Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Congress of New Urbanism (courtesy of Yelp!)

Last week, Buffalo hosted the 22nd Congress for New Urbanism. With a constrained conference budget, I was planning on just scoping out the (numerous) public events. Then conference funding came through from a surprising source. I actually won free conference registration via Yelp! (yes it pays to  be elite). I am not sure what it says about academia when we have to look to social media to help with our research funding but I was happy to get in the door!

CNU 22 was a mixture of the inspirational and the mundane. It was amazing to see people from all over the country (and particularly so many from Buffalo) coming together to think about how to improve your communities. I bathed in the local pride (feeling the Buffalove as we say around here) and heard inspiring tales about efforts in Toronto, Minneapolis, DC, and Milwaukee. But nothing was actually radical. In some ways this is an encouraging story. It no longer seems crazy to argue that suburban sprawl is destroying community. I really didn't need convincing that we should have more walkable or bikable cities. There seems to be general agreement on what elements make for a thriving urban environment and largely agreement from the attendees on how to get there (community involvement, form based codes, economic development). Thus, while I enjoyed myself and met some fascinating folks I left the conference with an empty notebook. Maybe I just attended the wrong sessions, but I wonder what types of legal changes we might need, what type of property tools we can use, and of course who is gonna fund it all. Any suggestions?

June 11, 2014 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Conferences, Downtown, Economic Development, Form-Based Codes, New Urbanism, Pedestrian, Planning, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Boyd on Zoning for Apartments

Marie Boyd (South Carolina) has posted Zoning for Apartments: A Study of the Role of Law in the Control of Apartment Houses in New Haven, Connecticut 1912-1932, 33 Pace L. Rev. 600 (2013).  In it, she reviews building records and Sanborn maps to give her reader a complete picture of the restrictions placed on apartment development before and after New Haven's first zoning ordinance in 1926. Here's the abstract:

This article seeks to contribute to the legal and policy debates over zoning by providing a more detailed examination of the impact of apartments on both pre-zoning land use patterns and the zoning process during the formative initial stages of zoning in the United States than has been provided in the literature to date. Specifically, this Article analyzes the impact of apartments on both pre-zoning land use patterns and the zoning process in New Haven, Connecticut. It focuses on the period beginning with the selection of New Haven’s first Zoning Commission in 1922, and concluding with the passage of New Haven’s first zoning ordinance in 1926. Through this detailed historical account of the realities of zoning, this Article demonstrates how — due to delays in the enactment of zoning — New Haven’s first zoning ordinance, rather than shaping the future growth of the regulated area, was instead shaped by existing land use patterns and political considerations.

Jim K.

November 1, 2013 in Development, Downtown, History, Local Government, Nuisance, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Athens Wal-Mart Project Dies

So it's been quite awhile since my last post, but I felt compelled to share the end of the story about putting a Wal-Mart in downtown Athens, Georgia.  If you're a longtime reader of the blog you may remember that an Atlanta based developer proposed a mixed-use development, anchored by a Wal-Mart, in the center of Athens.  (See my previous post here.)  Although Wal-Mart never expressed official interest in the project, many local residents were highly opposed to the idea.

Yesterday the local paper featured a story saying that the developer has now abandoned the project entirely, due to market conditions.  The development featured student apartments as its residential component, and downtown Athens is already overbuilt in that category.  However, the site, while topographically challenging, is prime real estate.  I'm sure as market conditions improve something will eventually be built there.

Jamie Baker Roskie

October 30, 2013 in Community Design, Development, Downtown, Georgia, Local Government, Planning, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment | 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)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Debate over Richard Florida's views on the Creative Class: Richard Florida weighs in

For those of you who just cannot get enough of Richard Florida, the Daily Beast this week features an exchange between Joel Kotkin and Richard Florida on whether Florida's evolution as a proponent of cities being geared toward the "creative class" constitutes a full-scale retreat from his emphasis on this group as a generator of local and regional economic growth.  Florida's installment references a related piece on the importance of urban design that promotes personal interaction that he published in the Wall Street Journal back in July.

