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posted by hubie on Monday March 25, @03:49AM   Printer-friendly

Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:

The next time you're on a walk, consider stopping by that restaurant you've never been to or the local store you keep meaning to check out. They just might be the key to a vibrant local economy, according to a new study.

In a surprise finding based on anonymized cell phone mobility records, infrequent trips to places like restaurants and sports facilities—not the everyday office visit or school drop-off—accounted for the majority of differences in economic outcomes between neighborhoods.

The lesson for urban planners and individuals, researchers said, is to embrace the unusual.

[...] The activities with the strongest predictive power included French and New American restaurants, golf courses, hockey rinks, soccer games, and bagel shops. These kinds of activities accounted for just 2% of trips but explained more than 50% of the variation in economic outcomes between neighborhoods. Wang and his collaborators didn't initially expect these leisure activities to be so tied to local economic fortunes.

[...] "Those irregular and infrequent activities are correlated with explorative behavior, the tendency of some groups to seek out opportunities, connect with different people, and create new businesses," said Esteban Moro, Ph.D., a professor at Northeastern University, who co-led the study. "Looking at those infrequent activities, we are directly looking at current and potential economic opportunities in the future."

[...] What was most surprising was that trips to the office—where we earn our money—were not strongly associated with income or property values. Rather, it's how we spend our free time that drives the economic vibrancy of cities.

Journal Reference:
Wang, S., Zheng, Y., Wang, G. et al. Infrequent activities predict economic outcomes in major American cities. Nat Cities (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s44284-024-00051-7


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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by gznork26 on Monday March 25, @11:57AM (5 children)

    by gznork26 (1159) on Monday March 25, @11:57AM (#1350249) Homepage Journal

    The implication in their conclusion is that the existence of bagel shops, restaurants and so forth in places where you can casually drop in makes a community more vibrant. This scenario is forbidden by single-use zoning rules which separate residential communities from commercial uses such as those shops. The point of changing those rules in order to encourage walkable cities is to allow the creation of such places. That's how communities developed naturally before zoning happened after WWII and driving became mandatory. Infrastructure such as streets are only covered by property and sales tax revenues in places where mixed use exists; single use residential areas are a drain on city coffers and are not sustainable in the long run.

    The single-use built world that so many people only live in is a problem. But we can only do something about it is we speak and think about it directly.

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  • (Score: 2) by Rich on Monday March 25, @12:47PM (2 children)

    by Rich (945) on Monday March 25, @12:47PM (#1350250) Journal

    Aside from that "Infrequent activities predict economic outcomes in major American cities." should rather be "Economic outcomes predict infrequent activities in major American cities.", it may be that commercial activities in residential areas might not be feasible anymore, regardless of zoning laws.

    Smaller towns used to have individual shops catering to daily needs along their main roads, which are mostly gone now, downtown areas used to have large department stores, which are in the process of disappearing. Even the malls which took their business see hard times now against online competition. Note how this progress comes with increased mobility that connects optimized specialized sector offers to the customers. This optimizing not only means cost, but also handling the ever increasing complexity of offerings. from the bazillions of non-standardized spare parts to exotic food ingredients.

    So, dropping zoning laws is easy, the real task at hand is making small local businesses viable again. (Whereever there are mixed zones around here, most of the old shop rooms go to good-for-nothing enterprises of non-natives that mostly reek of money laundries.)

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday March 25, @03:26PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday March 25, @03:26PM (#1350272)

      We live in a "commercially overbuilt" city - strip mall square footage is cheap. The (massive) K-mart that went out of business 8 years ago still stands vacant, and we've got a over 1 million square feet in a 1.4 million square foot shopping mall standing vacant as well - although the 4 million square feet of strip malls within a mile of it are mostly doing well.

      It's great for restaurant startups, game cafes, etc. but it also frequently gets filled with vape shops, nail salons, comic shops, dollar trees, tattoo parlors and other super low-rent indicators - when it's not altogether empty.

      With housing the way it is, they really should consider converting some of those old vacant shopping spaces to "Loft apartments" - it would become a very walkable neighborhood for people who don't mind living in an ex-Baby Gap.

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    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 25, @04:12PM

      by VLM (445) on Monday March 25, @04:12PM (#1350285)

      the real task at hand is making small local businesses viable again

      Retail is dead and stacking the cards against it by eliminating all possible economies of scale by focusing on going tiny is very unlikely to be successful. It's like agonizing about how to bring back farriers, tailors, and blacksmiths, and suggesting maybe the trick is to demand really small blacksmiths shops instead of fewer larger blacksmiths shops. They aren't coming back, that's what's happening.

      There's also the strange assumption that the only possible "small local businesses" is direct to hyperconsumer in-person retail, which has historically always had a HUGE failure rate so it was traditionally never really viable anyway. The successful "small local businesses" provide services, work in a trade, ultra-small scale manufacturing, hyper niche small scale manufacturing and manufacturing support, etc.

      Drive around town and look at the plots of land that make piles of money for a career vs minimum wage or less for a couple years before going out of business, then decide what kind of jobs your city needs more. My suburb has the easy to despise minimum wage froyo-fad retail that goes out of business every two years at most, but we also have multiple full industrial parks full of medium-term profitable small businesses. Better off with a city full of trademen shops (electricans plumbers welders, etc) than a city full of froyo store cashiers.

  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday March 25, @03:20PM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday March 25, @03:20PM (#1350269)

    Until the recent run-up in house prices, I believe the average US citizen pays more for the construction and maintenance of roads (remember to count county, state and federal tax contributions) than they do for their home or rental dwelling. I last ran the numbers on that around 2012 and it came up about 55/45 roads vs housing.

    Just recently, driving on a six lane 10 mile repaving project, I was reflecting on how 5000 square feet of asphalt 2" thick costs $15K installed, but here we have a road maintenance program installing roughly 1000x that much asphalt, possibly even thicker, on a single road in the city.

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  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 25, @03:45PM

    by VLM (445) on Monday March 25, @03:45PM (#1350278)

    single use residential areas are a drain on city coffers and are not sustainable in the long run

    Why is it repeatedly across the country so incredibly successful with such high property values and intense purchasing demand, compared to the small fraction of land that's mostly empty for mixed-use developments? Most responses I've seen historically, devolve into conspiracy theory and devoutly stated quasi-religious belief.

    Why isn't mixed use successful, beyond a very small percentage of land use, is a better question.

    Simply repeating that it's better financially and has a better lifestyle apparently does not make people it, but they've been beating that drum for several generations now, always unsuccessfully.

    There is also a problem with scale. Let's say the actual market demand is 2% mixed use and 98% single use. I do believe and agree that if 1% of the local real estate market is mixed use, developers do need to explode growth by 100% to meet the market need. The 'problem' is even after that 100% growth, 98% of the population still will not want to live there, and economic bubble people being the bubble-people trend followers they are, they will almost certainly build 4% mixed use and 96% single use developments, leading to the entire mixed use "industry" collapsing because the financial don't work out when they are 50% empty and unsold. Thats where we are where I live, we have a massive oversupply of mixed use that's empty and failing and going back to the banks.

    You can build it, but they won't come, and even if they do come, there aren't that many of them. Its like the ultraluxury condo problem where every developer thinks they're going to be the "one" who sells the $2M condo to the local CEOs. The problem is, followers being followers, they're all trying to sell to the local CEOs, so luxury condos are like 75% vacant in the closest major downtown area. Everyone wants to sell to those guys and milk those cash cows, but there aren't enough cash cows to go around, so they're all going out of business together.