Thursday, December 11, 2014

Urban Decay Theory v. Broken Windows Theory

Brent White (Arizona) , Simone Sepe (Arizona) and Saura Masconale (AZ-Gov't & PP) have published Urban Decay, Austerity, and the Rule of Law, 64. Emory L.J. 1 (2014).  In the article, the authors offer a "make 'gov', not war" alternative to the Broken Windows Theory (BWT) and its support for order-maintenance policing.  Building upon an intuitively compelling social contract theory insight, the article sets out the theoretical and empirical cases for the authors’ contention that sustained investment in highly visible, essential local public goods provides crucial support for rule of law. Focusing on the refusals of the U.S. and Michigan governments to bail out Detroit and avoid the need for it to file for bankruptcy, the authors use their Urban Decay Theory (UDT) to support their proposal that all municipal governments receive at least some level of fiscal insurance to sustain continuous investment in urban infrastructure, which, according to the UDT is predictive of citizen commitment to rule of law.

At the invitation of the editors of the Emory Law Journal, I wrote a response to Urban Decay for the Emory Law Journal Online.  In "All Good Things Flow . . .":  Rule of Law, Public Goods, and the Divided American Metropolis , 64 Emory L. J. Online 2017 (2014),  I welcome the article’s introduction of the rule of law paradigm to domestic urban policy, find fault with its selection of public goods that purportedly influence rule of law, and contend that the UDT has far greater potential than the poor support it can offer the authors’ flawed policy proposal. By conceptualizing the domestic urban policy goal as rule of law rather than order, the authors open measurements of success to go beyond crime rates and majoritarian perceptions of personal safety. Without losing the groundedness necessary for empirical investigation, rule of law can incorporate ideal aspects of lawful order that address sustainability and inclusion of minority perceptions of legitimacy. While the White/Sepe/Masconale article does not succeed in constructing as compelling an understanding of the most salient public goods, an improved analysis of the root causes of the fiscal degradation of America’s legacy cities can unlock a potentially valuable reframing of urban, metropolitan, and regional policy debates.

In focusing their policy proposal on fiscal guarantees for municipal creditors, the authors, from my perspective, have missed the role that the urban-suburban divide has played in the inability of city governments to provide basic public goods.  But, their expansion of the public policy goal to rule of law allows us to get a more holistic picture of the foundation of a truly inclusive, flourishing community. All in all, I think that, by altering the paradigm from order maintenance to rule of law, the authors have, in formulating the Urban Decay Theory, offered a useful complement to the Broken Windows Theory rather than a truly competitive alternative to it.  

 

Jim K.

December 11, 2014 in Community Economic Development, Crime, Detroit, Federal Government, Financial Crisis, Local Government, Race, Scholarship, Smart Growth, State Government, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Nuisance" Ordinances Burden Domestic Violence Victims

Today I stumbled across a troubling article about how a type of nuisance ordinance I've never heard of - the so called "crime free housing" ordinance - creates some terrible unintended consequences for domestic violence victims.  From the article, on the Aljazeera America website:

When Lakisha Briggs’ ex-boyfriend forced his way into her home in June 2012, she faced an impossible dilemma. Although the man had physically assaulted her on several occasions, Briggs knew that if she called the police for help, she and her 3-year-old daughter would likely be thrown out of their subsidized apartment.

Briggs, a 34-year-old mother residing in Norristown, Pennsylvania, found herself in this situation as the result of a city ordinance aimed at reducing “disorderly behavior” in rental housing. The ordinance stipulated that tenants who made three 911 calls in four months could be evicted. Briggs had already received three strikes as the result of emergency calls made during previous attacks by her ex, and the month before the incident, city officials had notified her that further calls would result in her removal from her apartment.

The article details how Briggs suffered a further brutal attack from her ex without calling the police, due to her fear of being evicted.  Because a neighbor called 911, ultimately the city of Norristown began eviction proceedings against her.   Only the intervention of the ACLU prevented her from losing her home.

