Manhattanization is a term we’ve become accustomed to in Miami. It‘s existed since at least the 1960s to describe cities from San Francisco to Santiago, but it became a prominent buzzword in the 2000s to describe the rapid transformation of downtown Miami and Brickell. Now that the building boom is back in full swing, so is the term. And along with it comes the debate about whether what we’re seeing unfold in Miami is actually a step towards a Manhattan-esque urban environment.
Whether downtown Miami is beginning to resemble Manhattan is debatable. Certainly, our skyline is growing. It may not be as tall, as dense, or as diverse as the Manhattan skyline, but it is taking shape as an expanse of skyscrapers that stretches for miles. Our love affair with the skyscraper has built a skyline that is far larger than those of cities twice our size and it has become a point of pride for us. We’re also seeing more amenities typical of other great urban metropolises: more restaurants and cafes, parks and shops, museums and galleries, etc. Granted, the differences between a Brickell streetscape and just about anywhere in Manhattan are still pretty stark, but the increased options and vibrancy are important steps towards a more urban Miami.
But there’s one area where Miami has unequivocally achieved Manhattanization: cost of living. It now costs as much to live in many parts of downtown Miami as it does to live in Manhattan. I’m not referring to Miami’s luxury condo market. In fact, that is one segment where we’re not yet like Manhattan – Miami condo prices can reach $10 million or more; it’s high, but it doesn’t begin to nip at the heels of New York’s $100 million market. Rather, downtown Miami is becoming as expensive as Manhattan is for the everyday citizen. Manhattan still has far higher housing costs than downtown Miami and Brickell, but that gap is closed when factoring in Miami’s much higher transportation costs.
This point is now more clearly made thanks to the new Location Affordability Index (LAI). The LAI, unveiled earlier this month, is the work of a joint venture between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation. It’s a tool that allows the public to calculate what it costs to live where they live, and how they could possibly save money by moving or by changing their transportation habits. The LAI is based on the philosophy known as “Housing + Transportation” or “H+T.” H+T asserts that knowing just the cost of housing isn’t enough to get a full picture of cost of living. You also need to know how much it costs to get from your home to other places, like your workplace and your family and friends. In other words, you need to know the cost of transportation.
Cost of transportation is harder to calculate and harder to keep track of in our heads when we think about how much we spend. For most people, housing expenditures occur in one monthly payment, either a rent check or a mortgage payment. Those amounts may include a variety of costs, like loan principle, interest, taxes, insurance, etc., but it’s still just one payment, one amount. Transportation is different, particularly if you drive a car. There’s the purchase price of a car, which may occur in monthly payments or if you paid up front, would need to be prorated over the life of the car. Insurance is paid separately, either monthly, annually, or biannually. Gas and parking costs are paid sporadically. The result is that most people never think about the full cost of transportation, and when they do, they usually underestimate.
AAA estimated that the average cost of car ownership in the United States in 2012 was roughly $9,000 for all cars and as much as $11,000-$12,000 for larger cars and SUVs. But that’s the average for the entire country. Costs can be far greater in places like Miami where insurance rates and parking costs are higher. The difference between a couple owning two cars and a couple that commutes by train or bicycle can be over $20,000 per year. That’s an additional $1,500-$2,000 per month that can go towards rent or a mortgage. And that’s the reason why living in downtown Miami and Brickell can be as costly as living in Manhattan.
To demonstrate the point, I put some addresses into the LAI:
- A typical household living in West Brickell owns 1.2 cars (average), drives 11,000 miles, and takes 350 transit trips each year. They spend just shy of $23,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 47 percent of their total income. Housing costs account for $17,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $7,000.
- Meanwhile, a typical household on the Upper West Side in Manhattan owns 0.3 cars, drives 2,000 miles, and takes 2,000 transit trips each year. They spend just over $27,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 43 percent of their total income (the LAI factors in average wage differences between metro areas. On average, wages in NYC are 30 percent higher than in Miami). Housing costs account for $23,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to less than $4,000.
- A typical household in the heart of downtown Miami owns 1.1 cars, drives 11,000 miles, and takes 250 transit trips each year. They spend $19,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 38 percent of their total income. Housing costs account for $12,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $7,000.
