Category Archive 'Cities'

22 Aug 2017

Why Cities Suck

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Richard Florida used to argue that the influx of the new creative class would transform and renew our cities into livable oases of prosperity, tolerance, and sophistication. In his new book, The New Urban Crisis, he takes it all back.

If you live in an urban center in North America, the United Kingdom, or Australia, you are living in Richard Florida’s world. Fifteen years ago, he argued that an influx of what he called the “creative classes” — artists, hipsters, tech workers — were sparking economic growth in places like the Bay Area. Their tolerance, flexibility, and eccentricity dissolved the rigid structures of industrial production and replaced them with the kinds of workplaces and neighborhoods that attracted more young people and, importantly, more investment.

His observations quickly formed the basis of a set of breezy technical solutions. If decaying cities wanted to survive, they had to open cool bars, shabby-chic coffee shops, and art venues that attract young, educated, and tolerant residents. Eventually, the mysterious alchemy of the creative economy would build a new and prosperous urban core. …

After fifteen years of development plans tailored to the creative classes, Florida surveys an urban landscape in ruins. The story of London is the story of Austin, the Bay Area, Chicago, New York, Toronto, and Sydney. When the rich, the young, and the (mostly) white rediscovered the city, they created rampant property speculation, soaring home prices, and mass displacement. The “creative class” were just the rich all along, or at least the college-educated children of the rich.

24 Feb 2015

Lab Mouse Experiment Leads to Dystopia

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LabRat

io9 describes a 1972 experiment which demonstrated that urbanization, increased population density, led to dystopian decadence and inequality featuring exactly the same kind of urban community of fashion elite we have ruining America today.

In 1972, animal behaviorist John Calhoun built a rat paradise with beautiful buildings and limitless food. He introduced eight mice to the population. Two years later, the mice had created their own apocalypse. Here’s why.

Universe 25 was a giant box designed to be a rodent utopia. The trouble was, this utopia did not have a benevolent creator. John B. Calhoun had designed quite a few mouse environments before he got to the 25th one, and didn’t expect to be watching a happy story. Divided into “main squares” and then subdivided into levels, with ramps going up to “apartments,” the place looked great, and was always kept stocked with food, but its inhabitants were doomed from the get-go.

Universe 25 started out with eight mice, four males and four females. By day 560, the mouse population reached 2,200, and then steadily declined back down to unrecoverable extinction. At the peak population, most mice spent every living second in the company of hundreds of other mice. They gathered in the main squares, waiting to be fed and occasionally attacking each other. Few females carried pregnancies to term, and the ones that did seemed to simply forget about their babies. They’d move half their litter away from danger and forget the rest. Sometimes they’d drop and abandon a baby while they were carrying it.

The few secluded spaces housed a population Calhoun called, “the beautiful ones.” Generally guarded by one male, the females—- and few males — inside the space didn’t breed or fight or do anything but eat and groom and sleep. When the population started declining the beautiful ones were spared from violence and death, but had completely lost touch with social behaviors, including having sex or caring for their young.

In 1972, with the baby boomers coming of age in a ever-more-crowded world and reports of riots in the cities, Universe 25 looked like a Malthusian nightmare. It even acquired its own catchy name, “The Behavioral Sink.” If starvation didn’t kill everyone, people would destroy themselves. The best option was to flee to the country or the suburbs, where people had space and life was peaceful and natural.

05 Oct 2014

Best Cities For Millennials

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NYCforMillennials

From the Onion.

07 May 2014

Derinkuyu, Cappadocian Underground City

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Welcome to Derinkuyu, an underground city that once housed up to 20,000 people. In the Cappadocia region, famous for its cave dwellings and underground villages, Derinkuyu stands out for sheer size and complexity. Locals began digging in the 500s BCE. The city consists of over 600 doors, each of which can be closed from the inside. Each floor could be closed off as well. And just to make attacking completely impossible, the entire city was deliberately built without any logic. Its maze-like layout makes navigating the city nightmarish for unfamiliar invaders.

Via Ratak Monodosico.

