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)

Saturday, December 31, 2011

ULI Report on What's Next in Urban Land Use

As we head into the New Year, The Urban Land Institute has also been looking ahead at the future of land use.  ULI recently issued its report What's Next? Real Estate in the New Economy.  From the press release:

A new economy is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change urban planning, design and development through 2020, according to a new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy outlines how every aspect of living, working and connecting will change in major ways, driven in large part by the values, preferences and work ethic of Generation Y, the largest generation in American history. . . .

Among the report’s findings:

  • Technology will reshape work places. Office tenants will decrease space per employee, and new office environments will need to promote interaction and dialogue. Offices will be transforming into meeting places more than work places, with an emphasis on conference rooms, break areas and open configurations. Developers will craft attractive environments to attract young, talented workers.
  • Major companies will value space that enables innovation. They will continue to pay more for space in a global gateway served by a major international airport, or in 24-hour urban centers. Hard-to-reach suburban work places will be less in demand.
  • The influx of Generation Y, now in their teens through early thirties, will change housing demand. They are comfortable with smaller homes and will happily trade living space for an easier commute and better lifestyle. They will drive up the number of single households and prompt a surge in demand for rentals, causing rents to escalate.
  • For most people, finances will still be constrained, leading to more shared housing and multi-generational households. Immigration will support that trend, as many immigrants come from places where it is common for extended families to share housing. This may be the one group that continues to drive demand for large, suburban homes.
  • The senior population will grow fastest, but financial constraints could limit demand for adult housing developments. Many will age in place or move in with relatives to conserve money. Developers may want to recast retirement communities into amenity-laden “age friendly” residences. Homes near hospitals and medical offices will be popular, especially if integrated into mixed-use neighborhoods with shops, restaurants and services.
  • Energy and infrastructure take on greater importance. Businesses cannot afford to have their network connections down, and more will consider self-generated power or onsite generator capacity. Developers, owners and investors are realizing that the slightly higher costs of energy- and water-saving technologies can pay for themselves quickly, creating more marketable and valuable assets. Ignoring sustainability issues speeds property obsolescence.

You can download the full report here

Matt Festa

December 31, 2011 in Architecture, Clean Energy, Density, Development, Downtown, Environmentalism, Finance, Green Building, Housing, Planning, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Suburbs, Sustainability, Transportation, Urbanism, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

John Norquist hearts (good) congestion

John Norquist, CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, has a thoughtful essay on the always-excellent Cities blog from The Atlantic called The Case for Congestion:

Yogi Berra once said, "nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded."

It’s certainly true that people complain about congestion. Yet it’s just as true that popular destinations tend to be crowded. Fifth Avenue in New York, Market Street in San Francisco, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills are all congested, but people keep coming back to shop or hang out. 

Congestion, in the urban context, is often a symptom of success.

If people enjoy crowded places, it seems a bit strange that federal and state governments continue to wage a war against traffic congestion. Despite many hundreds of billions dollars spent increasing road capacity, they've not yet won; thank God. . . .

After all, congestion is a bit like cholesterol - if you don’t have any, you die. And like cholesterol, there’s a good kind and a bad kind. Congestion measurements should be divided between through-traffic and traffic that includes local origins or destinations, the latter being the "good kind." Travelers who bring commerce to a city add more value than someone just driving through, and any thorough assessment of congestion needs to be balanced with other factors such as retail sales, real estate value and pedestrian volume.

This is an important point, that not all "congestion" is the same.  And even with "bad" congestion, adding road capacity doesn't always help.

Matt Festa

December 15, 2011 in Density, Downtown, New Urbanism, Smart Growth, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kotkin: report of suburbs' death was an exaggeration

Last week we posted on Christopher Leinberger's recent New York Times piece on The Death of the Fringe Suburb.  Joel Kotkin at Forbes counters with Is Suburbia Doomed? Not so Fast.  Some excerpts:

Perhaps no theology more grips the nation’s mainstream media — and the planning community — more than the notion of inevitable suburban decline. The Obama administration’s housing secretary, Shaun Donavan, recently claimed, “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.”

