Saturday, January 1, 2011

Localism in the United Kingdom

I’m delighted to be contributing to the Land Use Prof blog, particularly at a time when land use is high on the agenda in the United Kingdom and an area of major reform for the new coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government. Just before Christmas, following repeated delays (one amused allegation on Twitter was that the drafters were having difficulties in pinning down a definition of community) the long awaited 2010 Localism Bill was published. To say that land use lawyers, administrators and planners were excited would be an understatement. Twitter and blogs were buzzing with summaries, questions and comments about the Bill.

The premise of localism, and its aim of devolving greater decision-making on land use to the local neighbourhood level, has captured the public imagination although many are cautious about its potential to transform localities in a time of austerity. There is concern, particularly on the left, that this articulation of localism and the Conservative’s election commitment to a rather vague and poorly understood notion of a ‘Big Society’ can provide further justification for a small State. Specifically, there is a sense that while stable and affluent communities may be able to invest time and resources in local projects, more vulnerable or transient communities may become exposed. These differences may be amplified if there are insufficient resources to encourage and facilitate local decision-making (on land use and in relation to local services more generally) and if local government budgets are, as expected, severely reduced with services withdrawn. 

So far, many of the details of how land use localism will operate in practice have still to be fleshed out in statutory and non-statutory guidance (despite the Bill running to 184 pages without Schedules). More information will become available as the Bill makes its way through the House of Commons and the House of Lords, before becoming an Act of Parliament. I will continue to update on the Bill’s progress and the regulatory articulation of localism on this blog as many strands will pose familiar questions for readers in the United States and beyond.

Antonia Layard

January 1, 2011 in Comparative Land Use, Constitutional Law, Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Introducing Antonia Layard

Antonia_layard We mentioned in the New Year's post below that we have an exciting lineup of guest bloggers that we somehow persuaded to join us over the coming year.  The first of our 2011 guest bloggers is not only an impressive land use scholar, but she is our first international contributor!  I'm pleased to welcome Dr. Antonia Layard from the Cardiff Law School.

Antonia is an expert in land use, environmental law, law and geography, and most particularly the "law of place."  She has degrees from Oxford, LSE, and Columbia, and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Law and Society.  Her most recent publication is Shopping in the Public Realm: The Law of Place, and she has some significant and interesting projects in progress.  You can find her work on SSRN and on  We're thrilled to have her on board!

Matt Festa

December 31, 2010 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Introducing Jim Kelly

We are very glad to announce that Prof. James J. Kelly, Jr. is joining us as an Editor of the Land Use Kelly Prof Blog.  Jim has been an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Community Development Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law.  In the Spring of 2011, he will be a Visiting Professor at Washington & Lee.  I'm also pleased to announce that Jim has accepted a permanent position beginning in the Fall of 2011 as a Clinical Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School, where he will direct a new community development project.  I'm really glad to see that Notre Dame will be bringing Jim on board--to the campus where his now brother-in-law was my freshman roomate back in 1991 (small world dept.). 

Jim is an expert in community development law and practice, and has written extensively on the topic of land trusts for affordable housing: see his pieces Homes Affordable for Good and Land Trusts that Conserve Communities.  He went to UVa and Columbia and has extensive experience with community-based nonprofits.  As we mentioned last week, Jim and his clinic played an important role in the recent passage of Maryland's Affordable Housing Land Trust Act.  Jim guest-blogged with us last summer, and it's great to have him here in 2011. 

Matt Festa

December 31, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Community Economic Development, Land Trust, Property, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

2011 at the Land Use Prof Blog

We have some exciting things to announce!

First, we are pleased to welcome Prof. James J. Kelly, Jr. as a permanent Editor of the blog.  Jim is currently an assistant professor and director of the University of Baltimore Community Development Clinic.  He guest-blogged with us last summer and we are excited to have him join the blog. 

