Urban planning has been around for as long as cities have existed, but the 20th century saw a number of bold ideas that radically changed the make-up of our urban centers.
From garden cities to psychogeography, today’s infographic by Konstantin von der Schulenburg is an informative overview of the modern movements and ideas that shaped urban planning.
The Evolution of Urban Planning
Urban planning has changed a lot over the centuries. Early city layouts revolved around key elements such as prominent buildings (e.g. cathedrals, monuments) and fortification (e.g. city walls, castles).
As cities grew larger, they also became more unpleasant. Here are some key ideas from architects and planners who sought tame the unruly urban beast.
At the dawn of the 20th century, cities were experiencing big population growth.
The Garden City concept – devised by the English planner Ebenezer Howard – sought to solve urban overcrowding and poor quality of life by creating smaller, master-planned communities on the outskirts of the larger city. The city would be structured around concentric circles of land use and include a sizeable park and greenbelt. Greenbelts were a revolutionary idea at the time and are still widely appreciated to this day.
Early 1900s Manhattan had a population density of nearly 600 people per hectare and the skyscraper boom was in full swing. As buildings grew taller, the already crowded city was becoming a dark and claustrophobic place. To combat this, New York enacted the first citywide zoning code ever in the U.S. to help preserve some daylight on city streets. Setbacks had an immediate and lasting impact on Manhattan’s skyline, as seen today in landmarks such as the Empire State and Chrysler buildings.
If there is a true antithesis for today’s urbanism, then the suburban brainchild of Frank Lloyd Wright is surely it. Broadacre City was a thought experiment that envisioned decentralized communities that would sprawl across a lush, bucolic landscape. That vision stood in stark contrast to frenetic, exhaust-choked cities of the 1940s, which resembled “fibrous tumor(s)” according to Wright.
Though Broadacre City was never built verbatim, Wright’s rejection of the American city came to life in the form of suburbs and strip malls from sea to shining sea.
La Cité Radieuse
In the wake of World War II, France was searching for solutions to house its population – nearly 20% of all French buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged – and world renowned architect, Le Corbusier, was one of the architects selected by the French government to construct new, high-density housing.
When La Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) was completed in 1952, it kicked off a media frenzy. Indeed, Le Corbusier is credited with pioneering the Modernist style of architecture that became wildly popular around the world during that time.
While Le Corbusier’s thoughtful residential buildings have stood the test of time, not all projects inspired by the style shared the same fate. For example, when governments in Europe and the United States looked to provide cheap, high-density housing to low income families, the stark tower blocks they built often had the unintentional effect of ghettoizing their inhabitants.
As cities within close proximity grow and merge together, finding a way to make them work as a connected economic and social unit is a key strategy for becoming more competitive on the global stage.
Jean Gottman, a French geographer, recognized this megaregion trend early on in the Northeast region of the United States. His seminal 1961 study, Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, outlined the extraordinary dynamics that shaped America’s largest urban corridor.
In North America, many cities have a stark divide between urban and suburban areas – a gap known as “the missing middle”. New urbanists seek to create more dense residential development, particularly in walkable, transit-accessible areas.
This new form of city planning isn’t just cosmetic, it may help save cities from bloated infrastructure costs. Recent research into the tax efficiency (property tax revenues vs. infrastructure maintenance costs) of a variety of American cities and found that walkable urban districts tended to be revenue-positive – in effect, subsidizing surrounding low-density areas.
Next Stop: Smart Cities
In the era of big data, the future of our physical spaces may be defined more by bytes than bricks.
City governments have been collecting big picture data for planning in transportation and zoning for some time, but new technology allows for the capture of even more granular data. Cities can now measure everything from noise pollution to wastewater volume, and this can have a big impact on spending efficiency and overall quality of urban spaces.
It’s almost like a FitBit for the city.
– Stuart Cowan, chief scientist, Smart Cities Council
A prominent section of waterfront in Toronto, Canada, is about to become a testing ground for this concept. The partnership between a government agency and Sidewalk Labs, a division of Alphabet, will produce an urban district that fully integrates technology and data collection into its design.
If the project is successful, it may influence the way future “smart” neighborhoods are constructed.
Taking Advantage of the Infrastructure Boom: The Case for Taxable Municipal Bonds
Taxable municipal bonds will help finance the $4 trillion needed for U.S. infrastructure repairs. Here’s a case for why they are an interesting investment.
The Case for Taxable Municipal Bonds for Investors
If you’re a homeowner, there are probably a few things you’ve been neglecting to do. Perhaps the kitchen needs upgrading, or the roof needs replacing. We tend to procrastinate on these improvements due to large renovation costs, until it hits a point where we can’t ignore them anymore. This is the state that U.S. infrastructure has reached—on a national scale.
Today’s infographic from New York Life Investments highlights the level of disrepair in U.S. infrastructure. It also explores why taxable municipal bonds, which will finance the required infrastructure upgrades, provide such an interesting investment opportunity.
Falling Apart at the Seams
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ACSE) regularly assesses the nation’s infrastructure—things like bridges, airports, and drinking water—and scores it in a ‘report card’. After decades of neglect, the U.S. only scored a D+ in 2017.
The ASCE estimates that $4 trillion is needed to bring infrastructure up to a B grade, $1.3 trillion of which will be provided by state and local governments.
