Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sanborn Maps in the Classroom

Well, before you know it, I'll be reaching the Zoning segment of Property this semester.  Jon's wonderful visual in his Glass House disaster post put me in mind of the digitized Sanborn maps I used to teach environmental due diligence back when our Community Development Clinic was offered as a two-semester course. It turns out that the building which houses UB's clinical program was the turn-of-the-century site of one of Baltimore's (and the planet's) earliest automotive engine plants.  

As maps collecting fire insurance information for the 100 years following the Civil War, they were also a great way to show the expansion of the industrial city and the jumble of uses prior to Euclidean zoning. I got the Baltimore maps I used from the local library collection, but the Library of Congress has "4000 sheets . . .online in the following states: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CT, DC, GA, IL, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NV, OH, PA, TX, VA, VT, WY and Canada and Mexico." (NYC is here.)  The site also features a nice introductory essay.   Enjoy.

Jim K.

Nashville1914_map_image 

Nashville-1914, Library of Congress (The Ryman Auditorium next door to the synagogue in lower left)

March 24, 2011 in Density, Development, History, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cleveland's EcoVillage

Dennis Keating (Cleveland State) and Wendy Kellogg (Cleveland State-Urban Affairs) have posted Cleveland's Ecovillage: Green and Affordable Housing Through a Network Alliance.  The article offers a case study of EcoVillage, a transit-oriented affordable housing project in the Detroit Shoreway neigborhood of Cleveland.  Here's the abstract:

This article presents a case study of the inter-organizational network that formed to produce four housing projects in Cleveland's EcoVillage designed to integrate social equity and ecological stewardship as the basis for neighborhood redevelopment. Our paper builds on concepts of community development and housing production through inter-organizational networks spanning nonprofit, public, and private organizations that developed and supported four green and affordable housing projects. We are interested in understanding how development of the housing projects changed and connected traditional neighborhood development and ecologically-oriented organizations and how their interaction changed the practice of housing production and environmental and sustainability advocacy locally and regionally. The results of the study reveal that the marriage of green and affordable housing in Cleveland, despite some challenges, was viewed as important and beneficial by the organizations involved, and resulted in a range of demonstration projects that not only changed the EcoVillage, but affected other neighborhood housing projects in Cleveland as well. The projects resulted in enhanced capacity for green housing production through creation of a new network of organizations spanning the housing and environmental sustainability fields of practice that continues to support sustainable housing and neighborhood development in Cleveland.

Jim K.

 

March 12, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Climate, Community Economic Development, Density, Development, Environmentalism, New Urbanism, Pedestrian, Planning, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kotkin on the Protean Future of American Cities and growth at the edge

Joel Kotkin has another "New Geographer" column at Forbes challenging some prevailing attitudes about urbanism, using some early Census data.  From The Protean Future of American Cities:

The ongoing Census reveals the continuing evolution of America’s cities from small urban cores to dispersed, multi-polar regions that includes the city’s surrounding areas and suburbs. This is not exactly what most urban pundits, and journalists covering cities, would like to see, but the reality is there for anyone who reads the numbers. . . .

But the bigger story — all but ignored by the mainstream media — is the continued evolution of urban regions toward a more dispersed, multi-centered form. Brookings’ Robert Lang has gone even further, using the term “edgeless cities” to describe what he calls an increasingly “elusive metropolis” with highly dispersed employment.

Rather than a cause for alarm, this form of development simply reflects the protean vitality of American urban forms. . . .

Houston Tomorrow president David Crossley, however, sees some of the same trends from Census data on the Houston region, and (tongue-in-cheek) credits the dispersal of new population into the edges as a "Brilliant Government Success":

Houston Tomorrow’s analysis shows that public policy aimed at moving growth away from our 134 towns, cities, and villages to the unincorporated areas of the 13 counties has been breathtakingly successful. In the 2000 Census, our towns and cities had 65% of all the population. In the new numbers, that share drops to 58%. That’s because fully 71% of all the growth was in unincorporated areas.

