In Cairo: A Mega City Confronts its Challenges

With the Middle East’s martial concerns filling the news, it was a change of pace this month to visit the region’s biggest city, Cairo, and examine more quotidian concerns, namely its urban planning policies and problems.

With approximately 18 million people (estimates vary), Cairo can be seen as both a problem and a solution to the challenges of a developing country. Cairo is, in one analyst’s term, a “Mega-city” – a huge, expanding cloud of population, much of it poor, that by some estimates is adding 1.25 million people a year. Where all these people live, how to give them water, dispose of their waste, and allow them to travel, are the central questions. The challenges of Cairo are, in a word, infrastructure.

A Glimpse of Cuba in 1988

It was lunch hour inside the Ministry of Commerce in old Havana. In a small cafeteria, in a building that dated back to the 1800s, workers ate baked fish, rice and beans, soup, salad and cake, off white dishes on tin trays. They washed down the food and cut the sweltering heat with cold water from sweating metal pitchers placed on each of the 20 tables. Like many of the basics in contemporary Cuba, the meal was subsidized and cost each employee only a few cents.

A clerk there, a 58-year-old man with crooked teeth and thinning hair, spoke about why life was better, now that a Communist government ruled his country.

The Stock Transfer Tax: An Idea Whose Time Has Come Back?

By Alex Marshall

May 2003

It sounds too good to be true. At a time when New York City and state are billions of dollars in the red, they could raise that and possibly more by reinstating a tax that is mostly paid by people living outside the state and country.

It’s called the Stock Transfer Tax. Until 1981, the state had one, and the city got the revenue.

Until it was phased out, it was raising $300 million a year for the city. Technically, it is still in place, only the proceeds are instantly rebated to the buyer of a stock. Now some people, including an Albany legislator, are considering bringing it back in a new form.

Guns Don’t Kill People; Cars Do. Or At Least Not As Many

On Foot Or On Wheels, Facing The Threat

Whether you walk, drive or bicycle on your daily rounds, are you more in danger of getting killed from a bumper of a car or a bullet from a gun? It depends on where you live, although the stats suggest that overall, the mean metal of a car is more dangerous than that from a gun, simply because speeding cars are so much more prevalent than speeding bullets.

DC Metro: A Record of Reinvigorating a City

(Taken from the February 2004 issue of Planning Magazine.)

Love (and Hate) That Metro

It’s a mess say some commuters — it’s too expensive and the stations are too far apart. But they ride it all the same.

By Alex Marshall

While he sips an imported beer at Aroma, the elegant bar on Connecticut Avenue near the National Zoo, Jamison Adcock is happy to offer his opinions on “Metro,” the popular name for the D.C. region’s 103-mile transit system, whose pinwheel map is as familiar to residents as the tall spire of the Washington Monument or other local landmarks.

Making Elections Matter

During the six presidential races in my adult lifetime, I’ve lived in three states – Virginia, Massachusetts and New York – that collectively have 31 million people and 58 electoral votes.

But despite all this political muscle, I can’t recall ever seeing a campaign ad by Reagan, a local appearance by Carter or a policy spin by Dukakis. No, each presidential race has been like a distant battle, watched with interest but not something I was a part of.

Why is this the case, given the populous, wealthy states I have lived in? Because our nation has something called the Electoral College, an antiquated system designed in the 18th century for reasons immaterial to our goals now. During the last election, we heard the machinery of this system grind and spark for more than a month, before it crankily spat out a “winner.”

In Praise of TV by Someone without One

The Powhatan Review, Norfolk, Va.
1998 issue
By Alex Marshall

Missing ‘Ally McBeal,’ ‘The Simpsons’ and HBO’s ‘RealSex,’ and how much one is missing, is the issue. Ten months ago my wife and I threw out our television, in a fit of highbrowism, and now we are without.

The question is time. It’s becoming clear to me, disturbingly so, that my time here on earth is limited. In what remains of that time, what do I want to do with it?

Mergers Or No Mergers, It’s Time To Re-Regulate The Airlines

I write this from the terminal of the Boston International Airport. I am about to board a small prop plane to Harrisburg, Pa, the state capitol. Given the plane’s small size, and my largish one, the ride will be uncomfortable. Not only will my 6’7′ frame be crammed into a tiny seat, but the propellers will sound like an electric shaver next to my ear for an hour and a half. Winds will bat the plane around as heavy seas do a rowboat.

For the privilege of this unpleasant ride, I am paying US Airways $851. Luckily for me, the taxpayers of Pennsylvania are reimbursing me, because their state legislature is flying me to Harrisburg to give my views on highways and suburban sprawl.