Monday, November 28, 2011

Leinberger on the Death of the Fringe Suburb

Christopher Leinberger (Brookings/Michigan), author of The Option of Urbanism and many other great pieces, has written The Death of the Fringe Suburb in the New York Times.  The bad news:

DRIVE through any number of outer-ring suburbs in America, and you’ll see boarded-up and vacant strip malls, surrounded by vast seas of empty parking spaces. These forlorn monuments to the real estate crash are not going to come back to life, even when the economy recovers. And that’s because the demand for the housing that once supported commercial activity in many exurbs isn’t coming back, either.

The better news:

Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.

The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population.

Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.

The millennials are just now beginning to emerge from the nest — at least those who can afford to live on their own. This coming-of-age cohort also favors urban downtowns and suburban town centers — for lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars.

Interesting times.

Matt Festa

November 28, 2011 in Architecture, Density, Downtown, Housing, New Urbanism, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The 19 Building Types That Caused the Recession"

Over at The Atlantic Cities website, I stumbled across this fun little piece,

Among his favorite examples of all the standard real-estate products built ad nauseum across the country over the last half-century, Christopher Leinberger likes to point to the Grocery Anchored Neighborhood Center. This creation is generally about 12 to 15 acres in size on a plot of land that’s 80 percent covered in asphalt. It’s located on the going-home side of a major four-to-eight lane arterial road, where it catches people when they’re most likely to be thinking about what to buy for dinner. . .

Leinberger, an urban land-use strategist and professor at the University of Michigan, includes the Grocery Anchored Neighborhood Center on his list of the 19 standard real estate product types dominant in post-war America. Also on the list: suburban detached starter homes, big-box anchored power centers, multi-tenant bulk warehousing and self-storage facilities. All of these products are designed for drivable suburban communities. They reflect almost exclusively what investors have been willing to finance for the last 50 years. And as construction picks back up following the recession, Leinberger says we'll need to get away from every single one of them.

It's a slightly fancier way to say we must get away from sprawl, but it's certainly food for thought.

And when you're done with that, check out Richard Florida's article "2011's Best Cities for Trick-or-Treating."

Jamie Baker Roskie

October 26, 2011 in Architecture, Community Design, Development, Finance, New Urbanism, Parking, Pedestrian, Planning, Sprawl, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Georgia Trust Releases 2012 "Places in Peril"

Today the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation released its 2012 "Places in Peril" list of historic properties under threat. (Historic preservation bufs will note this public relations gambit is not unique to Georgia.) As I expected, UGA's Rutherford Hall appears first on the list.  Rutherford is, as I previously blogged, slated for demolition.  However, several less imperiled, yet possibly more architecturally worthy buildings, such as the Randolph County Courthouse, are also listed.

Built in the 1880's, this masonry courthouse located on the town square of Cuthbert was built in the Dutch Romanesque Style, which is unusual for Georgia. With the construction of a new judicial center for Randolph County, the functions of the courthouse were relocated. The county is working with the architectural firm Lord Aeck & Sargent to redevelop the building as offices for many municipal functions including a welcome center, chamber of commerce, soil conservation lab and event space. The county is performing the restoration in phases, using prisoner labor. The courtroom benches have been restored as part of a rehabilitation program that trains prisoners to refinish furniture.

These lists of endangered properties must have value - I wonder how often a listing like this results in a property being saved.  I don't think there's much hope for Rutherford Hall, though. Despite significant opposition the University seems staunch in its plan to "retrofit" through demolition of the existing building.

Jamie Baker Roskie

October 25, 2011 in Architecture, Georgia, Historic Preservation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amazing "Vertical Forest"

Inhabit.com has a beautiful slide show and accompanying article about the world's first residential building incorporating a verticle forest.

The Bosco Verticale is a system that optimizes, recuperates, and produces energy. Covered in plant life, the building aids in balancing the microclimate and in filtering the dust particles contained in the urban environment (Milan is one of the most polluted cities in Europe). The diversity of the plants and their characteristics produce humidity, absorb CO2 and dust particles, producing oxygen and protect the building from radiation and acoustic pollution. This not only improves the quality of living spaces, but gives way to dramatic energy savings year round.

