Friday, May 3, 2013

Could it be that American local governments are actually more centralized than they were a generation ago?

When I teach State & Local Government Law, one of the narratives of the course is jurisdictional Governmental Units - 1942 - 2012fragmentation—what scholars call “decentralization”—of local governmental authority.  To support this claim, I like to bring out the U.S. Census data on local governments, which tells us that, in 2012 there were 89,055 units of local government in the U.S.  Mouths gape at the number, and my point is made.

This week, however, I had reason to go back and look at some of the historic data on local government units.  To my surprise, it turns out that, over the past seventy years, the number of local governmental units in the U.S. has actually decreased...dramatically!  In 1942, there were 155,116 local government units in the U.S., which means that 66,061 units of local government, or 42 percent, of local government units in place in 1942, have disappeared in the last 70 years!  (Click on image to see full data table, or click here for U.S. Census site.)

I find these numbers staggering, and I don’t know what to make of them.  My presumption is that a lot of the lost local government units were hyper-specialized special use districts of one type or another; for instance, maybe there were five mosquito abatement districts in some rural western county, but now there is just one mega-mosquito abatement district.  But I wonder, what was a state like Minnesota doing with 10,398 local government units in 1942 where it has just 3,634 local government units in 2012?  I plan to dig into this over the next couple months but, in the meantime, I thought I’d crowdsource it and see if anyone out there has a thought as to what this is all about.  And, moreover, does it mean that I need to revise the narrative I tell about fragmentation of American local governments?  Is the trend, in fact, toward more centralized power of local governmental units?

Stephen R. Miller

May 3, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How to Manage Smart Decline: Should We Demolish Vacant Buildings?


I stumbled across a recent artcle in Applied Geography that I think may be of interest to our readers. I got even more excited when I realized the piece was from colleagues in SUNY Buffalo's Geography Department. Amy Frazier, Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, and Jason Knight examine the effect of demolition on land-use patterns and changes in human-environment interactions.

While many cities are worried about smart growth and we land use profs spend a lot of time thinking about it, shrinking cities like Buffalo face another challenge: smart decline. The authors (and others) have convinced me that maintaining pro-growth policies in a shrinking city is ill-advised. Instead of thinking we're going to suddenly grow Buffalo, let's think about how we can grow smaller gracefully. Smart decline policies include things like land banks, urban farming, and green infrastructures.

Frazier et al. look at the smart decline policy of demolition. Earlier studies (as well as conventional wisdom) suggest that vacant buildings attract criminal activities (the broken window effect). This study examined a five-year demolition program in Buffalo to assess whether demolitions of vacant buildings actually lead to reduced crime. Their results are fascinating and like all of the best projects point out areas where more research is needed. The big take aways seem to be that there may be some local reductions in crime, but that likely means that the criminal activity is pushed elsewhere. This can have unanticipated impacts on surrounding areas, transportation needs, housing values etc. Such policies need to examine the way that demolitions will shift land uses and impact human-environment interactions. To do so in a successful way will necessarily include regional approaches.

Amy E. Frazier, Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, & Jason Knight, The Spatio-temporal Impacts of Demolition Land Use Policy and Crime in a Shrinking City 41 Applied Geography 55 (2013)

ABSTRACT: Land use change, in the form of urbanization, is one of the most significant forms of global change, and most cities are experiencing a rapid increase in population and infrastructure growth. However, a subset of cities is experiencing a decline in population, which often manifests in the abandonment of residential structures. These vacant and abandoned structures pose a land use challenge to urban planners, and a key question has been how to manage these properties. Often times land use management of these structures takes the form of demolition, but the elimination of infrastructures and can have unknown and sometimes unintended effects on the human-environment interactions in urban areas. This paper examines the association between demolitions and crime, a human-environment interaction that is fostered by vacant and abandoned properties, through a comparative statistical analysis. A cluster analysis is performed to identify high and low hot spots of demolition and crime activity, specifically assault, drug arrests, and prostitution, over a 5-year period. Results show that there is an association between the area targeted for significant demolition activity and the migration of spatial patterns of certain crimes. The direction of crime movement toward the edges of the city limits and in the direction of the first ring suburbs highlights the importance of regional planning when implementing land use policies for smart decline in shrinking cities.

Jessie Owley

May 1, 2013 in Community Design, Crime, Density, Downtown, Environmental Justice, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Land Use Prof bloggers unite!

The five current Land Use Prof bloggers were in Minneapolis this weekend for the ALPS conference.  A photo was taken to commemmorate this rare event, reproduced for our faithful readership below:

Land Use Prof Bloggers

From left-to-right:  Ken Stahl, Jim Kelly, Matt Festa, Jessie Owley, and Stephen Miller.

A big kudos to Jessie Owley for live-blogging ALPS.  I, personally, was live-hacking my way through the event with the remnants of a cold, but had a great time meeting everyone and getting to hear a lot of great work on land use that will undoubtedly be featured on this blog in the months ahead.

Stephen R. Miller

April 29, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Climate and Land Use Program Officer position - David and Lucile Packard Foundation

I saw a post today for a Climate and Land Use Program Officer position at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation that I thought might be of interest to some readers.  More details here

Stephen R. Miller

April 29, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Call For Papers: Green Urban Infrastructure and Climate Adaptation

The Journal of Landscape and Urban Planning has announced a call for papers for a special issue. Abstracts are due May 10th with papers to follow at a later date.

Description is below with details on their website.

The ‘green city’ with high-quality and generous vegetation is an ideal with universal appeal that transcends temporal, spatial and cultural divides. Vegetated sites, including street trees, green alleys, greenways, green roofs, urban parks and informal green spaces enhance the liveability of cities by improving landscape and environmental quality, quality of life, and citizen health. Green infrastructural development has been driven by changes in local demand and urban form over time.

Global climate change poses new challenges to the planning and management of urban green infrastructure. Scientists anticipate warmer average temperatures and intensified storms and extreme weather conditions in the decades ahead. The urban heat island effect will increase the intensity and frequency of global warming impacts. Coupled with increasingly variable precipitation and gradual sea level rises, climate change is expected to bring significant impacts to urban populations, particularly medium-high  density coastal cities.

Green infrastructure constitutes a local response to the most pressing global challenge in our times. Urban greenery can potentially shield cities against adverse effects of climate change. By harnessing and blending natural processes with infrastructural development, green infrastructure can help moderate natural hazards, regulate water balance, and alleviate heat stress. Recent research has confirmed that green infrastructure should be systematically integrated into urban climate change adaptation responses. But our knowledge of green infrastructure has not been systematically assessed, and our conceptual frameworks for advancing green infrastructure as a climate change response are presently weak. Further consolidation of knowledge could achieve a higher degree of intellectual coherence, which will be conducive to building closer linkages to global discourses and practices, potentially reaching a wider institutional audience.

The aim of the Special Issue is to solicit and integrate new research findings in an effort to advance a coherent and conceptually rigorous framework of knowledge about green infrastructure. Papers are sought that critically examine the role of urban green infrastructure in response to climate change impacts. Papers must provide evidence of, and insights into, the prospects for using green infrastructure to enhance urban adaptability. The Special Issue pursues broad geographical representation, but priority is given to case studies of densely populated coastal cities. Empirical reports are encouraged, although high-quality perspective essays are also welcome. Contributions from multiple disciplines are invited. Papers are expected to address institutional concerns, apply scientific findings to formulate policy recommendations, and adopt an international perspective.

Jessie Owley

April 29, 2013 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)