The ACLU and the Shriver Center now have the I Am Not a Nuisance campaign to educate local governments about the dangers of these ordinances.  And, as a result of Briggs' case, these ordinances are now illegal in Pennsylvania.

Jamie Baker Roskie

www.jamieroskie.com

December 9, 2014 in Crime, Housing, Local Government | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Liveblogging ALPS 2014

Well it is that time of the year again and most of the Land Use Profs' crew is attending the Annual Meeting of the Association of Law, Property, and Society. This year, the conference is in Vancouver, B.C. and I have to say this is the prettiest location for ALPS so far.

I spoke on a riveting panel on conservation easements this morning (shocker I know) and now get to sit back and listen to co-blogger Jim Kelly's talk: “‘That Side was made for you and me’: Unauthorized Use of Vacant Property in Inner City Neighbourhoods.” In this packed room, I enjoy the fact that Jim started with a song. His presentation discussed what might be categorized as a type of self-help improvement. Here is the official abstract:

This essay explores the social function of unauthorized uses of vacant properties, both houses and lots, in inner-city neighborhoods. Underutilized properties, particularly those abandoned by their owners, present obvious opportunities for non-owners to engage in uses that may not benefit them personally and/or may (or may not) confer social benefits. From squatters and scrappers to guerilla gardeners and anti-foreclosure activists, acquisitive and expressive “property outlaws” challenge the formality and durability of land ownership claims. By looking at contemporary phenomena such as Philadelphia Green, Take Back the Land, and Indiana’s Good Samaritan Law, the essay will sort out the constructive possibilities for supporting, ignoring and actively opposing unauthorized use of vacant inner-city properties.

The panel, which focused on violence and authorized/unauthorized uses of property. I particularly enjoyed Robin Hickey's paper about whether you can take back property that others have taken from you (in fancy terms: the right to recapture). I think my property law students would be most intrigued by Abraham Bell's talk about possession (they always want to talk about the phrase "possession is nine-tenths of the law").

 

May 2, 2014 in Conferences, Crime, Environmental Justice, Nuisance, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | 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)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sawers on History, Fourth Amendment Searches, and the Right to Exclude

Brian Sawers (Maryland) has posted Keeping Up with the Joneses: Making Sure Your History Is Just as Wrong as Everyone Else's, forthcoming in Michigan Law Review First Impressions, Vol. 111, p. 21 (2013).  The abstract:

Both the majority and concurring opinions in United States v. Jones are wrong about the state of the law in 1791. Landowners in America had no right to exclude others from unfenced land. Whether a Fourth Amendment search requires a trespass or the violation of a reasonable expectation of privacy, government can explore open land without a search warrant.

In the United States, landowners did not have a right of action against people who entered open land without permission. No eighteenth-century case shows a remedy for mere entry. Vermont and Pennsylvania constitutionally guaranteed a right to hunt on open land. In several other states, statutes regulating hunting implied a public right to hunt on (and, by implication, enter) unfenced land.

Matt Festa

March 7, 2013 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Crime, History, Property Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Anderson, MacDonald, Bluthenthal, & Ashwood on an Empirical Study of Reducing Crime with Zoning

James M. Anderson (RAND Corp.), John MacDonald (Penn--Criminology), Ricky Bluthenthal (Southern Cal--Medicine), and J. Scott Ashwood (RAND Corp.)  have posted Reducing Crime by Shaping the Built Environment with Zoning: An Empirical Study of Los Angeles, 161 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 699 (2013).  The abstract:

