Friday, January 8, 2010

"Rest Stops R.I.P."

From the very eclectic website "Good" comes a story about the death of the American rest stop.  My husband found this story after we passed a closed rest stop on I-95 near Richmond, Virginia over the holidays. This is another Virginia budget-saver, along with banning cul de sacs.  Virginia, however, isn't the only state closing its rest stops.  If, like me, you're a sometime solo female traveler who enjoys a safe, warm place for a pit stop, this is not a happy trend.  Also, if you're a fan of the kitschy mid-century modern look of many of the rests stops, or a preservation advocate in general, the loss of these rest stops is worrisome.  Of course, we can always stop at Starbucks or McDonalds to use the loo and top up on caffinated beverages.  But, for me, rest stops are an integral part of the interstate highway system, and I mourn their loss a little.

Jamie Baker Roskie

Follow up - Another article, this time from The New York Times, about a political kerfuffle in Arizona over closed rest stops.

January 8, 2010 in Architecture, Historic Preservation, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

George Will on Atlantic Yards & Eminent Domain

George Will wrote a column for the Washington Post titled "Avaricious developers and governments twist the meaning of 'blight.'"  Will discusses the Atlantic Yards project (which we have blogged about) in light of the more general controversy over economic development takings.  He starts with a mention of the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn and then gets to the contemporary issue:

The fight involves an especially egregious example of today's eminent domain racket. The issue is a form of government theft that the Supreme Court encouraged with its worst decision of the past decade -- one that probably will be radically revised in this one.

The Atlantic Yards site, where 10 subway lines and one railway line converge, is the center of the bustling Prospect Heights neighborhood of mostly small businesses and middle-class residences. Its energy and gentrification are reasons why 22 acres of this area -- the World Trade Center site is only 16 acres -- are coveted by Bruce Ratner, a politically connected developer collaborating with the avaricious city and state governments.

To seize the acres for Ratner's use, government must claim that the area -- which is desirable because it is vibrant -- is "blighted." The cognitive dissonance would embarrass Ratner and his collaborating politicians, had their cupidity not extinguished their sense of the absurd.

It's interesting that Will credits Kelo as the "worst decision" of the millenium so far, yet thinks that it will be "radically revised."  I don't think that it will, but we'll see.  But also interesting is his promotion of the Atlantic Yards case (through his Washington Post platform) as a national issue.  The NY Courts have basically given it a pass under both Kelo and state law.  We will have to see if it gets any traction as a public-use case.  But he is correct that the controversy over "blight" designations, and the perception that the blight loophole eviscerates may purported post-Kelo "reforms," will probably increase. 

Matt Festa

January 8, 2010 in Caselaw, Eminent Domain, Property Rights, Redevelopment, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Environmental Refugees and Land Use

Here's another gem I stored up during the holiday break - a very interesting story from The New York Times about how refugees from environmental disasters struggle in urban environments. As I mentioned in a previous post, migration issues are a side interest of mine.  While some laud increased urbanization as a way to reduce the environmental impact of subsistence farming, this article shows that urban life has a high social and economic toll on individuals.  To my mind shantytowns are not a more environmentally friendly than subsistence farming - and living in these close quarters certainly leads to the spread of disease

When I was doing immigration work in the 1990s the biggest cause of migration was regional wars and ethnic conflict.  Now it's migration due to climate change.  The global migration system (if there is such a thing) seems just as unable to respond to this refugee crisis as it has been to previous ones.  In this case the issue is a lack of housing and other infrastructure to accept the influx of internally displaced people moving to the cities with no resources or social networks to assist them.  This will be one of the great challenges of this decade.  Who is teaching, thinking, and writing about this issue?  We'd love to hear from you.

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 7, 2010 in Development, Housing, Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

News You Already Knew - a.k.a Too Many Strip Malls

Today on public radio's Marketplace, a story about how the recession has shown that strip mall space has been way overbuilt.  No suprise.  The story predicts no new strip malls will be in the Sunbelt for years.  No problem.  The downside, though, is that strip malls are struggling because local businesses are struggling.  ("Regional" malls are anchored by chains that don't rely on just one location to stay afloat.)  The decline of locally-owned business is a trend I hope will be reversed sometime soon.  Maybe they'll be helped by cheaper rents for commercial space.

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 6, 2010 in Community Economic Development, Development, Sprawl | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Living in Risky Places...

