California

Cost of Living Is Really All About Housing

7/21/14
Image
Reuters/Robert Galbraith

No question about it: how much money it takes to make ends meet varies dramatically across the country. It takes a whole lot more money to get by in New York, San Francisco, Boston, or D.C. than, say, Pittsburgh or even Portland.

These differences boil down to gaps in what economists call the “cost of living,” a figure that takes into account how much you need to do everything from pay rent to buy a gallon of milk, and which is a function of both national and local economic trends.

But what actually drives these big regional differences in living costs?

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) collects data on the various components of living costs for every metro in the country based on measured called Regional Price Parities (RPP). RPP tracks the different price levels of categories like food, transportation, housing, and education, as compared to the national level, which is set at 100.  My colleague José Lobo of Arizona State University calculated average RPPs for 2008-2012 for four different categories: overall cost of living, cost of living for rent, cost of living for goods, and other. RPP is a weighted statistic, but Lobo was able to isolate the different effects of housing costs and the costs of goods on overall cost of living, or RPP.

The first map below charts the overall cost of living across U.S. metros.

(Zara Matheson)

Honolulu, Hawaii has the highest cost of living, with an RPP of 122.9. This is not surprising, as it is on an isolated island where shipping costs effectively drive up the price of everything from goods to housing.

New York (122.2) is second, followed by San Jose, the hub of Silicon Valley (122.0), and Bridgeport, Connecticut (121.5)—which includes many high-end commuter suburbs of New York, as well as the finance center around Stamford. Next are Santa Cruz, California (121.4), San Francisco (121.3), and Washington, D.C. (120.4). The map appears blue and dark blue, indicating high cost of living, along the Northeast corridor and in Miami, parts of Texas, Chicago and Minneapolis in the Midwest, and California and Seattle along the West Coast. In contrast, many Midwestern Rustbelt metros and older, smaller places in the Deep South had RPPs below 90.

But take a look at the second map, below, which isolates just the cost of living for the goods and services part of the RPP calculation. Now the differences among metros shrink considerably, and the map looks far, far less varied. 

(Zara Matheson)

Sure, it’s still more expensive in the Northeast corridor and the West Coast, while parts of the old South and upstate New York are now relatively more expensive than they were in the overall cost of living metric. These are places where high prices of goods contribute more to cost of living disparities. But, overall, the range is far smaller.

The places with the highest RPPs for goods are just over 110, a mark-up that is substantially less than for the overall cost of living, which reached well over 120 for places like Honolulu, San Francisco, and New York. When looking at overall cost of living, less than a third of all metros fall within five percent of the national average of 100, with scores of 95 to 105. In contrast, more than 300—over 80 percent of all metros—fall within five percent of the national average for goods.

The third map shows the cost of living difference based just on housing or rents. The quick takeaway is that differences in living costs across metros seem to be driven almost entirely by the huge differences in housing costs. 

(Zara Matheson)

The range is enormous. The prices in places with the highest overall living costs are roughly 20 percent above the national average, and the prices in places with the highest costs for just goods and services are roughly 10 percent above the national average. But when it comes to housing costs, the priciest metros are a whopping 50 to 70 percent more expensive than the national average.

The places where housing costs are super high are generally where you would expect: the East Coast corridor, from Maine through the Boston-Washington corridor, and in Southern Florida. New Orleans, Dallas, Austin, Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and many of the West Coast metros also have housing costs that are considerably above the national average.

The San Jose metro area, the heart of Silicon Valley, has the highest RPP for housing of any metro—170.4. Its overall RPP, however, is only 119.8, and its RPP for goods only is an even more modest 109.7. In nearby San Francisco, the overall cost of living RPP is 119.7, and its RPP for goods is just 109.9; but its RPP for rents is 167.5. The center part of the Honolulu metro—the one with the highest overall RPP in the nation—comes in second in terms of housing costs, with an RPP of 167.5.

The same pattern holds for the nation’s two largest metros. Los Angeles has an RPP of 154.6 for housing and just 103.4 for goods, giving it a total cost-of-living score of 115.2. New York has an RPP for housing of 153.9, compared to a cost of living for goods only of 107.7, for an an overall cost of living score of 121.3.

In several cases, high housing costs offset even below average costs of living for goods. In Oxnard-Thousand Oaks, California; Trenton, New Jersey; and Boston-Cambridge, Massachusetts, RPPs for goods only are slightly below 100. But housing prices between 30 and 60 percent higher than the national average contributed to an overall cost-of-living-score of 11 or 12 percent higher than average.

This means that housing costs are even more of a contributor to cost-of-living differentials than you might expect. The variation in RPP when we isolate just housing costs is a range of nearly 100—the highest is 170, while the lowest is just 57. There are about 25 metros whose RPPs for housing are over 120, while 10 have housing RPPs over 150. 

•       •       •       •       •

I wanted to look a bit more systematically at what might be behind the huge gap in the housing component of cost of living across metros. My MPI colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a basic correlation analysis of the key economic and demographic factors that might be associated with this. I give my usual warning that correlation does not imply causation but merely points to associations between variables.

The housing components of cost of living track the size and density of metros, being closely associated with population size (.46) and even more so with high population density (.64).

It also tracks closely with key dimensions of the high-tech knowledge economy. The housing cost of living is positively associated with the share of creative class workers (.46), the share of college grads (.58), and concentration of high tech industry (.54). Conversely, the housing component of cost of living is negatively associated with the share of workers in blue collar jobs (-.50). Of course, this says nothing about the direction of causation. These are the key factors that contribute to higher regional productivity, and  thus to higher wages and incomes and, ultimately, housing prices.

The housing component of cost of living is also associated with key markers of artistic amenities and openness to diversity, a point I have made before. The housing component of cost of living is correlated with the Bohemian Index, which tracks artists (.42) and even more so with the concentration of gay couples (.69).

Most of all, our statistical analysis suggests that, when we talk about differences in costs of living we are mainly talking about differences in housing costs. The RPP for housing is much more closely correlated to this overall RPP metric (.94) than the correlation between overall living costs for goods and services is (.78). And the correlation between the cost of living for housing and for goods is weaker still (.58).

In essence, what it all comes down to is that housing—which makes up one of the largest single expenditures for most American families—is the big driver of variation in costs of living. 








