and extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Lerner used tax breaks to wheedle landowners into turning over portions of their property, which typically had little value at the time. In the rocky northern district, he converted one flooded quarry into the Wire Opera House, which has become a city icon, and another into the Free University of the Environment, a non-degree-granting institution that educates people on ecological issues. He transformed land that was serving as a refuse dump into a botanical garden; named for Fanchette Rischbieter, who died in 1989, it features a duck pond, French parterres and a classic Victorian greenhouse. The architecture in all three of these parks is less noteworthy for its formal design than for its building materials — salvaged telephone poles, mesh grating, metal tubing — and the speed of construction. From blueprint drafts to opening night, the Wire Opera House took about two months to complete. Lerner refers to such projects as “urban acupuncture” that energizes the development process.

When I would ask people if they thought Lerner could have accomplished his reforms under a democracy, people sympathetic to both Lerner and the military (like Rischbieter) or critical of both (like Urban) would say no; but most, professing admiration for Lerner but distaste for the military, said the dictatorship was not a precondition for his success. Lerner and Wilheim were emphatic on this point. “Not being a traditional politician helped me a lot,” Lerner told me. Nonetheless, by entering public life, even a self-professed apolitical man becomes a political actor. What struck me was the way in which the return of democracy changed Lerner’s core constituency. Under the generals, he was vulnerable mainly to the business community. That is why, for instance, he had to implement the pedestrian mall so quickly: if the business class lost confidence in him, the state assembly would have insisted that he be replaced. In a democratic Brazil, Lerner and his successors are threatened not just by the rich, but perhaps even more acutely by the poor — politically, by populist parties, and demographically, by the inexorable population growth. In politics, the pendulum has swung, as it always does. For the first time in 15 years, the winning candidate in Curitiba’s last mayoral election, in 2004, was not directly associated with the Lerner Group, the firm of 10 architects and planners that Lerner runs. Still, the new administration is continuing on the path that Lerner blazed. More worrisome for Curitiba’s future is the demographic trend. Over the past half-century, the state of Paraná underwent a radical change, from a labor-intensive coffee economy to a mechanized agriculture of soybeans. Hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. Many of the dispossessed have relocated to the Curitiba metropolitan region, which in Brazil is famously livable. Every day, more keep coming.

The “invasions” of homeless people onto unoccupied land spill like ink stains over the neatly outlined development maps of the urban planners, not only in Curitiba but across Brazil. One Saturday morning, I visited the neighborhood of Nossa Senhora da Luz, where a small group of people waited with sacks or improvised carts of garbage. The hardscrabble community dates from an early invasion of the 1970s. Today the streets are paved and the houses are solid cinder block, but unlike downtown Curitiba, here it is immediately apparent from the bleak, scrubby streetscape and the dark skins of the populace that you are in a third-world setting. I was there to observe one of 79 exchange centers that the municipality of Curitiba has established in communities where the streets are too narrow or too bumpy for large garbage trucks to circulate. Instead, people can carry their trash to biweekly collection sites and trade four pounds of garbage for one pound of vegetables. Mostly they bring plastic, paper and cardboard. At another site, run by the community council, more valuable aluminum cans are collected in return for money, and at yet another, organic material is traded for bus tokens. Compared with middle-class people, the residents of this neighborhood do not generate so much recyclable material; much of what they trade they prospect for around the city. Curitiba may be more successful in enlisting poor citizens to function as part-time carrinheiros than in enlightening better-off residents on their civic responsibilities.

The largest working-class housing development within Curitiba is called Bairro Novo, or “new neighborhood.” It was developed hurriedly, you might say frantically, after a band of 3,000 people, at the start of a three-day holiday weekend in September 1992, invaded a nearby parcel of vacant land where a disused railroad line once operated. This was the same sort of stealth tactic that Lerner employed two decades earlier to pedestrianize the shopping street, but now it was being used against him — coordinated, he maintains, by his political opponents, who controlled the governorship then as they do now. Since the security forces are directed by the state of Paraná and not the city, there was no way Lerner could stop the so-called Ferrovila (or railroad town) invasion. He says that he was especially infuriated because his administration had been researching the creation of a much larger development on the same land, housing 10 times as many people, as well as establishing schools and other social services. Instead, his team began planning the Bairro Novo on a parcel of land that was slated for development a decade or two later. There are 80,000 people living in Bairro Novo today. For a while, the illegal squats died off. “If you have a good alternative, you can prevent the invasions,” Lerner says.