One of the most interesting conversations that I had in 2009 with one of my classes involved whether the federal government should use taxpayer funds to enable individuals to live in areas subject to regular natural disasters.  Places like hills prone to disastrous mudslides, areas that often face huge fires, and coasts that are regularly hit by hurricanes (you can also add areas where earthquakes and flooding are typical).

The gist of the conversation was not whether people should be allowed to live there.  On that issue, almost everyone was in agreement:  if you own the land, you should be able to live there regardless of the risk/danger.

Instead, the debate centered on whether the federal or state governments should underwrite such behavior through policies like government insurance.  On that issue, many of the opinions flipped to the other side.  Something like "Yes, they should be allowed to live there but they should bear the risk for their decision to do so."

Much of that thinking seemed to result from the fact that most people in the U.S. don't live in a flood or earthquake or forest fire prone area.  Instead, they live in areas where natural disasters don't have a history of regularly striking and causing major damage.

This story from the LA Times reminded me of that conversation:

The federal government has informed property owners in more than 150 cities and unincorporated areas in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties about the new requirement. Most live near rivers and creeks, below dams or in low- lying areas that are at greater risk of flooding than previously believed, according to maps developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Premiums range from $500 to more than $1,700 a year. Insurance is mandatory for anyone with a federally backed mortgage, and lenders will typically buy policies, sometimes at a higher cost, for property owners who fail to do so on their own. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own or guarantee more than half of all U.S. mortgages.

Angry homeowners in several parts of Southern California dispute the new maps and have formed groups to challenge them.

In some cases, local governments are paying for studies to challenge FEMA's maps, and in a few cases, the agency has backed down.

The new maps are part of a nationwide effort that FEMA began in 2003 to better identify properties that could flood in a so-called 100-year storm -- the type of deluge that FEMA calculates has a 1% likelihood of occurring in any given year. In much of the country, the redrawn maps greatly increase the number of homes included in flood zones.

Here's the rub: through the federal flood insurance (and other disaster insurance) program, the government is essentially socializing the risk for a limited group of individuals to live in disaster prone areas.  Why is that something the government should be involved in?

Again, people should be able to live wherever they own land.  But, what is the worthwhile policy of promoting (through federal insurance backing) risky decision-making like building a structure near a earthquake fault line or in a low-lying flood prone area.

One could even extend the argument to why should the federal government continue to try and beat back Mother Nature with expensive dams and levy systems.  Even the greatest human engineering faces a losing battle over the long-term against the power of nature.

As many descend on New Orleans for the AALS meeting this week, it might be worthwhile to consider that, well before the US Army Corps of Engineers tried to defeat the mighty Mississippi River, people resided in New Orleans.

They did so, though, on the limited amount of high ground that was not prone to catastrophic flooding.

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

January 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Universal Design

Welcome back to a new semester!  I'm battling a head cold and finishing up an office move, but it's time to get back in the saddle.  Fortunately I've saved up a few interesting topics over the break.  I happened upon the Virginia Real Estate, Land Use and Construction Law blog during the holiday. They recently had an interesting guest post on Universal Design.  For those of us unfamiliar with UD (which is related to the aging-in-place model of home construction and service provision) the bloggers provide this handy definition:

Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. (Ron Mace)

The guest blogger, who is an architect, discusses how UD is and should be related to green design and sustainability.  They even have a fun triangular graphic that shows how social, economic and environmental goals relate.

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 6, 2010 in Architecture, Green Building, Planning | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Detroit: World's Largest Urban Farm?

The popular press has reported recently on the plans of Detroit financier John R. Hantz to create the world's largest urban farm in Detroit, using vacant and blighted land on which to build the project.  The primary purpose of the farm will be to grow local fruit and vegetables for local consumption--something needed in a city without a single national grocery chain within its city limits and where supply of such foods is lacking.  Click here to learn more.  I'll be sharing with you related legal issues in upcoming weeks.

Will Cook

Charleston School of Law

January 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Garnett on Ordering the City

Garnett Ordering

Nicole Stelle Garnett (Notre Dame) has published Ordering the City: Land Use, Policing, and the Restoration of Urban America (Yale University Press, 2009).  From the blurb:

This timely and important book highlights the multiple, often overlooked, and frequently misunderstood connections between land use and development policies and policing practices. In order to do so, the book draws upon multiple literatures—especially law, history, economics, sociology, and psychology—as well as concrete case studies to better explore how these policy arenas, generally treated as completely unrelated, intersect and conflict.