Cost of Living Is Really All About Housing

7/21/14
Image
Reuters/Robert Galbraith

No question about it: how much money it takes to make ends meet varies dramatically across the country. It takes a whole lot more money to get by in New York, San Francisco, Boston, or D.C. than, say, Pittsburgh or even Portland.

These differences boil down to gaps in what economists call the “cost of living,” a figure that takes into account how much you need to do everything from pay rent to buy a gallon of milk, and which is a function of both national and local economic trends.

But what actually drives these big regional differences in living costs?

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) collects data on the various components of living costs for every metro in the country based on measured called Regional Price Parities (RPP). RPP tracks the different price levels of categories like food, transportation, housing, and education, as compared to the national level, which is set at 100.  My colleague José Lobo of Arizona State University calculated average RPPs for 2008-2012 for four different categories: overall cost of living, cost of living for rent, cost of living for goods, and other. RPP is a weighted statistic, but Lobo was able to isolate the different effects of housing costs and the costs of goods on overall cost of living, or RPP.

The first map below charts the overall cost of living across U.S. metros.

(Zara Matheson)

Honolulu, Hawaii has the highest cost of living, with an RPP of 122.9. This is not surprising, as it is on an isolated island where shipping costs effectively drive up the price of everything from goods to housing.

New York (122.2) is second, followed by San Jose, the hub of Silicon Valley (122.0), and Bridgeport, Connecticut (121.5)—which includes many high-end commuter suburbs of New York, as well as the finance center around Stamford. Next are Santa Cruz, California (121.4), San Francisco (121.3), and Washington, D.C. (120.4). The map appears blue and dark blue, indicating high cost of living, along the Northeast corridor and in Miami, parts of Texas, Chicago and Minneapolis in the Midwest, and California and Seattle along the West Coast. In contrast, many Midwestern Rustbelt metros and older, smaller places in the Deep South had RPPs below 90.

But take a look at the second map, below, which isolates just the cost of living for the goods and services part of the RPP calculation. Now the differences among metros shrink considerably, and the map looks far, far less varied. 

(Zara Matheson)

Sure, it’s still more expensive in the Northeast corridor and the West Coast, while parts of the old South and upstate New York are now relatively more expensive than they were in the overall cost of living metric. These are places where high prices of goods contribute more to cost of living disparities. But, overall, the range is far smaller.

The places with the highest RPPs for goods are just over 110, a mark-up that is substantially less than for the overall cost of living, which reached well over 120 for places like Honolulu, San Francisco, and New York. When looking at overall cost of living, less than a third of all metros fall within five percent of the national average of 100, with scores of 95 to 105. In contrast, more than 300—over 80 percent of all metros—fall within five percent of the national average for goods.

The third map shows the cost of living difference based just on housing or rents. The quick takeaway is that differences in living costs across metros seem to be driven almost entirely by the huge differences in housing costs. 

(Zara Matheson)

The range is enormous. The prices in places with the highest overall living costs are roughly 20 percent above the national average, and the prices in places with the highest costs for just goods and services are roughly 10 percent above the national average. But when it comes to housing costs, the priciest metros are a whopping 50 to 70 percent more expensive than the national average.

The places where housing costs are super high are generally where you would expect: the East Coast corridor, from Maine through the Boston-Washington corridor, and in Southern Florida. New Orleans, Dallas, Austin, Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and many of the West Coast metros also have housing costs that are considerably above the national average.

The San Jose metro area, the heart of Silicon Valley, has the highest RPP for housing of any metro—170.4. Its overall RPP, however, is only 119.8, and its RPP for goods only is an even more modest 109.7. In nearby San Francisco, the overall cost of living RPP is 119.7, and its RPP for goods is just 109.9; but its RPP for rents is 167.5. The center part of the Honolulu metro—the one with the highest overall RPP in the nation—comes in second in terms of housing costs, with an RPP of 167.5.

The same pattern holds for the nation’s two largest metros. Los Angeles has an RPP of 154.6 for housing and just 103.4 for goods, giving it a total cost-of-living score of 115.2. New York has an RPP for housing of 153.9, compared to a cost of living for goods only of 107.7, for an an overall cost of living score of 121.3.

In several cases, high housing costs offset even below average costs of living for goods. In Oxnard-Thousand Oaks, California; Trenton, New Jersey; and Boston-Cambridge, Massachusetts, RPPs for goods only are slightly below 100. But housing prices between 30 and 60 percent higher than the national average contributed to an overall cost-of-living-score of 11 or 12 percent higher than average.

This means that housing costs are even more of a contributor to cost-of-living differentials than you might expect. The variation in RPP when we isolate just housing costs is a range of nearly 100—the highest is 170, while the lowest is just 57. There are about 25 metros whose RPPs for housing are over 120, while 10 have housing RPPs over 150. 

•       •       •       •       •

I wanted to look a bit more systematically at what might be behind the huge gap in the housing component of cost of living across metros. My MPI colleague Charlotta Mellander ran a basic correlation analysis of the key economic and demographic factors that might be associated with this. I give my usual warning that correlation does not imply causation but merely points to associations between variables.

The housing components of cost of living track the size and density of metros, being closely associated with population size (.46) and even more so with high population density (.64).

It also tracks closely with key dimensions of the high-tech knowledge economy. The housing cost of living is positively associated with the share of creative class workers (.46), the share of college grads (.58), and concentration of high tech industry (.54). Conversely, the housing component of cost of living is negatively associated with the share of workers in blue collar jobs (-.50). Of course, this says nothing about the direction of causation. These are the key factors that contribute to higher regional productivity, and  thus to higher wages and incomes and, ultimately, housing prices.

The housing component of cost of living is also associated with key markers of artistic amenities and openness to diversity, a point I have made before. The housing component of cost of living is correlated with the Bohemian Index, which tracks artists (.42) and even more so with the concentration of gay couples (.69).

Most of all, our statistical analysis suggests that, when we talk about differences in costs of living we are mainly talking about differences in housing costs. The RPP for housing is much more closely correlated to this overall RPP metric (.94) than the correlation between overall living costs for goods and services is (.78). And the correlation between the cost of living for housing and for goods is weaker still (.58).

In essence, what it all comes down to is that housing—which makes up one of the largest single expenditures for most American families—is the big driver of variation in costs of living. 