Recently, invasions have started up again. “There is a feeling that it may be politically motivated,” says Fragomeni, the urban planner, who served until March as president of Ippuc. He reports that in Curitiba today, there are 13,000 households in invasion settlements, 6,000 of them in ecologically fragile areas. Squatters often occupy land by rivers, both to obtain a water source and because, by law, the riverbanks can’t be developed. “The land is forbidden, and it is free at the same time,” says Urban, the environmental activist. Raw sewage from these settlements flows directly into the rivers. Fragomeni says that fewer than 70 percent of Curitiba households have sewer connections. The current administration, led by Mayor Beto Richa (who was endorsed by Lerner but is not professionally associated with him), is trying to alleviate the problem with a new program to clean up the water basin of the sadly polluted Bariguà River: relocating people to housing that is a little farther from the river, replanting vegetation on the banks and linking houses to the sewage system.

The program to reclaim the Bariguà basin was galvanized by the most recent invasion in February, when 1,500 people seized land near Ferrovila in Bariguà Park and hit a sensitive nerve. Their encampment is provocatively close to Ecoville, a controversial upper-middle-class development that arose in the mid-’90s along one of the rapid-bus corridors. As Lerner acidly observes of Ecoville, “I don’t like this project, because it is not ‘eco’ and it is not ‘ville.’ ” Ecoville is a self-contained development in which tall buildings loom over patches of vegetation and looping roads. It’s an unconvincing version of the discredited Corbusian model of “the city in the park,” an idea that the developers self-consciously reference by naming one of these buildings “Le Corbusier.” Many buildings have been labeled for works by Picasso — the Arlequin, the Pierrot, even the Guernica. One noteworthy Picasso-christened tower, the Suite Vollard, features 11 full-floor residences, each of which is supposed to be able to rotate independently. The Suite Vollard is 10 years overdue for occupancy. Its engineering is still unproved.

Ferrovila and Ecoville: in close proximity, you can see the politicized landless and the profit-minded land developers who threaten Curitiba’s status as an ecological city. A reputation can be as hard to uphold as to establish. Unlike his three immediate predecessors, Mayor Richa — a boyish, blow-dried 41-year-old civil engineer from a prominent political family — is not an urban planner. And Ippuc, while still powerful, no longer directs the show. Richa has discontinued the longstanding mayoral custom, established by Lerner, of attending a weekly meeting at Ippuc. Under Lerner and his successors, “the mayor sat in Ippuc, and you felt what he wanted,” Fragomeni says. “It was a very verticalized government. Ippuc also planned the budget for the city. There’s democracy now, which is good. But it is no longer a pyramid; it’s a network. The mayor now expects you to propose what Curitiba should look like. He’s not a town planner.”

Nor is Curitiba a single town any longer. It’s a conurbation. Planning must be for the metropolitan region, not just for the municipality. Does it matter that Curitiba bans polluting industries if the neighboring town of Araucária has an oil refinery belching smoke on the city line? Similarly, if the new immigrants to the poor surrounding communities don’t recycle, then Curitiba’s landfill, the only such facility in the metropolitan region, will fill up even sooner. Like garbage, water does not respect city limits: Curitiba’s water supply depends on reservoirs controlled by municipalities outside its borders. What was never simple has become even more complex. For a long time, the citizens of Curitiba were so proud of the city’s reputation as an urban showplace that they kept re-electing urban planners — self-styled technical experts who seemed to be above politics and who vaunted their expertise in running the buses, building the parks and recycling the garbage. But a mayor today must be able to negotiate successfully with other mayors if reform is to work. Mayors need to be politicians, even in Curitiba.

Arthur Lubow, a contributing writer, last wrote for the magazine about the photographer Jeff Wall.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Downside of Urban Gentrification: A UCLA Professor Feels the Heat

Business School professors are used to giving lectures celebrating the efficiency and "fairness" of free market capitalist transactions. Unfortunately for Eric Sussman, this Los Angeles Times story details how he experienced a "day of shame" as people who can't afford higher rents to remain in his building showed up to his UCLA class to protest his actions.

This story is both an interesting drama and it speaks to the distributional effects of gentrification in an unequal city. Cleary, Mr. Sussman is not the "bad guy" here. He is just acting as a rational businessman but perhaps it was informative for him to meet the people whose lives are affected by his actions.,1,3916444.story?track=rss

From the Los Angeles Times

UCLA instructor gets a lecture as tenants take protest to class

The Echo Park landlord wants to raise rents and opt out of a federal subsidy program.

