A Courthouse News article on a new legislative package unveiled by California lawmakers to combat the state’s housing crisis called on Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, to provide context. The six-bill package calls for small apartments near transit centers, a new affordable housing bond, residential projects in existing retail and commercial zones, and a wave of new duplexes. Manville said that Los Angeles has had success with residential developments on major streets and boulevards. “It’s definitely much more palatable [for officials] to approve boulevard projects than having to go back to one of their neighborhoods and saying some changes are coming,” he said. Issuing new bonds to spur affordable housing for low-income families and the homeless is an important step, Manville said, but he cautioned that the bond money could go to waste unless zoning reforms are first put in place.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville appeared on KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” podcast to discuss the practicality of freeway expansion projects. The I-605 Corridor Improvement Project is a massive freeway expansion plan that would add new lanes and exit ramps along 16 miles of I-605 and a stretch of the I-5 and other highways in southeastern Los Angeles County. However, Manville argued that “there’s no situation in a vital growing economy under which expanding a roadway to fight congestion makes much sense.” Highway space is valuable land that should be priced accordingly, he said. “We offer it to people for no direct charge,” Manville explained. “And so as a result, at times when lots of people would like to use it, there is more demand for the highway than there is actual highway in existence, and we end up with congestion.” He suggests charging for use of the roadway to deter just enough people from driving to avoid traffic congestion.
The notion that cities chosen to host the Olympics are guaranteed to reap a financial windfall for years to come is flatly untrue, according to noted U.S. economist Andrew Zimbalist, who has spent years scrutinizing the costs and benefits of major sporting events. Zimbalist dissected the extravagant promises and deep pitfalls of past Olympic experiences and handicapped Los Angeles’ chances of success in hosting the 2028 Summer Games at the Luskin School’s first Transdisciplinary Speaker Series event of the academic year. Host cities have been beset by cost overruns, environmental degradation and displacement of local populations, he said. And with fewer cities willing to bid for the Games, the International Olympic Committee has been forced to consider hosts with questionable human rights records. “It’s valuable to have the best athletes from around the world congregate in the Olympic Village and live together and model what peaceful co-existence looks like,” he said, “I just don’t like the way it’s organized now.” As for the upcoming L.A. Games, “Yes, there’s a risk, but I think it’s a safe risk,” said Zimbalist, an author and professor of economics at Smith College. Southern California is already home to major sports venues and other infrastructure, including a ready-made Olympic Village at the UCLA dormitories, which also accommodated athletes during the city’s 1984 Games. For the future, Zimbalist envisioned permanent Olympic venues — for summer, perhaps in the area between Olympia and Athens, Greece. “There’s no reason, either environmental or economic, to argue for rebuilding the Olympic Shangri-La in a new place every four years,” he said.
The New York Times spoke to Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville for a piece on the trends behind the yearslong slide in bus ridership in many U.S. cities. In addition to demographic shifts and the changing nature of work, Manville pointed to the rise of Craigslist, which has made used cars easier to find and cheaper to buy. In California, he added, a state law granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants may have reduced the pool of transit riders. Manville recommended making the true costs of driving more pronounced by raising prices for gas, parking and driving on congested roads, while building a system that gives advantages to public transit. “At the end of the day, we may never know what is driving this decline,” Manville said. “But I guarantee you that if you took a lane of Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles and gave it only to the bus, ridership would go up.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was featured in a CityLab article on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on transportation ballot measures in the upcoming election. With transit ridership at low levels and many Americans out of work or working from home, experts are wondering how voters will respond to the transportation initiatives on the ballot. Manville said that it doesn’t necessarily matter if voters don’t plan to ride buses and trains anytime soon. He pointed to various transit measures that have passed in areas where the vast majority of enfranchised people drive. According to Manville, the promises of traffic relief, economic growth and environmental benefits can be more motivating for voters than the actual mobility services. “I think the bigger question now is whether the way people are experiencing COVID and the economic fallout has changed how they think aspirationally about their transportation system,” Manville said. “We just don’t know what that will look like.”
A new UCLA-USC study that took a deep dive into how Los Angeles County tenants are handling rent and finances during the COVID-19 health crisis was covered by media outlets including the Orange County Register. Since the start of the pandemic, landlords have argued that tenants who were shielded from possible eviction would refuse to pay rent, the article noted. In fact, while the study showed that many have struggled to make rent, most tenants have not used the pandemic as an excuse to take a rent holiday, according to the study conducted by scholars from UCLA Luskin’s Lewis Center for Regional Studies and USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate. One factor measured in the study was the impact of direct assistance to renters who need it. The findings showed that tenants collecting unemployment insurance were 39% less likely to miss rent payments. The report’s findings were also highlighted in Courthouse News, Commercial Observer and Pasadena Now.
A 2018 article about anti-development attitudes, authored by UCLA Luskin’s Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Manville, is mentioned by the Libertarian magazine Reason in an essay that focuses on the propensity of Hollywood to portray real estate developers as bad guys. The essay traces the movie trope of an evil developer as far back as Frank Capra and his Depression-era movies like the 1946 Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That movie presents one of the best-known rich-guy villains in movie history: Mr. Potter. Such characters reflect circumstances explored by Manville and Monkkonen when they wrote about how the high cost of land and the complexity of regulations can make real estate development difficult. Reason quotes directly from the UCLA article, saying, “These circumstances could select for developers who are both affluent and out-of-step with conventional ways of behaving: Only deep-pocketed, hard-charging and confrontational people will be willing and able to lobby elected officials and get rules changed in order to build.”
Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, spoke to the San Diego Union-Tribune about the city’s transit plans. San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, who spent two years working on a transit expansion plan when the pandemic started, said he is determined to push forward with the $177 billion proposal. Ikhrata will present the plan, which includes 350 miles of new rail track, to the SANDAG board of directors. The plan has faced pushback from some who have said that the pandemic will radically change commuter patterns, threatening to render the plan obsolete by the time it’s under way. However, Manville argued that much of the pandemic’s impact will be temporary. “Right now, most of the economy’s still closed and you’ve got jammed roads,” he explained. “It seems hard to believe that in 20 years there will be no point to having mass transit to San Diego’s job centers.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to the Boston Globe about an uptick in traffic as the Boston metropolitan area reopens. Transit officials view the increased congestion as a real-time experiment to determine how much traffic the region’s highways can take before hitting their tipping points. Manville explained that, once a road nears capacity, each additional vehicle gums things up exponentially. “In ‘The Three Stooges,’ the classic trope is they all try and go through a door at once and they get stuck. If they had just walked through individually, not only could all of them have gone through the door but an almost infinite number of people could have gone in behind them,” he said. “You can have an incredibly high flow going through a door, or on a road, as long as a critical mass isn’t trying to do so at once.”