Rethinking the Palm Trees of Los Angeles: Best #Cityreads of the Week

7/18/14
Image
spirit of america/Shutterstock.com

Tweet us your favorites with #CityReads.

Piety and Perversity: The Palms of Los Angeles,” Victoria Daily, Los Angeles Review of Books

Parisians claim that in Paris, one is never more than 400 yards away from a Metro station. In Los Angeles, I am equally certain that one is always within 400 yards of a palm tree. Scores of streets are lined with them; they are ubiquitous in domestic and public gardens; they rise from hilltops; they tower above cemeteries; they front museums, movie studios, hotels, hospitals, municipal buildings, modest apartments, and lavish villas; they are clustered around swimming pools; they dominate the skyline—they are everywhere, and have never been more popular. The city’s 200-year love affair with palms has never ceased, and rather than waning, the affair is waxing. From the first palms planted by Spanish padres to the city of Beverly Hills, which recently, in an act of cosmetic alteration, created a palm-lined, palm-bisected thoroughfare on upscale Rodeo Drive, the palm has been the tree of choice for Angelenos.

Other regions boast of their trees—the South’s magnolias are legendary, while the Southwest raves about its mighty ponderosa and piñon pines. New England is justly proud of its elms and maples. California has the monumental sequoias. Cities are not usually identified by trees, yet Los Angeles, whose native trees include sycamores, oaks, cottonwoods, and willows, is, curiously, not recognized for any of them. Instead, desert-dwelling palms (and, later, tropical varieties) have become a visual synonym for Los Angeles, resulting in a profound horticultural myth that has produced unintended, detrimental consequences. 

Lately, as I have been scanning the local horizon, the pervasive palms have begun to make me feel queasy. In fact, they now irritate me. I long to see a vista uninterrupted by the skinny, merciless palms—they mock the very idea of shade, and in a region with abundant sunshine, their presence is exasperating. Like alien invaders, reckless colonizers, and “escaped exotics,” as invasive plant species are known, palms have driven out more modest species, claiming, as autocrats do, the exclusive right to reign supreme — they alone signify the arboreal realm of Los Angeles despite their inability to provide shade, their over-reliance on water and their environmental incongruity.

"Copyrighting Cartography With Fictional Places," Bess Lovejoy, Atlas Obscura

With all the time and energy cartographers spend preparing maps, it makes sense that they would want to protect their investment. One of the ways they do so—although they don’t always admit it—is by including “trap streets,” deliberate mistakes added to maps to catch unsuspecting copyright violators. These may include fake streets, as the name suggests, but the term is also applied to other erroneous cartographic data included to embarrass those who might steal it. Usually, these “mistakes” are minor: tiny (and entirely false) bends in rivers and roads, or slightly altered mountain elevations. 

The TeleAtlas Directory, the basis for Google Maps, is said to have included several trap streets. According to a 2012 article in Cabinet, Moat Lane once curved its way through North London, at least in the regular view of on Google Maps, although the satellite layer revealed that the place where the lane was supposed to exist was a disparate collection of trees and houses—there was no lane there at all. 

"Thomas Brothers Map Co. map of East LA (1966), one of the many companies to include trap streets (via david/Flickr user)" - Bess Lovejoy

"The Concrete Tangle," Will Wiles, Aeon Magazine

Whitechapel Underground Station in the East End of London is a long, wide trench, an unexpected burst of sunlight that comes just a couple of minutes after your train leaves the City. Being mostly subterranean, the Tube does not generally foster window-gazing, but here the raised, curious eye is magnificently rewarded. The train passes through a chasm of tens of millions of bricks, not one of which is truly intended to be seen: the canyon’s arched retaining walls, the plain huts and outbuildings used by the Underground’s operators, and the rears of the Victorian terraces on Whitechapel Road and surrounding streets.

This brickscape is just a backdrop. It is painted over by an impossible multitude of stains and seepages, deeply overgrown by pipes and cables. In places, an unplanned arrangement of steel I-beams suggests mismatched forces and structural quandaries. Overpasses bear streets above us. Creaking clapboard walkways carry our fellow passengers. More trains pass below—paradoxically, it’s the Overground beneath the Underground. While many other Tube stations have criss-crossing routes and rumbling suggestions of deeper lines, here we can actually see those other trains and platforms; the whole station, in fact, has an eerie sense of unintentional exposure, as if the surface city has been peeled back in layers like one of Gunther von Hagens’s plastinated corpses, urban viscera laid bare for inspection.

There is no single vantage point at which one can take in the whole of the scene: it reveals itself in turns and blockages. On the eastbound District line platform, the underside of a concrete stairway emerges from a wall and disappears into a ceiling, a hidden and separate space intruding mysteriously into our own. Whitechapel station is one of Giambattista Piranesi’s imaginary prisons, colonised by frantic electrical engineers and watched over by CCTV. A new line, the Crossrail heavy-rail link, is now forcing its way through this extraordinary knot with the odd combination of tact and ultraviolence so characteristic of civil engineering.

"Life Inside SF's Vanishing Single Resident Occupancies," James Hosking and Jeremy Lybarger, The Bold Italic

There are approximately 530 single resident occupancy (SRO) hotels in San Francisco. They are home to more than 18,000 people, the majority of whom live in low-income neighborhoods such as the Tenderloin and Chinatown. A 2009 report from the Human Services Agency listed average monthly rent at $500 to $600, but it’s not uncommon for tenants to pay as much as $1,000 for an 8x10 room with no bathroom or kitchen. As San Francisco’s cost of living continues to explode, many housing activists worry about what will become of the vulnerable SRO population. Between 1970 and 2000, the city demolished or converted to condos 15,000 SRO units. Life has always been precarious for these residents and far from idyllic in even the best-managed buildings. Here are the stories of six people trying to survive in a city that’s increasingly out of reach. 

 The Drake Hotel in San Francisco. (Mark Coggins/Flickr via CC License)

"Zine Makers Grab Their MetroCards and Go to Work," Colin Moynihan, The New York Times

One woman drew cartoons in an artist’s notebook. Another snipped off pieces from a subway map, then pasted them onto a white paper. Yellow fliers that read “Service Changes” along with “Zine Residency!” were taped to subway car walls. And a black banner with the words “Zinesters in Residence” hung from a railing.

