Saturday, February 20, 2010

NYT Book Review: "The Routes of Man"

Janet Maslin of the New York Times has reviewed a collection of essays by Ted Conover, The Routes of Man:  How Roads are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today."  Click here for a link to Maslin's review and here for a link to an excerpt.  The essays are not an attempt to survey the effects of road building on land use law, but rather treat the topic of roads in a series of six essays and discuss more broadly the effects of roads on everyday life.  For a look at some of Conover's photographs, the Times provides a few here.  Maslin ultimately finds the collection disjointed.  Nevertheless, Conover's book attempts to shed new light on a facet of transportation in unanticipated ways.

Will Cook, Charleston School of Law

February 20, 2010 in Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Report from the Seattle Smart Growth Conference

Awhile back I posted the announcement for the annual New Partners for Smart Growth conference.  I wasn't able to attend, but here's a report from Anthony Flint at the Lincoln Institute:

Members of President Obama’s “green cabinet” vowed to implement smart growth at the federal level by coordinating the agencies responsible for housing, transportation, and the environment, delighting nearly two-thousand planners and local government officials gathered for a sustainability conference here.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ray LaHood, secretary of the Department of Transportation, and Lisa Jackson, director of the Environmental Protection Agency, detailed how they were working together to favor funding for initiatives for housing with better proximity to jobs, schools, and transit, for example, and give more priority to transportation projects that helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, over traditional criteria such as relieving congestion. They also said the agencies have also stopped working at cross purposes in the array of programs they administer, unifying disparate initiatives under the mantra of sustainability.  “It’s time the federal government spoke with one voice,” said Donovan.

Read the entire article here.  See more in his Citiwire post here. I also posted the news release about this new initiative from the Obama administration here.  I'll try to keep up with developments about this program as they evolve.

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 19, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Conferences, Development, Federal Government, Planning, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

2010 National Award for Smart Growth Nomination Period Opens

From Delores Wingo-Huntley at EPA:

Applications are now being accepted for the 2010 National Award for
Smart Growth Achievement. This competition is open to public- and
private-sector entities that have successfully used smart growth
principles to improve communities environmentally, socially, and
economically. The application period is open from February 8, 2010 to
April 5, 2010. Up to five awards will be given in the following
categories:

        Programs, Policies, and Regulations
        Smart Growth and Green Building
        Civic Places
        Rural Smart Growth
        Overall Excellence

More information at http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/awards.

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 19, 2010 in Smart Growth | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Massive CRE Problems on the Horizon...

Have you looked at any recent Planning Commission agendas and noticed a lack of commercial real estate items? 

If you live almost anywhere in the U.S., you likely saw just that.  Hardly any rezoning, development plan, or other land use hearings related to commercial development.

This Washington Post story explains why:

Nationwide, at least $1.4 trillion in commercial real estate debt is expected to roll over during the next three years. Warren said that half of commercial real estate mortgages will be underwater by the beginning of 2011. A fifth of residential mortgages are underwater now, she said.

Unlike residential mortgages, which often can be paid over 30 years, commercial real estate mortgages typically must be paid off or refinanced within five years. Commercial properties mortgaged in 2005, 2006 and 2007, at the height of the boom, are reaching their maturity date. "Do the math on this," Warren said. "This is a significant problem."

If you thought that the residential property downturn was steep, wait until you see the effects of the CRE crisis in full effect.

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

February 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More on the Effects of Transit...

I've blogged in the past about my hometown of Detroit.  Once one of the country's most prominent cities, its land use decision-making (among other things) has really gutted large chunks of the community.

This recent PBS special (1.30 hours long so get a nice latte, warm muffin, and a quiet place to listen) does a nice job detailing how Detroit ended up where it is today.

It also discusses how land use and transit policy might provide one of the few hopes to reclaim some level of viability throughout the troubled areas. 

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

February 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Changes in Mass Transit...

While the Orlando/Tampa area is gaining a major mass transit program, the City of Atlanta recently suffered a big regulatory blow to its plans for expanded transit options:

In a blow to Atlanta’s hopes for a rebirth in transportation, the Obama administration has passed over the city’s application for a federal stimulus grant to build a streetcar on Peachtree Street. 