Crossley is concerned with the sprawl and reverse-urban trends that this growth indicates.  This is going to be a lively debate for the foreseeable future; as more Census data comes out we can expect to see a lot more analysis.  I know Kotkin's normative claims get a lot of pushback but I don't know about his descriptive analysis--the demographic numbers certainly are compelling, as Crossley's less sangine take indicates.

Matt Festa

March 8, 2011 in Density, Downtown, Exurbs, Federal Government, History, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Long on Sustainability v. Sprawl in the Post-Public-Lands West

Jerry Long (Idaho) explores the causes of and reasons for a community's commitment to sustainable land-use planning in his recently posted Private Lands, Conflict, and Institutional Evolution in the Post-Public-Lands West, 28 Pace Env. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2011).  Here's the abstract:

As rural communities face amenity-driven population growth and globalizing culture and economic systems, the process by which those communities imagine and implement desired futures grows increasingly complex. Globalization- and technology-facilitated and amenity-driven population growth increases the value of place-bound benefit streams – including land – promoting increased levels of physical development and a changed built environment. At the same time, globalizing culture and evolving local demographics might alter local land-use ideologies, yielding a preference for resource protection and more sustainable local land-use regimes. This article engages in a theoretical and empirical exploration that seeks to answer a single question: Why, in the face of competing land-use ideologies, might a community choose to adopt a more resource-protective, or resource-sustaining, land-use regime? Ultimately, it is only upon witnessing the actual effects of previous choices on the ground – including most significant, real harm to valued social or natural amenities – that a community is able to imagine and implement a land-use regime that can protect the amenities that community values.

Jim K.

March 2, 2011 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comprehensive Plans, Conservation Easements, Density, Development, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Globalism, Land Trust, Las Vegas, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Sustainability, Urbanism, Water, Zoning | 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)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where does Redevelopment Fit in our Priorities?

Ethan Elkind has a great post over at Legal Planet about Redevelopment and Governor Jerry Brown's budget priorities.

We have quite a quandry in front of us as states deal with budget problems and many redevelopment agencies seem poorly run. What's a poor city to? Ethan offers some suggestions. Like the unions in Wisconsin, he is also admitting that we are going to have to give some ground and agree to budget cuts.

- Jessica Owley

February 24, 2011 in Density, Development, Politics, Redevelopment, State Government, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | 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)

Lincoln Institute Report on Explosive Growth of Developing World's Largest Cities

The Lincoln Institute for Land Policy has made available its report, Making Room for a Planet of Cities.  The report predicts a rapid increase in the population of the developing world's largest cities in combination with a concurrent decrease in urban density.  As a result, "[t]he world’s urban population is expected to double in 43 years, while urban land cover will double in only 19 years. The urban population in developing countries is expected to double between 2000 and 2030 while the built-up area of their cities is expected to triple [during that same period]."  The Lincoln site also offers a companion Atlas of Urban Expansion.

Jim K.

February 16, 2011 in Comparative Land Use, Density, Development, Environmentalism, Sprawl, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Judith Wegner, Annexation, and the Boehl Lectures

Thanks, Matt, for the wonderfully kind introduction.  I am excited to be guest-posting on the Land Use Prof blog.  Despite the flood of emails (and steady stream of students and professors wanting an associate dean's immediate attention), I read the Land Use Prof blog every day, and find the posts both helpful and thought-provoking.  It is a real honor to be a part of the great work that y'all do!

For my first post, I want to share some insights from Judith Welch Wegner's Boehl Distinguished Lecture in Land Use Policy at the University of Louisville this past Thursday, January 27, and to highlight the value of a land-use lecture series generally.  Professor Wegner is well known in legal education for her past roles as a 10-year Dean at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, President of AALS, member of the Order of the Coif Executive Committee, and Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  In the land use field, she is known as the Burton Craige Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and for her especially influential article "Moving Toward the Bargaining Table: Contract Zoning, Development Agreements, and the Theoretical Foundations of Government Land Use Deals," 65 N.C. L. Rev. 957 (1987).  I predict that she will play a major role in reviving interest in annexation as a land use legal and planning issue.

