More Kindred Spirits: Mitchell Moss and "Market Urbanism" Blog

by Sandy Ikeda
Mon, 1 Sep 2008 at 6:33 PM

I had the pleasure last week of meeting Mitchell L. Moss, Henry Hart Rice Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. He's taught at NYU since the 1970s and has the air of an old-time New Yorker, but one who's very much engaged in current policies and politics. And he's a fan of Culture of Congestion. Here is his website.

We had lunch at a charming little Brazilian restaurant (sorry, can't remember the name) on East Houston Street around the corner from the Puck Building, historic home of the Wagner School. Noteworthy about this place, apart from the good food, was how its painted façade made it stand out cheerfully from the surrounding architecture. I'm lousy at describing colors, but suffice to say that it was a shade of blue very much "out of character" with the early-20th-century building that housed the restaurant.

Professor Moss pointed out that that eye-catching color wouldn't have passed muster with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Indeed, had the Commission landmarked what is today called "Nolita" (North of Little Italy), this entire neighborhood just east of Soho, with its interesting shops, wide array of eateries and bars, and other unusual places, probably wouldn't have sprung up when we weren't looking — at least not in the way that delights so many today.

True, a few of the new places — one bar in particular on Lafayette and Prince that has completely opened itself up on the two sides and has completely removed the original façade — are undoubtedly overly exuberant for some. However, he opposes landmarking here, as well as the Lower East Side, because of how it would stifle the creativity, liveliness, and entrepreneurship clearly on display. I completely agree. (You can read my thoughts on the landmarks preservation movement here.)

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While internet surfing the other day I stumbled upon a great blog, very much in the spirit of CoC, called "Market Urbanism," subtitled "Urbanism for Capitalists/Capitalism for Urbanists." It's run by Adam Hengels:

In this blog I intend to introduce free-market thought to urbanists, and introduce urbanism to market advocates. I also hope to incorporate some ideas relating to environmentalism in the built environment. I like to refer to the connections between free-market economic thought, urbanism, and environmentalism as "Market Urbanism."
Through my personal inquiry, I have concluded that free market advocates and urbanists actually share many objectives. Growing up in suburban Chicago, I felt there was something inefficient about the land patterns and transportation of the suburbs. When I discovered urbanism in freshman architecture/planning coursework, it made sense. However, I became conflicted between my urbanist instinct and my free market instinct. Through study and practice of building and infrastructure design and construction, economics, planning, development, and urban economics I came to the realization that our problems with sprawl, congestion, and automobile dependency were the result of socialistic economic planning of our transportation system and land use, not due to market failures as many urbanists proclaim.
Here are some of his recent topics:
  • Weekend Reading: Jane Jacobs, Agglomeration, Farms, NIMBY Songs
  • Skyscrapers as Economic Indicators
  • Block on Road Socialism
  • Housing + Transportation Affordability Index
  • Glaeser: State of the City
There's even a post from last week that encourages his readers to listen to podcast on cities that I gave at the Foundation for Economic Education earlier this summer. (They are hyperlinked on that post.) So, here I'm happy to return the favor.

In a later entry (the first one listed, above), Mr. Hengels says that a piece that Eugene Callahan and I did a few years back called "Jane Jacobs, The Anti-Planner," and the aforementioned lectures has convinced him to read up on Jacobs. That, I'm sure, will only make his already refreshing and informative blog even better. It's one that I will check regularly and I encourage readers of CoC to do the same.

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