Each apartment in the building will have a balcony planted with trees that are able to respond to the city’s weather — shade will be provided within the summer, while also filtering city pollution; and in the winter the bare trees will allow sunlight to permeate through the spaces. Plant irrigation will be supported through the filtering and reuse of the greywater produced by the building. Additionally, Aeolian and photovoltaic energy systems will further promote the tower’s self-sufficiency.

It looks like something out of Tolkein - I highly recommend you take a look.

Jamie Baker Roskie

October 17, 2011 in Architecture, Climate, Community Design | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 23, 2011

R.E.M. is Breaking Up

So the big news around here this week is the breakup of Athens-based rock band R.E.M.  Sad news for music fans, but why is this Land Use Prof blogable?  Well, first off, R.E.M. - through band manager and UGA law alum Bertis Downs - has given financial support to the UGA Land Use Clinic, including the money to buy our first real office furniture.  Also, association with R.E.M. has made icons of several community features or locations.  The most prominent of these features is the railroad trestle featured on the cover of their 1983 album "Mumur" - music fans have rallied multiple times to save the trestle, which is now onthe local Oconee Rivers Greenway.  The other most commonly associated structure is the steeple of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, where the band played an early (possibly their first) show in 1980.  The church is now gone, and the steeple molders in the parking lot of a local condominium association while the Athens-Clarke Heritage Assocation and local leaders try to figure out how to save it.  The band itself has steered mostly clear of these battles, which are likely to continue.  Athens won't be the same without R.E.M., but the town is permanently changed by the bands' legacy.

Jamie Baker Roskie

September 23, 2011 in Architecture, Georgia, Historic Preservation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Pet Friendly Home Designs from Japan

Given all the bad real estate news around the world, it's nice to see something from the lighter side - cutting-edge, pet-friendly home designs from Japan.  (As an interesting sidelight, note the tiny footprints of these houses.)

According to [the designer's] estimates, the cost to design a two-story, detached wooden home built to cat specifications ranges from 3.2 million yen (about $42,000 in U.S. dollars) for a 20-square-meter space (about 215 square feet) -- on up to 13 percent of the total construction costs for a space measuring more than 50 square meters (about 538 square feet), the company reports.

[C]at-friendly features...include:

    a cat-accessible loft that features skylights and windows;
    a multistage cube of shelves with cat beds; and
    a floor-to-ceiling scratching post column, wrapped in hemp rope.

And for dog lovers?

Features of a dog-friendly home typically include proper ventilation to eliminate hair shed; odor absorbent materials; and a dog shower or toilet. Other dog-friendly home features include: dog-level peepholes in garden walls, pet-door installations in each room, outdoor courtyards in dense urban housing areas, and scratch-resistant flooring.

"For dogs it's ... more difficult (than designing a home for cats)," Koyama said, adding that special attention must be given to materials used for the floors and stairs.

The cost to design a two-story wooden home to dog specifications can range from 3 million yen (about $39,000 in U.S. dollars) for a 20-square-meter space (about 215 square feet) up to 12 percent of total construction costs for a space exceeding 50 square meters (about 538 square feet).

American home designers and real estate developers, take note of this potential niche market in an otherwise troubled housing sector!

Jamie Baker Roskie

September 23, 2011 in Architecture, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and land use at Ground Zero

Today America commemorates 9/11 on its tenth anniversary.

While the tragedy and heroics of that day appropriately take precedence, 9/11 has created long-running and controversial land use issues since 2001. From the logistics of managing the rescue operations and the excavation, to last year's "ground zero mosque" kerfuffle, issues from the local to the international have played out in discussions over land use at the WTC site in lower Manhattan.

Two of the most controversial land use questions, especially as the years passed, have been (1) how should 9/11 be remembered at the site, and (2) what and how to build/rebuild to replace the twin towers.

On the first question, public memory and historic presentation, you may have seen the news that the 9/11 Memorial opens with a dedication ceremony today. The project seems to be a classic American example of public-private cooperation:

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, Inc. began formal operations in the spring of 2005 and worked with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation on the design and construction management plan. In the summer of 2006, the organization assumed responsibility for overseeing the design and working with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the construction manager on the project. . . . In the beginning of October 2006, the Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York, became Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Following the election of the Mayor as Chairman, the Foundation named Joseph C. Daniels as President.