Yet repeating a mantra incessantly does not make it true. Indeed, any analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census would make perfectly clear that rather than heading for density, Americans are voting with their feet in the opposite direction: toward the outer sections of the metropolis and to smaller, less dense cities. During the 2000s, the Census shows, just 8.6% of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6% represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4%.

Nor are Americans abandoning their basic attraction for single-family dwellings or automobile commuting. Over the past decade, single-family houses grew far more than either multifamily or attached homes, accounting for nearly 80% of all the new households in the 51 largest cities. And — contrary to the image of suburban desolation — detached housing retains a significantly lower vacancy rate than the multi-unit sector, which has also suffered a higher growth in vacancies even the crash. . . .

It turns out that while urban land owners, planners and pundits love density, people for the most part continue to prefer space, if they can afford it. No amount of spinmeistering can change that basic fact, at least according to trends of past decade.

But what about the future? Some more reasoned new urbanists, like Leinberger, hope that the market will change the dynamic and spur the long-awaited shift into dense, more urban cores.

Kotkin provides further statistics derived from his Census analysis.  This debate is central to the future of housing policy and urban planning in America.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Density, Development, Downtown, Exurbs, Housing, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wal-Mart and Vested Rights or Wal-Mart in Athens Part II

So, today I waded into the local controversy about the possibility of a Wal-Mart in downtown Athens with an editorial in the local weekly. [Note - this article is no longer available on the original site, so this link is to a re-posted version.]  Specifically, I responded to media reports that the county attorney has said the developers have vested rights to develop the property based on the amount of money they claim to have spent on site preparation.  Now, Georgia has a pretty generous vested rights doctrine, but it's not that generous.  As in most states, you still have to have some kind of official assurance for rights to vest. Apparently now the county attorney doesn't want to talk about it, but other folks on both sides of the issue certainly have been.  

This type of controversy is not unique to Athens, apparently.  A casual perusal of media reports turns up vested rights controversies over proposed Wal-Marts in Hood River, Oregon, Leon County, Florida, San Antonio, Texas, and Abingdon, Virginia.  Is this some kind of trend?

Jamie Baker Roskie

 

November 30, 2011 in Caselaw, Community Economic Development, Development, Downtown, Georgia, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Property Rights, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Furman Center's 3Q New York Housing Report

They NYU Furman Center has released its Third Quarter New York City Housing Report:

We are pleased to share with you our latest New York City Quarterly Housing Update (Q3 2011). We find that home sales volume remained low in the third quarter of 2011, with the number of properties sold citywide four percent lower than the number sold in the third quarter of 2010.

The report finds that property values are also lagging in most of the city. Manhattan is the only borough where properties have appreciated in price over the last year. Foreclosures have continued to slow citywide, with 32 percent fewer foreclosure notices issued in the third quarter of 2011 compared to the same quarter last year. You can read the full report here, or the press release here.

Matt Festa

November 29, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Downtown, Housing, New York, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leinberger on the Death of the Fringe Suburb

Christopher Leinberger (Brookings/Michigan), author of The Option of Urbanism and many other great pieces, has written The Death of the Fringe Suburb in the New York Times.  The bad news:

DRIVE through any number of outer-ring suburbs in America, and you’ll see boarded-up and vacant strip malls, surrounded by vast seas of empty parking spaces. These forlorn monuments to the real estate crash are not going to come back to life, even when the economy recovers. And that’s because the demand for the housing that once supported commercial activity in many exurbs isn’t coming back, either.

The better news:

Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.

The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population.

Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.

The millennials are just now beginning to emerge from the nest — at least those who can afford to live on their own. This coming-of-age cohort also favors urban downtowns and suburban town centers — for lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars.

Interesting times.

Matt Festa

November 28, 2011 in Architecture, Density, Downtown, Housing, New Urbanism, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving & Black Friday

I hope all of our U.S. readers had a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday.  As we've suggested before, Thanksgiving is in many senses the original American land use holiday, and itself derives from even more longstanding traditions of honoring the relationship between people, communities, and the land.  Over the years since it became an official U.S. holiday, we still have the element of celebrating the harvest, but I would say it's evolved more into an event that revolves around that other significant land use element: the home.