The idea of using law to change the built environment in ways that reduce opportunities to commit crimes has a long history. Unfortunately, this idea has received relatively little attention in the legal academy and only limited rigorous empirical scrutiny. In this Article, we review the considerable literature on the relationship between zoning, the built environment, and crime. We then report the results of two empirical studies on these relationships. First, we conducted a study of the effect of zoning on crime using 205 blocks selected in eight different relatively high crime neighborhoods in Los Angeles that have similar demographic character- istics but different forms of zoned land use. We find that mixed commercial- and residential-zoned areas are associated with lower crime than are commercial-only zoned areas. Second, we matched neighborhoods undergoing zoning changes between 2006 and 2010 with neighborhoods that underwent no zoning changes during this period but had similar preexisting crime trajectories between 1994 and 2005. The primary zoning change in these neighborhoods was to convert parcels to residential uses. We find that neighborhoods in which there was a zoning change experienced a significant decline in crime. Our results suggest that mixing residential-only zoning into commercial blocks may be a promising means of reducing crime.

Looks like a fascinating interdisciplinary collaboration.

Matt Festa

February 13, 2013 in Crime, Scholarship, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Urban Gun Violence

Today I stumbled across this compelling Associated Press story about how urban advocates have very mixed feelings about how the Newtown shootings have seemingly changed the national debate around gun control.

The moment also is causing some to reflect on the sudden change of heart. Why now? Why weren't we moved to act by the killing of so many other children, albeit one by one, in urban areas?

Certainly, Newtown is a special case, 6- and 7-year-olds riddled with bullets inside the sanctuary of a classroom. Even in a nation rife with violence, where there have been three other mass slayings since July and millions enjoy virtual killing via video games, the nature of this tragedy is shocking.

But still: "There's a lot of talk now about we have to protect our children. We have to protect all of our children, not just the ones living in the suburbs," said Tammerlin Drummond, a columnist for the Oakland Tribune.

In her column Monday, Drummond wrote about 7-year-old Heaven Sutton of Chicago, who was standing next to her mother selling candy when she was killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout. Also in Chicago, which has been plagued by a recent spike in gun violence: 6-year-old Aaliyah Shell was caught in a drive-by while standing on her front porch; and 13-year-old Tyquan Tyler was killed when a someone in a car shot into a group of youths outside a party.

Food for thought.

Jamie Baker Roskie

 

December 22, 2012 in Crime, New York, Race, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Trick-or-Treat Test

IMG_2790Happy Halloween!  If you're out trick-or-treating tonight, think about what planners call the "trick-or-treat test" for your neighborhood.  The idea is that based on design and form, a great neighborhood for trick-or-treating--kids and families walking around the streets, visiting door to door--is also likely to be a great neighborhood year-round. City Planner Brent Toderian writes about this at the Huffington Post in Does Your Neighbourhood Pass the 'Trick or Treat Test'?:

Great neighbourhoods for trick-or-treating also tend to be great neighborhoods for families everyday:

  • Tree-lined streets designed for walkers more than speeding cars.
  • Enough density and community completeness, to activate what I call "the power of nearness" - everything you need, nearby.
  • Good visual surveillance through doors and stoops, windows (and I don't mean windows in garages), porches and "eyes on the street."
  • Connected, legible streets that let you "read" the neighbourhood easily -grids tend to be good for this, but other patterns work too.

All of these are great for trick-or-treating, and equally great for walkable, healthy, economically resilient communities year-round.

It makes a great deal of sense, though I hadn't previously known that the "trick-or-treat test" was a term of art in the planning community.  Thanks to Jenna Munoz for the pointer.  A related item is Richard Florida's 2012 Halloween Index at The Atlantic Cities:

For this year's "Halloween Index," Kevin Stolarick and my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleagues focused on five factors that make for a great Halloween metro area — population density (which makes for efficient trick-or-treating), kids ages five to 14 (as a share of metro population), and median income (a measure of regional affluence), as well as candy stores and costume rental stores per one hundred thousand people.