At the website, there are links to a lot of of great photos and interactive views of the site and the Memorial.

The second enduring issue--whether and what to rebuild on the site--has generated a lot of criticism as a decade has passed without any replacement for the towers. This issue has been a perfect storm of land use issues: real estate, economics, regulation, federalism, urbanism, architecture, planning, transportation, culture, history, and of course, politics, politics, politics. For what it's worth, my impression has been that on the one hand, it's too simplistic to just say we should have built a ginormous tower immediately to stick it to the terrorists--yes, NY got the Empire State Building up in about 15 months during the Great Depression, but that's not realistic in lower Manhattan today. On the other hand, I think that the decade-long wait for putting some of the world's most valuable real estate to use says something important about the effect of the burdens that we have placed on property in the modern regulatory environment. Many of the procedural and political issues and delays might have been for justifiable ends, but really, a decade?

Things are finally moving along, though. From the Wall Street Journal's Developments real estate blog comes the helpful post Six Questions on Rebuilding the World Trade Center. The signature tower is in progress:

What’s the status of the office buildings? Some are further along than others. One World Trade Center, the site’s signature office building, is going up about a floor per week and is currently around 80 stories out of a total 104, and it’s already the tallest structure in Lower Manhattan.

On the delays:

What’s taken so long? Conflict has been a big theme of the rebuilding. There have been battles with insurers, wars between agencies, and repeated fights between the public sector and private developer Larry Silverstein over how to rebuild and fund his office towers. Those fights have often led to stalemates. Add onto that the fact that the site is extraordinarily complex — it’s often likened to a Rubik’s cube, but it’s sometimes more like a messy ball of rubber bands. The mechanics of the site are all intertwined — exits and emergency systems for the PATH station are in the neighboring towers, and deliveries to One World Trade Center need to run underneath 2, 3, and 4 World Trade Center. This means everything underground had to be built more or less at once, with precision. There is a laundry list of public agencies involved, and historically they hadn’t been great at communicating with each other.

The WSJ also has a great interactive graphic Exploring Ground Zero, Ten Years Later.

9/11 deserves our remembrance today, our continuing thanks for those serving in harm's way, and--secondarily--our commitment to good land use at this very important place for commerce, human activity, and public memory.

Matt Festa

September 11, 2011 in Architecture, Development, Downtown, Federal Government, History, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Newer Way to Relate to the Built Environment

Happy Labor Day! This morning I was perusing the Athens paper and happened upon this article about local parkour enthusiasts. The folks at parkour.com define it as "‘Efficient movement from A to B’ (i.e. anything you would do if you were running for your life)," and it involves jumping on and over buildings, stairwells, trees, and anything that comes in your way.  I'm always looking for ways to get my students out of the office and seeing how land use really happens out in the world.  Maybe I should encourage them to get into parkour, for an up-close-and-personal perspective.

Jamie Baker Roskie

September 5, 2011 in Architecture, Georgia, Humorous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 22, 2011

National Building Museum: Public Memory of 9/11

The National Building Museum is hosting what looks like a particularly interesting program called The Public Memory of 9/11.  It will explore two of my favorite subjects: public land use; and collective memory of the past. 

The upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks offers an opportunity to consider how the sites in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington are memorializing and interpreting this event. Leading representatives—Alice Greenwald, Director, National September 11 Memorial & Museum; Jeff Reinbold, Site Manager, Flight 93 National Memorial and; Jim Laychak, President, Pentagon Memorial Fund— present the designs of the memorials and discuss the challenges in commemorating recent history. Brent Glass, director of the National Museum of American History, moderates the program.  1.5 LU HSW (AIA)

FREE. Pre-Registration required. Walk in registration based on availability.

Date: Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM.  If you'd like to attend this event you can RSVP online.

