May 01, 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.
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
October 31, 2012
The Trick-or-Treat Test
Happy 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!
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.
August 25, 2012
Philadelphia's New Zoning Code
The Philadelphia Inquirer has an article providing an overview of the city's new zoning code, which replaces its 1962 code. The new code allows high-rises to be built more easily in the city's central commercial district and along its waterfront as-of-right. (See map of new zoning districts.) It also "assumes the city's population will grow in the future, and it encourages higher density buildings to accommodate the newcomers." (Note: Philly's population has declined from slightly over 2 million in 1960 to slightly over 1.5 million today.)
According to the article:
Because the previous code was so outmoded, the Zoning Board of Adjustment had gotten in the habit of handing out variances almost at whim, even when a project deviated dramatically from the neighborhood context. The haphazard process invited abuse from powerful gatekeepers, most of them Council members. It often seemed you only needed to make a campaign contribution to obtain a variance in Philadelphia.
Developers advocated for a more predictable development process, which would enable the city to better compete for residents and jobs. The new code is approximately 200 pages shorter than its predecessor.
Two thoughts come to mind after reading this article. First, the discussion surrounding the new zoning code echoes the considerations raised in relation to tax reform, particularly the desire for simplicity and predictability and the concern that a code laden with amendments, overlays, and other complexities favors sophisticated actors. Second, as Philadelphia pushes greater density and potential population growth in Center City, what will become of outlying city neighborhoods, which have seen substantial population declines (and a significant number of vacant properties) in recent decades? In May the city launched a website mapping its inventory of 9,000 vacant properties, approximately one-quarter of the estimated 40,000 abandoned buildings in the city.
August 06, 2012
Frischmann on Managing Congestion
Brett M. Frischmann (Cardozo) has posted Managing Congestion, which is a chapter from his book Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources, Oxford University Press, 2012. The abstract:
This chapter considers partially (non)rival infrastructure and congestion. Specifically, it explains and analyzes congestions problems and solutions. It begins with the basic economic model of congestion, which assumes homogenous uses, and discusses various approaches to managing congestion. It turns to more complex congestion problems, involving heterogeneous uses and cross-crowding, and discusses management options. The chapter evaluates congestion management strategies for infrastructures as well as the relationship between commons management and congestion management.
The SSRN document also includes the book's Table of Contents, so you can view the larger outline for this valuable book.
July 21, 2012
Breyer, Chang, and Parandvash on Determinants of Water Use Patterns
In a study of two U.S. cities, researchers found that land use was a strong determinant of water use patterns.
Land-use, temperature, and single-family residential water use patterns in Portland, Oregon and Phoenix, Arizona by Betsy Breyer, Heejun Chang, G. Hossein Parandvash
Applied Geography, Volume 35, Issues 1–2 (2012) ($)
Adaptation to climate change requires urban water providers to develop a complex understanding of how temperature affects water use patterns. We used a geographic information system and statistical analysis to compare the spatial relationships among single-family residential water use patterns, land use characteristics, and temperature in Portland, Oregon and Phoenix, Arizona. We developed mean water use patterns at the census block group level using data from 2002 to 2009 in Portland and from 2000 to 2008 in Phoenix. These mean values were used to estimate the localized temperature sensitivity of water use in each census block group through an ordinary least squares regression with summer average air temperature. Taking the slopes of regression estimates as our dependent variable, we examined spatial relationships among temperature-sensitive water use patterns, housing density, impervious surfaces, low vegetation, and tree canopy extent. Temperature sensitive water use was found to be positively correlated with low vegetation and negatively correlated with impervious surfaces in both cities. Tree canopy coverage tends to increase with sensitivity in Portland, while the reverse relationship is found for Phoenix. Regression analysis indicates that building density explained the most variation in the dependent variable in Portland whereas, in Phoenix, the strongest correlations related to vegetation patterns. A comparative approach highlights the complex, localized correlations that exist among local climate regimes, urban landscapes, and water use patterns. Census block group-level water use analyses equips water providers with detailed information on the sensitivity of local water use to temperature variation, which could prove valuable to developing a viable municipal climate change adaptation strategy.
July 16, 2012
Lewyn on Sprawl in Canada and the United States
Michael Lewyn (Touro) has taken his analysis of sprawl north of the border in Sprawl in Canada and the United States, 44 Urban Lawyer 85 (2012). The abstract:
The purpose of this article is to show that, in Canada as in the United States, government regulation promotes sprawl through anti-density zoning, minimum parking requirements, and overly wide streets. However, Canadian cities are less "sprawling" than American cities- perhaps because at least some of these regulations are less onerous than in the United States.