Garnett's book joins Lee Anne Fennell's The Unbounded Home: Property Values Across Property Lines and Eduardo Penalver & Sonia Katyal's Property Outlaws: How Squatters, Pirates, and Protestors Improve the Law of Ownership as the must-read land use books hot off the press. 


Matt Festa

January 5, 2010 in Development, Local Government, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Burj Dubai: The Superscraper

There is a new World's Tallest Building: Burj Dubai.

The £1 billion Burj Dubai is at least 2,683ft from its base to the tip of its spire — that’s more than half a mile, the equivalent of three-and-a-half Canary Wharf towers or two Empire State buildings stacked up. Its final height is being kept secret until tomorrow, but architects who have worked on the building have hinted it could break the 2,700ft mark.

The scale of this thing just blows my mind.  Two Empire State Buildings?

We have written about Dubai here on the blog.  The bursting of the bubble might impact the superscraper's occupancy rates and its ultimate profitability, but simply as a building achievement it seems noteworthy. 

However full the building turns out to be, it is an undoubted engineering triumph. Summer temperatures of up to 50C, desert dust storms and the tower’s extreme height forced builders to go to extraordinary lengths to complete the job. Surveyors had to take their measurements just before dawn when the building was “at rest” — not expanding in the heat of day or contracting in the cool hours of night.

Yes, but is it green?  Opinions differ. 

Environmentalists have criticised the building’s power consumption.

But . . . .

The Chicago-based architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, deny the claim. “Tall buildings are inherently energy- efficient because they are high-density,” said Bill Baker, chief structural engineer. He described the Burj as an affirmation of the power and importance of tall buildings following the 9/11 attacks that brought down the World Trade Center in New York. “It’s a symbol of optimism. It says, ‘We believe in the future’.”

At any rate, the world has a new Tallest Building this New Year.

Matt Festa

January 5, 2010 in Architecture, Density, Development, Green Building | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Malanga's Take on "Feral Detroit"

Steven Malanga, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the senior editor of the City Journal, has offered some interesting commentary recently on the state of Detroit's abandoned buildings (over 70,000 of them).  Click here for an adaptation of Malanga's "Feral Detroit" printed on, which discusses the argument--pro and con--that Detroit must shrink its city's footprint in order to survive. 

Will Cook
Charleston School of Law

January 4, 2010 in Development | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The SmartCode and Land Use Regulation...

Here in Montgomery, we've adopted a customized version of the SmartCode as the primary land use regulation for certain parts of the jurisdiction.  You can read more about the SmartCode here and here.

The SmartCode is both a form-based and a transect-based land use code.  However, rather than focus primarily on block, building and lot uses, it first focuses on the "form" or dimensional aspects of the block, lot and the structures on the lot.

I mention all of this because our local paper, the Montgomery Advertiser, ran a nice article on the SmartCode in Montgomery this past Sunday.  Part of the article discusses some of the legal aspects of Montgomery's code:

When passed, Smart Codes replaced the existing ordinances adopted in 1964 that required single uses for buildings, Groves said. Now a dentist can work in a downtown building and live above his office. "We can have dual compatible uses for buildings," Groves said.

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

January 4, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Environmental Law Scholarship Colloquium at Vermont Law

From the fabulous folks at Vermont:


Vermont Law School will host the “First Annual Fall Colloquium on Environmental
Scholarship.” The Colloquium offers the opportunity for environmental law scholars to
present their works‐in‐progress and recent scholarship, to get feedback from their
colleagues, and to meet and interact with those who are also teaching and researching in
the environmental and natural resources law area.

If you are interested in presenting a paper at the Colloquium, please submit a working
title and short abstract to Professor Jason J. Czarnezki at no later
than March 1, 2010. For an abstract to be eligible for submission, the author must
anticipate that the paper will still be at a revisable stage (neither published nor so close
to publication that significant changes are not feasible) by the date of the Colloquium.
We will do our best to include all interested presenters, and will notify authors about
acceptances in March 2010.

The Colloquium will take place on Friday, October 22, 2010, and Vermont Law School’s
Environmental Law Center and its faculty will host a cocktail reception on Thursday
evening and dinner on Friday evening. Further Colloquium details regarding schedule,
events, lodging, and transportation will be forthcoming and available at

Happy New Year!

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 3, 2010 in Environmental Law, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)