- Meanwhile, a typical household in the East Village in Manhattan owns 0.5 cars, drives 3,500 miles, and takes 1,500 transit trips each year. They spend just shy of $20,000 annually on housing and transportation. That’s 31 percent of their income. Housing costs account for $16,000 approximately; transportation costs amount to $4,000.
New York City is the embodiment for unaffordable living, but that’s largely based on an incomplete picture. The extra amounts that New Yorkers spend on housing are made up for by cost savings from cheaper transportation options. Miami, on the other hand, has relatively cheaper housing, but getting from place to place means additional costs stemming from car ownership.
There are a lot of implications here. Most obvious is that we can decrease cost of living and improve quality of life for Miamians by investing in better transportation options. One cause for optimism is that housing costs and transportation costs are only indirectly linked. Decreasing transportation costs by building more transit and better bike lanes will not directly increase housing costs (although, countless studies show that such infrastructure increases property values because it makes neighborhoods more desirable), so we can make real reductions in the cost of living.
There are also implications here for the brain drain and the future of our economy. When Miami competes with Manhattan for talent, it cannot make the argument that downtown Miami has a lower cost of living than New York. Lower cost of living has traditionally been the truest arrow in the quiver of cities seeking to steal talent from New York, but when we consider H+T, we see that for many cities, including Miami, that’s actually not the case. There isn’t much money to be saved, if any at all, by choosing downtown Miami over Manhattan. And for those who decide to look outside of New York because Manhattan is just too expensive, they’ll likely find that downtown Miami and Brickell are too expensive as well. Rather, they may end up in cities that offer a true lower cost of living with similar urban amenities, like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. That talent is now revitalizing those cities the way it revitalized Manhattan in the 1990s when lower cost of living – from cheaper housing AND cheaper transportation – allowed thousands of educated young professionals to flood the city.
But all of this changes if we take the automobile out of the equation. If you can manage a car-free life, suddenly Miami becomes really affordable. The difference is that Manhattan is expensive because it has to be (although zoning changes under Bloomberg may help mitigate these high costs by generating more supply). But Miami is expensive because we’ve made it that way. The takeaway should be this: We can fix it and we know how to fix it. The average Miamian need not cough up half of her income on housing and transportation. As housing costs continue to rise, we must make extra efforts to reduce transportation costs by offering better options. We must give Miamians the same options that New Yorkers have: to own a car if we want one, but to live comfortably and with dignity without one.
For more reading, check out this article from last year on Streetsblog, which reviewed data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology and determined Miami to be the least affordable metropolitan area for moderate-income renters and homeowners. The most affordable? Washington, DC.
PAC is a dirty word for most, particularly when attached to the prefix “Super.” PAC stands for ‘political action committee’ and they are a fixture on the political landscape at the local, state, and national levels. They’re also easy targets for both sides of the aisle. The Conservative Political Action Committee Conference (CPAC) is known as the annual coming out party for the right-wing’s craziest ideas. Organizing for Action (OFA) is known as the sock drawer where the President stashes his campaign’s unrivaled war chest and is a legacy of his broken promise to run a campaign on public funds and to reject donations from corporate interests.
But PACs are not inherently evil, and of course, they’ve no doubt proven useful. At the most basic level, a PAC is a mechanism for promoting chosen interests. It does this by pooling resources to finance candidates, proposed legislation, or ballot initiatives. They’re also complex legal entities, though, which means that typically only the most mature interests make use of them. This can often make for an unfair fight. For this reason, it’s particularly encouraging to see PACs sprouting up around the U.S. that are dedicated to advancing interests like livable cities, complete streets, and smart growth. It’s a sign that support for improved pedestrian, biking, and transit infrastructure has grown up and ripened to a point where it can potentially influence elections and legislative sessions in its favor. That’s not something we’re used to seeing in the livable cities supporters camp.