It's an interesting article that makes an original point. We tend to assume that places like Canada must be more regulated than the US, but it isn't necessarily true when it comes to land use. Lewyn suggests a potential link to comparative levels of sprawl.
July 14, 2012
There is a lot of exciting stuff going on at CUNY these days. Not only have they got themselves a shiny new campus in Long Island City, the just inaugurated their new Center for Urban and Environmental Reform (CUER –pronounced “cure”). Headed up by Rebecca Bratspies, this new center is one of the few places engaging specifically with urban environmental issues. Such an endeavor necessarily involves land use issues. I was lucky enough to be invited to CUER’s inaugural scholar workshop. Titled a “Scholar’s Workshop on Regulating the Urban Environment,” the event brought together scholars from multiple disciplines as well as activists and policy makers. It was an interesting format for an event and I enjoyed hearing from architects, historians, geographers and others. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of interesting events and endeavors from this new center. I know I will be keeping my eye on it.
July 14, 2012 in Community Economic Development, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, Green Building, Historic Preservation, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, New York, Planning, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
July 11, 2012
The Thermodynamics of Urban Development
The Economist recently published a little piece on the persistent patterns spatial analysts continue to find in the development of urban centers. Some of them, such as the application of Zipf's Law to the relative sizes of the most populous cities, might seem familiar. Others, regarding frequency of social contacts within cities and regions, might connect you to research worth bringing into the classroom.
July 03, 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.
June 26, 2012
TDR Handbook Part II
Just wanted to follow up on Stephen Miller's post about the new TDR Handbook. I've had the privilege of working with co-author (and planning consultant extraordinaire) Rick Pruetz on several TDR projects here in the Southeast. This Handbook is a follow on to Rick's two previous books, Saved by Development and Beyond Takings and Givings. Rick is amazingly knowledgable and very generous with his time and expertise. We just finished helping the City of Milton implement a TDR program as part of their form-based code. I will continue to work with Rick during my year off (which starts Friday!).
Jamie Baker Roskie
June 04, 2012
Pocket neighborhoods, cottage housing, and the dominant suburban form
Recently I came across the following cluster of five houses in an otherwise standard subdivision of front-
facing houses with their usual (yawn) front setbacks, side setbacks, and usual suburban land use controls that created the dominant suburban urban form.
The image of these five houses in Teton County, Idaho, however, will immediately induce a land use lawyer's headache. Inevitably, everyone knows, that if there is the will to make something like this work as a "one off" experiment, someone will call it a "planned unit development," or something like that, and there will quickly be a retreat from the strictures of the dominant code and a run for the relief provisions, whatever they may be locally. Maybe its a conditional use, maybe it's a special use district, a planned unit development. [Insert your local jurisdiction's relief provision here.]
But I began to wonder... what if you wanted to build a whole community, or thinking big--a whole city--built upon the premise of this five-house approach? As readers of this blog know, I have recently been somewhat infatuated with the idea of how attention to our smallest living units--neighborhoods--can be an impetus to solving our larger land use and environmental challenges. And so, I find this particular model of five units intriguing. Think about the density of these single-family houses (quite high), and think about the livability of an environment like this (also quite high, I believe). This approach will not appeal to everybody--nothing does--but if it can appeal to people in big-sky country of eastern Idaho, I think it could appeal to lots of other people, too. The combination of density and appealability seems to me a potentially winning combination in efforts to try to build more dense, environmentally sustainable communities.
Now, the question is, how could we make experiments in suburban neighborhood design like this easier from a land use law perspective? One person who has thought about the issue significantly is Ross Chapin, whose book Pocket Neighborhoods, addresses urban design of small neighborhood units in suburban reaches. Chapin's dominant proposal clusters 8 to 12 houses, rather than five, around a central "common," as shown in the graphic here. In addition, the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington has compiled codes from places that have adopted this style of housing, which the Center calls cottage housing. For those interested in pursuing this, a review of the codes the Center has compiled is well worth it. These model and enacted codes provide approaches to neighborhood design that I believe could prove valuable to re-thinking what it means to live in a suburb, and maybe even in quasi-urban, environments.
