Cheap City

In the past I have argued that built environment spending to increase cycling should be splashy and bold. Projects should provide politicians opportunities to pork-barrel for votes. Architects, of course, can play a great role in this, by putting forward glamorous visions, like the following vision for Hobart produced by 3 of my students (thanks Amy, Shankar and Gareth):

hobart bridge jpg

At the level of local government though, I would love if there were a few cities that advertised themselves as cheap. I’m not a divorcee trapped in his city by dual custody laws. I’m able to move. But when I cast my eye around the globe looking for cities to move to, I see the same high city taxes. I wouldn’t mind if they were spent on things I would use. But most are spent subsidising asphalt in the suburbs, and asphalt in cities for suburbanites to roll over with cars.

I want a city with no single family houses within its jurisdiction at all, or if there are low density districts I want to hear that those parasites are all off the grid and maintaining their own roads from their own funds. I want a city where vehicle owners pay $50 a day to use a car on the street, ostensibly leaving it for bikes and for feet, modes that don’t cause congestion, pollution or road wear. A compact, non-vehicular city, with no obligations to low density districts around it, would be a cheap city for me.

Don’t advertise your city to me if it has a metro or light rail. With the cars off the street, I would imagine too many people would prefer to ride bikes for a metro to survive without subsidy. If I need public transport some day, I would be perfectly happy riding a mini-bus with the other octogenarians and people with crutches. In the meantime I don’t want to be paying city taxes for some over-priced metro.

I’m happy to pay for street cleaning, garbage collection, and stuff that makes the place pretty. And I don’t mind paying my federal or state level taxes for police, health care, etc.. What I’m looking for is a city with low city taxes. My hunch is it will be a genuinely bike-focused city. Will someone ask David Hembrow what he’s paying in Groningen?


  1. Nick zintilis says:

    Groningen is going down the drain due to gas exploitation.
    Yesterday there was an earthquake.
    So not a good city for an achitect unless you really want to go Down Under!

    • Steven says:

      Nick, you’re a refreshing relief from all the propagandists for Holland — who of course I like too.

  2. Andrew K says:

    The answer can only really be one of the small towns in Europe, probably the Netherlands. But city taxes are generally high in the Netherlands (though arguably good value for money).

    The problem with Europe and especially Northern Europe (Malmo, Lund, Copenhagen) is bad weather.

    If you want cheap, you’d have to start from scratch somewhere in SE Asia. Make friends with some visionary people in such a country I guess.

    • Steven says:

      Andrew, I’m enjoying your comments, but think you’re missing a few realities about sprawling cities. 50 years into this experiment, we’re unable to keep up with the maintenance of infrastructure shared between too few houses. Most sprawling American cities are ostensibly broke. The dense asian ones are going to be fine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.