In the story at the link, you can check out the map which shows the best scoring cities in the categories; Chicago is #1.  Zillow, however, has San Fransisco at #1 with its similar but slightly different methodology for determining the 20 Best Cities to Trick or Treat in 2012:

There is a common belief that wealthy neighborhoods are the Holy Grail for harvesting the most Halloween candy. However, to provide a more holistic approach to trick-or-treating, the Zillow Trick-or-Treat Index was calculated using four equally weighted data variables: Zillow Home Value Index, population density, Walk Score and local crime data from Relocation Essentials. Based on those variables, the Index represents cities that will provide the most candy, with the least walking and safety risks.

Finally, Paul Knight at Treehugger provides a mathematical forumula in More on the Trick or Treat Test: Calcluating the "Candy Density":

Potential Candy Score (Candy Pieces) = Target Neighborhood (Acres) x Houses-Per-Acre x Families-Per-House (accounting for duplexes, etc) x % Candy-Giving-Families x Candy-Pieces-Per-Family

I always say that land use is ultimately about the built environment of the communities in which we live.  If you are out in your community on Halloween night, be safe, and take the opportunity to observe and think about land use!

Matt Festa

October 31, 2012 in Chicago, Community Design, Crime, Density, Housing, Humorous, Planning, Sprawl, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Trees and Crime

I've been stumbling across a lot studies lately about the links (or lack thereof) between vegetation and crime.I remember back in grad school when I was studying Landscape Architecture, we would meet with communities to discuss what types of parks and resources they would most like to see. The folks in the Fruitvale Neighborhood in Oakland repeatedly told us that they didn't want creeks or trees because these bred crime. Although there was no evidence to support this assertion, several people living in the area balked when we suggested opening up a waterway and adding greenspace.

Another study has come out examining the link between vegetation and crime. A study of Philadelphia indicated that where there are lots of trees, we see lower rates of assaults, robbery, and burglary. Theft, however, was not lower. Interesting to figure out how the perception of crime and statistics play out. (Personally, when I have been robbed the culprits have tended to hide behind cars, not trees). It is educational to juxtapose these crime studies with other work generally linking lower vegetation with lower income neighborhoods.

More on that Philadelphia Study:

"Does Vegetation Encourage or Suppress Urban Crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA" by Mary K. Wolfe and Jeremy Mennis in Landscape and Urban Planning (20 Sept. 2012).

ABSTRACT: There is longstanding belief that vegetation encourages crime as it can conceal criminal activity. Other studies, however, have shown that urban residential areas with well-maintained vegetation experience lower rates of certain crime types due to increased surveillance in vegetated spaces as well as the therapeutic effects ascribed to vegetated landscapes. The present research analyzes the association of vegetation with crime in a case study of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We examine rates of assaults, robberies, burglaries, and thefts in relation to remotely sensed vegetation abundance at the Census tract level. We employ choropleth mapping, correlation, ordinary least squares regression, and spatial econometric modeling to examine the influence of vegetation on various crime types while controlling for tract-level socioeconomic indicators. Results indicate that vegetation abundance is significantly associated with lower rates of assault, robbery, and burglary, but not theft. This research has implications for urban planning policy, especially as cities are moving towards ‘green’ growth plans and must look to incorporate sustainable methods of crime prevention into city planning.

 jessie owley

September 20, 2012 in Crime, Density, Planning, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dwyer on Urban Blight and its Impact on Children

James G. Dwyer (William & Mary) has posted No Place for Children: Addressing Urban Blight and Its Impact on Children Through Child Protection Law, Domestic Relations Law, and 'Adult-Only' Residential Zoning, Alabama Law Review, vol. 62 (2011).  The abstract:

For any child, residential location is a large determinant of well-being. At the negative extreme, a neighborhood can pose threats to children's well-being far exceeding those present within the home in typical cases of child protection removal. The worst neighborhoods pose direct threats to children's physical and psychological well-being, and they also adversely affect children indirectly by creating stressors that undermine parents' abilities to care for children. Pervasive crime and substance abuse, in particular, substantially elevate risks to children beyond those created just by less capable or less motivated parents. Given that a relatively high percentage of adults who live in the worst neighborhoods are marginal to begin with, in terms of their inherent capacities for giving care and maintaining safe and healthy homes, the additional threats present in the larger residential environment push the experience of most children in such neighborhoods below what most people -- including those who live in the neighborhoods -- would regard as a minimally acceptable quality of life. Because such neighborhoods are also likely to have inadequate -- even dangerous -- schools and few legal employment opportunities, living in them severely diminishes the life prospects of children forced to grow up in them.