Stephen R. Miller
May 28, 2012
Superheroes and Zoning
Yesterday I took my kids to see The Avengers, the ensemble superhero movie featuring Ironman, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk. But before all the world-saving action started up, I caught a throwaway line from the Gwyneth Paltrow character who plays Robert Downey Jr.'s assistant/girlfriend-- referring to their "Stark Tower" skyscraper in midtown Manhattan (powered by some futuristic sustainable energy source, natch) and their plans to build several more, she notes that she was planning to spend the next day "working on the zoning" for the other towers. I made a mental note that this could be a humorous, quick blog post reaffirming my theory that there is a land use angle to everything, and then proceeded to watch the superheroes smash it out with the bad guys to my son's delight.
But just now, the majesty of the Internet has shown me how badly I've been beaten to the punch. Via our Network colleagues at the Administrative Law Prof Blog, I found a link to a blog called Law and the Multiverse: Superheroes, Supervillans, and the Law, which has a blog post--nay, a 1,500+ word essay!--on this very subject called The Avengers: Arc Reactors and NYC Zoning Laws. This is unbelievable--from the same offhand script line that set off my land-use radar, the author delves deep into the New York City zoning code, citing chapter and verse of the regulations; identifies where Stark Tower is on the maps (all with copious linkage); and then explains the legal options available to our developer/hero:
I. Stark Tower’s Zoning District
As it happens, we know exactly where Stark Tower is meant to be located within New York: it’s built on the site of the MetLife building at 200 Park Ave.
(Update: Early on some sources indicated that it was built on the site of the MetLife building and now others indicate that Stark built the tower on top of the preexisting building. This doesn’t change the analysis. Whatever the zoning status of the MetLife building, the construction of Stark Tower was likely a “structural alteration” of the building that would disallow a grandfathered nonconforming use. It certainly exceeded the kind of “repair or incidental alteration” that would preserve the nonconforming use.)
Here’s a zoning map of the area. As you can see, it’s in a C5-3 commercial district in the Special Midtown District, which means Stark Tower has a maximum Floor Area Ratio of 18 (3 of that comes from the special district). Basically this means that if the building takes up its entire lot then it can only have 18 full-size floors (or the equivalent). There are various ways to increase the FAR, such as having a public plaza on the lot. The sloped, tapering structure of Stark Tower means that it can have more floors without exceeding its FAR because the upper floors are much smaller than the lower ones. Given the size of the 200 Park Ave lot, it’s believable that Stark Tower could be that tall, given its shape and the various means of increasing the FAR.
Stark mentions that the top ten floors (excluding his personal penthouse, presumably) are “all R&D.” Is that allowed in a C5-3?
Apart from residential uses, the permitted commercial uses in a C5 are use groups 5 (hotels), 6, 9 and 10 (retail shops and business services) and 11 (custom manufacturing). Unfortunately, research and development is not allowed as a permitted or conditional use in this district. In fact, scientific research and development is specifically allowed in a C6 as a conditional use, which requires a special permit and approval from the City Planning Commission.
So Stark needs some kind of special dispensation. How can he get it? There are many possible ways.
The essay goes on to analyze the options for rezoning, variances, and the related issues of electrical power generation permits and FAA approval, again chock full o' links to the statutes, regs, and caselaw. The author, James Daily, concludes that "while Pepper Potts may indeed have to do some work to get the next few buildings approved, it’s not far-fetched from a legal perspective." Read the whole thing, it's wild, and quite sophisticated too.
But I will draw this even more compelling conclusion: Even the world's greatest Superheroes are no match for the awesome power of the Zoning Code and the Planning Commission.
May 16, 2012
What Would Jane Jacobs Do?
Regular readers know that we love the National Building Museum. And any land use professional knows that we all love to talk about Jane Jacobs. So here's an event that might be of great interest: Urban Forum: What Would Jane Jacobs Do?
Fifty one years after Jane Jacobs published her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her ideas on liveable, walkable, and diverse neighborhoods continue to impact how urban environments are designed. A panel discusses Jane Jacobs’ legacy, including urban renewal, historic preservation, mixed-use zoning, and public space. Light refreshments will be served.
- Bing Thom, Bing Thom Architects
- Harriet Tregoning, director, Washington D.C. Office of Planning
- Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief, Metropolis Magazine (moderator)
- John Zuccotti, co-chairman of the board, Brookfield Properties Corporation and former Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission
Free (but required) registration is available for the event on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 10:00-11:30. Check it out! If you are able to go to WWJJD, I'd love to hear about it.
