Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Amada Armenta was chosen by the Russell Sage Foundation as one of 17 visiting scholars for the 2020-2021 academic year. Armenta will pursue her research on race, ethnicity and immigration while in residence at the foundation’s headquarters in New York City starting in September. The selection of Visiting Scholars is based on an individual’s demonstrated record of research accomplishment and the merit of the proposed project. Armenta will study the legal attitudes of immigrants, focusing on how they understand and make decisions about migration, driving, working, calling the police, securing identification and paying taxes. Her research will culminate in a book analyzing the experiences of undocumented Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia. This will be Armenta’s second book, following the award-winning “Protect, Serve, and Deport: The Rise of Policing as Immigration Enforcement” (2017), which analyzed the role that local police and jail employees played in immigration enforcement in Nashville, Tennessee. The Russell Sage Foundation’s Visiting Scholars Program supports research into the social and behavioral sciences with the goal of improving living conditions in the United States. Research topics have included immigration, race and diversity, poverty, labor practices, gender inequality, climate change and natural disaster recovery.
The Financial Times quoted Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville on the growing issue of urban congestion. According to Manville, congestion is caused by “a shortage of road: There is more demand for road space than there is space available.” Manville drew a parallel between roads and other utilities like water and gas, explaining that “the big difference between road networks and other utilities is that we don’t meter for use. Consequently, roads are the only type of infrastructure that suffer from regular shortages.” Manville recommends congestion pricing to encourage drivers to make fewer trips or take public transport. He argued that “Americans just drive more than they need to” because of the lack of associated costs of driving. Congestion pricing has been successful in London, Stockholm and Singapore, and New York is planning to implement the policy in 2021.
Liz Koslov, assistant professor of urban planning, spoke with Curbed New York about the tense debate over how to protect New York City’s 578 miles of shoreline from the effects of climate change. Scientists forecast that lower Manhattan will see about six feet of sea-level rise in the next 80 years, triggering regular flooding and intensive storm surges. Koslov spoke about the competing impulses New Yorkers felt after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, with some pushing to redevelop valuable waterfront properties as others opted for “managed retreat” — relocating away from the perennially threatened coasts. Koslov, who is working on a book about Staten Island communities that rejected the rebuilding narrative, said managed retreat has won grassroots support but raises concerns including the impact of lost property taxes on local governments. She urged civic leaders to flesh out a vision for a well-planned “just retreat,” which can be “potentially empowering and a force for reconstructing communities and making the waterfront public again.”
Michael Manville, associate professor of urban planning, was featured in a Sierra Club article about the prospect of congestion pricing in major U.S. cities. Earlier this year, paralyzing traffic delays in New York City prompted the state to approve a plan to implement congestion pricing by 2021, and Los Angeles recently approved a two-year study to investigate the feasibility of the traffic-management strategy. By charging people to drive on traffic-clogged roads, congestion pricing encourages people to drive at different times, carpool or take public transit, all while reducing carbon emissions and raising revenue for transportation projects. Manville explained that congestion pricing is “the only thing that has ever been demonstrated to reduce [congestion]. So either we can do this or everyone has to stop complaining.” Manville reiterated his support for congestion pricing as one of the most viable solutions to traffic gridlock in a Shift article.
Professor of Public Policy Martin Gilens penned an opinion piece for the Times Union in support of publicly financed state elections in New York. A change in the language used in the New York state budget created a commission to review the potential of publicly financing elections. Gilens argued that New York can “reclaim democracy from the jaws of Big Money through a statewide system of publicly financed elections.” Reform is necessary because 40 percent of the money spent on federal elections came from 0.01 percent of the population in 2016, he argued. Affluent and organized interest groups hold more influence over the outcomes of elections, while the lower and middle classes hold virtually no influence, Gilens’ research found. Gilens said New York has the opportunity to challenge the status quo and promote a government for the people.
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox “Consider It” episode discussing the issue of sex work in the United States. “For the most part, sex workers are women who are making the choice to do [sex work] as a source of livelihood. We can argue about how good or bad of a source of livelihood this is, but ultimately, sex work is work,” Shah said. “The sex market is often characterized as one of moral repugnance because of moral beliefs that we shouldn’t put a price on sex.” Nevertheless, public policy experts have found numerous benefits associated with the decriminalization of sex work. Shah explained that during the six years that indoor prostitution was decriminalized in Rhode Island, there was a decrease in gonorrhea incidents and reported rape offenses. “Based on current research, decriminalization of sex work is overall better for women,” Shah concluded.
Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, commented on the prospect of congestion pricing in Los Angeles on KPCC’s Airtalk. To reduce traffic, New York passed a proposal to implement congestion pricing in the form of tolls on vehicles entering Manhattan, prompting speculation about the prospect of congestion pricing in other big cities like Los Angeles. In Stockholm, Wachs explained, citizens voted to implement congestion pricing after a seven-month trial period because “they valued the reduction of congestion more highly than they were worried about the cost of entering the congested area.” Wachs predicts that “the Manhattan experiment will reveal how Americans feel about congestion pricing.” While some critics argue that congestion pricing is regressive taxation, Wachs responded that “congestion itself is regressive. Congestion pricing provides an alternative, but it doesn’t require the low-income person to pay the fee if there is an alternative,” such as public transit.
Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah stressed the importance of data-backed claims in a GQ article describing the controversial New York movement to decriminalize sex work in order to make workers safer. “Many people see sex work as morally repugnant, so public policy around it is very rarely based on the actual evidence,” explained Shah, whose 2014 research findings supported decriminalization of the sex work industry. According to Shah, “A lot of people make very big assertions about this topic, but most of the time there just isn’t any data to back them up, or the methodological constraints mean they’re not able to make causal claims.” Shah’s research linked decriminalization to reductions in both rape offenses and female gonorrhea cases. Shah concluded, “Except for the growth of the market, everything else that we worry about from a policy perspective — like public health and violence against women — gets better when sex work is decriminalized.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville’s research on “The Poverty of the Carless: Toward Universal Auto Access” was published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research. Manville and co-authors David King and Michael Smart investigated how vehicle access inequity affects low-income American households. In a society where vehicle access is becoming increasingly necessary, “anyone who can acquire a vehicle will, even if doing so is financially burdensome,” the study explained, noting that “only the most disadvantaged people [are] unable to afford cars.” The research found that “U.S. households without access to a vehicle have steadily lost income, both in absolute terms and compared to those with cars, as the landscapes around them were increasingly shaped to favor the automobile.” Facing objections to universal auto access due to factors such as carbon emissions, the study argued that, “like water and heat, access to cars should be guaranteed and perhaps subsidized for low-income households.” While the long-term goal should be to decrease driving overall, the status quo is comprised of a “small group of people who need vehicles and lack them and a large group who have vehicles and use them needlessly.” Manville and his co-authors recommended treating vehicles as essential infrastructure and working to close gaps in vehicle access for poorer Americans while aiming to decrease overall consumption by the more affluent in the long term. The research was featured a recent Planetizen article and in a Q&A with co-author King. — Zoe Day
Donald Shoup has a smart fix for New York City’s traffic woes: Sell market-priced parking permits for heavily trafficked parts of the city, then plow that money back into nearby neighborhoods. In a New York Times opinion article, Shoup, UCLA Luskin professor of urban planning and author of “Parking and the City,” writes, “Diverse interests across the political spectrum can find things to like in a parking benefit district.” He argues, “Cities can fairly and efficiently manage their curb space as valuable public real estate. … They can stop subsidizing cars, congestion and carbon emissions, and instead provide better public services.”