I've started caring more and more about livable cities, and what cities need to thrive. I've made this post mostly as a link farm to the sorts of resources I end up referring to often.

Single family homes are expensive for cities

This slide from the City of Kitchener shows relative costs for the city to service 790 people. There's a stark difference in cost, not reflected in the revenue received.

City of Toronto Traffic Calming Guide

"How exactly do we get cars to slow down" is a pretty common topic. The City of Toronto put out this traffic calming guide in 2016, it lists a number of different ways of slowing down traffic, their effects, and approximate costs. One would expect costs have gone up since then, but it's somewhere to start.

Things Municipalities are Responsible For

The Association of Municipalities in Ontario has a handy list of the things municipal governments are responsible for. It's a long list!

  • Airports
  • Ambulance
  • Animal Control and By-law Enforcement
  • Arts and Culture
  • Child Care
  • Economic Development
  • Fire Services
  • Garbage Collection and Recycling
  • Electric Utilities
  • Library Services
  • Long Term Care and Senior Housing
  • Maintenance of Local Road Network
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Public Transit
  • Planning New Community Developments and Enhancing Existing Neighbourhoods
  • Police Services
  • Property Assessment
  • Provincial Offences Administration
  • Public Health
  • Side Walks
  • Snow Removal
  • Social Services
  • Social Housing
  • Storm Sewers
  • Tax Collection
  • Water and Sewage

Housing First strategies are more effective and cheaper

Putting people who need housing into homes is cheaper, and more effective than other systems:

... with the traditional approach, the average chronically homeless person used to cost Salt Lake City more than twenty thousand dollars a year. Putting someone into permanent housing costs the state just eight thousand dollars, and that’s after you include the cost of the case managers who work with the formerly homeless to help them adjust. The same is true elsewhere. A Colorado study found that the average homeless person cost the state forty-three thousand dollars a year, while housing that person would cost just seventeen thousand dollars.

Using Outreach workers, rather than police, is cheaper

Cahoots Program

The program handles about 17% of the Eugene Police Department’s call volume every year, which saves the police department an estimated $8.5 million annually, according to the White Bird Clinic. CAHOOTS budget is only $2.1 million.

Beyond reducing the police department’s call volume, the White Bird Clinic estimates it saved over $14 million for ambulance rides and emergency room visits in 2018.

The High Cost of Free Parking

We devote a lot of land to parking, in the US there's 7 parking spots for every car. Most areas require new construction to build a minimum number of parking spots to obtain planning permission, parking spots that are expensive to build, and often force buildings to devote more space to parking than their actual desired land use. There's a few big problems with parking minimums:

  • The numbers are made up, generally by copying them from someone else, who made them up.
  • When they are based on anything, they're generally aiming to support the 20th busiest hour of the entire year, guaranteeing empty parking 364 days of the year
  • The high cost of building the required parking makes a lot of development financially impossible. Want to build an apartment building near a subway station, major bus route, and a University? Great, you're going to need 1.8 parking spots for every unit in the building, plus the access pavement required to access all those spots. Multi-level parking garages cost ~$35,000/spot. That building might not be financially feasible anymore, or it will have to become a luxury building to cover construction costs.

One can argue that some people need cars, which is fine, but do we need to force every development to cater to those needs? Couldn't the market ensure that needs are still met.

The High Cost of Free Parking is a book by Donald Shoup. Vox also made a short video covering the key topics.

Strong Towns

I really like the content coming out of these folks. The key foundation of Strong Towns is that modern suburbs are a ponzi scheme, roads, water, sewer are all expensive to maintain. Often more expensive than houses are paying property tax.

This quick TedX video is a great starting point, and I love the detailed explanation about how ripping down old "urban blight" to replace it with modern development will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in property taxes.