In Miami, this is one livable cities trend where we’re out in front. Last month, Transit Miami posted the press release announcing the launch of TrAC, the city’s first transit-oriented PAC. Miami is among the earliest adopters of the livable cities PAC approach. But we’re not the first, and the experiences of those that have gone before are worth looking at. They can be a guide for TrAC and an illustration of what it could mean for Miami.
The oldest and most significant livable cities PAC at the national level is the Committee for a Livable Future, or LivPAC. LivPAC was established in 1996 by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who can lay claim to being Capitol Hill’s foremost supporter of transit, biking, and pedestrian issues. Based in Portland, LivPAC enjoys support from heavy-hitter advocates in DC and in major cities throughout the country, including Smart Growth America, the American Planning Association, and the Congress for New Urbanism. In its nearly twenty-year history, it has been active in close to 250 congressional races and made $1.2 million in campaign contributions. In 2012, LivPAC endorsed and funded 19 candidates, including two in Florida.
At the local level, Alexandrians for a Livable City, from Alexandria, Virginia, has demonstrated great success in electing candidates and shown how quickly PACs can tilt the plane in favor of the livable cities agenda. Founded only several months before Alexandria’s City Council Primaries, ALC endorsed Allison Silberberg, who went on to win a seat on the Alexandria City Council and now serves as Vice Mayor.
Most attention to the livable cities PAC trend, however, goes to StreetsPAC, New York City’s transit and pedestrian PAC. StreetsPAC was formed to continue pushing a livable cities agenda in NYC and to prevent new leaders from reversing the progress made under Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. This progress saw the city make great strides toward more egalitarian treatment of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders with approaches that prompted much visible public debate but which were supported by the vast majority of New Yorkers. StreetsPAC polled candidates to determine which had the strongest commitments to complete streets values. They then solicited these candidates for endorsement interviews, an opportunity to question candidates about their stances on livability issues and get them to commit on the record to policies and positions before contributing to their campaigns. In total, StreetsPAC endorsed 18 candidates in New York’s City Council races; thirteen of them won.
The benefit of livable cities PACs has been not only to elect candidates sympathetic to the cause but also to elevate livable cities to a subject worthy of discussion on the campaign trail. StreetsPAC’s endorsement of mayoral primary winner Bill de Blasio came alongside de Blasio’s promise to aim for zero pedestrian deaths in the city. Even with several million fewer pedestrians in Miami than NYC, that’s a promise that most politicians here wouldn’t go anywhere near. At least not yet. But the promise of TrAC could change that.
Like the livable cities movement at the national level, the desire in Miami for equal access to safe, effective, dignified transportation has been growing with increased momentum. That momentum has brought us to a milestone moment where the movement evolves into a sophisticated machine capable of laying the groundwork that will inch forward the cause. The United States, Miami included, is moving towards a more livable future. That much appears now to be certain. What we’re witnessing here is that the mechanisms of policymaking are now beginning to catch up to the public. In a decade or two, when we look backwards to examine how we arrived at a more livable society, we could very well identify the developments taking place now as the moment that the political machinery ceased working against us and became an instrument for effecting the change that the public has been asking for. PAC doesn’t need to be a dirty word. It needs to be a tool in the toolbox of the livable cities agenda; it needs to be a symbol for how far the movement has come and of our potential for how far we still can go.
Disclaimer: I am not formally involved with TrAC. However, I do support their efforts and encourage you to check them out at www.tracmiami.org.
In a city where nearly everyone and everything is from somewhere else, inequality is Miami’s most native son. Like sunshine and sex appeal, inequality is stuffed into every corner of this city. We make little effort to hide it or avoid it, and in the case of one advertising campaign we even flaunt it. Along Southwest 2nd Avenue in Brickell, there’s a bus stop advertisement for Miami’s latest luxury development touting “Unfair Housing,” a play on the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discriminatory housing practices in the United States*.
But this bus stop ad isn’t the only evidence of the gaps dividing our city; there’s the bus stop itself. It can be dirty and overcrowded, just like the buses themselves, which also run late, if they ever come at all. The sidewalks on blocks around the stop are narrow and they’re often obstructed either temporarily by construction or permanently by signage and utilities. It is the typical second-class experience of pedestrians and transit riders around the United States that results from minimal public investment in any form of transportation infrastructure that does not cater to cars.