07 Jan 2014

The Madding Crowd

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Remus hates crowds and cities, and I have trouble understanding how anyone might not agree. People are characteristically valuable as individuals, but contemptible when making up part of a crowd. Even rats grow neurotic and turn cannibal when too closely confined with other rats.

Cities are crowds with bedrooms. As bad as they are, they’re perpetually on the verge of getting worse, one dissing away from a homicidal detonation, one power outage from Mogadishu, nine meals from Sarajevo. But relax, cities are ridiculously easy to avoid. They stay in one place, they can be seen at great distances, there are warning signs on the approaches—including a countdown in miles. The escape routes are clearly marked. No one not bound and gagged is in a city accidentally. Unavoidably perhaps, but not accidentally.

All cities have absolute, no kidding no-go zones where the life expectancy of an ingenue is measured in parts of a city block. No surprise, the top three are in Detroit. These places exist because, incredibly, the “victim class” has insisted it be disarmed through force of law, to protect the “thugga class” from unconscionable risk, apparently. It’s politically incorrect to say this, but in matters of life or death, too bad: demographics are an obvious and reliable tip-off. It’s what the phrase “being in the wrong place” means. And there is no “right time” to be in the wrong place.

Trains and planes are crowds in a can, but other than subways, they’ve been somewhat sorted and vetted. Stations and airports are the real problem. They’re the knot in the bow tie, the small end of the funnel. Even here there are opportunities to stay away from crowds. Choose a lightly patronized departure time, the train or plane may be crowded but the station or airport won’t be. Some are on the schedule mainly to get equipment positioned for the next surge or the next day. It’s here you may see crews’n stews waiting with the paying customers.

Those in commuter or regional airline territory should avoid the last flight of the day though, it’s likely to be overbooked. Which means you may be bumped and double your exposure. Travel on the least patronized days of the week in the least patronized week of the month. Holidays are good too. For instance, on Thanksgiving Day staff can outnumber passengers in the terminals.

The worst of the shopping crowds are easy to avoid, they come in predictable waves, twelve to a year. The high point is typically at or near the first of the month, dropping steadily toward the last week of the month, with an uptick at mid-month perhaps. Daily peaks center on the supper hour except on weekends. Holidays and sales are the exception. Outliers include periodic traffic-drivers, some per cent off for seniors on Tuesdays, or double credit for cents-off gasoline on Thursdays, that sort of thing. Others are influenced by traffic patterns of nearby attractions. Simple observation settles these out.

Americans of merely adequate means have a “fake it ’til you make it” attitude. Unlike their counterparts in Europe and South America, they make a far better public appearance than their situation warrants. This is a mistake generally, but especially when anywhere near a crowd. Nor is it wise to be dressed as if a tourist on the beach, or as one step above homelessness, or as an escapee from a halfway house. The identity of choice is one of neither affluence nor poverty. Project nothing remarkable or memorable. Avoid “legible” clothing of any kind, including sports logos. The desired effect is one of teflon anonymity, head-to-toe.

Crime and law enforcement victims are chosen from cues the victim presents, so attention to detail is important. No specialty hiking boots reequipped with 550 cord laces for instance, no Montblanc Meisterstuk and TimeWalker ensemble, no anything a standard-issue citizen wouldn’t routinely display. The usual cautions apply: keep a Condition Orange but not obviously, identify “what if” escape routes whether inside or outside, watch for preparatory moves by potential perps, be wary of anything that looks normal but oddly so, et cetera. Above all, stay away from crowds.

Crowds are a self-assembling cancellation of personal freedom and the natural prey of a police state. Example: when football fans are marched through metal detectors and facial recognition devices, disallowed ordinary containers and transparent women’s handbags are mandatory, we’re seeing a police-state environment. Where crowds don’t exist they’re created. Notice how police states channel people into controlled crowds so they can be ordered about efficiently. That’s what barriers and checkpoints and even “walk-don’t-walk” signals are all about.

So-called “holding centers” are crowds. Depression-era resettlement co-ops were crowds. Labor and extermination camps in occupied Europe and the Soviet Union were crowds. Also notice a police state believes it’s entitled to disperse or even attack a peaceful crowd that resists “crowd control”. The constitutional guarantee of ‘freedom of assembly’ is now freedom of closely watched and supervised assembly.