To date, government efforts to improve the lives of these children, and scholarly writing on the topic, have focused on urban renewal and criminal law enforcement in these neighborhoods. These have mostly been unsuccessful, where they do succeed they typically do so by simply relocating the dysfunction to another neighborhood, and even if renewal efforts undertaken today might ultimately be successful that is of no help to a child born today into dangerous urban blight. The only way to ensure that children do not suffer the effects of growing up in deeply dysfunctional communities is to get them out now. Policy should shift to a strategy of separating children as early as possible from the adults who are creating toxic social environments in impoverished areas. In fact, programs that have assisted parents who wished to relocate with their children from high-poverty, inner-city neighborhoods to low-poverty areas have greatly improved the children's well-being and longterm life prospects. This Article presents a novel argument for expanding such relocation programs, an argument founded upon basic rights of children -- not rights against private actors who might harm them, though children certainly possess such rights, but rather rights against the state. I argue that the state violates basic rights of children by making certain decisions about children's lives that effectively consign many of them to living in hellish conditions. To remedy this violation of children's rights, the state should now institute reforms such as giving children first priority in distribution of housing vouchers and in provision of relocation assistance and, most controversially, making relocation out of the most dangerous neighborhoods mandatory rather than voluntary for parents who have and wish to retain custody of children. The state should no more permit parents to house children in apartments where stray bullets come through windows and drug addicts clutter the hallways outside than permit parents to take children into casinos and nightclubs. This Article argues that the state is legally free, and in fact morally and legally obligated, to adopt new legal rules and policies aimed at ensuring that no children live in the horrible neighborhoods that exist, and likely will always exist, in our society. It also presents a constitutional lever for overcoming political and community resistance to taking the necessary measures. These measures would entail changes to the law in three broad areas -- child maltreatment, domestic relations, and zoning.

Matt Festa

July 3, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Crime, Density, Economic Development, Housing, Politics, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NYU Furman Center Releases Paper on Housing Vouchers and Crime

The NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has just sent out news of its latest fascinating and important study: American Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime? The study is authored by co-director Ingrid Gould Ellen, Michael C. Lens, and Katherine O'Regan. From the announcement:

We are pleased to share with you the latest paper from the Furman Center, American Murder Mystery Revisited: Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime? The study explores the link between housing vouchers and neighborhood crime rates. More than two million renters now receive Housing Choice Vouchers, which subsidize rent in private apartments. Although voucher holders live in a large variety of neighborhoods, community opposition to vouchers can be fierce due to perceptions that voucher holders will both reduce property values and heighten crime. The widely-circulated 2008 Atlantic Monthly article “American Murder Mystery” highlighted this controversy.

Our study, which examines changes in crime and voucher use over 12 years in ten major U.S. cities, finds no evidence that an increase of voucher holders in a community leads to increases in crime. Instead, we find a different association: that voucher holders are more likely to move into areas when crime rates are already rising. The paper was featured in an article in The Atlantic Cities, and presented September 19 at an internal briefing held at the HUD headquarters in Washington, DC. You can read the full paper here and accompanying fact sheet here.

When it comes to housing and land use, everyone has an opinion, because everyone lives somewhere and has anecdotal information. It's great to have a study like this to clarify popular conceptions based on facts. The Furman Center leads the way in producing these kinds of helpful studies.