Thirteen people formed a sort of mobile salon just after noon on Friday, boarding an F Train in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn with the aim of riding for hours through three boroughs while writing and illustrating zines—self-published, photocopied periodicals usually made by hand.

As the train swayed through a tunnel beneath the East River and entered Manhattan, the first lap of the trip, the woman snipping the map, Madeline Steinberg, was finding it a challenge to produce a zine about transit.

“We’re wobbling a little, so it’s hard to have a steady hand,” she said. “But the train is an inspiring place to work. You go to so many places, you see so many people, and there are different sounds and images to get your ideas flowing.”

Top image: spirit of america/Shutterstock.com








Rethinking the Palm Trees of Los Angeles: Best #Cityreads of the Week

7/18/14
Image
spirit of america/Shutterstock.com

Tweet us your favorites with #CityReads.

Piety and Perversity: The Palms of Los Angeles,” Victoria Daily, Los Angeles Review of Books

Parisians claim that in Paris, one is never more than 400 yards away from a Metro station. In Los Angeles, I am equally certain that one is always within 400 yards of a palm tree. Scores of streets are lined with them; they are ubiquitous in domestic and public gardens; they rise from hilltops; they tower above cemeteries; they front museums, movie studios, hotels, hospitals, municipal buildings, modest apartments, and lavish villas; they are clustered around swimming pools; they dominate the skyline—they are everywhere, and have never been more popular. The city’s 200-year love affair with palms has never ceased, and rather than waning, the affair is waxing. From the first palms planted by Spanish padres to the city of Beverly Hills, which recently, in an act of cosmetic alteration, created a palm-lined, palm-bisected thoroughfare on upscale Rodeo Drive, the palm has been the tree of choice for Angelenos.

Other regions boast of their trees—the South’s magnolias are legendary, while the Southwest raves about its mighty ponderosa and piñon pines. New England is justly proud of its elms and maples. California has the monumental sequoias. Cities are not usually identified by trees, yet Los Angeles, whose native trees include sycamores, oaks, cottonwoods, and willows, is, curiously, not recognized for any of them. Instead, desert-dwelling palms (and, later, tropical varieties) have become a visual synonym for Los Angeles, resulting in a profound horticultural myth that has produced unintended, detrimental consequences. 

Lately, as I have been scanning the local horizon, the pervasive palms have begun to make me feel queasy. In fact, they now irritate me. I long to see a vista uninterrupted by the skinny, merciless palms—they mock the very idea of shade, and in a region with abundant sunshine, their presence is exasperating. Like alien invaders, reckless colonizers, and “escaped exotics,” as invasive plant species are known, palms have driven out more modest species, claiming, as autocrats do, the exclusive right to reign supreme — they alone signify the arboreal realm of Los Angeles despite their inability to provide shade, their over-reliance on water and their environmental incongruity.

"Copyrighting Cartography With Fictional Places," Bess Lovejoy, Atlas Obscura

With all the time and energy cartographers spend preparing maps, it makes sense that they would want to protect their investment. One of the ways they do so—although they don’t always admit it—is by including “trap streets,” deliberate mistakes added to maps to catch unsuspecting copyright violators. These may include fake streets, as the name suggests, but the term is also applied to other erroneous cartographic data included to embarrass those who might steal it. Usually, these “mistakes” are minor: tiny (and entirely false) bends in rivers and roads, or slightly altered mountain elevations. 

The TeleAtlas Directory, the basis for Google Maps, is said to have included several trap streets. According to a 2012 article in Cabinet, Moat Lane once curved its way through North London, at least in the regular view of on Google Maps, although the satellite layer revealed that the place where the lane was supposed to exist was a disparate collection of trees and houses—there was no lane there at all. 

"Thomas Brothers Map Co. map of East LA (1966), one of the many companies to include trap streets (via david/Flickr user)" - Bess Lovejoy

"The Concrete Tangle," Will Wiles, Aeon Magazine

Whitechapel Underground Station in the East End of London is a long, wide trench, an unexpected burst of sunlight that comes just a couple of minutes after your train leaves the City. Being mostly subterranean, the Tube does not generally foster window-gazing, but here the raised, curious eye is magnificently rewarded. The train passes through a chasm of tens of millions of bricks, not one of which is truly intended to be seen: the canyon’s arched retaining walls, the plain huts and outbuildings used by the Underground’s operators, and the rears of the Victorian terraces on Whitechapel Road and surrounding streets.

This brickscape is just a backdrop. It is painted over by an impossible multitude of stains and seepages, deeply overgrown by pipes and cables. In places, an unplanned arrangement of steel I-beams suggests mismatched forces and structural quandaries. Overpasses bear streets above us. Creaking clapboard walkways carry our fellow passengers. More trains pass below—paradoxically, it’s the Overground beneath the Underground. While many other Tube stations have criss-crossing routes and rumbling suggestions of deeper lines, here we can actually see those other trains and platforms; the whole station, in fact, has an eerie sense of unintentional exposure, as if the surface city has been peeled back in layers like one of Gunther von Hagens’s plastinated corpses, urban viscera laid bare for inspection.

There is no single vantage point at which one can take in the whole of the scene: it reveals itself in turns and blockages. On the eastbound District line platform, the underside of a concrete stairway emerges from a wall and disappears into a ceiling, a hidden and separate space intruding mysteriously into our own. Whitechapel station is one of Giambattista Piranesi’s imaginary prisons, colonised by frantic electrical engineers and watched over by CCTV. A new line, the Crossrail heavy-rail link, is now forcing its way through this extraordinary knot with the odd combination of tact and ultraviolence so characteristic of civil engineering.

"Life Inside SF's Vanishing Single Resident Occupancies," James Hosking and Jeremy Lybarger, The Bold Italic

There are approximately 530 single resident occupancy (SRO) hotels in San Francisco. They are home to more than 18,000 people, the majority of whom live in low-income neighborhoods such as the Tenderloin and Chinatown. A 2009 report from the Human Services Agency listed average monthly rent at $500 to $600, but it’s not uncommon for tenants to pay as much as $1,000 for an 8x10 room with no bathroom or kitchen. As San Francisco’s cost of living continues to explode, many housing activists worry about what will become of the vulnerable SRO population. Between 1970 and 2000, the city demolished or converted to condos 15,000 SRO units. Life has always been precarious for these residents and far from idyllic in even the best-managed buildings. Here are the stories of six people trying to survive in a city that’s increasingly out of reach. 