The fate of a crowd is the fate of all. A self-directed person stays away from crowds, or if unavoidable, stays on the fringes and escapes unnoticed at the first clear opportunity.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

16 May 2012

Universal Education, the Democrat Party, and the Modern City

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Dan Greenfield describes the symbiotic relationship of three key manifestations of modernity.

Universalizing college has not universalized education; it has not made us a better educated country, only a dumber one. Universal education has led to dumbed-down education and meaningless degrees. The only way we could keep moving more and more students up the ladder was by making the ladder as short as possible. Promotion, populist education and educators who barely knew more than the students have taken care of the rest.

A college degree was once a mark of distinction, now it’s a checkmark even for jobs that don’t have any innate reason for requiring it, and fortunes have been spent by government and students just to “stay in place” with the jobs of yesterdays high school graduates going to tomorrow’s college grads.

The primary purpose of a degree in many fields is to provide demonstrable proof to prospective employers that you aren’t an idiot. A high school degree once served that purpose. Now not even a college degree does. But with a surplus of job-seekers, it’s a useful way to winnow down the stack of applications to people who can analyze the heteronormative subtext of a detergent commercial and have few options for employment because of their massive student loan debt.

Treating college as the new high school hasn’t benefited students who waste four years of their lives and pick up staggering debts which make it harder for them to buy homes and start families, but it has benefited the liberal arts infrastructure, which, despite the liberal spin, is just as good at handing out useless degrees with no career path as any for-profit college. And it has benefited the Democratic Party, which rightly sees college campuses as recruitment grounds and liberal-voter-training seminars. …

Manhattan, home to Barnard, its sibling Columbia, NYU, Pace, and dozens of others, has one leading line of work, the restaurant business. The restaurant business doesn’t require a degree, just the willingness of pretty white people with student debt to wait tables at below minimum wage, and of some of the city’s three million illegal aliens to work illegally in the back. The city used to make things, now it makes sandwiches for Chinese tourists going to see a Disney musical on Broadway. Students dissatisfied with the low wages are, according to the erratically reliable New York Post, working at strip clubs. Fidel Castro boasted, that in Cuba, even the prostitutes have university degrees. Adopting the socialist degrees for everyone approach means we can now say the same thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

08 Jul 2011

Progressivism and Urban Opportunity

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Walter Russell Mead discusses the failure of the political program of the Progressive haute bourgeois elite to leave room in its urban paradises for the unskilled poor to make a living (except by bussing tables).

The bien-pensant gentry politics that dominates political discussion in respectable circles has lost touch with the realities of American life and no longer really comprehends the issues at stake. To some degree this impoverished policy conversation reflects the declining financial and intellectual firepower of the private sector labor movement — itself a consequence of the automation driven transformation of American and world manufacturing. The “clean” wing of progressive politics has almost entirely driven the “smokestack” wing out of business, so that liberal policy discussions tend to revolve around quality of life issues primarily of interest to the upper middle class. …

“Progressive” policy now increasingly means policy that benefits genteel upper middle class liberals and public sector government workers; the resulting mix of complex and poorly applied regulations, high costs and high taxes throttles the only kind of job creation that could offer most inner city residents a feasible step up.

Read the whole thing.

27 May 2010

Why Urban Mayors Like Gun Control

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Shannon Love, at Chicago Boyz, explains (quite correctly) that it’s all about shifting the blame.

A lot of the big urban areas of the Northeast have turned into war zones. Virtually, without exception, they place the blame on lax “gun control”… laws for their sky-high murder rates. I wonder if their voters have ever asked themselves why their mayors are so obsessed?

I think the answer is simple: It give the mayors external actors to blame so they don’t have to answer for their own incompetence.

Think about it. What is every one of those mayors really saying when they talk about disarming the citizenry? They’re really saying, “Hey, it’s not my fault our city has become a shooting gallery, it’s the fault of those rednecks three states over! You can’t blame me because I can’t control what those rednecks do! Oh, if only we could overturn two centuries of Constitutional law we would have safe streets! Until that happens, don’t even think of voting me out! It wouldn’t be fair!”