In fact, in a two-page list of grant recipients including many in the Southeast, Georgia appears not to have a single project. Atlanta, local business groups and MARTA applied for $298.3 million, the total amount needed to construct the streetcar. The city and the business groups would have shared the cost of operations, helped by ticket fares, advertising revenues, and naming rights. MARTA would have administered the grant. The city also suggested smaller versions of the project that would cost less, but no dice. Streetcars operated in Atlanta until 1949.

The loss for the streetcar is one more drop in the bucket of metro Atlanta's mass transit misery. MARTA, the only public transit system of its size in the U.S. that receives no significant, sustained state funding, according to transit officials, is facing a disaster in the next fiscal year, when it will have to cut more than $100 million out of its operating budget. Clayton, one of the five core metro Atlanta counties, has decided that it can pave roads, but it shouldn't have to fund buses, so it is completely shutting down C-Tran on March 31.

As someone who lives just a couple hours away from Atlanta, we enjoy visiting the city often. One of the nicest things is the fairly expansive availability of fixed rail mass transit (the MARTA system).

Indeed, a case can be made that Atlanta is the only Southeastern U.S. city where a resident could reasonably live without owning a car. There is enough horizontal and vertical mixed use near several of the MARTA stops that living, working, and meeting your daily needs without a car is viable.

It seems quite odd then that the current Administration would fund high speed rail lines between two Florida cities that don't have a great deal of crossover use while neglecting the type of intra-city and intra-region transit that really would reduce the need for vehicular travel.

One final note: for my smart growth seminar this semester, I'm taking the students on a series of "site visit" classes. In March we'll travel to Atlanta where everyone will park their cars at the airport and then travel the city via MARTA while studying legal issues related to pedestrian activity versus vehicular activity--looking especially at how transit-oriented development is and is not affected to land use laws and regulations.

--Chad Emerson, Faulkner U.

February 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Even Boulder Struggles with its Carbon Footprint

From the Wall Street journal, an article about how Boulder, despite heroic efforts in reducing the carbon footprint of its built environment, has only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1%.

Turns out it's very hard to spur people to action, even when the city tries to remove as many barriers as possible, including cost.

Boulder has found that financial incentives and an intense publicity campaign aren't enough to spur most homeowners to action, even in a city so environmentally conscious that the college football stadium won't sell potato chips because the packaging isn't recyclable...Since 2006, Boulder has subsidized about 750 home energy audits. Even after the subsidy, the audits cost each homeowner up to $200, so only the most committed signed up. Still, follow-up surveys found half didn't implement even the simplest recommendations, despite incentives such as discounts on energy-efficient bulbs and rebates for attic insulation..."If a place like Boulder that regards itself as being in the environmental forefront has such a tough time, these types of efforts are not going to work as a core policy" for the nation, says Roger Pielke Jr., who studies the political response to climate change at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A statement like that would give even No Impact Man pause.  But Boulder officials aren't giving up yet. 

Boulder plans to spend about $1.5 million in city funds and $370,000 in federal stimulus money to hire contractors to do basic upgrades for residents.  In the program, dubbed "Two Techs in a Truck," as many as 15 energy-efficiency teams will go door-to-door. They'll ask home and business owners for permission to caulk windows, change bulbs and install low-flow showerheads and programmable thermostats—all at taxpayer expense. The techs will set up clothes racks in laundry rooms as a reminder to use the dryer less often. They'll even pop into the garage and inflate tires to the optimum pressure for fuel efficiency.

And the Boulder example has wider ramifications.

More than 1,000 U.S. cities have pledged to make such cuts, yet analysts say most are stymied—in part because it's extremely difficult to reduce emissions without a wholesale switch to renewable energy sources. Boulder depends almost entirely for energy on a coal-powered plant.

Aye, there's the rub.  And so President Obama has announced a major new funding initiative for nuclear power.  That story has a local edge to it for me - the initiative will fund two new plants built by our own Southern Company in Burke County, Georgia (home to Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle).  There's sure to be more reaction to that - stay tuned.

In the meantime, what's happening in your own jurisdiction?  It is a struggle to change individual behavior at a scale to do broader good.  It's the age old question of individual action vs. collective action, and how to make it all matter.

Thanks to Anthony Flint at the Lincoln Institute for the heads' up about this story, through their e-mail newsletter.

Jamie Baker Roskie

Follow up - here's an article from the NYTimes about environmentalists' response to Obama's proposal to fund the nuclear power plants.

Update two - Friends of the Earth are protesting Obama's visit to Savannah today (March 2, 2010).

