September 1, 2006
Whither urban industrial use?
We are used to thinking of low-cost housing as the type of land use that suffers from zoning discrimination. But in Washington, D.C., it's light industrial land use -- repair shops, cement plants, and recycling centers -- that is finding it harder and harder to operate under the city's zoning laws, according to a study. Reasons include the development of land for non-industrial purposes, high land prices, and the fact that only five percent of the city is zoned for industrial.
August 31, 2006
Global warming .. and Big boxes ....
No, big boxes aren't being blamed for global warming. But at the same time that California is taking the initiative to curb greenhouse gasses, Governor Schwarzenegger may soon have to take a position on another controversial measure. The California legislature is considering a law that would require local governments to create and consider an impact statement before approving big box construction. Will the impact statements have to consider the amount of global warming generated by additional road trips to the planned Wal-Mart or Best Buy?
August 29, 2006
One year later ... Katrina rebuilding .. and federalism?
One year ago today, hurricane Katrina swept across the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. The land use policy implications of the disaster and the rebuilding efforts and myriad, of course. Here are stories today from the New Orleans' Times-Picayune and South Mississippi’s Sun-Herald. In the debate over rebuilding, one point I have not heard often is virtues of federalism (although President Bush seemed to allude to it yesterday in a speech praising Mississippi’s efforts). After all, Tiebout-ites presumably would claim that reserving land use and financing decisions to local governments provides a market in which citizens can choose: Do I prefer a state with high taxes, more intrusions of government into private property, but more assistance during and after a disaster? Or do I prefer a state with low taxes, little government meddling, and I’m pretty much on my own once a storm hits? If such a choice seems inappropriate, why here and not elsewhere in land use policy?
August 28, 2006
Energy standards in red America ...
Environmentally friendly towns? Mandated energy standards? I must be talking about a place such as EcoHeights, Cal., or Treehugger, Mass, right? Well, no. Here’s a report from PRI’s Marketplace about the growing attraction of energy saving laws in places you wouldn’t expect. Frisco, Texas, an affluent and booming suburb north of Dallas, has imposed requirements that new homes (which tend to be huge, of course) be built to demanding energy-saving standards. What’s next –- Solar panels and composting in Crawford?
August 27, 2006
Worldwide concern over wetlands ... one year after Katrina ...
With global warming and storms on the rise everywhere, other nations are trying to learn from the human errors that led to the disaster of Katrina. Prescriptions are to slow down construction near the coasts, build flood gates to protect against storm surges, and preserve wetlands that serve as buffer to coastal storms and erosion. These are all essential.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, we constantly hear that the losses of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, in part destroyed to help “big oil,” exacerbated the impact of Katrina. There is no doubt that the erosion of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands increases the risk of storm damage to human settlements. And at least part of the New Orleans flooding was caused by water funneling up the much-maligned Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, leading to a “Mr. Go Must Go!” campaign. This is all well and good. But let’s not forget that such land use decisions involve difficult trade-offs. One of the chief reasons that Louisiana’s wetlands have been disappearing are the levees and channelization of the Mississippi River, which no longer periodically floods with its sediment, as it did for millennia. This work was done to protect Americans from the horrible consequences of river floods, such as the 1927 disaster. As let’s also not forget that most of the damage to New Orleans came from water pushed into the city’s canals (themselves built to flush standing water out of the city) from Lake Pontchartrain to the north, not from the wetlands areas to the south and east. Flood control changes necessarily involve difficult choices, with the amelioration of some threats creating others.