Saturday, October 31, 2009
Speaking of DPZ, and apropos of the discussion here on the blog about Miami 21 (DPZ is the lead consultant), the Next American City magazine has a piece by Mike Lydon on the very recent passage of the new form-based code by the city council:
While everyone from the Sierra Club to the National Association of Realtors believe compact, mixed-use, walkable development is an antidote to suburban sprawl, “smart growth” doesn’t just happen by itself. Indeed it can’t because most existing municipal zoning regulations make walkable urban form exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to implement. Surprisingly, this is often the case in large cities as much as it is in their sprawling suburbs. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to move smart growth from concept to reality, and at a meaningful scale, is to toss out the very zoning regulations that prevent sustainable growth from happening in the first place. Last week, Miami, Florida became the largest city in America to do so.
Miami will really be worth watching. Lots of other interesting stuff over at Next American City to check out, as well.
Andres Duany, of DPZ and CNU fame and generally esteemed as the godfather of new urbansim (and who recently called Brad Pitt's New Orleans architecture "bullshit"), gave a speech to a packed hotel ballroom in Houston last night (sponsored by Houston Tomorrow) on "Agricultural Urbanism."
For about the first half of the lecture Duany spoke "horizontally" about new urbanism, the transect, and smart growth generally, then he focused "vertically" on incorporating agriculture into urban planning. The two most interesting points I took away from Duany's speech were (1) agricultural planning is an integral part of the transect; and (2) developers today are interested in hearing about agricultural urbanism in plans.
Duany argues that while much of the attention given to new urbanist developments focuses on the housing, to be faithful to the transect concept requires a spectrum of land uses, and agriculture is one of the uses that is appropriate in various forms and degrees over different places on that spectrum. Chad has posted about the regulatory obstacles to urban farming. To be honest, though, I had previously presumed that attempting to incorporate agriculture into urban design was for the most part a lifestyle thing, a consumer choice for people interested in doing a little eco-friendly organic gardening around the neighborhood. But Duany makes a persuasive case that planning for agricultural uses "is not an add-on," as he says, but rather is a necessary part of transect-based planning. While agriculture may not be necessary or practical in the urban core, it does not need to be relegated completely to the rural zone either; it can and should be incorporated in varying degrees across the suburban and urban zones of the transect. He notes that the entire concept of the "village"--as distinguished from the town or the city--is historically based on a community's arrangements to grow its own food.
[Relatedly, I found Duany's characterization of the differences between American and European environmentalism to be interesting. American environmentalism, he says, grew out of the fight for national parks and holds the untrammeled wilderness to be the ideal, while European environmentalism has more typically incorporated environmental uses into the human domain.]
To take Jamie's "urban chickens" example, Duany laments that under most zoning laws in the US, you can either have zero chickens or 500,000 chickens (In his recent high profile appearance at the UN, Colonel Sanders presumably lobbied for the latter policy), but almost nowhere can you have two chickens in the yard (except maybe Cleveland). That makes a lot of sense, although my argument would be that the larger problem is not zoning ordinances' failure to include chickens (or agriculture) per se, but rather the restrictive definitions and separations of "residential" use themselves.
At any rate, the natural place of agriculture in different degrees across various points on the transect leads to the second point I described above: the emerging marketability of agricultural urbanism. Duany is cautious about both overregulation generally and overprescription of specific ideas. He believes that new urbanism can work in the marketplace. "The new urbanist argument," he says, is that "we don't ask you to do what's right because it's ethical; we ask you because it works better," which he says can be rephrased as "it sells more real estate." And as far as any uniform requirement for agricultural uses, "anyone who sets up one standard undermines urbanism" because it violates the differentiation of the transect.
Americans will be willing to trade open space for the village ideal, Duany says. He discussed and showed diagrams of several DPZ or affiliated projects that include agricultural urbanism, including Southlands, BC, and Sky, Florida. It seems that one of the most effective tools in these developments is cluster building, which allows for smaller walkable village-like living areas. But the open space preserved by these clusters is not just random farmland, but rather is agricultural space designed to mesh with the living arrangements--there are smaller plots for individual/family gardening, medium-sized tracts for greater local food production, and larger tracts for more typical farming, all designed and placed along the transect for the particular community. Various incentives for growing food and options for trading or reallocating the agricultural space are incorporated.