Apparently, the urbanites’ regional, racial and class bigotries make them more willing to blame people outside of their communities than to accept responsibility for the safety of those very same communities. The mayors and the rest of the failing big-city pols have figured out that the age-old practice of blaming outsiders is the sure path to political job security.

The problem in the big cities of the Northeast isn’t guns. If guns caused problems, it’s rural America and pro-gun states like Texas that would be murder horror shows, not the Northeast cities crammed with people too self-righteously moral to accept the responsibility of protecting their loved ones and their communities. When young black men are safer in small, gun-packed southern towns than they are in northeastern urban areas, you know something has gone seriously wrong in the big city.

No, the problem in the Northeast’s urban areas is an unusually large population of individuals who chose to kill and a political and criminal-justice system that cannot or will not contain them. It is ineffective law enforcement that drives high murder rates, not access to guns.

Hat tip to the News Junkie.

02 Apr 2008

High School Graduation Rates of 50 Largest US Cities

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AP:

Mesa, Ariz. Mesa Unified District – 77.1 –
San Jose, Calif. San Jose Unified – 77.0 –
Nashville, Tenn. Nashville-Davidson Co. School Dist. – 77.0 –
Colorado Springs, Colo. Colorado Springs School District – 76.0 –
San Francisco San Francisco Unified – 73.1 –
Tucson, Ariz. Tucson Unified District – 71.7 –
Seattle Seattle School District – 67.6 –
Virginia Beach, Va. Virginia Beach City Public Schools – 67.4 –
Sacramento, Calif. Sacramento City Unified – 66.7 –
Honolulu Hawaii Department of Education – 64.1 –
Louisville, Ky. Jefferson County School District – 63.7 –
Long Beach, Calif. Long Beach Unified – 63.5 –
Arlington, Texas Arlington ISD – 62.7 –
Memphis, Tenn. Memphis City School District – 61.7 –
San Diego San Diego Unified – 61.6 –
Albuquerque, N.M. Albuquerque Public Schools – 60.8 –
El Paso, Texas El Paso ISD – 60.5 –
Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools – 59.8 –
Wichita, Kan. Wichita Public Schools – 59.6 –
Phoenix Phoenix Union High School District – 58.3 –
Austin, Texas Austin ISD – 58.2 –
Washington District of Columbia Public Schools – 58.2 –
Fresno, Calif. Fresno Unified – 57.4 –
Boston Boston Public Schools – 57.0 –
Fort Worth, Texas Fort Worth ISD – 55.5 –
Omaha, Neb. Omaha Public Schools – 55.1 –
Houston Houston ISD – 54.6 –
Portland, Ore. Portland School District – 53.6 –
Las Vegas Clark County School District – 53.1 –
San Antonio San Antonio ISD – 51.9 –
Chicago City of Chicago School District – 51.5 –
Tulsa, Okla. Tulsa Public Schools – 50.6 –
Jacksonville, Fla. Duval County School District – 50.2 –

Less than 50%:

Philadelphia Philadelphia City School District – 49.6 –
Miami Miami-Dade County School District – 49.0 –
Oklahoma City Oklahoma City Public Schools – 47.5 –
Denver Denver County School District – 46.3 –
Milwaukee Milwaukee Public Schools – 46.1 –
Atlanta Atlanta City School District – 46.0 –
Kansas City, Mo. Kansas City School District – 45.7 –
Oakland, Calif. Oakland Unified – 45.6 –
Los Angeles Los Angeles Unified – 45.3 –
New York New York City Public Schools – 45.2 –
Dallas Dallas ISD – 44.4 –
Minneapolis, Minn. Minneapolis Public Schools – 43.7 –
Columbus, Ohio Columbus Public Schools – 40.9 –
Baltimore Baltimore City Public School System – 34.6 –
Cleveland Cleveland Municipal City Sch.Dist. – 34.1 –
Indianapolis Indianapolis Public Schools – 30.5 –
Detroit Detroit City School District – 24.9 –

50-City Average – 51.8

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The bottom of the list contains Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago.