We are very lucky to have Prof. Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold join us as a Contributing Editor.  Many of you are likely familiar with Tony's scholarship and reputation; he is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Faculty Development; Boehl Chair in Property & Land Use; Professor of Law; Affiliated Professor of Urban Planning; Chair of the Center for Land Use & Environmental Responsibility at the University of Louisville.  Tony will start contributing later in the month as the spring semester gets underway.

We'll get Jim and Tony added to the links on the left side of the page as soon as we can, but in the meantime you can click the links in this post to find out more about their bios and scholarship.

We also have a number of guest-bloggers lined up for 2011.  I'm really excited about this.  We had great contributions from Jim, Ken Stahl, and McKay Cunningham last year.  The land use scholars that we have persuaded to guest-blog this year is a stellar group, and will undoubtedly give us great thoughts and ideas in the diverse, interdisciplinary field of land use. 

First up among the guest bloggers is Dr. Antonia Layard, from the Cardiff Law School.  Land Use Prof Blog is going global!  More to come.  Thanks so much for reading and contributing to the conversation.

Matt Festa

December 31, 2010 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

. . . Hello 2011!

Happy New Year to the land use community!

I've noticed a trend in the last few years of more cities putting on a New Year's or "first night" celebration downtwon.  That's an encouraging sign for the increasing health of urban communities.  This year, Houston is finally getting into the act with Gloworama in the new downtown park, Discovery Green

Another New Year tradition that some of you might not be familiar with is fireworks.  I have the window open (it's 70 degrees here) and can hear the bombs bursting in air.  Fireworks are illegal in the city of Houston, but are legal in most of the unincorporated parts of Harris County.  Fireworks law has actually been a fairly big issue, with state laws and local laws striking a balance that allows them to be used in some places at some times--with lots of exceptions for proximity to churches, schools, etc.  You may not think that the churches or schools are fully populated at midnight, but I suspect that these exceptions have something to do with the fact that these tend to be the established exceptions to generally-applicable land use regulations.  Also, fireworks can only be sold for only a few weeks before Independence Day and New Year's. 

Stay safe, and have a Happy New Year!

Matt Festa

December 31, 2010 in Houston, Local Government, State Government, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Farewell 2010 . . .

We had a great year here on the Land Use Prof Blog.  The stats show that we reached a lot of new readers, and we were very pleased and humbled to get some positive feedback from those of you in the land use community.  Land use is a field that covers a lot of ground both academically and professionally, so it's been fun to try and cover topics of interest to academics and practitioners in law, planning, government, real estate, environmentalism, and all of the other fields involved. 

Thanks so much for reading the blog in 2010.  We have some exciting things planned for 2011, so please keep reading, and please keep sharing your thoughts and ideas.  Happy New Year!

December 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Counties - Unincorporated Areas

In a previous blog posting, I highlighted a few problems inherent in a zoning scheme that is largely localized. Here is another difficulty stemming from vesting multiple municipalities with relatively independent zoning authority -- namely, how to regulate the use of land that is outside city limits.

A recent front-page article in the Dallas Morning News spotlights three new slaughter houses that have newly popped up northeast of Dallas in an unincorporated area. Outside of city borders, zoning is not an available tool to address such issues. 

"Its a regulatory loophole they're slipping through," said Laubenberg, whose district includes both processing plants. "It looks like the eastern part of Collin County has became a dumping ground for these under-the-radar operations."

McKay Cunningham

December 29, 2010 in Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kelly on Maryland's Affordable Housing Land Trust Act

James J. Kelly, Jr. (Baltimore; Washington & Lee (visiting)) has posted Maryland's Affordable Housing Land Trust Act, recently published in the Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, Vol. 19, p. 345, Spring/Summer 2010.  The abstract:

On May 20, 2010, Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley, signed the Affordable Housing Land Trust Act (AHLT Act) into law. Its enactment marked the culmination of six years of advocacy by the University of Baltimore Community Development Clinic and by the Maryland Asset Building and Community Development Network. The AHLT Act authorizes a new method of creating and sustaining permanently affordable homeownership. By using the affordable housing land trust agreements outlined in the legislation, Maryland nonprofits and governmental agencies may now enter into enforceable long-term agreements with publicly subsidized low- and moderate-income homeowners to ensure that their homes remain affordable to other income-qualified homebuyers in the future. With the development of this essential tool for the creation of permanently affordable homes, Maryland has addressed key obstacles to preserving the affordable housing gains it has made through its pioneering efforts in community-based nonprofit housing development and inclusionary zoning.