HT, Chris O'Byrne.

Jim K.

March 24, 2013 in Development, Downtown, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Food Truck Wars: Dispatches from the Front(s)

For more than two years, a number of us (Ken, Jamie, Matt, and Chad) have blogged about food trucks (usually just around lunchtime).  Here are some articles updating the situation in Chicago and other cities.

The Wall Street Journal reported on legislation and reponsive litigation involving food trucks back in August:  Food Trucks vs. Restaurants (if paywall prevents access, try this Lexis link

and again yesterday, focusing on legal advocacy efforts by the Institute for Justice: Street Vendors Battle Limits (Lexis link)


Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune published a story on dissatisfaction among the portable vendors with the food truck ordinance Chicago enacted last year.

"Nothing cooking on food trucks \ Since legalization in July, no one has met city's standard" (Lexis link)

 Hat tip to Chris O'Byrne, who passed on this blog post.

 JIm K.

January 24, 2013 in Constitutional Law, Downtown, Food, Parking, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Find out which street corner produces the most CO2.

Resarchers from Arizona State have created a program that maps CO2 in cities. What is fascinating about this project is that they can map it down to the level of individual blocks and buildings. While this program is only currently focused on urban areas, global CO2 maps (and particularly maps of rural areas) could be pivotal in any programs related to carbon emissions. It could enable us to identify the heaviest producers and also perhaps assist in sequestration programs. They even made a cool video showing how it works. What a great tool for local governments.

Here is the citation and abstract:

Kevin R. Gurney, Igor Razlivanov, Yang Song, Yuyu Zhou, Bedrich Benes, & Michel Abdul-Massih, Quantification of Fossil Fuel CO2 Emissions on the Building/Street Scale for a Large U.S. City, Envtl Sci. & Tech. (August 15, 2012)

In order to advance the scientific understanding of carbon exchange with the land surface, build an effective carbon monitoring system, and contribute to quantitatively based U.S. climate change policy interests, fine spatial and temporal quantification of fossil fuel CO2 emissions, the primary greenhouse gas, is essential. Called the “Hestia Project”, this research effort is the first to use bottom-up methods to quantify all fossil fuel CO2 emissions down to the scale of individual buildings, road segments, and industrial/electricity production facilities on an hourly basis for an entire urban landscape. Here, we describe the methods used to quantify the on-site fossil fuel CO2 emissions across the city of Indianapolis, IN. This effort combines a series of data sets and simulation tools such as a building energy simulation model, traffic data, power production reporting, and local air pollution reporting. The system is general enough to be applied to any large U.S. city and holds tremendous potential as a key component of a carbon-monitoring system in addition to enabling efficient greenhouse gas mitigation and planning. We compare the natural gas component of our fossil fuel CO2 emissions estimate to consumption data provided by the local gas utility. At the zip code level, we achieve a bias-adjusted Pearson r correlation value of 0.92 (p < 0.001).

- Jessie Owley

October 11, 2012 in Climate, Downtown, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, 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.

John Infranca

August 25, 2012 in Density, Development, Downtown, Local Government, Planning, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 30, 2012

California flirts with new environmental review exemptions for infill projects

Anyone who has practiced or studied land use law in a state with a strong environmental review process knows how that environmental review process often comes to override the land use permitting process.  In particular, urban projects have often suffered from an environmental review process that works better for reviewing greenfield projects, and also from more litigious groups of neighbors that use environmental review procedures either to oppose the project, or seek "mitigations" that benefit neighboring property owners.  On the other hand, efforts to ease the environmental review burdens on infill projects often run into a roadblock of environmental groups that believe exemptions for infill projects will likely only lead to more exemptions and a gutting of the entire law itself (the "slippery slope" argument). 