May 06, 2012
Mulvaney on Road Diets
No, that's not what Prof. Tim Mulvaney eats while traveling. It's a land use concept that he discusses in a very interesting post on the Environmental Law Prof Blog. An excerpt:
The neighborhood associations of Mistletoe Heights and Berkeley Place, both part of a historic preservation district in the city of Fort Worth, Texas, recently passed measures encouraging the city to consider a “road diet” for the four-lane road that transects these neighborhoods. Planners Dan Burden and Peter Lagerway coined the phrase “road diet” in the 1990s to refer to the transportation planning technique of reallocating existing roadway space that is providing excessive carrying capacity in a manner that results in a reduction in the number of vehicle lanes. For example, a road diet might involve the conversion of a four-lane, undivided road to a three lane road, whereby the land previously used for the fourth lane can be employed for other purposes, such as the creation of a two-way left turn lane and either defined bicycle lanes (image A below), wider sidewalks and landscaping (image B), or angled/parallel parking (image C), or some combination thereof.
Check out the full post to see the illustrative diagrams and additional pictures and anaylsis. I hadn't heard the term before, but the concept makes sense.
May 02, 2012
Things are (Literally) Looking Up
Many thanks to Matt for inviting me back as a guest blogger! If nothing else, a bit of blogging will provide me a productive distraction this month from grading spring semester exams. Matt and the entire team of editors continue to do an outstanding job with the blog, and it’s absolutely one of my favorite morning reads.
I’ll use my first post to respond to Matt’s half-joking question: why should a land use prof spend time thinking about the space above land? After all, airspace rights receive scant attention in most land use casebooks. Discussions of airspace rights might seem better suited for a course on aviation law. Land use profs should stay down in the dirt, right?
Not necessarily. Over the past few years, I've managed to convince myself that some of the most perplexing and unsettled land use conflicts of the day involve the oft-forgotten space just above the surface of land.
For me, it all began while I was still practicing at a large law firm in Seattle. Our wind energy developer client approached us with a puzzling question: can a landowner be liable for stealing a neighbor’s wind? The client and a competing developer had leased adjacent parcels for wind farms. Our client wanted to install a wind turbine immediately upwind of one of the competitor’s turbine sites that was situated just on the other side of their common property boundary line. If both turbines were installed, the turbulent “wake” from the upwind turbine would render the downwind turbine largely ineffective. Only one of these two prime turbine sites could be profitably developed. Under the law, who should prevail in this dispute over wind – the upwind party or the downwind party?
While I was wrestling with that question, I stumbled upon the topic of solar access--a similar sort of airspace use conflict that involves solar energy devices instead of wind turbines. Should landowners be liable when trees or buildings on their parcels shade a neighbor’s solar panels? Laws Wyoming and New Mexico effectively give solar energy users strong legal protections against shading—“solar rights”—drawing analogies to water law’s prior appropriation doctrine. But these analogies to water law are misguided, ignoring neighbors’ longstanding rights in the airspace above their land. Better governance rules are needed for these conflicts that are capable of balancing policymakers’ general interest in promoting solar energy with the existing airspace rights of neighbors.
These wind and solar energy disputes over airspace are just two examples of how airspace is playing an increasingly crucial role in the sustainability movement. Vertical construction and infill development that occupy additional airspace continue to be significant strategies for curbing suburban sprawl, and city-based tree planting programs are occupying more urban airspace as well. At the same time, planners and sustainability advocates are pushing other strategies that require that more airspace be kept open. For example, city-sponsored urban gardens need significant amounts of un-shaded sunlight to thrive, and even LEED certification standards award points for natural lighting designs that often rely on skylights, windows, and minimal shade. When combined with the solar and wind energy uses of airspace mentioned above, these developments are collectively generating an unprecedented level of competition for scarce airspace.
In summary, I think that airspace is very much a topic worth covering in a land use course. There is reason to believe that the challenge of crafting policies that can fairly and efficiently govern airspace conflicts is only beginning and will continue to vex policymakers and legal scholars well into the future.
April 11, 2012
Southern California's New Regional Plan
My last post discussed some of the backlash against Southern California's new regional plan, which emphasizes high-density transit-oriented development. California Planning & Development Report now provides some of the details of the plan, including:
- a total cost of $524 billion over 20 years
- $6.7 billion in funding for biking and walking
- $246 billion on public transportation
- 80 plus percent of all jobs and housing within a half mile of rail stations or bus stops by 2035
- 68% of all new development would be apartment or condos.