Matt Festa

November 2, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Crime, Federal Government, Housing, HUD, Local Government, New York, Politics, Property, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

City Journal on Private Funding for New York's Parks

The renaissance of many of New York's parks--such as Central Park and Bryant Park--after decades of neglect has been one of the more visible urban sucess stories of the last decade or so. In a City Journal piece titled Parks and Re-creation: How private citizens saved New York's public spaces, Laura Vanderkam attributes this to the innovative public-private partnerships that were created to finance and manage them outside of the City's parks bureaucracy:

But perhaps the most amazing thing about Central Park is how little tax money goes into maintaining it. Though it is still ultimately the city’s responsibility, the park has been managed since the 1980s by the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy, and it relies on private donations for most of its budget. The marriage between the city and the Conservancy has been a fruitful one. Can this model, known as a public-private partnership, restore and invigorate all of New York’s green spaces, including neighborhood parks in less affluent areas? It’s an important question, not only as the city faces tough fiscal times but as urban planners increasingly view parks as tools of economic development and public health.

Matt Festa

August 17, 2011 in Budgeting, Crime, Downtown, Local Government, New York, Planning, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Demolition Day

Today I will be proud to participate in Commencement at South Texas College of Law.  We're thrilled to have Houston Mayor Annise Parker as our keynote speaker.  But shortly before Mayor Parker begins speaking, she will order hundreds of buildings destroyed all across the city.

No, it's not the May 21 Rapture.  It's Demolition Day! 

With the donated help of the Houston Contractors Association, 99 abandoned, dangerous buildings will be bulldozed as part of Mayor Annise Parker's 2nd annual Demo Day.  Some of these structures are in your neighborhood.  Click here to see addresses for the 99 buildings http://www.houstontx.gov/citizensnet/hcasites.pdf

Mayor Parker and District D Houston City Council Member Wanda Adams will help kick off Demo Day Saturday, May 21, 2011 9:00 a.m.

Initiated in 2010, Demo Day is a one-day concentrated effort to rid neighborhoods of abandoned and dangerous buildings that often serve as havens for drugs, prostitution and other crimes.  This year's effort will extend beyond one day to include the demolition of approximately 300 more derelict structures over the summer months.  This second batch of demolitions will be carried out by City contractors once the buildings have undergone asbestos abatement. Click here to see the complete list of about 400 structures http://www.houstontx.gov/citizensnet/demoinitiative.pdf.

There has been a lot of attention given to the problem of abandoned and derelict properties from several angles recently, from the foreclosure crisis, to dying cities & neighborhoods, to crime & disorder, to blight and eminent domain.  "Demolition Day" sounds like a cool movie title, but more importantly it looks like Mayor Parker has an innovative approach to the problem.

Matt Festa

May 20, 2011 in Crime, Eminent Domain, Housing, Houston, Local Government, Redevelopment, Texas, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NYT Dialogue on Shrinking Cities

The latest census figures from Detroit (Chad's hometown blogged about here and here) have inspired the New York Times to solicit opinions from several urban planning experts about the way forward for post-industrial cities confronted with large-scale property abandonment.  Jennifer Bradley (Brookings-MPP) and Terry Schwarz (Kent State's Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative) each offer shrinking city visions that challenge the idea that all planning must be for demographic expansion and economic growth.  Their greening strategies, including attention to urban agriculture and ecosystems, contemplate a 'new normal' for cities that may, in some ways, be better than historical peak periods.

Richard Florida (Toronto-Business) and Sam Staley urge beleaguered areas to pursue a focused (and apparently unsubsidized) effort to retain and attract residents in a mobile society.  Still others, such as Toni Griffin (Harvard-Planning), see Detroit and similar cities as merely the most egregiously wounded casualties of unsustainable sprawl-promoting policies that must be changed throughout the U.S.  These brief articles and even the comment board are all worth checking out. (Hat Tip to Nicole Garnett (Notre Dame) and her student, Sean Ashburn)

I would also encourage those interested in working with the land use challenges faced by undercrowded, post-industrial cities to check out The Center for Community Progress (f/k/a National Vacant Properties Campaign).  Over the years, I have had the chance to participate in conferences and technical assistance efforts that have brought urban development practitioners together with experts such as Jennifer Bradley, Terry Schwarz, Kermit Lind (Cleveland State), Joe Schilling (Va. Tech-Metropolitan Inst.)  and CCP's co-founder, Frank Alexander (Emory).