This article will explore the legal obstacles that advocates of permanently affordable homeownership in Maryland faced prior to this year’s statutory amendments, the dialogue that produced the final bill, and the way forward for permanently affordable housing in Maryland and elsewhere. Part I will give background about efforts to create permanently affordable homes and the difficulties presented by several legal doctrines common to many states and one unique to Maryland. Focusing on the legislation itself, Part II will describe the advocacy effort and stakeholder dialogue as well as the resulting bill that addressed a variety of concerns raised by the indefinite dedication of land to affordable homeownership. Part III will discuss how existing models of resale restrictions used by community land trust and inclusionary zoning programs can be adapted to meet the affordable housing land trust approach outlined in the statute. The article concludes with a discussion about the value of possible changes in the law of other states to support stewardship of housing affordability.

This is a significant real world legislative achievement, and is due in large part to the efforts of Prof. Kelly and his University of Baltimore Community Development Clinic, so be sure to check out the article.  You may remember Jim's excellent guest-blogging for us last summer; we might be hearing more from him very soon (hint, hint).  

Matt Festa

December 29, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Community Design, Community Economic Development, Housing, Land Trust, Planning, Politics, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rockefeller Center and Big Development Projects

I just saw a CNBC documentary on The Rockefellers.  It was well done (not sure when it was originally made).  One segment that I found very interesting from a land use perspective was the story of the development of Rockefeller Center in NYC-- you know, famous for the Christmas tree, the skating rink, Radio City, and the place where Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey hang out at 30 Rock (coincidentally, I thought that the middle-aged Nelson Rockefeller had an uncanny resemblance to Alec Baldwin).  

The gist of the narrative is that John Rockefeller Jr. bought the land--several blocks of midtown Manhattan--from Columbia intending to redevelop it as a new home for the Metropolitan Opera.  Then the Great Depression hit.  Unable get traditional investors and real estate financing, Junior took the bold move of deciding to go ahead and build.  He commissioned an ambitious plan for developing several blocks with buildings, theaters, the plaza, and the 70-story skyscraper.  Rockefeller paid for most of it himself up front, and put thousands to work.

You can read more about it in Daniel Okrent's book Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center.

One thing it made me think about is the feasibility of large-scale redevelopment projects.  The story seemed to be that Rockefeller Center was a big risk, but paid great rewards (both financially to its owners, and culturally to the city).  But the current political mood seems to disfavor large-scale redevelopment.  The high-profile failures of places like Poletown and even New London seem to caution ambitious planners away from undertaking too-ambitious plans for fear they might fail, and this is leading to some of the criticism of planned projects like Atlantic Yards.  

One way to look at it is that the history of real estate development (as well as business generally) is probably replete with more failures than successes, so perhaps it isn't fair to judge all future projects by anecdotal examples of recent failures.  There's also context: while one of the academics in the CNBC documentary described Rockefeller Center as "the biggest development project since the great pyramids," it was still just a few blocks of New York City, so as large as it was it probably wouldn't have singlehandedly sunk the fortunes of Gotham had it failed--where as a place like New London has much more at stake in a major economic development project.  There's also the issue government involvement.  While I don't know the full story of Rockefeller Center (I'll have to read Okrent's book!), it seems as though it was principally planned, organized, and paid for by private actors.  The modern trend toward more government involvement may be necessary to execute a massive project given the regulatory issues and the need for eminent domain for land assembly.  The question is whether governmental involvement comes with a price-- complicating the project politically, legally, and financially, and putting the public fisc at risk if the project tanks.  

