Thursday, December 13, 2007

Requiring buildings to take the LEED in being “cool” …

   Because of their voracious gobbling of energy for heating and air conditioning, buildings directly or indirectly account for a large share (estimates range from 30 to 50 percent) of the United States’ emission of greenhouse gases.  As the American legal effort on climate change shifts to a variety of non-federal sources, it is no surprise that many are calling for office buildings (which may not account for more energy than residences, but which presumably can afford more expenditures) to abide by energy-saving “green” designs.  And it is no surprise that San Francisco is near the front of the pack.  Yesterday, the mayor of the city by the bay announced a legislative proposal that would require new large buildings to comply with tough LEED standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Greenbuilding   While some developers are voluntarily seeking out energy-saving designs, the private sector doesn’t usually like government to tell it what to do.  And there’s the fear, as the “public choice” school of criticism warns us, that a regulation touted as “green” may in fact be a mask for helping certain private interest groups—such as contractors who may benefit from putatively green design and products—at the expense of others.  It’s good to see, therefore, that the San Francisco plan would track the LEED standards, which have got good reviews from many quarters.  If the experience from the federal environmental laws is any guide, a requirement to follow a prescribed set of technology generates a lot of complaints about “command and control” and excessive costs, but holds the benefit of being straightforward and relatively easy to monitor.  Until the world adopts a more “efficient” planetary system for trading in all types of pollutants, of course …

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December 13, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Planning for a more diverse future with a diversity of housing …

[“New Suburbia”: This is one of a series on the changing aspects of suburbia.]

  While most reports have emphasized the demand aspects of the home mortgage crisis -– homebuyers of meager means were given the ability by lenders to buy middle-class houses –- another way to look at the issue is from the “supply” side:  High housing costs steered many homebuyers into risky loans for houses that, upon reflection, they could not afford.  One way to avoid a repetition of this problem is for suburbs to offer more low-cost housing. 

Libertyville    A handful of suburbs outside Chicago (not the most affluent, of course) are touting their efforts to plan for a greater variety of housing types over the next quarter-century.  In particular, a recent report, published through Chicago Metropolis 2020 and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, notes that seniors and Latinos will constitute much of the growth in the area’s population, and that these groups will “likely seek out small single-family homes, townhomes and apartment units in larger complexes” –- the kind of housing that is not provided for in many suburbs, in large part because of the restrictions of land use law. (And there are more than 200 local jurisdictions in Chicagoland!).  The report was discussed in a recent issue of the Economist.   

  The Chicago metro organizations have also published maps for workforce housing, showing where, for example, a local firefighter can afford to live.  While a firefighter can afford to rent (if not own) in many of the affluent old north shore suburbs, the situation is worse in the outer suburbs.  I suspect that this is because the old suburbs, many of which were built up before 1950, include a greater variety of housing stock, with greater density, than in newer areas.  But this has not made today’s suburbanites shun these north shore suburbs …

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December 11, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gated communities -- neither boon nor doom?

[“New Suburbia”: This is one of a series on the changing aspects of suburbia.]

   Left-leaning social critics have long disparaged the phenomenon of “gated communities” as an anti-social reflection of white suburbanites trying to hide from “the other,” with unsavory undertones of racism and an irrational fear of crime (when the suburbanites aren’t worried about their children being poisoned by Chinese toys).  Transportation planners sometimes fret that the isolated nature of gated communities makes integration into road systems difficult.  Barbara Ehrenreich recently published an essay arguing that gated communities don’t really provide the safety that they offer, referring to anecdotes and studies about crime within gated neighborhoods.

Gate    To me, the gated community is an unsurprising manifestation of the human desire for a sense of security –- whether or not it is effective.  Haven’t fancy Manhattan apartment houses always had a doorman?  Don’t middle-class walkup apartments have a locked door and a buzzer system?  Hasn’t the European vernacular of townhouses often presented a forbidding aspect to the street, with life centered on a secluded courtyard (unlike the British vernacular of a more inviting front door)?  Aren’t fences and gates far more ubiquitous in many other non-Western nations, which can’t be tarred with charges of American racism?   

   To the extent that Ehrenreich is correct that a gated community provides no refuge from crime, I would like to use this assertion to bolster my contention that the old chestnut about a sharp dichotomy between “city” and “suburb” makes little sense in today’s America.  Affluent old neighborhoods in big cities that have no gates (and yes, many “cities” include single-family homes) often have low crime rates, while gated communities in suburbs can be plagued by crime, especially if they are offer moderate-cost housing (a growing phenomenon) or are close to a poorer neighborhood.  Land use law acts like an ostrich if it clings to outmoded notions about a homogeneous and bland realm of suburbia.

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December 10, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)