If Duany is right that agricultural urbanism can work, this implicitly leads to the important question for land use planners and lawyers: if agricultural urbanism is good, what should we do to encourage it? Amend the zoning ordinance to allow it? Or to require it? Or--if it is marketable--leave it to the private sector to design and implement? Duany seemed to imply that plans could incorporate regulatory or development incentives for agrigultural uses. Duany states that the agricultural urbanism as incorporated into the DPZ projects he describes as basically a "module" of the SmartCode that can be modified and applied to fit particular local circumstances.
Peter Brown made an appearance as well. Brown is a Houston city council member, an architect, planning advocate, and one of the leading candidates in this Tuesday's Houston mayoral election. Land use is an important issue in the election, and it will be interesting to see what happens next in the Unzoned City.
It was a fascinating presentation and it was great to have Duany in Houston. For now though, no chickens are allowed in my townhouse (but I guess I could try this).
UPDATE: Duany's presentation is available for download at Houston Tomorrow's summary of the event.
Friday, October 30, 2009
For the Halloween edition of my month-old tradition of more humorous posts on the weekend, Planetizen's Nate Berg has Halloween Costumes for Urban Planners, 2d ed. A taste:
One way to celebrate Halloween is to dress up like a city. This costume could rely heavily on stereotypes, but can also be influenced by current affairs. For example, get yourself a black eye and put your arm in a sling, and bam, you're Detroit. Or block some traffic and set up lawn chairs on a local street and you're New York City. Or you could get Brad Pitt to follow you around and be New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.
Hey, didn't someone around here post about Brad Pitt in New Orleans? And don't forget Will's post about Detroit's troubles. Anyway, Berg goes on to offer trick-or-treat costumes for LEED, walkable urbanism, charettes, carbon footprints, FARs, and so on. This follows on last year's 1st edition of Halloween Costumes for Urban Planners, with ideas such as:
This costume is more of a role-playing challenge. Try to take up as much room as possible. Drink a lot of water. Bring two cars. And wherever you go, make sure it's at least 20 miles away.
. . . . Along with dress-up ideas for bike lanes, UGBs, historic preservation, public transit, new urbanism, big box, and TOD. Pretty good stuff. Don't quit your day job, Nate, but thanks for the fun ideas!
Happy Halloween to the Land Use community.
Daniel E. Bogart (Economics, UC Irvine) has posted Did the Glorious Revolution Contribute to the Transport Revolution? Evidence from Investment in Roads and Rivers, from the 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies. The abstract:
The Glorious Revolution has been linked with Britain's economic development in the eighteenth century. This paper examines its impact on early transport improvements. First, it shows that several road and river undertakers in the 1600s had their rights violated because of political changes and actions taken by the Crown or Parliament. Second, it shows that the likelihood of rights violations was lower after 1689. Third, it uses structural breaks tests to demonstrate that the level of road and river investment was substantially higher after the mid-1690s. Together the evidence suggests that the institutional changes following the Glorious Revolution reduced political risk and uncertainty for infrastructure undertakers and that they responded by proposing and financing more projects.
Much has been made about the 3.5% 3rd quarter GDP number released this week and how it seems to suggest an end to this deep recession. As Lee Corso would say though, "Not so fast, my friend!"
Indeed, the Calculated Risk blog explains why, if you dig into that number, the results are not as encouraging.
This is primarily because one statistic that historically indicates the ending of a recession--new homes sales--remains quite underwhelming even with the recent positive GDP increase. Combine that with a very low number for new home starts and it's pretty clear that land use and development is not going to play a significant role in ending any recession right now.
The current reported inventory of available homes is so high that it makes little sense to start a great deal of new ones. The word "reported" is important because it is very likely that banks still hold a large number of available homes on their balance sheet but have yet to make them available for sale for a variety of reasons.
The result? As Calculated Risk suggests--a circular problem:
Unfortunately ... the two leading sectors, residential investment (RI) and personal consumption expenditures (PCE), will both be under pressure for some time. The Census Bureau report this morning showed that there are still far too many excess housing units (homes and rental units) available. There cannot be a sustained recovery in RI without a boom in new home sales and housing starts, and it is difficult to imagine a boom in new home sales with the large overhang of housing units.
It takes household formation to reduce the excess inventory, and household formation requires job creation so that individuals and families will feel more confident and move out of their parent's basements. Some day there will be a boom in household formation, once job creation returns, but usually the first jobs in a recovery are from RI and PCE - so the economy is in sort of a circular trap.
Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I recently received the fall 2009 newsletter of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council. Among many timely and interesting articles, the newsletter includes a piece titled "Right to the City: Social Movement and Theory." The Right to the City has received relatively limited scholarly treatment in the United States but enjoys a wider following in other countries. That said, there is a growing domestic movement characterized by national conferences and local grassroots action. The article describes the context for a focus on the Right to the CIty: "The emergence of the city as a central site of social struggle is linked closely to the unprecedented growth of urban populations alongside an equally dramatic increase in urban inequality and poverty." The article also cites French philosopher Henri Lefebvre's 1968 work, Le Droit a La Ville (Right to the City) as a major influence on the current movement.
The article describes a number of grassroots Right to the City projects focused mainly on anti-displacement and anti-gentrification efforts. Those new to the movement will find Don Mitchell's book, The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space, to be a useful resource. Similarly, the Right to the City (RTTC) Alliance has a useful website. Peter Marcuse wrote a wonderful article focusing on cities and security issues after 9/11 (The "Threat of Terrorism" and the Right to the City, 32 Fordham Urb. L.J. 767 (2005)) and I have written a comparative piece on the United States and Brazil (Finding a Right to the City: Exploring Property and Community in Brazil and in the United States, 39 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 435 (2006)).
In short, the Right to the City movement provides a voice and direction to urban communities searching for economic resources and better avenues to effectively participate in local decisionmaking.
As I posted earlier this week, the National Community Land Trust Network is having their annual conference here in Athens. Four UGA busloads of folks came over from the Atlanta airport Tuesday and Wednesday and they're all now safely ensconced at The Foundry Park Inn (part of which is, indeed, a rehabilitated foundry and a very cool historic structure).
This morning three of my colleagues and I gave a panel presentation on the land use issues faced by the Newtown Florist Club and Newtown Land Trust in Gainesville, Georgia. Newtown deserves a post (or several) of its own, but I'll save that for another day. Suffice it to say that Newtown Florist Club is a prominent environmental justice and civil rights organization in Georgia, and they have been the clinic's client for the last two years. We have been working with them on an interdisciplinary approach to solving environmental and land use problems in the Newtown neighborhood. Newtown served as a case study this morning for how community land trusts can engage with outside partners to address land use issues. Rose Johnson-Mackey of the Florist Club board spoke of the history of the neighborhood and how this predominantly African-American neighborhood became surrounded by industry. I spoke about the Clinic's efforts [give this data-rich link a couple of minutes to download] to convince the City of Gainesville to, among other things, enforce existing ordinances and improve industrial zoning regulations. Alfie Vick from UGA's College of Environment & Design spoke about how his landscape architecture students are using their community design skills to help the neighborhood create a vision for a better future, and plan a community garden. Dudley Hartle from the US Forest Service's Southern Center for Urban Forestry Research spoke about how concepts of green infrastructure can be applied in an urban neighborhood situation like Newtown.
We had some great dialogue with the participants about environmental justice, community organizing, rural planning, and how land trusts can play a role in creating sustainability. I think some interesting partnerships and data sharing will come out of today's interactions.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Molly Scarborough, Senior Planner with the Austin Planning Department, gave a presentation today on Austin's transit-oriented planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, as part of Houston Tomorrow's "Livable Houston Initiative." Interestingly, the promo blurb indicated that she would be talking about "efforts that the City of Austin has made to encourage and allow transit-oriented development that have already resulted in substantial development even though their first rail line is not yet operational." That's pretty much the opposite of Houston, which has had an operational light rail line for about five years, but has little TOD to show for it.
150 miles apart, Houston and Austin differ in lots of ways, actually. Houston is the quintessential Texas big metropolis, the Unzoned City, and headquarters of the global energy industry. With the state government, the major research University of Texas, the music scene, and a tech sector, denizens of the state capital prefer to Keep Austin Weird.
Whether Austinites want to be weird or not, Ms. Scarborough reports that they do want mixed-use, walkable urban neighborhoods and TOD (at least to some extent). The city government has done extensive planning for over a decade to try to set the conditions for both urban transit and pedestrian-oriented TOD. Scarborough points to a 2002 regional planning effort through Envision Central Texas as a key event in articulating a vision for transit and urban design. The city has responded with a number of initiatives, including the downtown "Great Streets" program; Station Area Planning for TOD districts; specific neighborhood- and project-oriented programs; and a TOD Ordinance.
Another thing I found interesting from Scarborough's talk was her discussion of the city-wide Design Standards and Mixed Use Ordinance, adopted in 2006. The intent of the ordinance was to encourage citywide the kind of higher-density, mixed-use development envisioned for the TOD districts. It included an opt-in/out provision for neighborhoods. Scarborough indicated that many people think of it as a form-based code, but that she prefers to think of it as a "design code."
Scarborough indicated that the city's "density bonuses" are just beginning to be implemented. These "bonuses" include waivers for single-use zoning requirements; floor-area ratios; density (dwelling units per acre); setbacks; and other land use regulations. In return, the developer receiving the "bonus" is expected to comply with design guidelines and to make certain contributions to sidewalks, landscaping, wastewater management, and other public-area considerations. Affordable housing incentives also seem to be in the mix (although this may be mostly in the TOD ordinance). Scarborough reports that there are concerns from both ends: some citizens complain that the community benefits exacted are too low; while others worry that the scheme itself amounts to a development "tax" that could undermine the goal of the program, which is to promote higher-density vertical mixed use. Writing from the Unzoned City, I wonder if the latter critique has merit-- if the goal is to incentivize mixed use and density, wouldn't the easier solution be to simply remove the traditional zoning regulations that mandate low density and single use? But Scarborough indicated that the "bonuses" were necessary to get the neighborhoods on board . . . which is understandable.
All in all, a very interesting presentation. Austin's TOD and urban design efforts are worth watching.
I've been reading the really excellent new book Building Healthy Communities: A Guide to Community Economic Development for Advocates, Lawyers and Policymakers edited by Roger A. Clay, Jr. and Susan R. Jones. Here's the blurb from the ABA website:
This book provides an excellent short history of the CED movement along with some very current perspectives on the current lending crisis and its particular dangers for lower income communities and communities of color. Here's a compelling quote from Chapter 2 "Perspectives on CED in a Global Economy" by john a. powell and Jason Reece:
Given the significance of the credit and foreclosure crisis, we must be diligent to ensure that communities of color are not left out or harmed by the response. Will local strategies to rehabilitate vacant property...produce too much low-income housing, reinforcing concentrated poverty? Will property clearance...result in a 21st-century example of urban renewal, permanently ripping the social fabric of communities of color? Will credit market reforms essentially dry up credit options...while providing no sustainable alternative forms of credit? In light of the crisis, attacks on several targeted policies that benefit communities of color are a chilling preview of what may come...the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) ha[s] already come under attack...These attacks persist, despite clear contradictory evidence. First time homebuyers were clearly not the cause of the credit crisis; more than half of subprime loans were refinance loans, and only 9 percent of subprime loans went to first-time home buyers...Studies have shown that the CRA has been successful at expanding minority homeownership through fair and sustainable loans.
I'm looking forward to reading more about topics like community benefits agreements, the effect of Kelo on CED, and economic development and environmental justice.
Jamie Baker Roskie
One of the arguments Jane Jacobs makes in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities 372-91 (1961), is that "a city cannot be a work of art." She writes:
When we deal with cities we are dealing with life at its most complex and intense. Because this is so, there is a basic esthetic limitation on what can be done with cities: A city cannot be a work of art.
We need art, in the arrangements of cities as well as in the other realms of life, to help explain life to us, to show us meanings, to illumintate the relationship between the life that each us embodies and the life outside us. We need art most, perhaps, to reassure us of our own humanity. However, although art and life are interwoven, they are not the same things. Confusion between them is, in part, why efforts at city design are so disappointing. It is important, in arriving at better design strategies and tactics, to clear up this confusion.
To approach a city, or even a city neighborhood, as if it were a larger architectural problem, capable of being given order by converting it into a disciplined work of art, is to make the mistake of attempting to substitute art for life.
The results of such profound confusion between art and life are neither life nor art. They are taxidermy. In its place, taxidermy can be a useful and decent craft. However, it goes too far when the specimens put on display are exhibitions of dead, stuffed cities.
Jacobs goes on to write that the best approach to civic design is to allow myriad uses and forms to develop organically. If not, city plans miss out on containing a "living collection of interdependent uses," resulting in a loss of "intricate order--a manifestation of the freedom of countless numbers of people to make and carry out countless plans."
Diversity of land uses and plans makes the world's great cities exciting places in which to work and live. It will be interesting to observe whether and to what extent "smart codes" ultimately foster it.
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
Brian McCall (Oklahoma) has posted Learning from Our History: Evaluating the Modern Housing Finance Market in Light of Ancient Principles of Justice, which was part of a mortgage crisis symposium in the South Carolina Law Review. The abstract:
Since I first accepted an invitation to join this symposium, the subprime mortgage crisis has exploded into a systemic financial crisis. Analysis and pundits alike seem on a quest to outdo each other in using dramatic phrases to describe its historic proportions. The causes of a crisis so large must have a multiplicity of causes lying in the realms of bank regulation and supervision, the operation and regulation of the securitization market and the derivatives and insurance markets. Yet, the root and spark of the various financial reverberations initiated in the home mortgage finance market. My presentation will focus on this central cause to look for an explanation of what went wrong. In a general sense, St. Thomas Aquinas predicted the systemic freezing of the financial system which we are currently witnessing when he predicted that in a society where unjust exchange transactions dominate, eventually all exchanges will cease. I will argue that at a major reason for the financial winter we are witnessing is that the market for buying housing has been systemically violating core principles of justice. Although other factors certainly contributed to its breadth and expansion, unjust financial transactions are the root of the problem. Two aspects of natural law economic theory will be used to evaluate the home finance market developed in the Twentieth Century - usury theory and just price requirements. Through an examination of these two core economic concepts which dominated the Western intellectual tradition for over a millennium we will see that a system which generates profits for those providing the money to buy housing violates these tenets of the natural law. Thus, although not the only cause of all the aspects of the current crisis, these unjust exchange transactions have initiated a systemic breakdown.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The Washington Post has a good analysis piece that considers the usefulness of the soon-to-expire $8,000 homebuyer federal tax credit. Here's an interesting snippet from the article:
What happens when you artificially prop up housing prices? Imagine the credit were expanded to all home buyers and made permanent. This would simply boost housing prices at the low end of the market by close to $8,000, since all buyers would be willing to pay $8,000 more. (Prices would rise by a little less than $8,000 because at higher prices, more people would be willing to sell.) Whom does this benefit? Not first-time home buyers. It benefits people who already own houses (and their real estate agents) because it's a one-time boost in housing values.
This would be just the latest chapter in a long history of government policies to boost housing prices -- the mortgage interest tax deduction, the capital gains exclusion on houses, the extension of the mortgage interest tax deduction to second houses, etc. Each of these policies pushes up prices just once; if you want to keep pushing up housing prices, you have to keep adding sweeteners.
A temporary tax credit has a similar effect, but for a shorter period of time. It boosts the price of a transaction that would have happened anyway. It may create additional transactions, but is that a good thing? If someone could not have afforded a house without the tax credit, then what is he or she going to do when the tax credit goes away and the price of the house falls? In effect, the tax credit is a way of making houses temporarily affordable that would not otherwise be affordable, and we know where that leads (emphasis added because it really needs to be emphasized!).
The land use implications of this problem are immense. Many jurisdictions are now stuck with bonds used to pay for the massive amount of infrastructure used to reach planned subdivisions and strip malls that will never be built (or at least won't be any time soon) since the supply of both is much, much higher than demand. The result, in turn, is that the property and/or sales tax revenue that the jurisdiction anticipated from this investment won't be realized.
This is when the fiscal death spiral really starts as the lack of revenue hinders the ability to service the bonds issued to pay for the infrastructure that is now not really needed (by "infrastructure" I mean things like roads, sewers, water lines, police/fire stations, and the like).
This is just one more anecdote that seems to scream out for the need to re-evaluate the propriety of laws and policies that promote greenfield development.
Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.
This week the National Community Land Trust Network is having its annual conference here in Athens, Georgia. Here's their mission statement from their website:
NCLTN provides technical and other support to community land trusts who are providing affordable housing. Community land trusts market affordable homes to low to moderate income clients. The homeowners hold title to the improvements on the land, while the land trust holds title to the land and leases it to the homeowner through a renewable 99 year ground lease. This allows the land trust to keep the housing permanently affordable. NCLTN is different from the Land Trust Alliance, which provides support to land trusts engaged in land conservation activities around the country.
Some colleagues and I are giving a presentation Thursday on land use issues faced by communities where community land trusts operate. I'll blog more about that later this week.
Jamie Baker Roskie
When the financial history of this era is told, it is possible that it will be seen as the bailout of not just the banks, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, it will also to some extent be seen as the bailout of sprawl.
Leinberger's argument is that the highest rates of foreclosure are in the low-density, single family houses on the suburban/exurban fringe; therefore the federal efforts to reduce foreclosures will disproportionately flow to these homeowners. Leinberger says that we have structurally overbuilt housing in the exurbs compared to market demand, and that despite efforts to bail out overleveraged mortgages, sprawl housing may continue to decline in value. Meanwhile, he notes, property values for walkable urban housing have remained flat and may even include a price premium. Leinberger is concerned that if the value of sprawl housing continues to decline even after the recovery, it is "the recipe for the creation of a slum."
There are a number of other interesting items on metropolitan governance, planning, and land use on The Avenue.
Monday, October 26, 2009
One of my colleagues, Professor William L. "Billy" Want, is a treasure trove of information about land use law and anything related to the environment. Click here for information related to his background and publications. Listed in "Best Lawyers," Professor Want's private practice included projects on behalf of Howard Hughes Properties. During this time, he obtained environmental permitting for a large mixed-use development in Los Angeles, an area known as Playa Vista--property the Wall Street Journal once described as the most valuable undeveloped property in America. As one of the first examples of form-based planning, those studying the recently enacted Miami 21 plan might find comparisons to Playa Vista useful.
For you historic preservation types, Playa Vista is located on the grounds used by the Hughes Aircraft Co. to construct Spruce Goose, a giant flying machine also known as the "Flying Boat" or, as Howard Hughes preferred, the Hercules or H-4. (Ultimately, this gargantuan cargo plane flew for about one mile and never flew again.) Because of the historic significance of Spruce Goose and related projects in aviation research and development, the site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 274,000 square foot assembly building constructed there to house Spruce Goose is one of the largest wood frame buildings in the world. The architect of this building, Henry L. Gogerty, contributed earlier work to the Hollywood Boulevard Commercial and Entertainment District. Special thanks to Professor Want for sharing with me the Historic Property Survey Report for the Hughes Aircraft Site at Playa Vista.
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
As a follow up to Chad Emerson's very helpful Oct. 26, 2009, posting here on form-based codes, the Congress for the New Urbanism is calling "Miami 21," Miami's new zoning code, "the most ambitious contemporary zoning reform yet undertaken by a major U.S. city." Click here to read CNU's statement. Miami 21 was approved on second reading on October 22, 2009, by a 4-1 vote. Among its attributes, Miami 21 promises more pedestrian-friendly development, a significant change given the city's prior focus on automotive transport. Denver and Philadelphia, among other cities, are considering similar plans. Significantly, Miami 21 considers historic preservation in its application of form-based codes, a topic for a future post.
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
With Miami's recent adoption of a new transect-based/form-based land use code, a great deal of interest is being generated in what other communities have adopted a similar type of code.
Here's a link to several case studies and reports on this very topic at SmartCode Complete.
While the SmartCode is not the only type of transect-based/form-based code, it is currently the most utilized and has been customized for a wide variety of jurisdictions. I've also developed a template version of a transect-based/form-based code that you can download and use however you would like for free from here.
--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
David W. Kennedy (Harvard) has posted Some Caution about Property Rights as a Recipe for Economic Development. The abstract:
In recent years, enhancing the security and clarity or formality of property rights has become something of an idée fixe among global development policy experts. This is more ideological assertion than careful history, however. Western economies have experienced periods of aggressive industrialization and economic growth with a wide range of different property regimes in place. Throughout the West, property rights have always been embedded in a complex legal fabric which modifies their meaning and qualifies their enforcement. In fact, most proposals for “strong and clear” property rights rest, at least in part, on lay conceptions about the legal order which are simply not warranted. These include the following: that “property rights” have an ideal form which can be disentangled from the warp and woof of social and economic struggle in a society; that “private order,” including property rights, and “public regulation” can and ought to be cleanly separated, the one supporting the market, the other potentially distorting it; that “strengthening” property rights has no distributive implications, if only because property law concerns the “rights” of individuals over things rather than complex relations of reciprocal rights and duties among people with respect to things; that concerns about social uses and obligations are only properly pursued outside the property regime, through social regulation of one or another sort; that in a well functioning market economy, all “private” rights can and will be freely rearranged by market forces, rendering decisions about their initial allocation unimportant; or that the formalization of property rights leads cleanly to both efficiency and growth, eliminating the need for policy judgment about the desirability of alternative uses and distributional arrangements.
Each of these six ideas supports the notion that the development of a proper law of property can be accomplished without facing complex questions of social, political and economic strategy. But each is incorrect. Property law is a critical domain for engaging, debating and institutionalizing development policy, but it is not a substitute for strategic analysis and political choice. In this short essay, I review these common, if mistaken, ideas about property rights in the West in light of the Western experience. My objective is to place the strategic choices embedded in any property regime in the foreground and lead one to hesitate before accepting conventional neo-liberal wisdom about the importance of “clear” or “strong property rights” for economic development.
Jonathan Foley (director of the Institute on the Environment and professor, Dept. of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, Minnesota) has an opinion piece on Yale Environment 360, a web publication of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, called The Other Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis in Global Land Use.
As the international community focuses on climate change as the great challenge of our era, it is ignoring another looming problem — the global crisis in land use. With agricultural practices already causing massive ecological impact, the world must now find new ways to feed its burgeoning population and launch a "Greener" Revolution.
Foley highlights the ecosystem, water, pollution, and greenhouse gas impacts of what he argues is a fundamentally unsustainable system of global agriculture, and offers a few suggestions for addressing the problem through agricultural and conservation reforms, although he doesn't get into what regulatory measures might be necessary to support his suggestions. It is noteworty that he asserts that the global land use crisis is as threating, if not more so, than global warming.
Friday, October 23, 2009
I have written before about how Houston's Montrose neighborhood recently made it into the American Planning Association's Top 10 Neighborhoods in America. Montrose is an eclectic neighborhood that is home to Houston's arts and LGBT communities, as well as a critical mass of museums, restaurants, and other cultural amenities. This story is about the relative success of tattoo parlors in the area: Body Art: "Tattoo Zone" makes mark along Lower Westheimer.
For most businesses, having a clump of competitors within walking distance would be a bad thing. Not so, say the tattoo artists on lower Westheimer, where five shops are clustered between Dunlavy and Yupon streets.
“Actually, it's good for business,” said Larry Shaw, a third-generation tattoo artist and a 30-year mainstay at Shaw's Tattoo, 1660C Westheimer. “It's like a tattoo zone, more or less. People think of tattooing and say, ‘Oh, Westheimer. Lower Westheimer.' ”
Now of course, neither the text nor the map of the local zoning ordinance (oh wait, Houston doesn't have a zoning ordinance!) declares an official "tattoo zone." But I do find two points from this article to be relevant:
First, even in the Unzoned City, land use regulation has so pervaded the culture that people tend to instinctively think of geographically-clustered land uses as "zones."
Second is the interesting point that the individual tattoo parlors consider themselves to be economically better off because they are located in an area (or "zone," if you must) that is also home to business competitors. Is this fact part of the argument for zoning, or for free market ordering?