Friday, March 16, 2007
When is a faux revitalized downtown better than a real one? A recent edition of the Economist discusses the largely unsuccessful efforts of San Jose, Cal. (now one of the largest and most affluent cities in the nation) its wake up its moribund downtown with subsidies, tax breaks, etc. But theaters, offices, and public transportation can't make Silicon Valley residents socialize in downtown San Jose.
Where are people going? To the mall, of course. But not just any mall. Private developers have noticed that people like to dine outside (especially in the mild California climate), like to stroll past nicely designed stores, and especially like to do so with giant parking lots nearby and security guards making sure that the experience is safe. Hence the boom in manufactured "downtown" nightlife streets, such as Santana Row in San Jose, opened by private developers in 2002. Other examples include the much-ballyhooed Reston Town Center in the outer Virginia suburbs of Washington, and Bay Street, attached to an upscale mall in Tampa. Yes, bring back the city, but maybe bring it back by starting from scratch, and doing it in the suburbs…
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Which is the most urbanized state? No, it’s not in the Northeast; it’s California, where the vast majority of the population is tucked into a handful of great metropolises. This is true even though California is still the nation’s most valuable supplier of agricultural products. With places such as the Los Angeles Basin and the San Francisco Bay area effectively “full” (especially if you’re looking for low-cost housing), where will new Californians live in the 21st century?
The answer seems obvious –- the great Central Valley, which is both America’s vegetable basket and the home of many growing towns and booming cities. One of the fastest growing counties is San Joaquin County, in the heart of the valley. There, the county’s eight cities are getting together to discuss common problems and potential coordinated solutions to dealing the expected doubling of the population over the next 50 years.
It would be wonderful if communities could reach agreements to cooperate on vital land use issues, such as affordable housing and farmland preservation. The Tiebout hypothesis aside, cities should not compete with each other to exclude low-income persons and to push LULUs around. Perhaps the San Joaquin cities will reach agreements for each to accept their fair share of low-cost housing and a fair share of undesirable but necessary land uses. And let’s hope that they don’t decide to push the problems over to the adjoining counties in the Central Valley …
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Can a “view” be considered public property that government should not be able to take away through land use decisions? In New Jersey, a group is suing the state over a plan to build a memorial to 9/11 in Liberty State Park, across the Hudson River from the site of the former World Trade Center. The group, Friends of Liberty State Park, asserts that the project would block views of the “sacred” site from the park, as well as interfere with use of the park for other purposes. The lawsuit alleges various flaws of due process and public participation requirements.
Should certain “views” be considered part of the public trust that government cannot take away? In California, the state courts in the 1980s ruled that Mono Lake is part of the traditional navigable waters public trust, and that the state government must take steps (which it has) to protect the lake from being shrunk by water transfers to other parts of the state. In the Washington, D.C., area, there was a failed effort to try to stop Virginia from permitting the construction of large apartment buildings in Arlington, across the Potomac River, that are in the line of sight of the great vista from the Capitol steps, down the National Mall, through the Washington Monument, to the Lincoln Memorial. Today, the distant apartments complete the vista, which is no longer quite as stirring.
Although I sympathize with the idea of protecting historic vistas –- views that, once taken away, are hard to recover –- I suggest that this is the sort of issue that usually should be decided through the political process (and perhaps with the help of eminent domain, as in the case of the demolition of the private tower that once loomed over the Gettysburg Battlefield), not by the courts.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
I’ve written recently about the issue of LULUs and the issue of who has standing to sue government for a land use decision. An interesting matter in Georgia brings these two topics together. The Macon- Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission yesterday approved a zoning change that would allow the establishment of a new halfway house for convicts who are close to ending their terms in the local federal prison. Of course there is local opposition to this extreme LULU. What is more interesting, however, is that the rezoning also was opposed by a competing halfway house business in Macon. If the new facility is built, there will be more competition for the contract from the federal prison authority.
Does a potential competitor have standing to challenge a zoning change? If the change violates the law or is otherwise an unwise land use decision, I see no reason why a competitor, who might be in the best position to serve as a watchdog of government, should have not standing. But the increase in competition by itself is not and should not be a substantive basis for challenging a zoning change.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Should land use law do more to encourage bicycle use on the streets? One reason for the low rate of bicycling in urban America is a vicious circle. Because so many streets are not friendly to bikes, we have not many cyclists. And because we have so few cyclists, there is little pressure to make the streets better for the handful who pedal.
One method to break the vicious circle is for land use law to demand that the infrastructure change to make streets better for cycling. Once this is done, more people will be encouraged to ride instead of drive for some trips, which in turn will build support for more and better bicycle lanes –- a virtuous circle. One way to do this is the “complete the streets” idea, which rests on the notion that a street designed only with motoring in mind is “incomplete” until it considers and facilitates cyclists, pedestrians, and those who use wheelchairs.
Is such an idea only for “crunchy” and outdoorsy places such as northern California and college towns? Planners in Louisville, Kentucky, think that the idea can work there too. They have proposed a rule that would require streets to include bicycle lanes, among other things, when new streets are built and old ones are resurfaced. This idea is reminiscent of the special “best technology” requirements for new or modified sources of air or water pollution under the environmental statutes, and also echoes the idea of low-cost housing set-asides in “inclusionary zoning” policies.