09 Feb 2007

Nobody’s Home – The “Carmel-ization” of Manhattan

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The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal reports that, like San Francisco and Carmel, California, Manhattan is experiencing a steep rise of absentee property ownership by the super rich, whose pieds-Ã -terre may actually wind up being inhabited for only a few days in the course of the year.

Five-Fifteen Park Avenue has everything one could want in a Manhattan home: sprawling floor-through apartments, unobstructed views, and concierge and maid services. But on most days, the limestone and beige-brick tower at the elegant Upper East Side address lacks one thing: many of its residents.

More than half of the building’s 35 units belong to absentee owners, whose main residences stretch from Tokyo to Wichita, Kan., city deeds and mortgage documents show. Some spend little more than a few weeks a year at their apartments, say other owners and building staff.

It can feel a little empty,” says Las Vegas developer and billionaire Phillip Ruffin, who stays “a day or two” a month at his $2.8 million home at 515 Park.

Wealthy jet-setters have long maintained cozy Manhattan pieds-Ã -terre, but the city’s choicest properties are increasingly being scooped up by out-of-towners. More than 10% of Manhattan apartment sales are second-home purchases, up from about 5% eight years ago, estimates Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel, one of Manhattan’s largest real-estate appraisal firms.

Donald Trump says that more than half the condo owners at his buildings on Central Park West and Park Avenue are part-timers. These people “may not even know the address” of their New York holdings, says Mr. Trump, but “they’d still rather own a place in New York than schlep to a hotel.”

The lavish part-time spreads underscore a shift among the wealthy, who increasingly split their time among three or four homes. The investment potential of the city’s blue-chip real estate also appeals to rich people looking to diversify their portfolios.

Developers are targeting these absentee owners by packing buildings with amenities such as housekeeping, limousine services and even dog walkers, making it simple to ease in and out of town. Maids at Ian Schrager’s 50 Gramercy Park North even will stock the fridge with groceries before the owners arrive.

But the occasional occupants are troubling to some full-time residents, who say their buildings are left depressingly hollow. And the popularity of the costly apartments helps boost Manhattan prices for everyone, draining away developers’ interest in erecting middle-class buildings on the city’s few available parcels and making one of the world’s most expensive real-estate markets even more forbidding to average buyers.

To have so many apartments sitting empty when there is an affordable-housing crisis in New York City raises a “political question,” says Mitchell Duneier, a professor of urban sociology at Princeton University.

The same trend has caused some of the most splendiferous neighborhoods in California to seem like ghost towns most days, and has been predicted to promise a new urbanism entirely lacking a middle-class. The theory is that, before very long, these once great cities will feature no conventional industries or businesses at all, having evolved purely into playgrounds and service centers for the stratespherically rich.

02 Nov 2006

The Cost of Big Government, New York-Style

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Daniel Gross performs a little back-of-the-envelope analysis of just how much liberal big government adds to the cost of living in New York City.

Personally, I think his estimate is far too conservative. The housing differential is much, much higher than 14%.

A 2002 study by Michael H. Schill, then a professor at New York University Law School, concluded that a host of factors—regulations, zoning, unions, the building code—made the cost of building a home one-third higher in New York City than in 21 other cities. Nationwide, housing and shelter eat up 42 percent of a typical consumer’s disposable income. For a buyer to acquire New York housing that’s equivalent in quality to the same type elsewhere, he would have to use 56 percent of his disposable income. The New York dollar loses 14 cents: 86 cents.

An annual study by the city of Washington, D.C., compares tax burdens in large cities. A hypothetical family of four living on $150,000 in New York would pay the nation’s highest combination of sales, auto, income, and property taxes: about $22,635, or 15.1 percent of income. By comparison, the national median is $14,219, or 9.5 percent. That’s another $8,416 extra per year here, or another 5.6 cents. Our dollar is down to 80.4 cents.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says overall prices here are 9.9 percent higher than the rest of the country. Remove the premium New Yorkers pay for housing and the currency is debased another 4.4 cents, to 76 cents.