 The Drake Hotel in San Francisco. (Mark Coggins/Flickr via CC License)

"Zine Makers Grab Their MetroCards and Go to Work," Colin Moynihan, The New York Times

One woman drew cartoons in an artist’s notebook. Another snipped off pieces from a subway map, then pasted them onto a white paper. Yellow fliers that read “Service Changes” along with “Zine Residency!” were taped to subway car walls. And a black banner with the words “Zinesters in Residence” hung from a railing.

Thirteen people formed a sort of mobile salon just after noon on Friday, boarding an F Train in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn with the aim of riding for hours through three boroughs while writing and illustrating zines—self-published, photocopied periodicals usually made by hand.

As the train swayed through a tunnel beneath the East River and entered Manhattan, the first lap of the trip, the woman snipping the map, Madeline Steinberg, was finding it a challenge to produce a zine about transit.

“We’re wobbling a little, so it’s hard to have a steady hand,” she said. “But the train is an inspiring place to work. You go to so many places, you see so many people, and there are different sounds and images to get your ideas flowing.”

Top image: spirit of america/Shutterstock.com








Obama humiliates Muslim guests at White House Ramadan event, endorses Israel’s Gaza assault and NSA surveillance

7/18/14

At the annual White House Iftar dinner commemorating the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, President Barack Obama endorsed Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip and defended government spying on Muslim-Americans. Alongside dozens of Muslim-American community activists and Muslim diplomats, the White House welcomed Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, an outspoken advocate of Israel’s settlement enterprise who has claimed Muslim and Arab culture is endemically violent.

In the past, the annual Iftar dinner passed without much notice. Last year, President Barack Obama delivered a boilerplate speech to the assembled crowd of Muslim-American community activists and Middle Eastern ambassadors about his efforts to spur entrepreneurship. But this time, amidst a one-sided Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip that was about to claim its 200th death in just a week, and which the US had backed to the hilt, the heat was on.

While Obama prepared his remarks, calls rang out with unprecedented intensity for invitees to boycott the July 14 ceremony. Among those who urged a boycott in protest of the Gaza assault and ongoing government spying on Muslim-Americans was the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an established presence in Washington representing the country’s largest Arab-American advocacy group.

Joining the boycott call was Mariam Abu-Ali, the sister of Ahmed Abu Ali, a US citizen renditioned to Saudi Arabia for torture before being sentenced to life in prison on dubious charges of threatening to kill George W. Bush. “The White House Iftar is a slap in the face to those in the Muslim community who have been victims of U.S. civil-rights and human-rights abuses,” Abu Ali wrote. “It is an attempt by administration after administration to whitewash the crimes of the U.S. government against Muslims by painting a less-than-accurate picture of their relationship with the American Muslim community.”

As established Muslim-American leaders like Laila Al-Marayati lined up to boycott (Al-Marayati rejected an invitation to the State Department’s Iftar), others defended their presence at the ceremony. Most vocal among them was Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), one of the two Muslim members of Congress. “I disagree with the tactic,” Ellison remarked in a statement released by his office. “It will not close Guantanamo Bay, guarantee a cease-fire between Israel and Palestine or undo the NSA’s targeting of Muslims.”

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) echoed Ellison, insisting that the event would “allow [them] to engage with senior White House officials for a decent amount of time on substantive issues.”

While Muslim-American civil rights groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations have assumed a more confrontational posture towards the White House and boycotted a prayer breakfast with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in protest of his support for NYPD surveillance of Muslims, MPAC has taken an altogether different tack. Its role as a paid consultant on the cable TV series, “Tyrant,” was perhaps the best example of its accommodationist stance.

Produced by Howard Gordon, the creator of “24” and “Homeland,” the show starred a white actor playing a pathological Arab dictator who ruled over the deeply dysfunctional fictional nation of Abuddin. Even mainstream TV critics derided the series as unbearably Orientalist, with the Washington Post’s Hank Stuever describing it as a “stultifyingly acted TV drama stocked with tired and terribly broad notions of Muslim culture in a make-believe nation on the brink.” Leading up to the White House Iftar, a leader of a major Muslim advocacy organization told me on background that MPAC was bleeding support, especially from younger activists.

At the Iftar dinner, Obama launched into a defense of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, declaring, “I will say very clearly, no country can accept rockets fired indiscriminately at citizens. And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”

He went on to claim against all evidence that his administration had “worked long and hard to alleviate” the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and that it had “emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live.”

Ali Kurnaz, the central regional director for the Florida-based Emerge USA, was in the audience. He told me that Obama’s remarks provoked deep discomfort, with attendees exchanging disturbed looks and rolling their eyes in astonishment. No one walked out in protest, however.

“After the dinner, I overheard at least three different exchanges attendees pointing out that Palestinians should have a right to defend themselves too,” Kurnaz recalled.

Like many others who joined the dinner, Kurnaz was not aware that Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer had been invited. Dermer was a longtime confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the son of the Republican former Mayor of Miami Beach. This year, Dermer broke diplomatic protocol by appearing at a fundraiser for the Republican Jewish Committee, helping to raise money for a partisan organization dedicated to undermining Obama’s agenda.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of Dermer’s presence at the Iftar dinner was his stated beliefthat “a cultural tendency towards belligerency” is “deeply embedded in the culture of the Arab world and its foremost religion.”

According to Kurnaz, Dermer spent the evening isolated in the White House’s Green Room adjacent to the main reception area, where he milled around mostly without company. None of the activists invited to the dinner approached him.

When dinner began, Kurnaz said Obama was unusually candid with those seated at his table. They confronted him on the issue of domestic spying, an issue that took on renewed immediacy after revelations by the Intercept that the NSA and FBI has spied on leading Muslim-American civil rights activists. Obama attempted to remind them that the spying had begun under his predecessor, Bush, but defended the practice nonetheless, denying that the NSA had violated any laws.

Next, those seated at Obama’s table challenged him on Syria and Iraq, with some suggesting the US could have done more to prevent sectarian violence. Obama remarked that the mass killings and rise of groups like ISIL would have taken place regardless of whether the United States asserted itself in the Middle East.

It was only on the issue of Palestine that the president punted, responding with boilerplate about how the issue unites Muslims.

