Friday, May 11, 2007
At what level of government should urban growth boundaries be created? In Ventura County, Cal., west of Los Angeles, the decisions are made largely on a city to city basis. While this enables localities to plot their own fate, it also raises the classic drawbacks of land use law at a local level: Cities are encouraged to “push” unwanted growth to their neighbors and, sometimes, cities may be encouraged to “pull” especially wanted developments away from others.
Many dynamics may have been at play in the recent vote of residents to increase the urban growth boundary of Santa Paula, which voted this week to open up housing construction in Adams Canyon. The city had voted against similar proposals in recent years. The planned new development would bring in about 500 new homes, mostly in the “upscale” category, to a city that currently has few affluent residents. Would the vote have gone the same way had the plan been to open up the boundary for higher-density and more affordable housing?
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Here’s an interesting international land use story. By the end of the century, demographers predict that the world’s largest metro area will be -– not New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, or Mexico City –- but Mumbai (formerly called Bombay), on India’s west coast. But the city is built on a peninsula into the Indian Ocean that makes land values extraordinarily high, and bound to go higher. One area of the central city is Dharavi, sometimes called “Asia’s largest slum.” Because of its value as land, real estate developers want to buy the area, redevelop it for wealthier residents, and relocate the slum dwellers, with compensation. NPR devoted a long and thoughtful segment to the issue this morning. Quick analogies to the ill-advised “slum removals” in U.S. cities in the 20th century fail when one hears about the unhealthy conditions in the slum.
It is easy to assert a Kelo-fueled anger at disturbing the rights of residents, and to assert that no one be forced to leave if they do not want to. It is also sensible to be skeptical of plans for “compensation” that may turn out to be hollow and insufficient, especially if they are based on promises of future action. But it should also be kept in mind that one of the best ways to help the world’s poor is to find a way that they can tap into the wealth of the market, as many poor Indians are doing by working for companies that export to the West, bringing in money that, ironically, helps drive up Mumbai’s land values. Perhaps the one valuable thing that many residents of Dharavi hold is the right to valuable land. If it is done correctly, a compensation system for buying this right (providing either cash or a new home or both) may enable many of the residents to live healthier and happier lives that they could otherwise could ever hope to enjoy. Now, is there a good government to be a watchdog and make sure that the land use compensation is done properly?
Monday, May 7, 2007
It’s been about a decade since state and local governments picked up the terminology of “smart growth” and began passing laws to discourage suburban sprawl in favor of “smarter” ways of accommodating new demand for housing, commerce, and industry. The newest edition of HUD’s publication Cityscape includes an essay studying this movement. The article by HUD’s Regina Gray is entitled “Ten Years of Smart Growth: A Nod to Policies Past and a Prospective Glimpse Into the Future.” A link to a pdf version of the article is here.
Gray focuses special attention on state “smart growth” efforts, including those of former Maryland governor Parris Glendening. Although I haven’t yet read the entire piece, I was struck by Gray’s comment that is it is difficult to assess the effectiveness or value of “smart growth” laws as a whole because the term has been used, in effect, as a “catch-all” to cover a variety of restrictions. Some of these have been well-thought-out rules to encourage infill and high-density developments. Others, in my view, have been examples of local NIMBY, without greater public benefit, that simply have used the smiley mask of “smart growth.”