But you can buy a dishwasher at 3:00 AM! And there’s home delivery Vietnamese!

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Frank Dobbs.

01 Apr 2006

15 Best Skylines

Luigi di Serio rates the world’s cities.

Hat tip to Kos.

03 Jan 2006

Credit Agency Use by Municipalities

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When my wife and I go to the cineplex in a nearby California municipality, it is not easy to park legally. All legal street parking (and the great majority of spaces in the nearby municipal parking garage) features two hour limits. Any ordinary movie, with promotional and coming attraction trailers, more often than not will run longer than two hours. Arrive anytime past early morning, and the extra time slots (located on remote upper garage floors) will typically all be occupied.

A cynic will readily guess that this particular municipality, like many others, deliberately makes legal parking impossible in order to use parking tickets as a form of supplementary taxation. Anarchists like myself often just tear up tickets issued by dollar-snatching localities that we do not live in. But, as the Wall Street Journal warns, the days when this kind of payment compliance was semi-voluntary may be nearing an end:

A growing number of routine municipal fines and fees — including unpaid parking tickets, library fines, and trash-collection charges — are starting to damage consumer-credit scores.

In the face of budget crunches, major cities, including New York, Chicago and Miami, are hiring private collection agencies to chase down small debts that are frequently shrugged off by consumers. Since an outstanding account handled by a private collection company can wind up in a credit file, more consumers are discovering that niggling government fees — like unpaid speeding tickets or dog-catcher fines — are marring their credit. It’s up to each city to decide whether such information will end up in a consumer’s credit file.

Claude DaCorsi, a management consultant in Portland, Ore., used to pride himself on his near-perfect credit rating. But during a recent routine credit check, he discovered his credit scores had plunged to “below average.”

The reason: Two late library books, including a picture book taken out for his two-year-old son. The library had turned over the $40 late fee to a private collection agency.

Mr. DaCorsi, who says the black mark affected his interest rate on a home loan, has since barred his children from visiting the library. “We go to Barnes & Noble now,” he says. “We can get books there without fear of retribution.”

A handful of cities, including San Diego and Chicago, have worked with collection agencies since the late 1990s. But the trend is spreading rapidly around the country as strapped local governments look for creative ways to boost revenue without raising taxes and fees. Over the past few years, local governments in places including Seattle; Anchorage, Alaska; Austin, Texas; and Florida’s Miami-Dade County have contracted with private agencies to collect late parking tickets and court fees. In New York City, Baltimore and Dallas, libraries use private collection firms to recover fines. New York state recently hired a collection company to pursue overdue E-ZPass toll bills…

Local governments are also using collection agencies to track down some more-unusual fees. In Florida, some municipalities have used a private agency to track down swimmers who fail to pay “beach rescue” fees after they are rescued by lifeguards. San Diego courts have used collection agencies to collect fines issued to people caught riding the trolley system without tickets, according to AllianceOne, a Pennsylvania-based collection firm that works with court systems around the country…

Some cities are using collection agencies to chase down debts that are over a decade old, which can lead to surprises for consumers. Last July, Phillip Remstein of King of Prussia, Pa., received a notice in the mail from a collections company requesting $53 for a Philadelphia parking ticket issued in 1993. “It was ridiculous,” says Mr. Remstein. “I didn’t hear from them for 12 years and suddenly they want to collect?”…

Even when the dollar amounts involved in the fines are small, any collections activity in a credit file can do serious damage to a credit score. “It’s a very serious negative item on your report, on par with a tax lien or a bankruptcy,” says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education at Experian. “You will definitely pay more for your credit, in higher interest rates and higher down payments.”

A library fine reported to a credit bureau, for example, can knock as much as 100 points off a credit score, making it difficult for someone with previously good credit to get the best rate on a loan, consumers and industry experts say. (Credit scores calculated by Fair Isaac Corp., the leading provider of such scores, typically range from 300 to 850; any score above 700 will generally get you the best rate on a loan.) Collections activity can stay on a report for seven years.


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