Judith gave her Boehl Distinguished Lecture in Land Use Policy on "Annexation, Urban Boundaries, and Land Use Dilemmas: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future."  Her basic concern is that annexation is often disconnected from land-use planning, which results in problems of sprawl, uncoordinated growth, inadequate infrastructure, and fiscal stress.  Drawing on census data and examples from North Carolina's famous "annexation wars," Judith pointed out that there are no quick-fixes, no one-size-fits-all model solutions (a point that I particularly like and have addressed most recently in "Fourth-Generation Environmental Law: Integrationist and Multimodal").  Local culture matters.  Some of the worst conflicts do not arise from expanding large cities but from small municipalities in rural or at least non-urban areas, making it difficutl to get a handle on what exactly "smart growth" might mean in these low-density communities.  Water and wastewater dynamics play significant roles, as do municipalities' desires to improve their fiscal health by increasing their property-tax base through annexations.  When municipal annexation is difficult, though, alternatives to annexation take its place, including the proliferation of special districts, the rise of county authority over land use, and the dominance of gated communities.  All in all, according to Judith, annexation conflicts demonstrate why local governance structure is a "wicked problem" but one that is critically important to land use practices and sustainable development.  I am looking forward to the publications that will result from her research.  Annexation issues have received too little attention in the land use legal literature.

But her lecture implicitly makes another point -- the value of a land-use lecture series.  More on that tomorrow . . . .  [OK, maybe not as tantalizing as who shot J.R., but hopefully something of a hook to bring you back.]  Again, thanks for letting me come aboard!

Tony Arnold

January 31, 2011 in Agriculture, Common Interest Communities, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Development, Exurbs, Lectures, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Smart Growth, Sprawl, State Government, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Physicist invents Urban Science

Here's a fascinating story from yesterday's New York Times: A Physicist Solves the City.  It's about physicist Geoffrey West, who after a career working at places like Los Alamos and Stanford, decided to turn his attention to solving the city--not through urban theory, planning, or social science, but through a hard scientific analysis of data to search for fundamental laws underpinning the urban organism.

West wasn’t satisfied with any of these approaches. He didn’t want to be constrained by the old methods of social science, and he had little patience for the unconstrained speculations of architects. (West considers urban theory to be a field without principles, comparing it to physics before Kepler pioneered the laws of planetary motion in the 17th century.) Instead, West wanted to begin with a blank page, to study cities as if they had never been studied before. He was tired of urban theory — he wanted to invent urban science.

For West, this first meant trying to gather as much urban data as possible. Along with Luis Bettencourt, another theoretical physicist who had abandoned conventional physics, and a team of disparate researchers, West began scouring libraries and government Web sites for relevant statistics. The scientists downloaded huge files from the Census Bureau, learned about the intricacies of German infrastructure and bought a thick and expensive almanac featuring the provincial cities of China. (Unfortunately, the book was in Mandarin.) They looked at a dizzying array of variables, from the total amount of electrical wire in Frankfurt to the number of college graduates in Boise. They amassed stats on gas stations and personal income, flu outbreaks and homicides, coffee shops and the walking speed of pedestrians.

After two years of analysis, West and Bettencourt discovered that all of these urban variables could be described by a few exquisitely simple equations. For example, if they know the population of a metropolitan area in a given country, they can estimate, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, its average income and the dimensions of its sewer system. These are the laws, they say, that automatically emerge whenever people “agglomerate,” cramming themselves into apartment buildings and subway cars. It doesn’t matter if the place is Manhattan or Manhattan, Kan.: the urban patterns remain the same. West isn’t shy about describing the magnitude of this accomplishment. “What we found are the constants that describe every city,” he says. “I can take these laws and make precise predictions about the number of violent crimes and the surface area of roads in a city in Japan with 200,000 people. I don’t know anything about this city or even where it is or its history, but I can tell you all about it. And the reason I can do that is because every city is really the same.” After a pause, as if reflecting on his hyperbole, West adds: “Look, we all know that every city is unique. That’s all we talk about when we talk about cities, those things that make New York different from L.A., or Tokyo different from Albuquerque. But focusing on those differences misses the point. Sure, there are differences, but different from what? We’ve found the what.”