Jim K.

March 30, 2011 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comprehensive Plans, Crime, Density, Detroit, Development, Economic Development, Planning, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lind on Public Nuisance Law and Bank Foreclosures

This blog has had the good fortune to feature the amazing work of Cleveland-Marshall's Urban Development Law Clinic (here and here, too) as well as dispatches from the front lines of the foreclosure fallout in Cleveland's neighborhoods from the Clinic's outgoing director, Kermit Lind (Cleveland State).  Kermit has now posted Can Public Nuisance Law Protect Your Neighborhood from Big Banks?, 44 Suffolk L. Rev. 89 (2011).  Here's the abstract:

One manifestation of the mortgage crisis of the past decade is the destabilization of housing markets and neighborhoods where mortgage defaults were concentrated. As banks and their mortgage servicers employ business practices that result in banks or their agents controlling or owning vacant dwellings, the noncompliance with housing and other municipal codes by these institutional absentee owners presents neighborhoods and cities with a huge and costly public nuisance problem.

This article explores both the theory of public nuisance law and the experience of applying nuisance law in practice to mitigate the harmful consequences of bank debt collection and REO management. It looks at how and to what extent public nuisance law provides protection for those non-defaulting homeowners whose health, safety and welfare are threatened by the business practices of big banks. It compares litigation that applies public nuisance law in different ways to distinguish viable uses from unsuccessful uses of public nuisance law doctrine. The recent efforts to use public nuisance law against manufacturers and marketers of harmful products like guns and tobacco are distinguished from the application of public nuisance law against owners of real estate maintenance deficiencies are in violation of laws protecting the public health, safety and welfare.

Jim K.

March 27, 2011 in Crime, Economic Development, Financial Crisis, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Nuisance, Redevelopment, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Garnett on Mixed Land-Use Urban Neighborhoods

Nicole Garnett (Notre Dame) has added to her extensive body of work on land use, order, and quality of life in America's cities (read her book Ordering the City) by posting The People Paradox on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

American land-use regulators increasingly embrace mixed-land-use "urban" neighborhoods, rather than single-land-use "suburban" ones, as a planning ideal. This shift away from traditional regulatory practice reflects a growing endorsement of Jane Jacobs’s influential argument that mixed-land-use urban neighborhoods are safer and more socially cohesive than single-use suburban ones. Proponents of regulatory reforms encouraging greater mixing of residential and commercial land uses, however, completely disregard a sizable empirical literature suggesting that commercial land uses generate, rather than suppress, crime and disorder and that suburban communities have higher levels of social capital than urban communities. This Article constructs a case for mixed-land-use planning that tackles the uncomfortable reality that these studies present. That case is built upon an apparent paradox: In urban communities, people do not, apparently, make us safer. But they do make us feel safer. This "People Paradox" suggests that, despite an apparent tension between city busyness and safety, land-use regulations that enable mixed-land-use neighborhoods may advance several important urban development goals. It also suggests an often-overlooked connection between land-use and policing policies.

Jim K.

February 16, 2011 in Books, Community Design, Comprehensive Plans, Crime, Density, Form-Based Codes, Housing, New Urbanism, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Introducing Crime Maps

In the UK this week crime maps have been launched on a police website that crashed repeatedly over the first 48 hours as a result of the numbers of hits. The innovation was broadly welcomed in the press despite concerns about privacy and accuracy.