If you're heading out shopping for the big sales today on "Black Friday" (the day many retailers go "in the black" financially), many of you might be confronted with some other aspects of modern American land use: sprawl, traffic, and the architecture of modern suburban development.  Growing up, we spent Thanksgiving visiting relatives in the older, traditional New Jersey town in which my parents grew up, but which was adjacent to newer suburban development.  Perhaps this weekend, you're experiencing what I often did: on Thursday, dinner at a relative's home in the older traditional neighborhood; then Friday, out to the suburban shopping malls and big-box parking lots.  Looking back, I think I was subconsciously aware that there was a big difference.  It just occurred to me that because of these two major activities--traditional family dinner, then shop-til-you-drop--the Thanksgiving holiday weekend might be about the sharpest contrast that many people experience with such different land use models. 

I wonder how this sort of experience affects people--how it might impact the emotions that many people feel during the holidays when visiting relatives, and perhaps old homes since moved away from, or a walk around the old downtown; thinking about the old days, and talking about how their communities have changed.  I wonder if a holiday spent experiencing the stark visual and spatial contrasts between the traditional neighborhood and suburban sprawl heightens these emotions.  While much of the holiday experience centers around spending time with people, surely the visual and geographical elements of time and place certainly play a big role for many, even if not explicitly acknowledged.  Ideas, memories, and feelings about the places in which we live and have lived must have an effect on the way people think about, and during, the holidays.

I hope that yours were and are mostly pleasant ones.  We're thankful for the opportunity to blog here, and for everyone who reads and contributes in this land use blog community.

Matt Festa

November 25, 2011 in Downtown, History, Housing, Sprawl, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Anderson on Dissolving Cities

Michelle Wilde Anderson (Berkeley) has posted Dissolving Cities, forthcoming in the Yale Law Journal, 2012. The abstract:

During the twentieth century, 3,000 new cities took shape across America. Stucco subdivisions sprawled and law followed, enabling suburbs to adopt independent governments. That story is familiar. But meanwhile, something else was also happening. A smaller but sizable number of cities were dying, closing down their municipal governments and returning to dependence on counties. Some were ghost towns, emptied of population. In those places, jobs were lost and families struggled; crops died off and industries moved on. A larger group of dead cities were humming with civic life: places with people but no longer with a separate government. In these cities, citizens from the political left and right, often in coalition, rose up to eliminate their local governments.

As an end in itself, understanding these changes would be worthwhile. But this past has not passed. An unprecedented groundswell of cities and citizens are currently considering disincorporation in response to economic crisis, tax pressure, and population loss. The dissolution law they are turning to, as it is written in state codes and as it is understood in theory, is immature and thin. Cities’ experiences with dissolution are unknown, constraining our ability to judge the values it serves or undermines. If dissolution is to grow in importance as part of the legal machinery of urban decline - as cities themselves are asking it to become - we must understand what it meant in the decades that passed before.

Dissolving Cities tells the story of municipal dissolution. It is an article of law, theory, and urban history - a reminder that urban growth and local government fragmentation, which have long dominated academic discourse on cities, may not be the upward ratchet we have assumed them to be. Cities can die (legally at least), and when they do, they raise critical questions about decline, governance, taxes, race, and community.

This is a critically important topic for the future of land use in American communities, and Prof. Anderson's article looks like a must-read piece.

Matt Festa

September 21, 2011 in Downtown, Economic Development, History, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Scholarship, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and land use at Ground Zero

Today America commemorates 9/11 on its tenth anniversary.

While the tragedy and heroics of that day appropriately take precedence, 9/11 has created long-running and controversial land use issues since 2001. From the logistics of managing the rescue operations and the excavation, to last year's "ground zero mosque" kerfuffle, issues from the local to the international have played out in discussions over land use at the WTC site in lower Manhattan.

Two of the most controversial land use questions, especially as the years passed, have been (1) how should 9/11 be remembered at the site, and (2) what and how to build/rebuild to replace the twin towers.

