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August 03, 2004


Jon Ihle

I would extend your second point by noting that the modernist privilege afforded to values such as innovation and creativity to the exclusion of pre-modernist notions of posterity and integrity certainly has played a role in the widespread idiosyncrasy of contemporary urban environments.

Peter Nolan

Economists have a concept of "survivorship basis", which cautions against judging any time series when the unsuccessful specimens fall out of the analysis over time.

Wouldn't it be the case here too that poorly-built or unsuitable buildings would be those least likely to survive over time, leading to some kind of evolutionary improvement in the appearance of long-lived cities?

I'll get my coat...

Frank McGahon


That's true up to a point but "idiosyncrasy" isn't typically the defining characteristic of the 'burbs Mr Cowen decries.


That's a very good point, one echoed by Mike Linksvayer in commenting on the same post.

Jon Ihle

Re: survivorship basis: sometimes perfectly decent buildings, such as brick and brownstone townhouses in North Philadelphia, are neglected and ultimately destroyed in favour of hideous public housing. There doesn't seem to be an evolutionary mechanism at work there so much as an economic one - which seems not to favour aesthetic value whatsoever.

Peter Nolan

Well, that is government intervention rather than profit-seeking behaviour of producers.


It was the profit-seeking behavior of producers that tore down Penn Station and stuck the hideous Pan Am Building on top of Grand Central. In my own neighborhood, the profit-seeking behavior of producers creates blocks of unsightly "townhouses" each with a garage door and a fake individual roof-line, instead of gracefully repeating row houses following the curve of the street.

Conor Griffin

Peter, on a point of information, is the econometric notion you refer to not survivorship "bias", rather than "basis"?

However, on a less pedantic note, I fully agree with your point that the historical sample against which today's buildings are compared must be biased, in the same way that using the historical performance of the S&P500 or the FTSE100 by definition does not include the performance of those individual components that drop out of the index through bankruptcy (or rather, on the journey towards bankruptcy).

Peter Nolan

'Tis bias, not basis. I was thinking of something else, having recently reread the good Dr Taleb’s book Fooled by Randomness.

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