By Jessica Garrison
Times Staff Writer

May 18, 2007

UCLA real estate instructor Eric Sussman stayed in the center of his business school classroom, smiling at his students and trying, for as long as he could, to ignore the picket signs and angry faces just outside.

There, under the watchful eyes of UCLA police officers, Debora Barrientos, a 43-year-old single mother, stood with about 35 other tenants who had been bused to the campus from their Echo Park complex. Actually, it's Sussman's complex, where he wants to raise the rents, and that could leave Barrientos with no home.

Barrientos said that after she saw Sussman's red, sheepish face, she felt a little sorry for her landlord. But not sorry enough to stop her group from publicly presenting him with a ceramic piggy bank that proclaimed him the city's greediest landlord.

As rents keep rising around the region, tensions between landlords and tenants are increasingly common.

Morton Avenue has become the latest battleground, and the fight there centers on whether Los Angeles landlords whose buildings are subject to the city's rent control laws can opt out of a federal program that subsidizes rent for low-income tenants.

The question has implications not just for the 22 families in the complex whose rent is partially paid by the Section 8 program, but also for nearly 40,000 families in Los Angeles who hold vouchers.

Sussman, who owns the complex with several partners, and his lawyer think the owners have the right to get out of the program — especially because the government's idea of fair market rent is hundreds of dollars and in some cases more than $1,000 less than what the apartments can fetch on the open market, essentially forcing landlords to further subsidize the poor who are already getting government subsidies. Last year, he served the Section 8 tenants with eviction notices.

City officials and tenant advocates, however, say that the city's tough eviction rules should cover the units. Wanting to rent apartments for more money is not one of the narrowly defined reasons allowed for eviction.

The tenants filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the evictions. The tenants can stay until a judge's decision. But regardless of the decision, which is expected in August, both sides predict the case will be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, tenant advocates decided to use Sussman to "send a message to all landlords," as Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, put it to tenants as they stood in the chilly evening air under the curious eyes of UCLA's Anderson School of Management students.

Sussman, who along with other partners bought the gray buildings in the hills of Echo Park last year, is not just any landlord. He teaches real estate at one of the nation's preeminent business schools. Advocates say he should have known when he bought Morton Gardens that Section 8 tenants lived there and it is unethical of him to try to evict them just to increase his bottom line.

And then there is the complex's location. Near Dodger Stadium in the hills above downtown, it sits in a neighborhood that many consider ground zero for the gentrification sweeping Los Angeles. The rents tell the story. Some tenants are paying $1,200 for two- and three-bedroom units that are worth more than $2,000, Sussman said.

"Echo Park is hanging on to being one of the last remaining mixed-income communities in Los Angeles," said Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents the area.

On Tuesday, the tenants took their anger to Sussman's classroom. Advocates rented an old yellow school bus and drove about three dozen tenants and supporters to Sussman's class.

As her neighbors took seats around her, Barrientos, who came from El Salvador and works as a nurse's aide, sat next to her friend and neighbor Norma Pena, an immigrant from Mexico. Both women are single mothers who raised their children in the building with the help of the federal subsidies. The daughters of both women are now in college.

Barrientos bit her lip. She said she was nervous. She had never participated in a protest before, but she said she felt desperate. "I love this place I live," she said, gesturing at her building, which is framed by tall trees and offers a panoramic view of Los Angeles. If she had to move, she said, she feared she'd wind up in a dangerous area where gangs and gunfire would threaten her daughter's safety.

Once at UCLA, the tenants put on bright red T-shirts and hoisted signs telling Sussman he should be ashamed. Then, holding the piggy bank, they marched toward Sussman's class. They carried with them a letter asking UCLA's chancellor to review Sussman's business practices.

UCLA police refused to let them in the classroom, so they stood outside the windowed door. Sussman stayed inside, lecturing in front of an overhead projector that displayed bar graphs and charts.

Finally, at the request of a university official, Sussman went out. As his tenants chanted "Shame on you," he reluctantly accepted the pig. (His students later dropped coins into it, he said.)

The protesters went home. On the bus, tenant organizers told them they had done a great job and that this was only the beginning.

Sussman took a different view. He said he thought it was inappropriate for the tenants to attempt to "harass and intimidate me."

He also said he understood their plight — but his tenants were "pointing the finger at the wrong guy."

"This is a real issue. Los Angeles has a housing problem, across all spectrums," he said. "My MBAs can't afford a home."

But he added that government must do its share, such as increasing subsidies.

The lecturer, who has won a number of teaching awards, also said he used the protest as a teachable moment for his class.