April 09, 2012
California's War on Suburbia?
In this Wall Street Journal opinion piece, transportation planner Wendell Cox claims that state and regional planners are driving people out of the state of California with their plans for high-density, transit-oriented development, which he calls a "war" on the single-family home. According to Cox, requiring a change from a primarily single-family suburban to a multi-family urban settlement pattern will make "the state's famously unaffordable housing .. even more unaffordable."
I am at a loss to understand how multi-family housing is going to be more expensive than single-family housing. Cox's claim rests on economic data drawn from William Fischel and others showing that land use regulations in California, such as urban growth boundaries, development moratoria, and so on, generally drive up the cost of housing. This is true, but only because most of these regulations either restrict the overall supply of housing (development moratoria) or force developers to internalize the costs of new growth (exactions). Urban growth boundaries, by contrast, will not necessarily increase housing prices as long as growth is permitted at sufficient densities within the UGB to offset the loss of housing outside the UGB. Yet, Cox places the blame squarely on increasing density!
Furthermore, it is ironic that Cox sees salvation in reverting to the single-family lifestyle, when of course all of the cost-increasing restrictions he now decries, such as moratoria and exactions, have been called into service in order to subsidize single-family homeowners and exclude affordable, multi-family housing.
April 05, 2012
NPR on Demolition of Vacant and Abandoned Homes
On today's Morning Edition, NPR broadcast this story by WCPN on Cleveland's ramping up of demolition of vacant and abandoned properties. The piece features a sound bite from Jim Rokakis, the dynamic founder of Cleveland's new county-wide land bank, which is using part of the $75 million that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has appropriated for vacant house demolition from the State's share of the $25 billion AG settlement with five major mortgage lenders. Rokakis wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post earlier this year urging national action on demolition funding.
As co-chair, with South Bend's new mayor, Pete Buttigieg, of the City's Vacant and Abandoned Property Task Force, I would have loved to see Indiana follow Ohio's lead, but last month the Legislature here decided to use its AG settlement money to resolve funding issues it was facing with the home energy assistance fund.
For those interested in the land use implications of responses to vacant and abandoned property issues, you may also want to check out the stories NPR has done on land banking and "blotting" (the creation of multi-parcel open spaces in dense urban neighborhoods). As always, the Center for Community Progress is a great general resource on all things vacant and abandoned.
March 26, 2012
NYU's Controversial Expansion Plans
Property Prof Blogger extraordinaire and official Land Use Prof Blog Buddy Steve Clowney draws attention to an interesting recent column from NY Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman about NYU's plans to expand within Greenwhich Village. I agree with Steve's assessment that the column focuses too much attention on the effect the expansion would have on a little used plot of park space. It is curious that Kimmelman opens the column describing NYU's expansion plans as "acrimonious" but then immediately pivots away from describing any of the actual acrimony to an issue that only he seems to care about, to wit, this "underrated" park that nobody know exists.
Kimmelman's main argument appears to be that NYU itself is responsible for the park space in question falling into disuse, and so the city should leverage its zoning power to force NYU to make the park more accessible. At this point, I was running for my land use casebook to consult the Supreme Court's exactions jurisprudence (For land use newbies: governments are generally not allowed to leverage their zoning power for concessions absent an "essential nexus" between the concession sought and the land use approval requested).
In any event, I can't say Kimmelman is wrong as a policy matter. He may be right that the village needs more open space and that NYU's plan is antithetical to that need. To me, the most interesting part of Kimmelman's piece was his contention that the original Modernist "tower-in-the-park" design that spawned the endangered park space had actually done a good job of bringing much-needed open space to the village before NYU messed it all up. This is at odds with the conventional wisdom that the tower-in-the-park idea was a monstrosity that necessarily brought about extremely alienating public spaces (wisdom made conventional, of course, by a previous crusader against Greenwhich Village construction plans, Jane Jacobs). For an example of such an alienating space, check this out:
For those wondering, this is Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York, a gift of Modernist-loving governor Nelson Rockefeller.
I see an interesting parallel between Kimmelman's affection for Modernist park design in this column and his paean to the virtues of Modernist housing complexes in another column about which I blogged previously. Kimmelman seems committed to resuscitating a form of urban design that has been largely relegated to the dustbin of bad planning ideas. For that, I commend him!