This is a common condition around the world, and in a few cities it has received the attention that it deserves: as an inequality so flagrant that it offends our notions of democracy. In Bogotá, former mayor Enrique Peñalosa made this idea of transportation as a matter of democracy central to his governing philosophy. “If all citizens are equal before the Law,” Peñalosa is fond of saying, “then a citizen on a $30 bicycle has the same right to safe mobility as one in a $30,000 car, and a bus with 100 passengers has a right to 100 times more road space than a car with one.” Gil Peñalosa, who is Enrique’s brother and former Commissioner of Parks, Sport, and Recreation in Bogotá and is now Executive Director of Toronto-based 8-80 Cities, recently wrote, “Bus lanes are a right and a symbol of equality.” In Copenhagen, Mikael Colville-Andersen, photographer and founder of Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Copenhagenize, has argued that, “we have to re-democratize the bicycle.” In order words, we must recast cycling from a niche subculture for environmentalists and fitness buffs to a viable form of transportation for all citizens who value it because, as Colville-Andersen stresses, “it’s quick and easy.” Since the early 1990s, Vienna has embraced “gender mainstreaming,” the practice of ensuring that public works projects, including transportation, benefit men and women equally.
At its core, government by representative democracy, our chosen form, demands that our leaders pass laws and set policies based on the wishes, opinions, and needs of the citizens without sacrificing what Edmund Burke called their “enlightened conscience.” In other words, our leaders must govern in accordance with the will of the majority, the rights of the minorities, and their own judgment informed by their position as a representative of all citizens. When we examine the transportation policies under which we live, we can observe simply and clearly that Miami is not a transportation democracy.
In a transportation democracy, governed by notions of equality, resources are allocated so that all citizens no matter their form of transportation have equal access to safe, effective, dignified mobility. How we travel between point A and point B is a question as critical as any other to the functioning of society and how we answer that question speaks volumes about what we value and whose voice is heard.
Transportation resources are not allocated equally in Miami. Federal, state, and local funding for transportation projects in Miami-Dade County, aviation and port activity excluded, totaled roughly $1.7 billion during the 2011-2012 fiscal year**. Of that amount, over sixty percent went to road, highway, and parking infrastructure. The remaining minority is split between sidewalks, buses, trains, bike lanes and racks, and other pedestrian and intermodal infrastructure.
It’s a grossly unequal distribution in light of how citizens travel in practice. Twenty percent of Miami-Dade residents are not eligible to drive based on age. Another 20 percent of residents age 18 and over live in poverty, making car ownership an impractical financial burden. Of Miami-Dade’s more than one million workers, eleven percent commutes to work by bus, train, bike, or on foot. Still another six percent have ambulatory disabilities that require use of a wheelchair, walker, or other assistive device. Surely there is some overlap among these and still other groups, but the lesson is that in excess of fifty percent of Miami-Dade residents have no or minimal direct need for or access to an automobile; yet the vast majority of our transportation spending at all levels of government goes to automobile infrastructure. Add to these totals the vast numbers of Miamians, both older and younger, who drive out of necessity but who would prefer to travel by transit, bike, or foot, and the balance of transportation spending becomes even more unequally skewed in favor of a privileged minority***.
We may not typically frame it this way, but what we have here in Miami with respect to our transportation is another instance of inequality, a failure of our democracy. This is a concern larger than the cleanliness of our buses or the scarcity of bike lanes. This is an example of a majority facing alienation and segregation to such a degree that they appear the minority; and this manufactured invisibility is used to justify vast, unequal expenditures in favor of a privileged class. If we are to reclaim our transportation democracy, we must begin with an honest discussion about how our citizens travel around our city; we must push back against an approach to transportation that adequately serves so few of us; and we must, as they’ve done in Bogotá, Copenhagen and Vienna, recognize transportation as an issue that extends deep into the heart of our democracy. Only then can we ensure that all voices are heard, all wishes considered, all rights protected, all interests acknowledged. It is a prerequisite to providing safe, effective, dignified transportation options to all and to staying true to our most inherent values of government. Only then can we ensure that Miami becomes a transportation democracy.