Matt Festa

July 22, 2011 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, Conferences, Federal Government, History | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Salkin on the Impact of Technology and Innovation on Urban Development

Patricia Salkin (Albany) has posted From Bricks and Mortar to Mega-Bytes and Mega-Pixels: The Changing Landscape of the Impact of Technology and Innovation on Urban Development, published in The Urban Lawyer, Vol. 11, pp. 42-4/43-1, Fall 2010/Winter 2011.  The abstract:

This article reflects upon the impact that technology and innovation has had on urban development. From NASA's Landstat program, to Google maps and GPS, technlogy has had a significant impact on urban planning and land use law. The article begins with a discussion of the impact of the elevator and steel technologies on urban architecture and density, and then moves to changes in transportation such as the automobile and the development of public transportation systems. Green buildings, GIS, satellite data, online mapping, personal computers, the Internet and cell phones are all examined.

Matt Festa

 

July 21, 2011 in Architecture, Green Building, Planning, Scholarship, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Georgia Theater to Reopen

I've blogged previously here and here about efforts to rebuild Athens' historic Georgia Theater after a devastating fire in 2009.  It's been a long, tough road for the building's owner, and I'm sure he felt there were times when the reopening just wasn't meant to be.  So, in grand Athens fashion, there will be a big, weeks long party to celebrate, starting August 1.  They have a fantastic lineup of local and national favorites such as The Glands, Kenosha Kid, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

The UGA student paper The Red & Black has a nice article about the rebuilding and refitting of the interior.  The Theater is beloved by music and architecture fans alike.  It's wonderful to see it taking on a new life.

Jamie Baker Roskie

July 9, 2011 in Architecture, Georgia, Historic Preservation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Has Preservation Become a Dangerous Epidemic?

" . . . And is it destroying our cities?"  That's how this NY Times piece starts out, but it isn't an anti-HP property rights screed.  It's an exhibition review of "Cronocaos," at the New Museum: An Architect's Fear that Preservation Distorts.

That’s the conclusion you may come to after seeing “Cronocaos” at the New Museum. Organized by Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu, a partner in Mr. Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the show draws on ideas that have been floating around architectural circles for several years now — particularly the view among many academics that preservation movements around the world, working hand in hand with governments and developers, have become a force for gentrification and social displacement, driving out the poor to make room for wealthy homeowners and tourists.

Mr. Koolhaas’s vision is even more apocalyptic. A skilled provocateur, he paints a picture of an army of well-meaning but clueless preservationists who, in their zeal to protect the world’s architectural legacies, end up debasing them by creating tasteful scenery for docile consumers while airbrushing out the most difficult chapters of history. The result, he argues, is a new form of historical amnesia, one that, perversely, only further alienates us from the past.

In New York, the exhibition is in an old restaurant supply store adjacent to the museum, with a line drawn down the middle; one side has been "renovated" and the other left "raw and untouched."

The result is startling. The uneven, patched-up floors and soiled walls of the old space look vibrant and alive; the new space looks sterile, an illustration of how even the minimalist renovations favored by art galleries today, which often are promoted as ways of preserving a building’s character, can cleanse it of historical meaning.

Interesting.  One other point the architect makes is that preservation can be selective in what periods and styles ought to be preserved:

This phenomenon is coupled with another disturbing trend: the selective demolition of the most socially ambitious architecture of the 1960s and ’70s — the last period when architects were able to do large-scale public work. That style has been condemned as a monstrous expression of Modernism. . . . To Mr. Koolhaas, these examples are part of a widespread campaign to stamp out an entire period in architectural history — a form of censorship that is driven by ideological as much as aesthetic concerns.

Matt Festa

May 24, 2011 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, Historic Preservation, History, New York, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Slate Declares the "Death of the McMansion"

Read all about it here. A quote from the article:

While the evidence is fragmentary—the current reduction in average new house sizes has more to do with the preponderance of first-time buyers than an overall shift in demand—it is clear that the long recessionary cold-shower will dampen the exuberance that characterized the boom years of 2000 to 2005. That will mean smaller houses closer together on smaller lots in inner suburbs, fewer McMansions, and fewer planned communities in the distant hinterland. An alternative scenario is that American optimism will prevail and it will be business as usual, as happened during the boom of the 1950s following the Great Depression, or during the period following the Energy Crisis of 1973, when car buyers, after a brief flirtation with Japanese compact cars, embraced minivans and SUVs. But I wouldn't count on it.