This fight has been ongoing in California, and other states, for decades.  Several infill exemption provisions from the state's California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA", pronounced "SEE-kwa") look good on paper, but are essentially unworkable if there are litigious parties involved.  Such unworkable exemptions are in the state's landmark SB375 legislation that seeks to link land use and transportation:  the list of requirements for applicability of the exemption apply to, well, about absolutely nowhere.  Another unworkable exemption is CEQA Guidlines section 15332, which is seldom used where litigation is possible.

With the passage of SB 226 in 2011, however, the state is once again taking a hard look at exemptions for urban infill projects.  Under a mandate of SB 226, the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, now headed by Ken Alex, a well-respected former senior assistant attorney general who ran the California Attorney General's environmental division, has drafted a proposed new CEQA Guideline for urban infill exemptions that was released on June 25, 2012 after epic public commenting.  The proposed CEQA Guideline is now going through formal rulemaking processes at the state's Natural Resources Agency. A cheat sheet on the new proposed infill exemption is available here.  If you want to keep up-to-date on the California infill exemption hearings, you can do so by adding your name at this link.

California's purpose for pursuing the infill exemption is now structured in terms of the climate change debate, but decades ago, the need for such legislation was structured in terms of "sprawl" or "smart growth."  We all know that it is harder to build in urban areas than in greenfields, and there needs to be a way to level that playing field and encourage urban infill.  Following this latest effort in California will be a chance to watch this debate unfold once more, and now in the framework of the climate change debate.

Stephen R. Miller

July 30, 2012 in California, Development, Downtown, Environmental Law, Smart Growth | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, 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.

 Jessie Owley

July 21, 2012 in Density, Development, Downtown, Scholarship, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

CUNY’s CUER

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.

Jessie Owley

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 (0)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blocks Where No One Has Fun: Salon on Urban Entertainment Districts

Will Doig has an interesting article in Salon called Urban Entertainment Districts: Blocks Where no one has Fun.  Subtitle: "Cities keep trying to create downtown cool with dull nightlife districts. But who wants to hang out at the mall?"  The article starts with a criticism of Dallas' Victory Park, moves to Kansas City's Power & Light District, and generally paints a negative picture of big-project attempts to create "entertainement districts"--or "districts" of any kind, including "arts districts."  It's a well-written article with a good general critique, so read the whole thing.  Let me tease out one of the sub-themes here: the problem of comprehensive urban development projects.

What could be wrong with a district where nightclubs and galleries are encouraged to thrive? Nothing, necessarily; done right, a city can help foster these scenes with a gentle guiding hand. Constructing an entire milieu from whole cloth, however, is where cities get into trouble. “The problem with these created-overnight districts is that you’re trying to create a culture as opposed to letting one grow,” says Nathaniel Hood, a Minneapolis-based transportation planner. “You’re getting the culture that one developer or city council member thinks the city needs, as opposed to the ground-up culture that comes from multiple players.” . . .

“A district inherently becomes a single-use idea,” says [studio owner Patrick] Kennedy. “Everything [in the "arts district"] has to be ‘art.’ You end up with a bunch of performing arts spaces and when they’re not in use it becomes a vacuum.” This vacuum has made the district itself a museum of sorts, something impressive to observe but strangely inert. (The Chicago Tribune called the area “the dullest arts district money can buy.”) . . .

So it seems like there are two problems with the "let's-create-a-cool-urban-district" impulse: (1) the practical (and cultural) limitations of comprehensive development projects, and (2) the inherent tendency towards single-use separation that comes with large scale "districting" plans:

That’s a defeatist choice to have to make, but the monocultures created by urban districting make it almost inevitable. At last week’s 20th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, Hood spoke about the folly that is Kansas City’s Power & Light District, an $850 million entertainment district whose neon signage is as blinding as its eagerness to be hip. . . .