I know there are a million variables that influence why some projects succeed and others fail, and I don't have a scientific theory on the matter.  It would be interesting, though, to compare modern and historical large-scale development projects and to account for historical failures as well as the successes that we can remember so much more easily.

Matt Festa

December 28, 2010 in Architecture, Books, Development, History, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Physicist invents Urban Science

Here's a fascinating story from yesterday's New York Times: A Physicist Solves the City.  It's about physicist Geoffrey West, who after a career working at places like Los Alamos and Stanford, decided to turn his attention to solving the city--not through urban theory, planning, or social science, but through a hard scientific analysis of data to search for fundamental laws underpinning the urban organism.

West wasn’t satisfied with any of these approaches. He didn’t want to be constrained by the old methods of social science, and he had little patience for the unconstrained speculations of architects. (West considers urban theory to be a field without principles, comparing it to physics before Kepler pioneered the laws of planetary motion in the 17th century.) Instead, West wanted to begin with a blank page, to study cities as if they had never been studied before. He was tired of urban theory — he wanted to invent urban science.

For West, this first meant trying to gather as much urban data as possible. Along with Luis Bettencourt, another theoretical physicist who had abandoned conventional physics, and a team of disparate researchers, West began scouring libraries and government Web sites for relevant statistics. The scientists downloaded huge files from the Census Bureau, learned about the intricacies of German infrastructure and bought a thick and expensive almanac featuring the provincial cities of China. (Unfortunately, the book was in Mandarin.) They looked at a dizzying array of variables, from the total amount of electrical wire in Frankfurt to the number of college graduates in Boise. They amassed stats on gas stations and personal income, flu outbreaks and homicides, coffee shops and the walking speed of pedestrians.

After two years of analysis, West and Bettencourt discovered that all of these urban variables could be described by a few exquisitely simple equations. For example, if they know the population of a metropolitan area in a given country, they can estimate, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, its average income and the dimensions of its sewer system. These are the laws, they say, that automatically emerge whenever people “agglomerate,” cramming themselves into apartment buildings and subway cars. It doesn’t matter if the place is Manhattan or Manhattan, Kan.: the urban patterns remain the same. West isn’t shy about describing the magnitude of this accomplishment. “What we found are the constants that describe every city,” he says. “I can take these laws and make precise predictions about the number of violent crimes and the surface area of roads in a city in Japan with 200,000 people. I don’t know anything about this city or even where it is or its history, but I can tell you all about it. And the reason I can do that is because every city is really the same.” After a pause, as if reflecting on his hyperbole, West adds: “Look, we all know that every city is unique. That’s all we talk about when we talk about cities, those things that make New York different from L.A., or Tokyo different from Albuquerque. But focusing on those differences misses the point. Sure, there are differences, but different from what? We’ve found the what.”

Very interesting, and sure to get some responses.  Thanks to Jon Coen for the pointer.

Matt Festa

December 28, 2010 in Comparative Land Use, Density, Development, Globalism, Local Government, Planning, Property Theory, Scholarship, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tarlock on Land Use Regulation as the Weak Link in Environmental Protection

A. Dan Tarlock (Chicago-Kent) has posted Land Use Regulation: The Weak Link in Environmental Protection, Washington Law Review, Vol. 82, No. 651 (2007).  The abstract:

Professor William Rodgers is one of the handful of legal academics who have shaped and influenced environmental law since it was created out of whole cloth in the late 1960s. The staggering quantity, quality, breadth, and creativity of his scholarship are perhaps unrivaled among his peers. It is easy to criticize the gap between the environmental problems that society faces and the inadequate legal tools and institutions that we have created to confront them. Professor Rodgers has always been able to see both the deep flaws in environmental law and the possibilities for more responsive legal regimes.

Matt Festa

December 26, 2010 in Environmental Law, Federal Government, Property Rights, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)