Very interesting, and sure to get some responses.  Thanks to Jon Coen for the pointer.

Matt Festa

December 28, 2010 in Comparative Land Use, Density, Development, Globalism, Local Government, Planning, Property Theory, Scholarship, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NY Times on DC Building Height Limits

The New York Times has an interesting article on the current discussion about the building height limits in Washington DC: In the Capital, Rethinking Old Limits on Buildings.  From the intro:

Its low-slung architecture is no accident. In 1910, Congress passed an act limiting the heights of buildings in the capital. The first residential skyscraper, the Cairo, had been built, and at 12 stories, it was higher than fire ladders could reach and scandalously out of sync with its smaller neighbors.

One hundred years later, most Washingtonians see the act as a good thing. Their sidewalks are shadowed by the outlines of trees, and the dome of the Capitol can be seen from most roof decks. The act, they say, preserves the unique nature of their city, whose landmarks draw millions of visitors each year.

Now, on the act’s centennial, a small tribe of developers, architects and urban experts are questioning the orthodoxy of the rule’s application. A modest change, they argue, would inject some vitality into the urban scene, would allow for greener construction, and could eventually deliver bigger tax receipts for the badly pinched city budget, currently in a hole of about $175 million.

But raising the limit is nothing short of sacrilege for preservationists here, who fear that any change, however slight, will open the door to more.

The DC building height limit controversy is a crystallization of many of the most significant and perplexing contemporary land use issues.  On the one hand, the height limit was one of the earliest and longest-standing land use regulations; it invokes the Enfant/Parisian heritage of the historical DC plan; and it has undoubtedly led to the very pleasant streetscapes and visuals in much of DC today.  On the other hand, it has mandated a density limit that has exacerbated the scarcity of urban land, inflated real estate prices, and helped cause the serious sprawl that has plagued the DC region over the past generation.  It is also an interesting debate, considering that many leading urban theorists call for greater density and vertical development, while in the nation's capital it will literally take an Act of Congress to move in that direction.  

Matt Festa

November 14, 2010 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, Density, Development, Downtown, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, History, Local Government, Planning, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shoup on Graduated Density Zoning

Prof. Donald Shoup (Urban Planning, UCLA) contributed a comment to our recent post on Daniel Kelly's eminent domain paper.  In case you missed it, I wanted to be sure you had the chance to get the link to Prof. Shoup's important paper Graduated Density Zoning, from the Journal of Planning Education and Research (2008).  The abstract:

The difficulty of assembling sites large enough to redevelop at higher density can impede regeneration in city centers and accelerate suburban sprawl onto large sites already in single ownership. One promising new planning strategy to encourage voluntary land assembly is graduated density zoning, which allows higher density on larger sites. This strategy can increase the incentive for owners to cooperate in a land assembly that creates higher land values.  Graduated density zoning will not eliminatethe incentive to hold out, but it can create a new fear of being left out.  Holdouts who are left with sites that cannot be combined with enough contiguous properties to trigger higher density lose a valuable economic opportunity.This article examines the difficulty of assembling land for infill development, and explains graduated density zoning as away to encourage voluntary land assembly.  Finally, it presents the results of graduated density zoning in practice.

Graduated density zoning is a compelling idea.  You may also be familiar with Shoup's influential work on parking, including his book The High Cost of Free Parking (APA, 2005), and very recent articles quoting him in the New York Times (Tyler Cowen, Free Parking Comes at a Price, Aug. 2010) and Slate (Tom Vanderbilt, Time Expired: The End of the Parking Meter, Oct. 2010).