Kurnaz said Obama’s remarks did not surprise him, nor did he have any sense that he could influence the president by venting his grievances. His colleague, Laila Abdelaziz, had boycotted, but for him, the event presented opportunities he did not want to forfeit.

“It was a great networking opportunity because I got to meet people from Muslim non-profits across the country that I didn’t even know existed before,” Kurnaz said. “We’re planning to expand in the coming year or two and now I know people in California and Michigan who can help.”

But the event demoralized those who insisted that their presence might sway the president on his foreign policy. With his remarks, Obama validated critics of the ceremony while embarrassing attendees who argued against the boycott calls.

In an apparent bid to save face, MPAC released a statement condemning Obama’s comments at the dinner, claiming its members were “appalled” by his endorsement of Israel’s assault on Gaza.

Only one person who attended the dinner seemed fully satisfied.

Dermer tweeted afterward, “Appreciate strong statement there by President Obama about Israel’s right to defend itself.”

This post originally appeared in Alternet

Activists stage die-in at HP headquarters to protest complicity with Israeli attack on Gaza

7/18/14
Protesters target Hewlett Packard at its corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, California. (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

Protesters target Hewlett Packard at its corporate headquarters in Palo Alto, California. (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

Yesterday, a group of Jewish activists and people of conscience staged a die-in organized by Jewish Voice for Peace at the Hewlett Packard headquarters in Palo Alto, California. This action was a response to the Palestinian civil society call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against companies that profit from the Israeli occupation and siege of Gaza. Hewlett Packard provides biometric ID cards for Israel’s population registry, which includes the occupied Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. Just two days ago, four boys were killed playing on the beach in Gaza by the HP-powered Israeli navy.

HP

Palo Alto, California: Hewlett Packard headquarters July 17, 2014

As we lay there on the lawn of the HP campus, representing some of the 200 deceased, 80% of whom were civilians, Rabbi Alissa Wise led a mourner’s kaddish (Jewish prayer for the dead). She read the names, and when she got to the name of an 18 month old, she started to choke up, as a mother of a child similar in age. I felt a tear run down my cheek as I lay motionless.

Suha Hamad was the name I wore on my chest. Suha was my age, 25. Every name matters.

HP4

Palo Alto, California: Hewlett Packard headquarters July 17, 2014

“HaShem,” the Hebrew word for God, also means “The Name.” It is also the last name of a women named Youssra Hashem, an Iraqi civilian killed during US occupation. I have this name tattooed on my body to remember civilian death in war. She was 35 and a doctor.

Palestinian life, like all life, matters, and the people of Gaza have been suffering under inhumane and unlivable conditions of siege and collective punishment for years. We learned after our action today, that in addition to over 1800 air strikes, Israel is now carrying out a ground invasion. Israel has bombed Al-Wafa hospital and created a new refugee crisis in the North of the Strip for people who are still refugees from 1948 and have nowhere to hide.

HP

Palo Alto, California: Hewlett Packard headquarters July 17, 2014

This brutal assault on an imprisoned population by a nation claiming to speak for Jews and funded by the United States is shameful. I came out to confront Hewlett Packard because I feel helpless here while Gaza is burning. As an American, whose government continues to support and fund Israel unquestioningly, I can no longer be silent. As someone who grew up in the Institutional Jewish community, which urges its people to “stand with Israel,” with no regard for Palestinian life, I can no longer be silent.

Rabbi Heschel said, “Few are guilty, all are responsible.” As the names of the dead were recited, we responded with an “Ashamnu” “we have become guilty.” I feel heartbroken and outraged. Enough is enough. We are all guilty and we must all, Jews, Americans and witnesses around the world, speak up and end our complicity in violence and injustice.

HP

Palo Alto, California: Hewlett Packard headquarters July 17, 2014

Why Amtrak's On-Time Performance Is So Much Worse This Year

7/18/14
Image
vxla/Flickr

It's not just your imagination—Amtrak really has been delayed more than usual lately. According to the passenger rail corporation's latest monthly performance report, on-time arrival stands at roughly 74 percent for fiscal 2014 (which began in October 2013). That's down nearly 12 points from fiscal 2013, when Amtrak was on-time for 85 percent of its trips.

Amtrak - May 2014

So what gives? Well, if you look closer at the above chart, you'll notice a clear dip between May and June of 2013. On-time performance fell from 83 percent to 76 percent between those months, and it's remained below the 80 percent-mark ever since.

What you're seeing is the aftermath of a U.S. Court of Appeals decision, issued July 2, 2013,* that severely damaged Amtrak's leverage with the freight rail companies whose tracks it shares. Roughly 72 percent of all miles traveled by Amtrak occurs on tracks hosted by other rail providers. In 2008, as part of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, Congress gave Amtrak the power to penalize these providers for giving dispatch priority to freight trains using the same routes. The July 2013 decision called an end to that power, and likewise triggered the start of Amtrak's on-time performance decline.

In May 2014, for instance, host railroad delays accounted for roughly two-thirds of all Amtrak delays, according to Amtrak's performance report. Only 7 of Amtrak's 48 routes had a better on-time rate in May 2014 than in May 2013, before the ruling went into effect. Amtrak's latest report also shows that from June 2013 to May 2014, hosts have been responsible for 72 percent of Amtrak delays—with "freight train interference" the leading problem.

Amtrak - May 2014

Amtrak spokesman Craig Schultz says on-time performance is a complex issue that can't be reduced to a single problem, but that shifts in host railroad dispatching priority had a clear and immediate impact across the board. Amtrak pays the hosts for its services, and provides incentives for on-time performance. But at the end of the day, he says, trains running on host railroads are subject to decisions made by dispatchers who don't work for Amtrak.

"That's really one of the major factors: the handling of trains—certainly on the long-distance network, especially—by host railroads," says Schultz. "That's something we're actively working with them to address."

Amtrak's long-distance routes rely heavily on host infrastructure and dispatching, and the latest performance figures—mapped nicely by Wonkblog's Christopher Ingraham last week—indeed show their recent struggles. Several routes failed to crack the 50 percent on-time rate in the past year. These include the Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle/Portland) at 21 percent; the Capitol Limited (Washington to Chicago) at 29 percent; the California Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco) at 34 percent; and the Texas Eagle (Chicago to Los Angeles via San Antonio) at 45 percent.