Of course, there were scooped on this story last summer by CNBC, who was scooped in turn in 2009 by a builder/blogger in Dallas. Hope springs eternal, I guess.  Still, to follow an (unrelated) trend to citing Dylan, the times, they are a'changin'.

Jamie Baker Roskie

May 12, 2011 in Architecture, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Building Codes & the Quake

The news seems to get worse from Japan as the Death Toll Estimate Soars.  But it's still true that things could have been even worse if it had not been for Japan's careful land and development planning.  As James Glanz and Norimitsu Onishi reported in the New York Times, Japan's Strict Building Codes Saved Lives.  From the article:

Hidden inside the skeletons of high-rise towers, extra steel bracing, giant rubber pads and embedded hydraulic shock absorbers make modern Japanese buildings among the sturdiest in the world during a major earthquake. . . .

Unlike Haiti, where shoddy construction vastly increased the death toll last year, or China, where failure to follow construction codes worsened the death toll in the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Japan enforces some of the world’s most stringent building codes. Japanese buildings tend to be much stiffer and stouter than similar structures in earthquake-prone areas in California as well, said Mr. Moehle, the Berkeley engineer: Japan’s building code allows for roughly half as much sway back and forth at the top of a high rise during a major quake.

So it's sad to contemplate but still probably true that the destruction and loss of life could have been much worse if not for the regulations.  Of course, these building codes have made development much more expensive; but the article goes on to note an interest twist in how this has played in the marketplace:

New apartment and office developments in Japan flaunt their seismic resistance as a marketing technique, a fact that has accelerated the use of the latest technologies, said Ronald O. Hamburger, a structural engineer in the civil engineering society and Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, a San Francisco engineering firm.

“You can increase the rents by providing a sort of warranty — ‘If you locate here you’ll be safe,’ ” Mr. Hamburger said.

In the meantime, it's a terrible disaster and we wish the best to the rescue and recovery efforts.  Thanks to James McKechnie for the pointer.

Matt Festa

March 14, 2011 in Architecture, California, Coastal Regulation, Comparative Land Use, Development, Landlord-Tenant, Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More ALPS, plus "Designing Tomorrow"

A couple of us have mentioned with eager anticipation the ALPS (Association for Law, Property, & Society) conference coming up this weekend.  In only its second year, ALPS has quickly become the conference for property scholars; as I told my students today, all of the cool property profs will be there (they thought the phrase "cool property profs" was an oxymoron, but I insist that it's actually a redundancy).  The final program is posted here

Chad suggested that we try to get together with anyone who's available on Friday or Saturday night.  Sounds great to me, so if you are interested, feel free to email one of us or just link up at the conference.

Another thing that I've mentioned is how much I am looking forward to the chance to visit the National Building Museum, and their current featured exhibition Designing Tomorrow: America's Worlds Fairs of the 1930s.  Anyone who studies land use knows how much of an impact that Worlds Fairs have had on Americans' ideas about city planning, architecture, technology, and the shape of our communities.  The National Building Museum is only a few blocks' walk from the Georgetown University Law Center, where the ALPS conference is being held.  So I'm trying to find a good time to sneak over there (which is difficult, because there are so many great panels to attend!).  If you are interested in checking it out, let me know.

I leave Thursday morning so . . . see you at ALPS!

Matt Festa

March 2, 2011 in Architecture, Conferences, History, Planning, Property, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Three Dimensional Master Plan?

Helsinki Underground 
Hello all and thanks for the welcome, Matt.

For years cities, such as Montreal (the RESO), have been developing space underground.  In what CNN reports as a "first," Helsinki has developed an Underground Master Plan.  The plan designates a diverse group of uses for the underground area, ranging from industrial to recreation uses, such as an existing swimming pool (which, fortunately, doubles as a bunker when necessary).  According to the report, Helsinki sits on bedrock strong enough to support the existing streetscape even when space is carved out for the lower levels.  The CNN report claims a host of environmental benefits from the action, many of which are disputed in the comments.

As cities such as Helsinki start to think about the relationship between the street level and the subsurface (as inhabitable space), the next step may be to craft a three dimensional master plan.  And who knows, this may be Seattle's chance to recommission its underground, although "[w]hen your dreams tire, they go underground and out of kindness that's where they stay." (Margaret Fuller).