Matt Festa

November 4, 2010 in Density, Downtown, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Parking, Pedestrian, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lefcoe on the Uses and Abuses of Tax Increment Financing

George Lefcoe (Southern California) has posted Competing for the Next Hundred Million Americans: The Uses and Abuses of Tax Increment Financing.  The abstract:

Demographers predict that the US population will grow by one hundred million in 2050. Newcomers will settle in suburbia, particularly to the fast growing big cities of the south and west, cities in the resurgent heartland of the country, exurbia and ‘superstar cities’. 

Communities eager to appeal to these newcomers will use tax increment financing for public improvements such as stadiums, museums, plazas and promenades. These public improvements are often integrated into signature private redevelopment projects carefully designed to achieve environmental and planning objectives by being pedestrian-friendly, high density, and mixed use, accessible not only by automobile but public transit as well. 

After illustrating the beneficial use of tax increment financing, I describe six major criticisms often leveled against tax increment financing (TIF). (1) TIF helps outer suburbs lure jobs from center cities and inner suburbs; (2) TIF should be confined to seriously blighted areas and is not; (3) TIF is often used to subsidize the increased supply of retail development in markets where demand is static, achieving little except the displacement of sales from other locations; (4) cities sponsoring tax increment projects unfairly and inefficiently drain property tax revenues from other taxing entities including schools and counties; (5) There are few serious obstacles preventing local governments from sponsoring TIF projects in places that would have attracted private development anyway, or bestowing subsidies greater than necessary upon firms agreeing to locate in marginal areas; and (6) Many local governments don’t bother to analyze whether TIF projects are net tax revenue producers or assess periodically whether actual yields match initial projections.
We're working on TIFs right now in my state & local government class.  Students find these animals to be challenging and interesting, because they are very powerful drivers of land use yet fairly obscure to the general public.  This article helps explain TIFs and put them in the context of land use debates over density, development, and urbanism.

Matt Festa

October 5, 2010 in Community Design, Density, Development, Environmentalism, Finance, Local Government, New Urbanism, Pedestrian, Planning, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Suburbs, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kotkin: Why Housing Will Come Back

On his New Geography blog for Forbes, Joel Kotkin has an essay on why he thinks there will be a resurgence in the housing market starting later this decade: Why Housing Will Come Back.  He begins with a historical observation:

Few icons of the American way of life have suffered more in recent years than  homeownership. Since the bursting of the housing bubble, there has been a steady drumbeat from the factories of futurist punditry that the notion of owning a home will, and, more importantly, should become out of reach for most Americans.

Before jumping on this bandwagon, perhaps we would do well to understand the role that homeownership and the diffusion of property plays in a democracy. From Madison and Jefferson through Lincoln’s Homestead Act, the most enduring and radical notion of American political economy has been the diffusion of property.

Kotkin then notes that in recent years, and especially in light of the mortgage crisis, the single-family homeownership ideal has been criticized from both the right (government overpromotion) and the left (sprawl, new urbanism, environmentalism).  His response:

Yet for all the problems facing the housing market, homeownership–not exclusively single-family houses–is not likely to fade dramatically for the foreseeable future. The most compelling reason has to do with continued public preference for single-family homes, suburbs and the notion of owning a “piece” of the American dream.   This is why that four out of every five homes built in America over the past few decades, notes urban historian Witold Rybczynski, have less to do with government policy than “with buyers’ preferences, that is, What People Want.

Kotkin goes on to explain several reasons why he believes housing will come back, after adjusting to the market correction imposed by the economic recession.  Why I find most interesting is that his prediction is based less on economics or law than on demographics:

As boomers age, the two big groups that will drive housing will be the young Millenial generation born after 1983 as well as immigrants and their offspring. Sixty million strong, the millenials are just now entering their late 20s. They are just beginning to start hunting for houses and places to establish roots. Generational chroniclers  Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, describe millenials in their surveys as family-oriented young people who value homeownership even more than their boomer parents. They also are somewhat more likely to choose suburbia as their “ideal place to live” than the previous generation.