February 17, 2010 in Clean Energy, Climate, Environmentalism, Georgia, Local Government | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nothing says "Be Mine" quite like . . . manure

On the 14th I was disappointed that I couldn't think of any holiday-themed items to blog about for Valentine's Day.  But a Minnesota farmer has come to my rescue with seven loads of manure.  From KIMT.com, Local Farmer Makes Manure Valentine:

Bruce Andersland raises cattle and farms near Albert Lea Minnesota, and this Valentine's Day, he's saying "I Love You" to his wife Beth of nearly forty years, in a unique way. . . .

He used his machinery to draw this arrow pirced heart on their farm land, with manure. . . .

After seven loads of fertilizer he let his wife beth in on his big Valentine's wish.

Beth said, "I've had flowers, jewelery, and chocolate, this was something from the heart and imagination and he's very creative and very thoughtful so this was something special."

Bruce said he thought up the idea one day when he noticed just how well the dark manure showed up on the white snow. . . .

It's about a half a mile wide and in order to see the whole thing you need a plane.

So, they hired a pilot to take aerial shots of the Bruce's creation.

Click the link above for an aerial photo of the giant manure heart.  The fun isn't over yet, either:

Bruce said, "now next year we're gonna see if the corn grows a little better in the shape of a heart."

Thanks to John McKinney for the pointer.  Now if only someone would send me a good land use story for Mardi Gras or Ash Wednesday!

Matt Festa

February 16, 2010 in Agriculture, Humorous | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Climate Change Refugees

Friday I attended the afternoon session of the UGA International Human Rights & Climate Change conference.  The conference was cut short by Athens' own version of Snowmaggedon (which mostly melted by noon the next day).  However, before the white stuff started really falling, Professor John Knox of Wake Forest Law gave an interesting talk on climate change refugees, who are not (under international conventions) really refugees at all, but environmental migrants.  Refugees are those fleeing persecution, rather than natural (or human caused) disaster. Professor Knox suggested some options for dealing with migration issues related to climate change, including the negotiation of a new convention.  For land use fans, Professor Knox's most interesting work has been on preserving the rights of peoples who could be totally displaced by climate change in the Maldives and Bangladesh.  See the Center for International Environmental Law's website on these issues here.

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 16, 2010 in Climate, Environmental Law, Property, Property Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Urban, Rural Areas Battle For Census Prison Populace"

From this evening's broadcast of NPR's All Things Considered, one of those stories that makes you say, "Huh?" and them "hmmnn."  Seems there's a controversy brewing over how this year's census will count prisoners - as part of the population of the place where they are imprisoned, or their community of origin.  You might ask yourself, "How is this a story for the Land Use Prof Blog?"  Well, as it turns out, the controversy creates an urban/rural (and a racial) split.  The prisoners come from African-American and Latino urban areas, and the places where they are imprisoned are rural and predominantly white.  Both areas tend to be poor, and with census numbers come federal dollars to address their most pressing issues - including schools and jobs.

It's always troubling when the neediest folks are pitted against each other for limited resources.  We'll see if some happy medium can be found on this issue.

Jamie Baker Roskie

UPDATE: Turns out the funding issue is a bit of a red herring, according to Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative.  The real issue is redistricting, and the increase of political influence for districts that have prisons.  See his comment to this post, below, which explains the issues more clearly.

February 15, 2010 in Budgeting, Community Economic Development, Crime, Federal Government, New York, Race | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Solomou and Sullivan on Property Tax and Land Use Policies for Forests

Alexia Solomou and Edward J. Sullivan (Portland State) have posted Preserving Forest Lands for Forest Uses - Oregon Property Taxation and Land Use Policies for Forest Lands.  The abstract:

Forest lands are a significant factor in the identity and economy of Oregon. This article outlines the role of forest lands to both and then discusses state taxation and land use policies towards these lands in the face of changing economic, political and social circumstances.

Oregon property taxation policy has been sensitive to the needs of the timber industry, allowing, among other things forest land owners to shift the payment of property taxes until timber is cut and providing an assessment regime that shifts the assessment of forest lands away from the traditional “highest and best use” pattern, as the principal product from those lands may not be harvested for decades.

Oregon forest land use policy has been in place for more than forty years and is more controversial. The principal landmarks of this policy include the passage of a statewide land use program, by which a state agency, the Land Conservation and Development Commission (“LCDC”) adopts various land use policies (“goals” and their implementing administrative rules) to be applied and enforced by local governments.