(For the record, Amtrak varies its definition of "on-time" depending on the length of a route. Trains traveling less than 250 miles are on-time if they reach the final destination within 10 minutes of scheduled arrival, for instance, while trains traveling more than 550 miles get 30 minutes of leeway.)

Long-distance routes carry far fewer passengers than, say, trains in the busy Northeast Corridor. But even NEC trains have underperformed of late. In May 2014, Acela had an 80 percent on-time performance, down 10 points from May 2013. The Northeast Regional train, meanwhile, was at 78.5 percent in May 2014, down 9 points on the year before.

Amtrak says its new fleet of locomotives, the ACS-64, should improve reliability in the Northeast Corridor. (Nathan D. Holmes via Wiki Commons)

Host issues alone can't explain that decline. Amtrak took a beating with the long, cold winter this year; indeed, on-time performance in January and February 2014 dipped below 70 percent. Aging infrastructure in the region also causes delays on occasion. Schultz says the new fleet of electric locomotives slowly making its way onto Northeast Corridor tracks should improve reliability, among other benefits.

"Poor on-time performance is unacceptable to our passengers, to our employees, to our management," he says. "It's a major inconvenience to our customers. It impacts the business through decreased ridership, lost revenues, higher operating costs. So it's something we're really taking very seriously at all levels of the organization."

To some extent, Amtrak's ability to restore the high performance rates of 2013 may rest in the hands of the justice system. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an appeal of the 2013 decision that went against Amtrak. The high court's next session begins in October. So there's a little more waiting in store yet.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article dated the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as June 2, 2013. It occurred July 2.








Why Amtrak's On-Time Performance Is So Much Worse This Year

7/18/14
Image
vxla/Flickr

It's not just your imagination—Amtrak really has been delayed more than usual lately. According to the passenger rail corporation's latest monthly performance report, on-time arrival stands at roughly 74 percent for fiscal 2014 (which began in October 2013). That's down nearly 12 points from fiscal 2013, when Amtrak was on-time for 85 percent of its trips.

Amtrak - May 2014

So what gives? Well, if you look closer at the above chart, you'll notice a clear dip between May and June of 2013. On-time performance fell from 83 percent to 76 percent between those months, and it's remained below the 80 percent-mark ever since.

What you're seeing is the aftermath of a U.S. Court of Appeals decision, issued July 2, 2013,* that severely damaged Amtrak's leverage with the freight rail companies whose tracks it shares. Roughly 72 percent of all miles traveled by Amtrak occurs on tracks hosted by other rail providers. In 2008, as part of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, Congress gave Amtrak the power to penalize these providers for giving dispatch priority to freight trains using the same routes. The July 2013 decision called an end to that power, and likewise triggered the start of Amtrak's on-time performance decline.

In May 2014, for instance, host railroad delays accounted for roughly two-thirds of all Amtrak delays, according to Amtrak's performance report. Only 7 of Amtrak's 48 routes had a better on-time rate in May 2014 than in May 2013, before the ruling went into effect. Amtrak's latest report also shows that from June 2013 to May 2014, hosts have been responsible for 72 percent of Amtrak delays—with "freight train interference" the leading problem.

Amtrak - May 2014

Amtrak spokesman Craig Schultz says on-time performance is a complex issue that can't be reduced to a single problem, but that shifts in host railroad dispatching priority had a clear and immediate impact across the board. Amtrak pays the hosts for its services, and provides incentives for on-time performance. But at the end of the day, he says, trains running on host railroads are subject to decisions made by dispatchers who don't work for Amtrak.

"That's really one of the major factors: the handling of trains—certainly on the long-distance network, especially—by host railroads," says Schultz. "That's something we're actively working with them to address."

Amtrak's long-distance routes rely heavily on host infrastructure and dispatching, and the latest performance figures—mapped nicely by Wonkblog's Christopher Ingraham last week—indeed show their recent struggles. Several routes failed to crack the 50 percent on-time rate in the past year. These include the Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle/Portland) at 21 percent; the Capitol Limited (Washington to Chicago) at 29 percent; the California Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco) at 34 percent; and the Texas Eagle (Chicago to Los Angeles via San Antonio) at 45 percent.

(For the record, Amtrak varies its definition of "on-time" depending on the length of a route. Trains traveling less than 250 miles are on-time if they reach the final destination within 10 minutes of scheduled arrival, for instance, while trains traveling more than 550 miles get 30 minutes of leeway.)

Long-distance routes carry far fewer passengers than, say, trains in the busy Northeast Corridor. But even NEC trains have underperformed of late. In May 2014, Acela had an 80 percent on-time performance, down 10 points from May 2013. The Northeast Regional train, meanwhile, was at 78.5 percent in May 2014, down 9 points on the year before.

Amtrak says its new fleet of locomotives, the ACS-64, should improve reliability in the Northeast Corridor. (Nathan D. Holmes via Wiki Commons)

Host issues alone can't explain that decline. Amtrak took a beating with the long, cold winter this year; indeed, on-time performance in January and February 2014 dipped below 70 percent. Aging infrastructure in the region also causes delays on occasion. Schultz says the new fleet of electric locomotives slowly making its way onto Northeast Corridor tracks should improve reliability, among other benefits.

"Poor on-time performance is unacceptable to our passengers, to our employees, to our management," he says. "It's a major inconvenience to our customers. It impacts the business through decreased ridership, lost revenues, higher operating costs. So it's something we're really taking very seriously at all levels of the organization."

To some extent, Amtrak's ability to restore the high performance rates of 2013 may rest in the hands of the justice system. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an appeal of the 2013 decision that went against Amtrak. The high court's next session begins in October. So there's a little more waiting in store yet.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article dated the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as June 2, 2013. It occurred July 2.








Looking to Fund a Clean Energy Project? You Need a Green Bank

7/17/14
Image
David McNew/Getty Images

Anyone in search of financing for a clean- or renewable-energy project need look no further than the state of New York. In December 2013, New York launched its first-ever "green bank," an ambitious state-run $1 billion investment fund meant to help finance the kinds of local energy-efficiency and clean-energy projects that bigger financial institutions typically overlook.