These tendencies are even more marked among immigrants and their children. Already a majority of immigrants live in suburbia, up from 40% in the 1970s. They are attracted in many cases by both jobs and the opportunity to buy a single-family home. For an immigrant from Mumbai, Hong Kong or Mexico City, the “American dream” is rarely living in high density surrounded by concret

An interesting take.  For more writings on urban theory from the center-right perspective (e.g., Why we Have to Learn to Love the Subdivision--Again) see Kotkin's New Geography website. 

Matt Festa

September 25, 2010 in Density, Development, Environmentalism, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, New Urbanism, Planning, Real Estate Transactions, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gotta Get Back in Time

Last weekend we saw a TV rerun of the 1985 classic Back to the Future.  I was reminded of something that didn't occur to me until many years after I saw it for the first time, which is that it is, subtly, an excellent land use movie.  Christopher Leinberger observed this in the opening pages of his terrific book The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream.  From the intro:

When I teach a graduate real estate seminar, the first homework I give to the students is watching the 1985 movie Back to the Future.  The film reflects most of the fundamental changes in how America has been built over the last sixty years.  

Specifically, in 1985 suburban "Hill Valley," the old downtown is dead.  The public square is deserted at all hours except for the homeless; once-thriving establishments have been replaced by adult businesses; and the clock hasn't been fixed in thirty years.  The new (1980s) mall at the outskirts of town now has all the action, accessible only by car (including time-machine car, or terrorist van!).  

When Michael J. Fox's character Marty McFly goes "back in time" to 1955 HIll Valley, he finds a vibrant downtown, where everyone walks around for work and shopping, teens go to the malt shop and the movie theater, and small businesses abound.  Sacred, safe, and busy, perhaps?  Back to Leinberger:

The two Hill Valleys show the only two viable divergent options we have in how to build our metropolitan built environment--which consists of the houses, roads, water and sewer lines, police and fire stations, office buildings, shops, factories, parks, and everything else that makes up where most Americans live, work, and play.  

Leinberger goes on to label the 1955 version as "walkable urbanism," and proceeds from there.  The Option of Urbanism has been one of the most insightful books I've read recently, and of course if you're looking for a Labor Day Weekend movie that deals with land use, you'll find Back to the Future worth a fresh look.  

Now, this kind of goes downhill at the end of the movie when, in the sequel set-up, Doc goes thirty years forward and then returns in a flying car fueled by household garbage.  So we can expect that in 2015?  

With that, is it possible that those of us who are interested in new urbanism can now be more sympathetic with George McFly's botched pickup line: "you . . . are my . . . density!"

Matt Festa

September 2, 2010 in Books, Density, Downtown, History, New Urbanism, Planning, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Eagle on the Really New Property

I'm still out of town, but a quick dose of internet access reveals what looks like a very interesting new property theory piece by Steven J. Eagle (George Mason): The Really New Property: A Skeptical Appraisal, forthcoming in the Indiana Law Review.  The abstract:

This article reviews recent scholarship invoking the prophetic tradition in American jurisprudence and calling for the transformation of property law. It contrasts imposed top-down social change with Burkean and Oakeshottian gradual change derived from conversation within our legal and cultural tradition. The work of Robert Ellickson is presented as illustrating the development of property law in the Burkean tradition. Transformative property scholarship, on the other hand, largely reflects Osborne and Gaebler’s view that government should steer and private actors row, reinforced by Thaler and Sunstein’s call for soft paternalism. The article asserts, however, that Kant and Berlin’s admonition that all of humankind is “crooked timber” precludes officials from a privileged position, a postulate well supported by public choice theory.

The article views the change in conceptual thinking from Hohfeldian property to Heller’s anticommons and assertions of disintegration and entropy of property. These set the stage, for instance, for advocacy of “rightsizing,’ through the shrinking private parcels through smart growth and densification, and the supersizing of government-controlled land through condemnation for urban redevelop.