It’s not just that the developers are boring people — the economics of single-owner districts incentivize blandness. Chain stores and restaurants can afford to pay higher rent, so they get first dibs. To boost rents even higher, tenants are sometimes promised that no competition will be allowed nearby. “Starbucks will be willing to pay the higher rent if [the developer doesn't] let other cafes into the area,” says Hood. . . .

He contrasts these contrived districts with the more organic development of an entertainment scene at Boston's Kenmore Square: "it shows that these districts work better without all the bureaucratic attachment parenting."

Let's not forget that these grand schemes usually come from good intentions, which combine economic incentive with a genuine desire to create attractive places.  But there are some limitations that inhibit these grand schemes.  I think that the biggest challenge for the intermediate-term urban planning future will be to figure out how to make legal and incentivize the creation of public spaces through an incremental but still realizable process.

I'm going to Dallas for a bar lecture in a couple of weeks, so I'll try to check out Victory Park.  Thanks to Jason Rowe for the pointer.

Matt Festa

May 21, 2012 in Development, Downtown, New Urbanism, Planning, Property, Scholarship, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 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.

Panelists include:

  • 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.

Matt Festa

May 16, 2012 in Architecture, Density, Downtown, Historic Preservation, History, Houston, Lectures, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The UGA Land Use Clinic and Food Carts

Today was the very last class for the UGA Land Use Clinic, and my last class as managing attorney. (If this is news to you, you might want to read this previous post for background.)  It's a bittersweet day for me, but now I want to take the opportunity to brag on my students a bit.

I've had a fantastic group of students this semester. (My students are always great, but this group is particularly great.)  They've worked really hard and taken up a lot of the slack as I've been distracted by my upcoming move and several other challenges, including my husband recently breaking his shoulder. 

Several of the students have worked on a Food Cart/Truck project with UGA College of Environment & Design students.  It's been a two year effort involving a "Mobile Food Vending Study" as well as a Food Cart Festival and, just this week, a presentation to a committee of the Athens-Clarke County Commission on proposed changes to the local Food Cart ordinance to allow for a few more spaces for food carts and food trucks in downtown Athens. 

Per Ken Stahl's recent post, food trucks are a controversial local land use issue.  Here there has already been lots of push back from local restaurants.  However, it's interesting to note that a local restaurant - Farm 255 - has provided much of the impetus for food carts in Athens, as a "Farm Cart" is an integral part of their business model.  My students tell me the reality is there's very little data on the impact of food trucks on restaurants, but that doesn't do much to sooth the fears of the restaurant owners.  I may not be around to see the ultimate impact of this project, but I'm very proud of the work the law and the design students have done.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 13, 2012 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Downtown, Food, Georgia, Local Government | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 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:

Albany

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!

Ken Stahl 

March 26, 2012 in Community Design, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, Local Government, New York, Planning, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Walmart in Athens: Now in Salon Magazine

The possibility of Walmart coming to Athens, GA has now made the mainstream (albiet on-line) media with this story in Salon:

The Athens, Ga., soul-food joint Weaver D’s has barely changed in the 20 years since its slogan, “Automatic for the People,” supplied the name of a groundbreaking R.E.M. album.

You could say the same about Athens itself. After businesses fled in the ’80s, downtown Athens rebounded as an alt-rock mecca that spawned the soundtrack of Generation X. R.E.M., the B-52s, Widespread Panic and thousands of other musicians and artists helped create what is, in many ways, today a dream city: a mixed-use, walkable urban core filled with small businesses, plenty of green space — and a music scene that rivals that of cities 10 times its size.

Cue “The End of the World as We Know It.” A multi-building mall-like shopping complex, likely to include the dreaded Walmart, has set its sights on downtown Athens. Renderings by the Atlanta-based developer Selig Enterprises show a bricked concourse surrounded by large-scale retail, including a 94,000-square-foot superstore, topped with apartments. It also includes three restaurants — two of which are over 10,000 square feet — and 1,150 parking spaces. This is new for downtown Athens, which unlike most college towns, has largely kept chains away.

