Friday, December 12, 2014
Lee Fennell (Chicago) has posted Agglomerama, __ BYU L. Rev __ (forthcoming). In it, she examines how cities attract the right mix of residents and businesses to maximize social value. She takes a look at a number of possible ways in which cities might incentivize and manage positive spillover effects, including a proposal by Gideon Parchomovsky and Peter Sieglman to emulate shopping mall developer coordination between anchor and satellite tenants, which proposal can be found in their Cities, Property and Positive Externalities, 54 Wm. & Mary L.Rev. 211 (2012). Here's the abstract for the Fennell piece:
Urbanization presents students of commons dilemmas with a pressing challenge: how to achieve the benefits of proximity among people and land uses while curbing the negative effects of that same proximity. This piece, written for the 2014 BYU Law Review Symposium on the Global Commons, focuses on the role of location decisions. It casts urban interaction space as a commons that presents the threat of overgrazing but that also poses the risk of undercultivation if it fails to attract the right mix of economic actors. Because heterogeneous households and firms asymmetrically generate and absorb agglomeration benefits and congestion costs, cities embed an interesting collective action problem — that of assembling complementary firms and households into groupings that will maximize social value. After examining the nature of this participant assembly problem, I consider a range of approaches to resolving it, from minor modifications of existing approaches to larger revisions of property rights.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Posting from New Orleans (No. 3) -- Forging Successful Non-Profit Partnerships Following Crisis and Disaster: O.C. Haley Boulevard's Story
This blog post follows-up a pair of August 5th and August 12th New Orleans posts. Although I’m home in Atlanta getting ready to begin the new school year, I’m continuing an observance of Katrina’s 9th anniversary by ‘walking’ O.C. Haley Boulevard and looking at one of the city’s emerging post-storm neighborhood revitalization stories.
At the outset of this post, it is important to note that there are many more neighborhood stories that deserved to be told, ranging from stretches of St. Claude, Carrollton, and Claiborne Avenues to Freret and lower Magazine Streets. There are also many neighborhood corridors still struggling to come back all over the city, but particularly neighborhoods lying generally east and a little north of the French Quarter, including the vast area of New Orleans East as well as the Upper Ninth Ward and the Lower Ninth Ward.
As the son of an architect, I’m always ready to begin discussion of any neighborhood transformation by flashing slides of the ‘bricks and mortar’ improvements. Those are also the improvements that we as lawyers are most directly involved in supporting: the land acquisitions, the tax credit financings, the bridge loans, the condo documents, the parking easements. But to get any neighborhood to the point where it can provide the social and economic buttressing to support significant private market transactions, there’s often a foundation of community activism and advocacy. O.C. Haley Boulevard is no exception.
Very rarely is any one individual or organization the sole ‘mover’ behind a neighborhood’s re-emergence. Long before the levees and flood walls breached, non-profit, business owner, and neighborhood advocacy groups were working to lay the groundwork for O.C. Haley Boulevard’s resurgence. Carol Bebelle, co-founder of the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, moved the Center onto the Boulevard in 1998 in order to sustain and nurture the stories and traditions of New Orleans’ African American community. The Cultural Arts Center’s historic building, an adaptive use of a former department store, became a foothold for the Boulevard’s resurgence, supporting non-profit office space, exhibit and meeting space, and 29 apartments.
About the same time, O.C. Haley Boulevard Merchants and Business Association gathered local businesses to spearhead creation of a strategic plan for the Boulevard’s revitalization.
A couple of years later, in 2000, Café Reconcile opened across the street as an adaptive use of another large historic commercial building, housing a full-service restaurant dedicated to providing culinary training and life skills development to young men and women from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Along the way, the Boulevard attracted key regional community development partners, and led them to call the Boulevard ‘home.’ These partners included Hope Federal Credit Union (http://www.hopecu.org/) and Good Work Network (http://www.goodworknetwork.org/), both of which concentrate their resources on serving low and moderate income families and developing opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses.
In short, the Boulevard’s momentum had already been triggered when Katrina’s storm surge filled-up 80 percent of city, leaving the Boulevard and only a handful of other major corridors navigable by car as opposed to boat. (A relatively current map of the businesses that have grown-up on the Boulevard in the last fifteen years is found on the Merchants and Business Association’s website, http://ochaleyblvd.org/?page_id=5).
Lawyers – often community development lawyers – figure critically in these first stages of a neighborhood’s redevelopment, well before building projects begin ‘going vertical.’ Lawyers are counseling neighborhood groups and businesses on drafting their articles of incorporation and their bylaws or preparing their Form 1029 to seek IRS 501(c)(3) status. They are helping review applications seeking funding from foundations for planning and predevelopment award monies. They may be advising their clients to seek funds for a market study to help give current and future businesses a sense of where and how they might invest their capital and other resources. Or, they may be advocating at city hall for stricter enforcement of health and safety code violations affecting vacant or abandoned properties. Law students interested in pursuing urban and community development work should gain an appreciation in law school of these critical supporting and counseling roles that lawyers play for community groups.
