Craigslist and U.S. Rental Housing Markets

This is a summary of our JPER journal article (available here) about Craigslist rental listings’ insights into U.S. housing markets.

Small map of 1.5 million Craigslist rental listings in the contiguous U.S., divided into quintiles by each listing's rent per square footRentals make up a significant portion of the U.S. housing market, but much of this market activity is poorly understood due to its informal characteristics and historically minimal data trail. The UC Berkeley Urban Analytics Lab collected, validated, and analyzed 11 million Craigslist rental listings to discover fine-grained patterns across metropolitan housing markets in the United States. I’ll summarize our findings below and explain the methodology at the bottom.

But first, 4 key takeaways:

  1. There are incredibly few rental units below fair market rent in the hottest housing markets. Some metro areas like New York and Boston have only single-digit percentages of Craigslist rental listings below fair market rent. That’s really low.
  2. This problem doesn’t exclusively affect the poor: the share of its income that the typical household would spend on the typical rent in cities like New York and San Francisco exceeds the threshold for “rent burden.”
  3. Rents are more “compressed” in soft markets. For example, in Detroit, most of the listed units are concentrated within a very narrow band of rent/ft² values, but in San Francisco rents are much more dispersed. Housing vouchers may end up working very differently in high-cost vs low-cost areas.
  4. Craigslist listings correspond reasonably well with Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates, but provide up-to-date data including unit characteristics, from neighborhood to national scales. For example, we can see how rents are changing, neighborhood by neighborhood, in San Francisco in a given month.

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How to Visualize Urban Accessibility and Walkability

Tools like WalkScore visualize how “walkable” a neighborhood is in terms of access to different amenities like parks, schools, or restaurants. It’s easy to create accessibility visualizations like these ad hoc with Python and its pandana library. Pandana (pandas for network analysis – developed by Fletcher Foti during his dissertation research here at UC Berkeley) performs fast accessibility queries over a network. I’ll demonstrate how to use it to visualize urban walkability. My code is in these IPython notebooks in this urban data science course GitHub repo.

First I give pandana a bounding box around Berkeley/Oakland in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. Then I load the street network and amenities from OpenStreetMap. In this example I’ll look at accessibility to restaurants, bars, and schools. But, you can create any basket of amenities that you are interested in – basically visualizing a personalized “AnythingScore” instead of a generic WalkScore for everyone. Finally I calculate and plot the distance from each node in the network to the nearest amenity:

Berkeley Oakland California street network walking accessibility and walkability Continue reading How to Visualize Urban Accessibility and Walkability

Urban Informatics and Visualization at UC Berkeley

The fall semester begins next week at UC Berkeley. For the third year in a row, Paul Waddell and I will be teaching CP255: Urban Informatics and Visualization.

This masters-level course trains students to analyze urban data, develop indicators, conduct spatial analyses, create data visualizations, and build Paris open datainteractive web maps. To do this, we use the Python programming language, open source analysis and visualization tools, and public data.

This course is designed to provide future city planners with a toolkit of technical skills for quantitative problem solving. We don’t require any prior programming experience – we teach this from the ground up – but we do expect prior knowledge of basic statistics and GIS.

Our teaching materials, including IPython Notebooks, tutorials, and guides are available in this GitHub repo, updated as the semester progresses.

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The Beautiful Cities of Eastern Europe

Western Europe gets all the attention, but that means it also gets all the tourists. Here are some of my favorite old cities that I’ve visited on the other side of the continent, along with a few photos I took while there. Granted, a few of these places are now squarely on the backpacker circuit, but many remain underexplored. What they all share is an incredible, exhilarating sense of urbanism — old and new.

Eastern Europe itself is hard to define. Competing designations might include only the former Soviet states, or all the formerly communist European nations. Others might separate a limited Eastern Europe out from Central and Southeastern Europe. Here I will play fast and loose with the geographic boundaries: these are just cities somewhere vaguely toward the eastern side of the continent. Apologies to any readers whose country is usually considered a part of Central or Southern Europe.