"Being a landlord is very political these days," he said. "It was a real life lesson."


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Building New Construction in New York City

I never thought that having the New York Jets on the Western midtown side of NYC was a wise allocation of scarce resources. While this part of New York City should clearly be redeveloped it is interesting to see the jockying and the diverse interest groups attempting to slow down progress. How much affordable housing should be included in the new residential towers? Will Woody Allen try to block this one?

May 17, 2007
Biggest Building Site in Manhattan Up for Auction
It is the largest building site left in Manhattan, 26 acres on the Far West Side, where the Bloomberg administration envisions the equivalent of five Empire State Buildings rising on $1 billion worth of concrete columns over bustling railyards.

And starting next month, some of the city’s biggest developers will have a chance to bid for the rights to make that grand — some say grandiose — plan real.

“The city hasn’t done anything like this before, certainly not in Midtown,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding. “We want to create a 21st-century Rockefeller Center.”

Known as Hudson Yards, the project is central to one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s longstanding ambitions: to transform the heavily industrial Far West Side into the city’s third business district, after Wall Street and Midtown, with not just high-rise office and apartment towers, hotels and parks, but also an expanded Jacob K. Javits Convention Center nearby.

The challenges are daunting. Developers say it will probably cost $1 billion to build platforms over the yards for skyscrapers as tall as 70 stories, and the work must be done while Long Island Rail Road trains are running. Some residents want assurances that the development will include permanent housing for poor and working-class families. And a sharp debate is emerging over whether to tear down the northern end of the High Line, an unused railroad structure that is being converted to an elevated park south of 30th Street.

The plan, which is likely to take more than a decade to complete, calls for the construction of 12.4 million square feet of commercial, residential, recreational and cultural space over the railyards, which span 11th Avenue between 30th and 33rd Streets. It is Mr. Bloomberg’s second attempt at developing the yards: His first attempt, which involved building a $2.1 billion stadium for the Jets football team, crumbled in the face of opposition in the neighborhood and in Albany.

The city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the land, are working together to develop the railyards. The project must go through the city’s lengthy land-use review process, but unlike the plan for a football stadium, it will not require approvals in Albany.

The city and transit officials say they will begin an auction for development rights over the parcel next month, and they expect five of the city’s biggest developers to bid. They also plan to hire a contractor this summer to begin drilling work for the extension of the No. 7 subway line from Times Square to 11th Avenue and 34th Street.

“The Hudson Yards are one of the most expensive and complicated developments ever to be undertaken,” said the developer Douglas Durst.

Mr. Durst has formed a partnership with Vornado Realty Trust to bid for the property. Extell Development Company also expects to bid, as does Brookfield Properties, and Tishman Speyer Properties, which real estate executives say may have an alliance with Lehman Brothers as a tenant. Tishman Speyer declined to comment, but if such a collaboration exists, the company would immediately jump to the front of the race.

Debate over the plan has focused on two potentially conflicting demands: that the development provide public benefits, like subsidized housing, parks and other amenities, and that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority get the highest possible price for the land.

Developers insist that any requirements for affordable housing or parks will increase their costs by $100 million, reducing the price they can pay. Critics contend that the sale of public land should lead to community benefits, and that the cost of those benefits is a small price to pay for a rare commodity: land in Manhattan.

“It’s a vast undertaking, and it pitches these competing public goals against each other,” said Anna Levin, a member of Community Board 4. “I understand that the entire burden shouldn’t be placed on developers. But this is a public undertaking. There have to be public resources that can be brought to bear, otherwise this will become a gold coast that doesn’t serve the entire city.”

Although the Bloomberg administration failed to win legislative support to build the football stadium over the railyards in 2005, it did succeed in a more far-reaching goal: rezoning a wide swath of the West Side, including 45 blocks outside the railyards, for large-scale development. However, the portion of the railyards west of 11th Avenue still needs to be rezoned and to go through a public review process.

Last year, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority rebuffed the city’s offer to buy the development rights to the yards for $500 million, saying it was too little. The two sides then agreed to create a strategic development plan for the yards, which is now complete, and put them up for sale.

The winning bidder would be assured of state and city support — though not necessarily community backing — during the lengthy public review, which can be unpredictable for a developer. Last week, the city and state publicly unveiled the plan, which calls for up to 5.7 million square feet of residential and commercial development on the western portion of the yards.