*The campaign has been successful, though; the development is nearly sold out before it has even broken ground.
**This is a rough estimate that includes budget figures from USDOT, FDOT, MDX, MDT, and 35 municipal governments, among others. Unsurprisingly, some figures are easier to come by and interpret than others.
***It is also worth noting the increases in housing prices that developers must charge to subsidize minimum parking requirements.
This is my first post as an official Transit Miami contributor, but this post is actually a follow-up to an earlier piece that I wrote but which was published under Felipe’s name. In that post, which appeared earlier this summer, I made a case for extending Metrorail out to FIU. That case was essentially this: two intertwined, near-term policy priorities announced by Miami leaders are to solve the problem of the region’s brain drain and to establish Miami as a prominent player for technology start-ups. By better integrating FIU into a comprehensive transit system, we’ll be building the physical infrastructure to cultivate greater personal and professional connections between the university community and the broader South Florida region, particularly its business community; these connections, I argue, will be instrumental in reversing Miami’s brain drain and catalyzing the entrepreneurial culture necessary for a start-up scene.
In that piece, I discussed the nearly universal trend in the United States over the past ten years of cities connecting their colleges and universities to their transit systems. That trend is founded upon two crucial propositions of economic development. Those propositions are:
- City centers and universities represent two of the most productive hubs of innovation, and by improving the physical connections between them, we can facilitate connections between the people, ideas, and resources of each.
- When people, ideas, and resources are well connected, economies thrive.
It is these propositions that have influenced transit planning and economic development in cities throughout the United States, and which I believe should also influence transit planning and economic development in Miami. The transportation case for mass transit stands on its own; mass transit is unquestionably the most efficient technique for transporting people and any serious transportation policy has mass transit as its backbone. Yet, there is also the economic case for mass transit, represented in part by the propositions outlined above. This post will address some of the data that back up those propositions and the assertion that building transit connections to universities like FIU can foster business start-up activity and mitigate and reverse brain drains.
Downtowns and universities represent a disproportionately high share of start-up activity. The days where suburban landscapes, such as Silicon Valley and Route 128, dominate the start-up scene are unsurprisingly over. According to data from the National Association of Venture Capitalists, downtown San Francisco now produces more tech start-ups than Silicon Valley. In the New York metro area, among the ten zip codes that received the highest amounts of venture capital dollars, nine of them were in Midtown or Lower Manhattan. In the Boston area, seven of the ten zip codes receiving the most VC investment are in downtown Boston or downtown Cambridge; only three are in the Route 128 corridor. In all, urban areas received three-fourths of all VC investment in New York, seven-tenths of all VC investment in Boston, and two-thirds of all VC investment in Washington, DC.
In addition to downtowns, universities represent the other major generator of start-up activity. According to data from the Association of University Technology Managers, universities generated 705 spin-off companies in 2012. That number was up from 671 spin-offs in 2011. In 2011 and 2012, 73 percent and 79 percent, respectively, of these spin-offs retained their primary place of business in the university’s home state. This is significant in that is shows that not only to universities generate new businesses, but those businesses tend to stay in that community and remain a long-term contributor to the local economy. Four schools – MIT, Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University – accounted for 35 (or twenty percent) of the 179 start-ups established in Boston last year. In Philadelphia, university spin-offs represented over forty percent of all start-ups.
High transit ridership and low car usage correlates with increased start-up activity in metropolitan areas. Using the PricewaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree Report, the most well-known quarterly study on venture capital investment activity in the United States, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, I compiled data on all 123 metropolitan areas in the United States that recorded at least a single dollar of VC investment in 2011.
On the graph below, I plotted the percentage of residents commuting to work by public transit along the X axis and the total value of venture capital investment activity along the Y axis for each of the 123 metropolitan areas. Because the graph gets rather cluttered with 123 data points, for aesthetic reasons I removed the individual data points and just left the trendline. The resulting graph shows that higher transit ridership is correlated with higher VC investment.
Here’s the same graph with the trendline calculated using only those mid-sized metropolitan areas, like Miami, with a population between two million and eight million people. We can see that the correlation is similar even when just looking at similarly size metro areas.