The goal of New York's green bank is twofold. First, the state hopes to create a genuine marketplace for green projects, supported by the private sector. Second, the green bank (and its financing of projects) aims to bring down the cost of these technologies for residents. "It's not just about tackling climate change," says Richard Kauffman, chairman of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. "It's really about the overall cost of energy in the state."

New York is not alone in latching onto the idea of changing the way it funds clean-energy projects. Connecticut introduced a green bank in July 2011, while officials in Hawaii are in the process of starting one. California, Maryland, and New Jersey have also considered or introduced similar legislation or proposals. While the exact design of green banks differs from state to state, the goal remains the same: to change the way local governments finance clean and renewable energy. The green banks also seek to show local financial institutions and investors that money can be made in developing this particular market.

Rethinking the financing model of green energy is particularly important now, as research from of the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation has shown. State budgets face increasing financial pressures and don't have the money to perpetually fund grants for clean-energy initiatives. In addition, the federal government's stimulus money from 2009 funneled more than $150 billion to clean-energy projects from 2009 to 2014 through lending, tax expenditures, and loan guarantees, Brookings estimates. As that cash works its way out of the local economies, it leaves a void in the financing of these projects—a void that the New York green bank hopes to fill.

So far, New York has funded its green bank by redirecting some existing state grant money and by raising roughly $165.6 million through clean-energy surcharges on utility customers. Now, the bank has about $218.5 million on hand and expects the rest of the money to come through by the end of the year to add up to a balance sheet of $1 billion.

By the end of 2014, the bank also plans to announce some of the deals it has made with other financial institutions to lend money for various projects, says Alfred Griffin, president of the New York Green Bank and a former banker for Citigroup Global Markets Inc. Officials at the New York Green Bank were reluctant to lay out the exact number of proposals the bank has received in its first six months of operations; Griffin would say only that the pitches covered the gamut of clean-energy technologies including solar, wind, storage, and energy efficiency. The one area that the New York green bank probably won't venture into is the big transactions that already attract financing. "The large $100 million utility-scale project does not need our help because big banks will embrace those deals," he says.

That's the purpose of the New York green bank, to finance clean-energy deals that bigger or more traditional financial institutions deem too small-bore and to prove the technologies work well enough. Supporters hope that the financing will help to create demand and, ultimately, bring down the costs. "The goal of the green banks is to lower the cost of clean energy by lowering the cost of capital," says Reed Hundt, CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital, a not-profit that advocates for green banks at the local level, and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "You want consumers to buy more of it. We want to have a clean energy substitute for carbon."

Green banks exist just at the state level for now. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland has introduced federal green-bank legislation, but it has yet to receive traction in Congress. Proponents are excited about this new model for financing and promoting clean energy. "I think this a breakthrough for energy strategy more broadly," says Daniel Esty, a professor at Yale Law School and former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "We're trying to normalize the flow of investments into clean energy and reduce the cost of capital to the projects," he adds. Said like a good capitalist—and a green advocate.

This post originally appeared on National Journal. More from our partner site:








Looking to Fund a Clean Energy Project? You Need a Green Bank

7/17/14
Image
David McNew/Getty Images

Anyone in search of financing for a clean- or renewable-energy project need look no further than the state of New York. In December 2013, New York launched its first-ever "green bank," an ambitious state-run $1 billion investment fund meant to help finance the kinds of local energy-efficiency and clean-energy projects that bigger financial institutions typically overlook.

The goal of New York's green bank is twofold. First, the state hopes to create a genuine marketplace for green projects, supported by the private sector. Second, the green bank (and its financing of projects) aims to bring down the cost of these technologies for residents. "It's not just about tackling climate change," says Richard Kauffman, chairman of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. "It's really about the overall cost of energy in the state."

New York is not alone in latching onto the idea of changing the way it funds clean-energy projects. Connecticut introduced a green bank in July 2011, while officials in Hawaii are in the process of starting one. California, Maryland, and New Jersey have also considered or introduced similar legislation or proposals. While the exact design of green banks differs from state to state, the goal remains the same: to change the way local governments finance clean and renewable energy. The green banks also seek to show local financial institutions and investors that money can be made in developing this particular market.

Rethinking the financing model of green energy is particularly important now, as research from of the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation has shown. State budgets face increasing financial pressures and don't have the money to perpetually fund grants for clean-energy initiatives. In addition, the federal government's stimulus money from 2009 funneled more than $150 billion to clean-energy projects from 2009 to 2014 through lending, tax expenditures, and loan guarantees, Brookings estimates. As that cash works its way out of the local economies, it leaves a void in the financing of these projects—a void that the New York green bank hopes to fill.

So far, New York has funded its green bank by redirecting some existing state grant money and by raising roughly $165.6 million through clean-energy surcharges on utility customers. Now, the bank has about $218.5 million on hand and expects the rest of the money to come through by the end of the year to add up to a balance sheet of $1 billion.

By the end of 2014, the bank also plans to announce some of the deals it has made with other financial institutions to lend money for various projects, says Alfred Griffin, president of the New York Green Bank and a former banker for Citigroup Global Markets Inc. Officials at the New York Green Bank were reluctant to lay out the exact number of proposals the bank has received in its first six months of operations; Griffin would say only that the pitches covered the gamut of clean-energy technologies including solar, wind, storage, and energy efficiency. The one area that the New York green bank probably won't venture into is the big transactions that already attract financing. "The large $100 million utility-scale project does not need our help because big banks will embrace those deals," he says.

That's the purpose of the New York green bank, to finance clean-energy deals that bigger or more traditional financial institutions deem too small-bore and to prove the technologies work well enough. Supporters hope that the financing will help to create demand and, ultimately, bring down the costs. "The goal of the green banks is to lower the cost of clean energy by lowering the cost of capital," says Reed Hundt, CEO of the Coalition for Green Capital, a not-profit that advocates for green banks at the local level, and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. "You want consumers to buy more of it. We want to have a clean energy substitute for carbon."

Green banks exist just at the state level for now. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland has introduced federal green-bank legislation, but it has yet to receive traction in Congress. Proponents are excited about this new model for financing and promoting clean energy. "I think this a breakthrough for energy strategy more broadly," says Daniel Esty, a professor at Yale Law School and former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "We're trying to normalize the flow of investments into clean energy and reduce the cost of capital to the projects," he adds. Said like a good capitalist—and a green advocate.

This post originally appeared on National Journal. More from our partner site: