Thursday, February 26, 2009

The future of cities is ... well … ahead of us …

Cleveland   It’s an old joke that making predictions is difficult, especially about the future.  In response to posts earlier this week, Catherine LaCroix at Case Western Reserve directs us to a website (with references to a report and book) about the shrinking of industrial cities such as Cleveland.  The depopulation of cities may not be thoroughly depressing –- it opens up fascinating opportunities for environmental projects, which are especially promising in an age of low property values, creative eminent domain, and a thawing public opposition to innovative urban land uses, such as the growing of food on an one-acre city lot or raising a flock of chickens for backyard urban eggs.  (See this Cleveland chicken story.)         
  The future of “dying” cities may surprise us, as does today the reports of the surprisingly successful economic condition of New Orleans three years after Katina –- in large part (skeptics note) because of the economic stimulus of shovel projects.  Urban farms might end up as a signature of Cleveland as much as did closing steel mills or the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame did in previous decades.  And it may assuage somewhat the concern that suburban sprawl is gobbling up valuable farmland –- a concern that has always struck me as overstated.  I’m of the age that reminds me of the passage from the old Talking Heads song:  “There was a shopping mall. Now it's all covered with flowers ... Once there were parking lots. Now it's a peaceful oasis” … 

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February 26, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Whither environmental land use laws in a depressed land? …

   How will the economic depression (I’m not the first to say it) affect environmental land use polices?  For some large-scale issues, such as suburban sprawl and natural resource degradation, the slump will diminish the harms and make conservationist land use policies more effective. 
Electricalgrid     But for other issues that require special efforts by government, environmental land use protections may not fare so well.  In the past 24 hours, public radio broadcast a number of interesting stories about clashes between land use laws and economic pressures.  First, Marketplace reported on pressures against preservation of historic buildings in Temecula, Cal., where some landowners are more than ever desirous of transforming buildings to the most profitable uses.  Even more significant are stories about calls for government stimulus spending to build a new electricity grid that fosters long-distance transmissions of “green” electricity (from wind and solar, for example) and to build new super-high-speed rail lines between big cities (see story and map).  In both instances, these efforts may clash sharply with the interests of local governments, which don’t want their land torn up for new power or rail lines.
    We have heard a lot of talk about how the private market must yield to the federal government in these economic times, but it may be just as interesting to see whether the federal government attempts to use its muscle to override local land use control to foster plans that may be both environmentally friendly for the nation and stimulative to the economy, but which are likely to be bitterly opposed by affected localities and their landowning citizens …

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February 24, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)