“There’s an Athens style,” says Willow Meyer, a 37-year-old lawyer who moved here with her husband [UGA law prof Tim Meyer] two years ago, “and if you just import this kind of ‘Anywhere, USA’ development, the city loses something.”

Another group in metro Atlanta is also fighting a Walmart, proposed by the same company behind the Athens development.

My previous posts on this issue can be found here, here and here.

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 27, 2012 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, Georgia, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How the Occupy Movement Challenged The Existing Model of Local Governance

I hope Matt will forgive me for moonlighting, but The Atlantic Cities blog (a great resource I have blogged about before) invited me to write a guest blog post about how the Occupy protests challenged the predominant model of urban government.  You can check it out here.  My basic thesis is:

The Occupy movement challenged cities’ attachment to mobile capital by making place central to its worldview. In establishing flimsy tent-cities in actual urban spaces and refusing to leave, the Occupy protests mocked the idea of mobility peddled by urban officials. More than that, they implicitly advocated the notion that urban areas are places bound up with the identity of local communities, rather than disposable products in a global marketplace. 

Ken Stahl

February 11, 2012 in Downtown, Local Government, New York, Politics, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Opposition Heats Up or Wal-Mart in Athens Part III

Late last year I posted twice (here and here) about a proposal to put a mixed-use development, anchored by a 100K square foot Wal-Mart, into downtown Athens.  Today things heated up in a very Athens way, with Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers unveiling a protest song and a group called "Protect Downtown Athens" launching an incredibly thorough website analyzing many aspects of the development.  This group is supported by members and management of R.E.M., and other local movers and shakers. Release of the song has already increased coverage of this issue in the national blogosphere and MSM.  This just keeps getting more interesting!

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 1, 2012 in Community Economic Development, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, Georgia, Local Government, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Olympics, Marathons, and Parades

028Last year I posted about the Houston Marathon, and my observations about how the route did a good job of taking the runners through a diverse set of neighborhoods, from older to newer, urban to suburban, residential to business.  This year I am even more impressed with another land use angle: the incredible amount of planning it must have taken to pull off the events in town this past weekend--

First, on Saturday Houston hosted the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.  The race route was designed to simulate the Marathon route planned for London, including a gratuitous hairpin turn.  Congrats to Meb and Flanagan!

On Sunday was the regular Marathon--on a different course--for the other 26,000 of us who didn't qualify for the Trials, plus over 250,000 volunteers and spectators.

And between Saturday and Monday, there were five separate Martin Luther King Day parades.

Planning for the street closures alone must have been an enormous task (check out the 11-page spreadsheet), let alone the interagency and public-private cooperation that's necessary for a weekend like this.  It requires organization, community involvement, and a great deal of technical planning expertise.  These things have huge impacts on traffic, transit, facilities, sanitation, sustainability, policing, budgets, and a great array of other local planning issues. 

024We often take having "big events" for granted in a big city, but as a former logistician I'm always impressed by all the behind-the-scenes work that it takes to pull these things off.  And as land use lawyers we should appreciate the very hard work and the professionalism that our colleagues in city planning, local government, and community organizations bring to improve civic life.

So, good job everyone, and please pass the ibuprofen.

Matt Festa 

January 17, 2012 in Downtown, Houston, Local Government, Planning, Sustainability, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Saying No to Wal-Mart Downtown

Apparently Athens, Georgia isn't the only Georgia community facing controversy over a downtown Wal-Mart (see my previous posts here and here).  The City of Sandy Springs, in metro Atlanta, just placed a moratorium on big box development in its downtown in light of rumors that Wal-Mart wants to place a store there. As Chad Emerson blogged last year, Wal-Mart has been eyeing the urban market for awhile.  It seems now they're getting some pushback.

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 5, 2012 in Architecture, Community Design, Development, Downtown | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)