Other topics discussed are regionalism, new governance, and the creation of affordable housing, through, among other things, the rearrangement of traditional landlord-tenant relationships. The article expresses skepticism that flaws inherent in the top-down transformation of property would permit outcomes that are coherent and effective, and could withstand capture by affected interest groups.
Matt Festa

August 2, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Density, Development, Landlord-Tenant, Local Government, Property Theory, Scholarship, Smart Growth, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fox on Smart Growth in Vancouver & Seattle

David Fox (J.D. Candidate, Boston College) has published Halting Urban Sprawl: Smart Growth in Vancouver and Seattle, 33 B.C. Int'l & Comp. L. Rev. 43 (2010).  The abstract:

Haphazard and unorganized land-use planning in United States cities has resulted in endless sprawl that is straining infrastructure, polluting the atmosphere, and negatively affecting quality of life. This Note compares efforts of two similarly situated North American cities—Seattle and Vancouver—in enacting Smart Growth policies to combat sprawl and argues that Seattle, and American cities in general, should look to Vancouver’s example to limit urban sprawl and comprehensively plan at local and regional levels for sustainable growth and more livable spaces over the coming decades.

I'll be in Vancouver when you read this post, so I'll be checking out the land use!


Matt Festa

July 21, 2010 in Comparative Land Use, Density, Environmentalism, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Leinberger (vs. Kotkin): Walking--Not Just for Cities Anymore

On The New Republic's excellent "The Avenue" blog, Christopher Leinberger (author of The Option of Urbanism) discusses a recent Brookings debate with Joel Kotkin (author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050).  From Walking--Not Just for Cities Anymore, Leinberger notes:

I just had a debate with Joel Kotkin, whom many consider to be an apologist for sprawl. Surprisingly, there is a convergence between his view of the next generation of real estate and infrastructure development and mine: a constellation of pedestrian-friendly urban development spread throughout metropolitan areas, redeveloping parts of the central city and transforming the inner, and some outer, suburbs. There are certainly differences between the two of us: I happen to see significant pent-up demand for walkable urban development and massive over-building of fringe car-oriented suburban housing and commercial development.

In fact, I see compelling evidence that the collapse of fringe drivable suburban markets was the catalyst for the Great Recession, and the lack of walkable urban development due to inadequate infrastructure and zoning is a major reason for the recovery’s sluggishness. Joel feels the demand for walkable urban development is a fraction of the future growth in households. I think rail transit, biking and walking infrastructure are crucial to make this walkable urban future happen; Joel thinks bus rapid transit is as far as we have to go in the transit world… making cars more technologically efficient is his main answer.

I have been hoping that Leinberger will prove correct about his belief in the untapped market demand for walkable urbanism, which has not persuaded Kotkin and other critics.  Leinberger concludes:

We need move away from 20th century concepts that confuse the conversation. If I am right, 70 to 80 percent of new development should be in walkable urban places, and my research leads me to think the majority of that development will be in the suburbs.

Matt Festa

July 13, 2010 in Density, Development, Downtown, Exurbs, Financial Crisis, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, New Urbanism, New York, Pedestrian, Planning, Sprawl, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Homeownerhsip: The Chinese Dream (and prerequisite for love)?

We've posted a few times on the concept of property- (specifically home-) ownership as the central definition of the "American Dream," and I've critiqued the concept.  One of the underlying questions is whether there is something uniquely, culturally "American" in the desire for widespread property ownership, or whether it's a more universal urge.  I've heard good, thoughtful opinions on both sides, from colleagues at conferences and at my last faculty presentation at South Texas.  So here's an interesting piece in the LA Times by David Pierson: China's Housing Boom Spells Trouble for Boyfriends: Many women won't marry a man who doesn't own a home.  The article starts out with the story of what would seem a relatively successful, educated, urban bachelor who got dumped because he is not a home owner.  The analysis:

Home prices in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai have easily doubled over the last year as families and investors rush to grab a piece of the Chinese dream.  [ed.: wow!]  A typical 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in the capital now costs about $274,000. That's 22 times the average annual income of a Beijing resident.

