Friday, February 16, 2007

Cultural facilities tend to cluster (in Tel Aviv)

In New York City there is the theater district. In London there is the west end. In Tel Aviv the cultural facilities seem to be randomly distributed. But, are they?

Gilles Benguigui, Idan Porath and I spent some time examining the variety of such facilities in Tel Aviv. First we used the old nearest neighbor method to identify clustering.

The method calculates the ratio between the average short distance between every two points and the expected average short distance of completely spatially random distribution. The ratio of the two is an index for the spatial point distribution and for spatial order.

The method is subject to some well-known drawbacks. It indicates a random distribution of points in cases that there are some clusters with random distribution of points inside the clusters. Also, the results are sensitive to the choice of boundary of the area within which the points are distributed. When the boundary of a geographic entity is ill-defined defined, it is difficult to apply the method.

To deal with this problem we created the all distances analysis. It is free of these defects. The all distances analysis method takes into account the distances between every point to all other points in the examined area.

We concluded that despite first appearances the cultural facilities cluster. Furthermore, there are several distinct clusters, each possessing particular characteristics. These characteristics were confirmed by a detailed survey of users.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Semester break at the Technion

It is the end of the Fall/Winter semester at the Technion. We start late (in October) and finish in February. The Spring semester will start in mid-March and end in the beginning of July.

The upshot is that I am off to a conference and visits to various campuses in the USA.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Jerusalem will be environmentally friendly, but ultra-orthodox

Jerusalem is a relatively poor city. It is the home of a large ultra-orthodox population that is characterized by men who study Torah and women that produce very many children and work to support their families. It is also the home of government employees. Although there is a high-tech industry in Jerusalem, many of its employees reside outside city limits.

For many years now, policy makers in Jerusalem have targeted ways to attract new, young and professional population to the city. One of the means that has been proposed is to create a new stock of housing for these families, away from the religious neighborhoods. It was hoped that by so doing the stigma of Jerusalem as a place dominated by "blue laws" will be replaced by an image of comfortable suburban living in the midst of nature in the Judean hills.

A land- use plan was commissioned from the Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. The plan proposed 20,000 housing units west of the city around the main road connecting Jerusalem with the center of the country.

Today, the Israel National Planning Board rejected the plan after a prolonged debate to the sound of vocal protest from various groups wishing to preserve the green areas around the city. The mayor of Jerusalem has adopted the view that it is possible to create a sufficient stock of housing within the current city limits. Based on a new study he claims that it is possible to build 40,000 housing units within the city.

There is no doubt that dense urban fabric is to be preferred. It creates a smaller environmental footprint by encouraging the use of public transportation facilities and lowers CO2 emissions. However, there may be a significant cost associated with the new policy. It is my suspicion that Jerusalem will find it difficult to attract young, upwardly mobile families and that the outflow of young people to Tel Aviv will continue. It is likely that we will have a green , non-pluralistic and relatively poor capital city.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

High-rise residential buildings and Pigou

This Thursday I was an "expert witness" before the Israel National Planning Board concerning an objection launched by a local Planning Board to a 1,200 residential complex that includes a number of high-rise buildings. Among the arguments that were presented against the project was the high cost of maintaining high-rise buildings and the possibility that over time the project will turn into a slum. An additional argument of the officials of the local Board was that the quality of life of the residents in the complex will be adversely affected by the noise of the highway and train station next to the complex.

These arguments should be contrasted to the arguments of Ed Glaeser in a recent article in the New York Times
[URL:]. Ed Glaeser points out the contribution of Manhattan residents to environmental quality. They use less land per capita and their usage of private cars is much smaller than that of other cities. All this is due to the high density in Manhattan.

In this spirit I suggest that we encourage the construction of high-rise, dense residential complexes next to major transportation infrastructure and that we make them accessible to lower income residents by appropriate negative Pigou taxes, in relation to their contribution to the reduction of negative externalities. This is not to say that higher income residents should not benefit from such taxes.

It is common for economists to advocate taxes on negative externalities in the context of market activities. The so-called Pigovian taxes (after Arthur Pigou) should be levied on producers who pollute the environment to encourage them to reduce pollution, and to provide revenue which may be used to counteract the negative effects of the pollution. Greg Mankiw keeps track of economists who advocate Pigovian taxes. [See
Also, see the manifesto of the Pigou Club:].