First up: Mostar. A small city in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is most famous for its medieval Ottoman center and its Old Bridge, or Stari Most:

Stari Most old bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Off the Beaten Path in Myanmar

myanmar-29I recently had the opportunity to travel across Myanmar for the first time. It’s a fascinating country, only recently emerging from decades of isolation. Travelers here today are greeted with the first few baby steps toward a tourism industry, as well some of the kindest people and most spectacular sights in Asia.

Myanmar is not the easiest country to approach. It remains, effectively, a military dictatorship wracked with corruption and abuse. Government officials control the airlines and hotels for personal profit. Large swaths of eastern Myanmar are dedicated to opium plantations funneling foreign currency into the pockets of powerful officials. Even its name is controversial: many foreign governments still officially recognize only its traditional name, Burma, as a political statement against the authoritarian regime that renamed it Myanmar in 1989. 
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Hong Kong at Night

Hong Kong is a remarkable place. It is the 4th-densest sovereign state or self-governing territory in the world (in 1st place is its neighbor across the delta: Macau). Yet this density is fantastically constrained by the mountains and the sea into narrow, snaking corridors of high-rises wherever the terrain permits. At no time is this unique urban development better seen than at night, when Hong Kong lights up like a carnival.

I took these photos from the top of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong island and from the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade on the Kowloon peninsula, using long exposures of between 3 and 12 seconds.

hong-kong-skyline-night-2 Continue reading Hong Kong at Night

LEED-ND and Neighborhood Livability

I recently co-authored a journal article titled LEED-ND and Livability Revisitedwhich won the Kaye Bock award. LEED-ND is a system for evaluating neighborhood design that was developed by CNU, USGBC, and NRDC. Many of its criteria, particularly site location and neighborhood pattern, accordingly reflect New Urbanist and Smart Growth principles and are inspired by traditional neighborhood design.

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The Inside Field Exam and Urban Complexity

I recently completed my inside field exam, one of the many steps involved in advancing to candidacy. The three professors on your inside field committee send you six questions – a pair per professor – and you are given 72 hours total to answer one question from each pair. The answers are to be in the form of a scholarly article with thorough citations. Long story short, you’ve got to write 30 pages of academic scholarship in three days.

The exam questions themselves are very interesting. The professors construct them based on their reading of your inside field statement, trying to probe areas that might be particularly rich or a bit weak in the statement. Here are the questions I answered:

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How Our Neighborhoods Lost Local Food (And How They Can Get It Back)

Healthy-foodThis post is adapted from an article I wrote in Progressive Planning.

Does food matter in neighborhood design? Should it? The answers to these questions are complicated and obscured by decades of perplexing policy and practice. There are many benefits of good food – that is, food which is healthy, affordable, fair, and sustainable. Proper nourishment has been linked in several studies to better classroom performance. Walkable access to healthy food can reduce America’s growing obesity and diabetes epidemics. Locally-sourced food can reinforce better dietary habits as consumers connect with the value chain and see eating as a more natural process.

The benefits are straightforward, but do most American neighborhoods actually support healthy food access?

Continue reading How Our Neighborhoods Lost Local Food (And How They Can Get It Back)

Urban Complexity and the March Toward Qualifying Exams

The Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley has a rather arduous process for advancing to candidacy in the PhD program. It essentially consists of 6 parts:

  1. Take all the required courses
  2. Produce an inside field statement – a sort of literature review and synthesis explaining the niche within urban planning in which you will be positioning your dissertation research
  3. Complete an outside field – sort of like what a minor was in college
  4. Take an inside field written exam
  5. Produce a defensible dissertation prospectus
  6. Take an oral comprehensive exam covering your inside field, your outside field, general planning theory and history, and finally presenting your prospectus.

Whew. Lots to do this year. The good news is I am currently wrapping up my inside field statement and preparing to take the inside field exam. My topic is generally around complexity theory in urban planning. Here is the working abstract from my statement:

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