For social science scholars there seems to be a great opportunity to see whether Tiebout's thesis is applicable here, whether residents with the resources to do so will 'vote with their feet' moving away from high crime areas to lower ones. There may even be a reduced incentive in some areas to report crime (particularly for owner occupiers) if this will affect their property prices. It remains to be seen whether residents will use this information to 'hold local police officers to account' thereby reducing crime, which is the Government's prime justification for spending approximately £300,000 on developing the maps. The question remains whether these maps will address the causes of crime or whether crime rates will remain broadly similar but the maps will lead instead to the re-distribution of fearful residents into 'safer' areas (as Tiebout would suggest).

One other aspect that has intrigued me is that any local resident can identify where crime is most likely at the micro-level. Here wealthier locations with more expensive, detached hosues are not necessarily safer than cheaper roads within the same area. Arterial routes, alleyways and the location of late night drinking establishments will all affect where crime occurs. This reflects, as critical geographers have put it, a 'body ballet', since the way in which we use space arises through practice and use not simply the physical construction of a place. Crime maps illuminate this quite strikingly.

Antonia Layard

February 5, 2011 in Comparative Land Use, Crime | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Federal Investigation into Nevada HOAs

Many suspected that local prosecutors delayed an investigation into Las Vegas homeowners associations because of the powerful people potentially involved.  High-powered attorneys and former police officers may be implicated in a conspiracy effectuated through a homeowners association.

The Las Vegas Review reports that the local prosecutors were recently removed so that federal prosecutors from Washington could take over over.  The details of the alleged conspiracy?

Investigators have targeted dozens of people in what they say was a scheme to rig homeowner association board elections to position conspirators -- including some former Las Vegas police officers -- who would push for lawsuits over construction defects. Legal work and repair contracts then would be funneled to associated lawyers and companies. Millions of dollars were said to be at stake.

Look for more of the same as HOAs grow in number and power.

McKay Cunningham

 

December 12, 2010 in Crime, Federal Government, Homeowners Associations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

McCarty on Crime in Mobile Home Communities

William P. McCarty (Criminology, Law, & Justice, U. of Illinois-Chicago) has posted Trailers and Trouble? An Examination of Crime in Mobile Home Communities, in Cityscape, Vol. 12, p. 127 (2010).  The abstract:

The purpose of this study is to ascertain whether the amount of crime in mobile home communities is greater than the amount of crime in other types of neighborhoods and to determine whether the difference in crime levels is significant even after controlling for multiple other variables. Using official crime reports and other data from Omaha, Nebraska, the study finds no significant difference in population-weighted crime rates between blocks with mobile home communities and other types of residential blocks. Multivariate models show that the presence of mobile home communities did not significantly affect crime rates. The implications of these findings for land use policy are explored.

Matt Festa

November 14, 2010 in Crime, Housing, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Approaches to Urban Redevelopment

Saturday I attended a very interesting lecture by Ken Reardon, who is a planning professor at The University of Memphis and a founding member of the Memphis Regional Design Center (MRDC).  The lecture was part of an event called "Look at That!  Fresh Approaches for Urban Redevelopment in Athens."  The economy being what it is, many of our clients are looking for help with redevelopment, rather than combating sprawl, so I took the opportunity to attend this event, sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.

Reardon's lecture was very interesting.  First he had all the participants engage in a group dialogue about our vision for Athens' future.  Ideas included more urban agriculture, better downtown development, preservation of our small town character, and more affordable housing.

Then Reardon discussed how the MRDC has helped some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Memphis, using team members from local design firms, University of Memphis, the Urban Land Institute, and other partners.  He declared himself most proud of a project that turned the largest outdoor drug market in Memphis into a farmers' market, which is truly a noteworthy accomplishment.  The center also played a key role in helping Memphis pass its new, form-based, Unified Development Code.  All the time he was talking, I was thinking, "We need that here!"  I'm planning to spend some time picking Reardon's brain over the next several months.

Jamie Baker Roskie

March 30, 2010 in Architecture, Community Design, Crime, Development, Downtown, Georgia, Historic Preservation, Housing, Sprawl, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)