Earlier this month, I visited with Kathy Laborde, President and CEO of the non-profit Gulf Coast Housing Partnership (GCHP). Laborde, who has worked on the Boulevard for almost two decades, described the factors that convinced her and the neighborhood’s stakeholders that they could turn around the Boulevard’s fortunes. GCHP has been a main driver of redevelopment on and around the corridor since Katrina. In sharing her thoughts and recollections concerning the Boulevard’s rebirth, Laborde described not only the last nine years’ key redevelopment projects, but at the same time she highlighted additional pieces of the urban redevelopment ‘puzzle’ that successful urban and community development lawyers need to appreciate to serve their clients well.
(Photo: Gulf Coast Housing Partnership offices (gray building) at 1610 O.C. Haley Blvd.)
Location is an essential consideration for any urban redevelopment project. Against the essential backdrop of an engaged group of neighborhood stakeholders, Laborde outlined the following factors as critical:
- The O.C. Haley corridor’s historic status as the one of the chief commercial centers for the city’s African American community;
- The corridor’s proximity to New Orleans’ Central Business District (separated only by the elevated U.S. 90, The Pontchartrain Expressway);
- The corridor’s proximity to St. Charles Avenue, one of nation’s great historic streets, which runs just 3 blocks to the corridor’s southeast; and
- The presence of historic commercial buildings fronting O.C. Haley Boulevard and stakeholders’ initial investment in rehabilitation of those structures.
These four areas of strength formed a sort of superstructure for the corridor’s redevelopment; however, by themselves, these four factors were not sufficient to draw significant investment to the corridor. The challenge for GCHP and the corridor’s stakeholders was how to connect O.C. Haley’s assets to the city’s surrounding areas of strength and investment while maintaining the corridor’s character. It was at this juncture, nine years ago, Hurricane Katrina unleashed its destructive forces.
Katrina fundamentally altered the way those inside and outside New Orleans viewed the city. To those living in New Orleans, the telltale watermark stains left by the epic flooding clearly distinguished O.C. Haley Boulevard as ‘high ground’ that did not flood. To those outside New Orleans, particularly local and national foundations and philanthropies, O.C. Haley Boulevard bordered one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods with one of its deepest pockets of poverty. Outsiders also appreciated that the Boulevard was surrounded by areas of significant strength, including the city’s wealthier Uptown neighborhoods, the Central Business District, St. Charles Avenue, and the former C.J. Peete (Magnolia) development which was a 1930s-era public housing development then-slated to receive millions of dollars in HUD funds for complete redevelopment into the new mixed-income Harmony Oaks community.
Outside funders immediately saw the Boulevard in a new way. It stood out not only as a neighborhood where the private foundations and philanthropic funders saw they could achieve programmatic goals of creating more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous inner-city neighborhoods, but also these private funders were buoyed by the fact that high levels of investment were occurring all around the Boulevard. Further, just as foundations and philanthropies were looking to leverage their investments, so too was the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), which was responsible for making decisions about deployment of a tranche of federal disaster block grant monies for commercial corridor investments. It was a ‘no brainer’ for NORA to join the catalytic investments of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Kellogg, Rockefeller, Ford, Surdna, and the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundations.
Make no mistake – even with this level of interest, the Boulevard was hardly awash in cash. In a post-Lehman Brothers world, banks had a low temperature for risk, and in post-Katrina New Orleans where the levee and flood control system rebuilding was not yet complete, caution was the rule for commercial lenders. But what the philanthropic and government funding accomplished was to make the development ‘math’ work for deals dependent on tax credits and tax exempt bonds. A non-profit developer could run a development pro forma that now yielded at least a sliver of a development fee. The challenge for those developers and their clients was to complete successful residential and commercial development projects that would help New Orleanians and visitors alike see O.C. Haley Boulevard as a safe place to live and work. As Laborde explains, this was the “show me stage” of the corridor’s redevelopment. Beginning in 2007, this is exactly what the Boulevard’s stakeholders began to do.
Over the last seven years, GCHP and the Boulevard’s other stakeholders have completed a steady stream of housing, restaurant, office and retail projects. The first pivotal project was GCHP’s completion of The Muses, a 263-unit mixed-income apartment community, which opened in 2009. This project brought hundreds of new residents to the Boulevard and helped bridge the three-block real estate market 'canyon' between St. Charles Avenue and the Boulevard.
The tipping point project may have been GCHP’s redevelopment of almost an entire city block between Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard, Thalia Street, O.C. Haley, and Rampart Street. GCHP convinced the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to move its 45 employees from its downtown rented office space to become the anchor tenant of an office building with ground floor commercial space. This office and retail building were funded with New Markets Tax Credits, NORA’s investment of $2 Million in disaster Community Development Block Grant (dCDBG) funds, and private financing. The office building, in turn, helped secure financing for an adjacent 75-unit affordable senior housing development.
Another important project was Café Reconcile’s expansion and rehabilitation of its existing restaurant and training space.
Café Reconcile’s $6.5 Million expansion was funded by private donations, NORA dCDBG funds, and state and federal tax credits.