Under the proposal, towers as high as 70 stories are pushed to the north and south sides of both the western and eastern yards. There is public space at the center of the eastern yard that would connect to a tree-lined boulevard that the city wants to build from 39th to 33rd Streets between 10th and 11th Avenues. The open space is designed to draw pedestrians across the western yard, to the waterfront.

One of the thorniest issues concerns the fate of the High Line, which some people want converted into a park all the way to its northern terminus inside the Hudson Yards area. The city already plans to turn the railway into a park from 30th Street south to Gansevoort Street, where the mere promise of an elevated park has helped spur a residential boomlet in west Chelsea.

But state and city officials have expressed concern that keeping the High Line inside Hudson Yards could impede the already difficult task of construction. At least one critic, Mr. Durst, said retaining the line would add $100 million to the cost of construction.

“Any additional complications will subtract from the value the M.T.A. receives, and leaving the High Line in place will have a substantial effect on that value,” Mr. Durst said.

But Friends of the High Line, an advocacy group, contends that retaining the rail structure will cost only about $800,000, with the benefits outweighing any problems.

“You don’t often have the opportunity to take a piece of the city’s industrial infrastructure and reuse it in an interesting way, to connect west Chelsea, Hudson Yards and the waterfront,” said Robert Hammond, a leader of the group. “It’ll be a great park that’ll serve the city as well as Central Park.”

At a community board meeting last week, an official with the transportation authority said for the first time that the authority supported retaining the High Line, although it also wanted to maximize revenues for rail operations. Privately, one official indicated that the authority did not want the High Line venture to cost it more than $25 million.

Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of the authority, said he was trying to work out the housing issue and had set aside land controlled by the authority outside the railyards for subsidized apartments. Officials say bidders will be asked to submit offers based on keeping or demolishing the High Line.

There are other snags in the Bloomberg administration’s plans for the Far West Side. The long-awaited expansion of the Javits Convention Center is stalled while the Spitzer administration continues its review of the $1.8 billion project, which has come under criticism from trade show producers. That, in turn, has held up plans to sell land across 11th Avenue from the Javits center, for a convention center hotel, as well as the block between the center and the western railyard.

But the administration is eager to show progress while the real estate market is hot. So officials say the request for bids on the railyards will be issued no later than early June.

“This is for the future of New York, so it’s not going to be done overnight,” said Stephen M. Ross of the Related Companies, one of the city’s most active developers. “I don’t think there’s ever been anything like this, on this scale.”

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bono, Urban Smoke and the Coase Theorem

Over on Central Park West, some wealthy people --- including Bono --- who live in the same building are battling over a localized externality caused by fireplace smoke diffusing into other folks' nearby apartments. If the Coase theorem doesn't hold here, then I'm not sure where it applies!

On an unrelated note, Dora Costa and I have finished our new book; "The Social Face of War". Writing a book is a pain in the ass. We hope that our son likes it! If people sit down and read this book, I'm highly optimistic that they will see that we have made a contribution to general social science at the intersection of economics/history/sociology and political science. If I may drop my modesty for a second, that's a rare achievement. But you'll have to judge this claim yourself.

May 16, 2007
Among the Rich, a New Dispute Over Air Rights

It’s not the war against third world debt, but still.

Bono, the lead singer of U2 and a globetrotting activist for social causes, has become involved in a battle that may be as intractable as loan burdens in the developing world — a Manhattan co-op dispute.

One of his adversaries is a fellow rocker, Billy Squier, best known for 1980s songs like “The Stroke.” The two live in the San Remo, a storied building with twin towers that loom over Central Park West. (It is the same building that rejected Madonna in 1985 when she sought to buy an apartment.)

The dispute is over whether hazardous smoke from fireplaces, including Mr. Squier’s, is drifting from chimneys into the penthouse duplex where Bono lives with his wife and four children. About a year ago the co-op board banned the use of fireplaces throughout the building, angering fireplace owners, who love a pine-scented blaze in the city as well as their enhanced property values.

As with other co-op disputes, exact details are hard to pin down because these buildings are essentially private clubs run by a board of elected tenants, and anyone who airs grievances in public risks being ostracized in his own hallway, sometimes for generations. The San Remo, at West 74th Street, is home to many prominent New Yorkers, including Steve Martin, Steven Spielberg, the producers Scott Rudin and James L. Nederlander, and the writers Andrew Tobias and Marshall Brickman.

Interviews with more than a dozen residents and with associates of Bono and Mr. Squier present a consistent picture of events in a place where even the most privileged property owners cannot escape the concerns of neighbors.