Unlike in the United States, where home buying traditionally takes place after marriage, owning a place in China has recently become a prerequisite for tying the knot. Experts said securing an apartment in this market signals that a man is successful, family-oriented and able to weather challenging financial circumstances. Put succinctly, homeownership has become the ultimate symbol of virility in today's China.

"A man is not a man if he doesn't own a house," said Chen Xiaomin, director of the Women's Studies Center at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law. "Marriage is becoming more and more materialistic. This is a huge change in Chinese society. No matter how confident a woman is, she will lose face if her boyfriend or husband doesn't have a house." . . . . 

Material matters weren't quite so important when previous generations courted. Most Chinese were poor. Property was controlled by the state and homes were doled out through an individual's work unit. When China was more agrarian, marriages were usually arranged, and it was customary for a bride's family to provide a dowry — be it money, bedding or even a sewing machine.

But economic reform and mass urbanization in the last 30 years have upended these norms. In 1998, the central government launched one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history by allowing Chinese to buy their homes from the state, often with subsidies. The privatization of property spurred the creation of a commercialized housing industry with developers and investors.

I wonder what else factors in-- e.g., I've read elsewhere that the one-child policy has resulted in an out-of-whack male-to-female ratio in the generation that is now the young adult class.  Perhaps this alters the balance of power in dating.  But at any rate, it's quite interesting that as China has moved toward economic liberalism, its society has moved towards the normativity of home ownership (as "the Chinese Dream," no less)--just as more voices in the US are calling that norm into question (see, e.g., Thomas Sugure, The New American Dream: Renting?, WSJ 2009). 

Matt Festa

July 7, 2010 in Comparative Land Use, Density, Housing, Property | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Enough with Jane Jacobs Already?

Check out this really interesting piece from the Wall Street Journal: Enough With Jane Jacobs Already, by Andrew Manshel.  Manshel is with the nonprofit Greater Jamaica Development Corp.  He argues that while Jane Jacobs was right about many things, the enshrinement of her views in planning circles should be reassessed.  He says that now is the time, due to Mayor Bloomberg's Charter Revision Commission process.  Lots of interesting thoughts in this opinion piece, so it's hard to know what parts to highlight.    

Jacobs's book is generally regarded as a jeremiad in opposition to the large-scale planning of the '50s and '60s. She is celebrated as the individual who did the most to end that era's Robert Moses and Le Corbusier-inspired, automobile-centric view of urban life. In Jacobs's opinion, the ideal of city living was the West Village of Manhattan, with its short blocks, narrow streets and little shops. She praised the human-scale aspects of city life; the "eyes on the street" of the shopkeeper and the social cohesion promoted by "street corner mayors." In her view, large-scale planning was prone to failure.

Are you with Jacobs, or are you with Bob Moses and Le Corbusier??

Her views have now been broadly adopted and it is conventional wisdom in planning circles that participatory neighborhood planning is best, that preservation of old buildings is essential, and that in cities the car is bad. But Jacobs had a tendency toward sweeping conclusions based on anecdotal information, and some of them were overblown and/or oblivious to the facts. Perhaps most graphically, Jacobs predicted that the grand arts center planned for the Upper West Side of Manhattan would fail. But Lincoln Center turned out to be a great success—igniting the revitalization of the entire neighborhood.

More revealingly, the Greenwich Village she held out as a model for city life has become some of the highest-priced real estate in New York City—it's no longer the diverse, yeasty enclave she treasured. Ultimately, many of the policies she advocated blocked real-estate development—causing prices of existing housing stock to rise and pricing out all but the wealthiest residents.

Manshel calls for more attention to the ideas of William H. Whyte, who inspired Bryant Park and Houston's Discovery Green, among other projects.  Manshel isn't the first to challenge Jacobs' legacy recently: see Benjamin Schwarz's recent Atlantic piece.  What do you think about Manshel's critique of the citizen-participation focus?  Again, it's a quick and thought-provoking read, so check it out.  

 

Matt Festa

July 7, 2010 in Density, Development, Historic Preservation, Houston, Local Government, New York, Pedestrian, Planning, Politics, Redevelopment, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)