While these policies have been fairly effective in preventing the conversion of forest lands to non-forest uses, they have not always been well-received by timber interests or rural landowners. Three principal controversies are recounted in dealing with the details of the program: (1) the struggle between a goal to preserve forest lands for forest uses and another goal mandating the inventory and conservation of specific resources often found on forest lands to promote conservation values; (2) efforts of the forest industry to preempt local regulation of forest practices set by the state on forest lands; and (3) state initiative and referendum activity dealing with an extra-constitutional requirement of “just compensation” for those landowners whose land may have been devalued by the imposition of land use regulations. In all of these controversies, the timber industry has played an important role.

The authors conclude with some final comments and conclusions about the Oregon programs in these areas, evaluating its effectiveness in meeting multiple, and sometime conflicting, state policy objectives.

Matt Festa

February 14, 2010 in Local Government | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Babie on Climate Change and Private Property

Paul T. Babie (Adeliade) has posted Climate Change and the Concept of Private Property, forthcoming in REVELLING IN THE WILDS OF CLIMATE CHANGE LAW, Rosemary Lyster, ed., Australian Academic Press: Brisbane.  The abstract:

This essay argues that the dominant liberal conception of private property, implemented and operating in legal systems worldwide, permits power - or choice - over the use and control of goods and resources so as to prioritise self-interest over obligation towards the community, both local and global. This, in turn, is one of the components of modern social life making possible the complex processes that produce both anthropogenic climate change and its consequences for humanity.

Matt Festa

February 14, 2010 in Climate, Environmental Law, Property Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

7th Circuit Land Use Decisions

A couple of interesting land use cases came out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  From Findlaw's Real Estate Case Summaries:

Reget v. City of La Crosse, No. 06-1621.  In plaintiff's constitutional challenge to defendant-city's junk-dealer ordinance requiring him to comply with certain building and safety-code provisions and to fence his outdoor auto storage from the view of his surrounding residential neighbors, summary judgment in favor of defendant is affirmed as plaintiff has not shown that the city has treated him differently than other similarly situated businesses.

and . . .

Helcher v. Dearborn County, No. 07-3949
In a suit against a county by a wireless communications services provider for violation of various provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 when the local Board of Zoning Appeals denied plaintiff's application for a conditional use permit to construct a wireless communication facility on property owned by co-plaintiffs, summary judgment in favor of defendants is affirmed where: 1) the Minutes met the "in writing" requirement under the Act; 2) the Board's decision rejecting the permit for noncompliance with section 1514 is supported by substantial evidence; and 3) plaintiffs' claim of unreasonable discrimination fails.

Interesting land use cases.  You can subscribe to Findlaw's Real Estate Case Summaries here

Matt Festa

February 14, 2010 in Caselaw, Development, Local Government, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kiechel: The Nonprofit that Saved Central Park

In the recent issue of City Journal Conrad Kiechel has an interesting article titled The Nonprofit That Saved Central Park: Thirty years after its founding, the Conservancy inspires other cities.  From the article:

I remember a very different Central Park when I was a college student in Manhattan in the 1970s. I even recall passing through the Ramble. Countless creatures called it home then, too—most of whom you wouldn’t want to run into, day or night. The park’s lawns were dust bowls; its trees’ limbs were broken, their roots exposed; graffiti and inoperative lights marred the once-manicured landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. “It was so awful,” recalls Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, an urban planner from Texas who became the park’s administrator in 1979. “Central Park was under a unionized, civil-service workforce. They were demoralized. It would take three men to prune a tree because of the job titles.”

The change began when Rogers formed an alliance with Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis. Davis started cutting deadwood in his department, a traditional dumping ground for patronage jobs. He also decentralized his department’s operations—first down to the borough level, then to the park level. And Rogers championed the idea that private money and workers would play a key role in the park’s restoration. The Central Park Conservancy was born in 1980—what current park administrator Douglas Blonsky calls a “revolutionary public/private partnership that would bring private monies and expertise, in partnership with the City of New York, to manage and restore Central Park.” . . .

From around the world, visitors flock to Blonsky’s office to learn how the Conservancy’s public/private partnership model can help them restore their own parks.

The article has clear anti-union and pro-privatization implications.  It certainly does present the recent success of Central Park--an important historical and symbolic land use--within the compelling narrative of the restoration of New York City as the signal American metropolis. 

Matt Festa

February 14, 2010 in Environmental Law, History, Local Government, New York, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)