The dispute started, residents say, when Bono bought his penthouse in the building’s north tower in April 2003 from Steve Jobs, a founder of Apple Computer, for around the $14.5 million asking price. Mr. Jobs had spent millions on renovations, including adding a residential floor, said the listing broker, Roger Erickson, now a senior managing director at Sotheby’s International Realty. Mr. Jobs never spent a night in the apartment, Mr. Erickson said.

At some point after moving in, Bono (who was born Paul Hewson) and his wife, Ali Hewson, who also own homes in Dublin and the south of France, noticed smoke drifting toward their apartment from chimneys in the roof, according to residents in the building familiar with the situation.

The Hewsons approached the co-op board about the smoke and related chimney problems. “Bono was so nice,” said Leni May, whose husband, Peter May, is a member of the board. “He said, ‘Listen, whatever I can do to get these things working, but it’s emptying into my apartment and I can’t have smoke like that.’ ” One of the Hewsons’ children has asthma, he told the board, Ms. May said. The couple have two daughters, 18 and 15, and two sons, 7 and 5.

Other residents had complained about smoke entering their apartments through faulty flues in the 1930 building. The board banned the use of fireplaces while the problems were studied.

Soon, hackles went up, notably those of Mr. Squier, whose apartment on the third floor includes a fireplace, and Mark Gordon, another resident with a fireplace.

Only about 40 of the building’s roughly 135 apartments have fireplaces, said Phyliss Koch, a real estate broker who has lived in the San Remo for 29 years and has been the listing agent in many sales there. Renovations over the years may have caused chimney ventilation problems, she added. Mr. Gordon sent at least one flier through the building seeking to raise awareness about the fireplace issue, residents said.

The fireplace owners’ position was that the Hewsons had complained when they saw the smoke coming toward their penthouse, not because they had evidence that harmful pollution was entering their living quarters, said a longtime friend and tour manager of Mr. Squier’s.

“It was just assumed that because they could see the exhaust, that would present a problem to their children,” the tour manager said, adding that Mr. Squier, whose last hit was “Rock Me Tonight” in 1984, had discussed the issue in detail with him. (Mr. Squier did not respond to messages left with an assistant seeking comment.)

Mr. Gordon declined to comment, beyond saying: “I don’t want to see this in the press in any way whatsoever. It could only be more damaging to the situation. The situation is a delicate and private one.”

The fireplace complaint is not a case of a prima donna pop star making unreasonable demands, said a representative from Principle Management, the company that manages Bono’s band, U2.

“This is not a Bono issue,” the representative said. “It’s a building issue. It’s about health and safety regulations.” Neither Bono, who was in Germany this week to press the Group of 8 nations for more African aid, nor his wife would comment, the representative said.

Meanwhile, the news from experts brought in by the San Remo to examine the fireplaces has not been good. “Apparently, the mistakes were made before any of us moved into the San Remo,” said Ms. May, who is chairwoman of the Jewish Museum in Manhattan. “It’s to the point where we’re not to code and we can’t fix it. It’s not fixable.”

Other residents said the problem is that the building chimneys end at a height that is hazardously close to the Hewsons’ tower duplex, and that emissions tests have confirmed unsafe levels of smoke. Making the chimneys taller would be expensive and present an eyesore that might run afoul of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the residents said.

One resident, Mitch Miller, the host of the 1960s television program “Sing Along with Mitch,” had little sympathy for the log-lighting set. “If people want fireplaces, let them go live in the country,” said Mr. Miller, who is 95.

Many residents appear to be choosing to let the most passionate ones fight this battle, and saving their energy for other struggles. Mr. Brickman, a co-writer of the movie “Annie Hall” and of the Broadway hit “Jersey Boys,” worked the dispute for comedy. After trying out a few fireplace jokes during a telephone interview, the longtime San Remo resident tinkered with his material and called back. “People who continue to roast meat in their fireplaces,” he said, “should be required to move to the East Side,” adding, “Other than that I have no position.”

The San Remo had its annual shareholders meeting May 8. The fireplace issue was raised, but no resolutions were passed, said building residents who attended.

“People were fighting about other things — pets, this and that,” one longtime resident said.

With the fireplace season over, the dispute seems to have quieted, at least until next winter.

“I’m putting all my effort into trying to make sure the Democrats widen our lead in the Congress and win back the White House,” said Andrew Tobias, a financial writer and San Remo resident who is also treasurer of the Democratic National Committee. “So the fireplace controversy is not high on my list.” He paused. “But if I had a fireplace, it would be high on my list.”