The urgent needs for increased investment in America’s infrastructure continue to grow and our nation’s economic vitality and quality of life are at stake.
— Ed Mortimer, U.S. Chamber Vice President of Transportation and Infrastructure
U.S. municipal bonds will be the primary funding source for this massive financing need. These bonds are quite popular with individual U.S. investors, as the interest income from most municipal bonds is not subject to federal income tax.
However, the U.S. tax code limits the volume of non-taxable bonds issued, and the purposes for issuing them. As a result, many local and state governments have been turning to taxable municipal bonds to finance their infrastructure projects.
The Muni Opportunity
Taxable municipal bonds are a potentially attractive investment for many reasons.
1. Competitive Historical Yield and Strong Returns
In the last decade, a lagging global economy led to historically low interest rates—many sovereign (national) bonds fell into negative territory. Taxable municipal bonds provided an alternative source of yield potential, outpacing the yields of comparable treasury bonds in some cases.
Not only that, but in the post-crisis era, taxable municipal bonds have averaged a return of 6.9% per year, beating the 4.6% performance on U.S. corporate investment-grade bonds, a staple in most institutional portfolios.
2. High-Quality, Stable Credit Ratings
Most municipal bonds are high quality with low default rates, making them attractive to risk-conscious investors.
|U.S. Municipals||Global Corporates|
|Rating Spread||Over 76% rated A+ or better||Only about 10% are AA rated|
|Tiny portion below investment grade||Nearly half are below investment grade|
|Default Rate||0.81% for those rated BAA by S&P||0.84% for those rated AAA by S&P|
Historically, municipal bond ratings have also been far more stable than that of global corporates.
3. Inefficient pricing
The municipal bond market is highly fragmented, and most issues are too small to be included in a market index.
This market fragmentation, combined with limited sell-side research and many buy-and-hold investors, often leads to inefficient pricing. Active investors have the potential to generate higher returns by applying their credit research and trading skills.
4. Low Correlations
Correlation measures the degree to which two securities move in relation to each other. In general, taxable municipal bonds have a low correlation to other fixed-income sectors. This means they help provide portfolio diversification and reduce volatility.
5. Longer durations
Since taxable municipal bonds fund long-term capital projects, they are usually financed with longer maturing bonds. Institutional investors welcome this source of long-duration assets, as they can match them up with their long-dated obligations.
A Compelling Portfolio Addition
Taxable municipal bonds have many positive qualities that make them a strong contender for investment. When added to a diversified fixed-income portfolio, they may also improve the risk/return profile.
As the U.S. begins to revitalize its infrastructure, taxable municipal bonds present a strong—and often overlooked—opportunity for investors.
Ranking the World’s Most Populous Cities, Over 500 Years of History
This two-minute animation shows changes in the last 500 years of historical rankings for the world’s 10 most populous cities.
Animation: The Most Populous Cities, Over 500 Years
What do Beijing, Tokyo, Istanbul, London, and New York City all have in common?
Not only are they all world-class cities that still serve as global hubs of commerce, but these cities also share a relatively rare and important historical designation.
At specific points in history, each of these cities outranked all others on the planet in terms of population, granting them the exclusive title as the single most populated city globally.
Ranking the World’s Most Populous Cities
Today’s animation comes to us from John Burn-Murdoch with the Financial Times, and it visualizes cities ranked by population in a bar chart race over the course of a 500-year timeframe.
Beijing starts in the lead in the year 1500, with a population of 672,000:
|Rank||City||Population in Year 1500|
In the 16th century, which is where the animation starts, cities in China and India were dominant in terms of population.
In China, the cities of Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and Nanjing all made the top 10 list, while India itself held two of the most populous cities at the time, Vijayanagar and Gauda.
If the latter two names sound unfamiliar, that’s because they were key historical locations in the Vijayanagara and Bengal Empires respectively, but neither are the sites of modern-day cities.
The 1 Million Mark
For the first minute of animation—and up until the late 18th century—not a single city was able to eclipse the 1 million person mark.
However, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the floodgates opened up. With more efficient agricultural practices, better sanitation, and other technological improvements, cities were able to support bigger populations.
Here’s a look at the biggest cities in the year 1895:
|Rank||City||Population in Year 1895|
|#2||🇺🇸 New York||3,712,000|
|#6||🇷🇺 St. Petersburg||1,286,000|
In the span of roughly a century, all of the world’s biggest cities were able to pass the 1 million mark, making it no longer a particularly exclusive milestone.
Modern City Populations
Finally, let’s look at the modern list of the top 10 most populous cities, and see how it compares to rankings from previous years:
|Rank||City||Population in Year 2018|
|#6||🇧🇷 Sao Paulo||21,698,000|
|#7||🇲🇽 Mexico City||21,520,000|
|#10||🇺🇸 New York City||18,713,000|
Interestingly, the modern list appears to be a blend of both previous rankings from the years 1500 and 1895, listed above.
In 2018, cities from China and India feature prominently, but New York City and Tokyo are also included. Meanwhile, Latin America has entered the fold with entries from Mexico and Brazil.
The Future of Megacities
If you think the modern list of the most populous cities is impressive, check out how the world’s megacities are expected to develop as we move towards the end of the 21st century.
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