When we compare venture capital investment activity to the percentage of residents commuting to work by automobile, we find the reverse correlation to be true. Here’s the data once again from all 123 metropolitan areas. The resulting graph shows that higher car usage correlates with lower VC investment.
And for just mid-sized metro areas of two million to eight million people as well. Again, the correlation is similar among similarly sized metro areas.
High transit ridership and low car usages correlates with higher start-up activity at universities. In addition to looking at the amount of venture capital investment, there are other ways to measure start-up activity. It makes sense to look at these other ways, as well, because venture capital investment does not always tell the whole story. Often times, for example, start-ups are launched in one location, but they move to another location, particularly the Bay Area and New York, once they are ready to begin seeking larger investments. For this reason, it makes sense to look at other metrics, and at the university level, there are a few good ones. We can look at the number of start-ups that a university generates, for example. We can also look at the licensing income that a university receives. Fortunately, the Association of University Technology Managers maintains a robust database of all this information. Comparing data from the AUTM’s annual survey from 2012 with zip-code data from the American Community Survey, we can get a sense of the relationship between commuting habits and the start-up activity at 141 American colleges and universities.
For the first cluster of graphs below, I plotted the percentage of residents in each university’s zip code area who commute to work by public transit along the X axis. Along the Y-axis in the first graph is the total value of licensing income received by each university for each of the 141 universities. Again, I cleared the individual data points and kept just the trendlines. What we see is that as transit ridership rates increase so does university licensing income.
Along the Y-axis in this graph is the number of start-ups generated by each university. Likewise, as transit ridership rates increase, the number of start-ups generated by a university increase as well.
Once again, when we compare the same variables to the share of car commuters, we find a negative correlation. Here’s the share of car commuters to each university’s licensing income. Increased car usage correlates with decreased licensing income.
And here’s car commuters to the number of start-ups generated by each university. Likewise, increased car usage correlates with fewer start-ups generated.
The data here are not a grand slam – these are just correlations – but they begin the paint a picture that supports our central premise: that transit can play a role in building the professional and social connections that are essential to a robust, productive entrepreneurial landscape.
Entrepreneurship is as much a culture as it is a single act. Developing policy to facilitate entrepreneurship requires recognition that more is involved than simply the isolated decision to establish an enterprise. It must also consider the multitude of conscious and unconscious factors that make such decisions possible and likely as well as those factors influencing rates of success. Those include, of course, establishing economic incentives such as subsidized incubators, mentoring programs, and tax benefits for business owners. But these are only helpful once a prospective entrepreneur has made a relatively firm commitment to pursue his or her own business. They do not offer much in the way of giving people the ideas and resources that prompt them to make such a commitment in the first place. Entrepreneurs are not created overnight, just as cultures are not fostered overnight. Cultures are layered and complex and sophisticated, and building an entrepreneurial culture requires more than a few well-targeted incentives packages. It necessitates approaching entrepreneurship from a wide array of directions, including immigration policy, education policy, and even transportation policy. The correlations presented in the charts above should not come as a surprise to anyone who understands how the flow of people and ideas bring about economic innovation and opportunity. And they offer evidence in support of the vital propositions that downtowns and universities are key drivers of our economies, and that by connecting downtowns, universities, and entire regions by transit, we foster greater entrepreneurship.
For Miami, this would be a game changer. We are facing a brain drain and we have the opportunity to reverse that trend and create economic growth by building a technology sector in South Florida. We’ve identified the problems and potential solutions, but without a comprehensive, long-term path for reaching those goals, we won’t succeed. We must recognize that while we cannot centrally plan entrepreneurship from a command tower, we can and must put in place the supports that encourage organic entrepreneurship. This includes developing the infrastructure that facilitates connections between people, ideas, and resources, particularly at hubs of innovation, such as city centers and universities. What we see from the data above is evidence that supports that mass transit is a piece of this infrastructure puzzle.
Special thanks to Jodi Talley from the Association of University Technology Managers for providing me with access to AUTM’s robust database without which this piece would not have been possible.
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