“Success in community development,” Laborde stresses, “is about getting people to follow.” And they are doing so on the Boulevard. More projects are just weeks and months from completion, including the adaptive use of an historic school as a grocery store and offices, the renovation of two large retail buildings into the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB), including The Museum of the American Cocktail, as well as the first home of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), including its 360-seat performance venue. The projects soon coming on-line include:
The school’s $17 million renovation is financed by New Markets Tax Credits, historic tax credits, $1 Million from the City’s dCDBG-funded Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, $900k from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, and $300k from the Foundation for Louisiana.
The NOJO Market and SoFAB redevelopment projects critically anchor two separate O.C. Haley Boulevard blocks where the Boulevard meets Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard. NOJO’s development is financed by State of Louisiana historic tax credits, State of Louisiana theater, musical, and theatrical production tax credits, $10 Million from Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Fund, an $800k loan from NORA’s commercial revitalization gap loan fund, and a bridge loan from Prudential Insurance Company. NOJO will open in the spring of 2015. A ribbon cutting for the SoFAB redevelopment is set for September 29, 2014.
Next week we will wrap-up our discussion of O.C. Haley and Katrina’s 9th anniversary with a discussion of what urban redevelopment professionals are looking for in the attorneys they hire.
John Travis Marshall, Georgia State University College of Law
August 20, 2014 in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Community Economic Development, Development, Downtown, Federal Government, Financial Crisis, Historic Preservation, Housing, HUD, Redevelopment, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, August 4, 2014
This August marks the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating collision with the Gulf Coast. New Orleans, of course, did not suffer the direct hit that submerged and leveled the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but the hurricane’s historic tidal surge overwhelmed a poorly maintained and engineered Orleans Parish flood protection system. Lake Pontchartrain’s brackish muddy waters poured through gaping holes in flood walls and levees and submerged 80 percent of the city.
The disaster’s immediate aftermath has been described in thousands of blogs, maps, documentaries, songs, books, articles, and deeply disturbing pictures that are seared into the collective American consciousness. The shockingly poor government agency response at every level has earned “Katrina” a place not only in the American political lexicon, but also in international discourse, alongside “Waterloo”, “Watergate”, and “9.11.” For the past nine years, however, an equally compelling but far less “photogenic” story of long-term recovery has unfolded – glacially at first, then haltingly, and over the past four years at a steadier pace. The flood waters inundated the city in just hours, but the long-term recovery has proceeded as a kind of community development ‘trench warfare’, advancing one street and one block at a time.
Nine years later there are still neighborhoods that show only a faint pulse of life amid boarded houses, car-eating potholes, and jungle-like yards. These are particularly the lower income neighborhoods with pre-storm populations that were predominantly African American. These include neighborhoods such as the Upper Ninth Ward and the Lower Ninth Ward. At the same time, the redevelopment slog that has characterized the long-term recovery has been the catalyst for instances of remarkable investment in, and revitalization of, moribund neighborhood commercial corridors.
Many of the law teachers and development practitioners reading this entry have one or more former students or protégés who have sought out opportunities over the past twenty years in New Orleans or Gulfport, Cedar Rapids or Grand Forks, Tuscaloosa or Galveston, or most recently New York City, New Jersey and Detroit to work with federal, state, and local government agencies and, perhaps even more important, with non-profit and philanthropic organizations who often spearhead long-term recovery and revitalization efforts. The next couple of New Orleans dispatches are intended to serve less as a land use travel log than as a discussion of what
happens during a community's long-term recovery as well as the key skills and proficiencies that our students must have in order to contribute to rebuilding cities. It is no coincidence that non-profit and local government executives point to legal capacity and sophistication as critical and also troublesome components of New Orleans’ long-term recovery. The refrain not infrequently heard is that ‘we lost thousands of dollars’ or ‘weeks of time’ because a developer did not challenge an informal government interpretation of a federal regulation that turned out to be incomplete or based solely on anecdotal experience from a disaster in another jurisdiction. There is no substitute for learning how to read and carefully analyze agreements, local code provisions, or federal regulations.
Over the next few weeks, there will be at least two more dispatches from New Orleans. The first dispatch will be from the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (“O.C. Haley”), which begins just a football field’s length from the edge of the New Orleans' Central Business District (CBD) and travels southwest towards the Central City neighborhood, which prior to Katrina reported some of the city’s highest poverty and crime rates. You can follow along by entering the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard and O.C. Haley Boulevard into your favorite mapping application.
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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
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.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
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
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
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 (0)
Sunday, March 24, 2013
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.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
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.
Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune published a story on dissatisfaction among the portable vendors with the food truck ordinance Chicago enacted last year.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
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
Saturday, August 25, 2012
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.
Monday, July 30, 2012
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
Saturday, July 21, 2012
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.
Saturday, 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 (0)
Monday, May 21, 2012
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.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
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.
Friday, April 13, 2012
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
Monday, March 26, 2012
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!
Monday, February 27, 2012
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.
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
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.