Jon Rosenbloom

March 1, 2011 in Architecture, California, Common Interest Communities, Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Sprawl, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Atlantic Magazine on Skyscrapers as Sprawl Prevention

This month's Atlantic has an article on skyscrapers.  Here's the blurb:

Besides making cities more affordable and architecturally interesting, tall buildings are greener than sprawl, and they foster social capital and creativity. Yet some urban planners and preservationists seem to have a misplaced fear of heights that yields damaging restrictions on how tall a building can be. From New York to Paris to Mumbai, there’s a powerful case for building up, not out.

I'm only about halfway through - still working on the history bit - but the article promises to show "how skyscrapers can save the city."  So far it's an interesting read.

Jamie Baker Roskie

UPDATE: a skeptical response to this article appears on New Urban Network.

 

February 14, 2011 in Architecture, Development, Redevelopment, Sprawl | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Scouting, Walking, & Blogging New York

Among the many reasons that I am passionate about the subject of land use law, these three are among the most important: First, it is historical--studying land uses in our cities, towns, and rural areas gives us a sense of how we lived and how our places have changed over time.  Second, it is an essentially visual subject--to see the land and the built environment, whether in person or through pictures, is an important part of thinking about the effects of law and policy.  Third, and related to the first two, is that land use tells stories--whether over the course of time or within present-day issues and controversies, land use provides a narrative about how we live with each other in our communities and in society. 

That's a long-winded way of leading up to the observation that I really like two websites that I stumbled across recently and want to share with you.  Neither is written by a lawyer or a professor, but both involve the efforts of thoughtful and observant people to walk the streets, drive around the region, and post pictures, descriptions, and stories about the land, buildings, neighborhoods, and cities, both past and present.

The first is Scouting NY.  Its proprietor is a professional film scout, who describes his endeavor thusly:

I work as a film location scout in New York City. My day is spent combing the streets for interesting and unique locations for feature films. In my travels, I often stumble across some pretty incredible sights, most of which go ignored daily by thousands of New Yorkers in too much of a rush to pay attention.

As it happens, it's my job to pay attention, and I've started this blog to keep a record of what I see.

And we all benefit from that.  For an example, the current feature at the top of the blog is a collection of photos and descriptions of an abandoned mental asylum in Rockland County.  Creepy and fascinating. 

The second website I want to link to is Forgotten NY, run by graphic designer Kevin Walsh.  This one seems to be more focused on the city proper and its various neighborhoods.  The MO seems to be more about the street-level observation, by talking walks around the various parts of the city and reporting descriptions and photos, and giving us an insight in to the New York of the past through the evidence that still lingers today.  The current feature is "A Walk from South Williamsburg to Bedford-Stuyvesant," with copious photos.  This site looks like it's been around for about a decade and has a strong readership, but I never came across it until just recently.   

These two happen to be about New York.  I suspect that there are many more great blogs and websites out there, about New York and also about other places, which seek to illuminate, record, preserve, and tell the stories of our places, run by folks who are passionate about their communities past and present.  If you know of or would recommend any similar sites, I'd love to hear about them. 

Matt Festa

January 25, 2011 in Architecture, Historic Preservation, History, New York, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Six Distributional Effects of Environmental Policy

Don Fullerton (Illinois-Finance) has posted Six Distributional Effects of Environmental Policy on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

While prior literature has identified various effects of environmental policy, this note uses the example of a proposed carbon permit system to illustrate and discuss six different types of distributional effects: (1) higher prices of carbon-intensive products, (2) changes in relative returns to factors like labor, capital, and resources, (3) allocation of scarcity rents from a restricted number of permits, (4) distribution of the benefits from improvements in environmental quality, (5) temporary effects during the transition, and (6) capitalization of all those effects into prices of land, corporate stock, or house values. The note also discusses whether all six effects could be regressive, that is, whether carbon policy could place disproportionate burden on the poor.

Jim K.

January 22, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Clean Energy, Climate, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Green Building, Housing, Oil & Gas, Sustainability, Wind Energy | 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)