On the first question, public memory and historic presentation, you may have seen the news that the 9/11 Memorial opens with a dedication ceremony today. The project seems to be a classic American example of public-private cooperation:

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, Inc. began formal operations in the spring of 2005 and worked with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation on the design and construction management plan. In the summer of 2006, the organization assumed responsibility for overseeing the design and working with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the construction manager on the project. . . . In the beginning of October 2006, the Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York, became Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Following the election of the Mayor as Chairman, the Foundation named Joseph C. Daniels as President.

At the website, there are links to a lot of of great photos and interactive views of the site and the Memorial.

The second enduring issue--whether and what to rebuild on the site--has generated a lot of criticism as a decade has passed without any replacement for the towers. This issue has been a perfect storm of land use issues: real estate, economics, regulation, federalism, urbanism, architecture, planning, transportation, culture, history, and of course, politics, politics, politics. For what it's worth, my impression has been that on the one hand, it's too simplistic to just say we should have built a ginormous tower immediately to stick it to the terrorists--yes, NY got the Empire State Building up in about 15 months during the Great Depression, but that's not realistic in lower Manhattan today. On the other hand, I think that the decade-long wait for putting some of the world's most valuable real estate to use says something important about the effect of the burdens that we have placed on property in the modern regulatory environment. Many of the procedural and political issues and delays might have been for justifiable ends, but really, a decade?

Things are finally moving along, though. From the Wall Street Journal's Developments real estate blog comes the helpful post Six Questions on Rebuilding the World Trade Center. The signature tower is in progress:

What’s the status of the office buildings? Some are further along than others. One World Trade Center, the site’s signature office building, is going up about a floor per week and is currently around 80 stories out of a total 104, and it’s already the tallest structure in Lower Manhattan.

On the delays:

What’s taken so long? Conflict has been a big theme of the rebuilding. There have been battles with insurers, wars between agencies, and repeated fights between the public sector and private developer Larry Silverstein over how to rebuild and fund his office towers. Those fights have often led to stalemates. Add onto that the fact that the site is extraordinarily complex — it’s often likened to a Rubik’s cube, but it’s sometimes more like a messy ball of rubber bands. The mechanics of the site are all intertwined — exits and emergency systems for the PATH station are in the neighboring towers, and deliveries to One World Trade Center need to run underneath 2, 3, and 4 World Trade Center. This means everything underground had to be built more or less at once, with precision. There is a laundry list of public agencies involved, and historically they hadn’t been great at communicating with each other.

The WSJ also has a great interactive graphic Exploring Ground Zero, Ten Years Later.

9/11 deserves our remembrance today, our continuing thanks for those serving in harm's way, and--secondarily--our commitment to good land use at this very important place for commerce, human activity, and public memory.

Matt Festa

September 11, 2011 in Architecture, Development, Downtown, Federal Government, History, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

City Journal on Private Funding for New York's Parks

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

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

Matt Festa

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

USPS Closing Many Rural Post Offices

An interesting article on the New Urbanist Network about how the Postal Service plans to close 3,600 rural post offices. 

For many communities, the closings may reduce activity in town or village centers. Even with diminishing mail volume, there are still many people who cross paths at the post office. The drawing power of post offices was recognized early by new urbanist developers such as Robert Davis in Seaside, Florida, and Buff Chace and Douglas Storrs in Mashpee, Massachusetts.

The article also links to the website "Save the Post Office," which has a list, by state, of the closings.  Georgia will lose about 45 post offices, mostly rural but some in Atlanta.

Jamie Baker Roskie

August 17, 2011 in Development, Downtown, Federal Government, Georgia, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

San Francisco Downtown Plan at 25

I recently read this article in the San Francisco Chronicle and found it interesting at several levels.  It's not often you see a jurisdiction reviewing its long term planning, and even less often you see a newspaper covering that review. The report itself is also pretty fascinating - I lived in the SF Bay Area when the plan was drafted (although I was a freshman in college and not much interested in planning) so I've seen how things have changed.  For example, here's an interesting point:

Planners in 1985 couldn't foresee the effect computer technology would have on everything from the printing industry to low-level office jobs now more likely to be found in Asia than on Howard Street. E-mail didn't exist. Reverse commuting to the Silicon Valley or the East Bay was an oddity, not a trend.

The full report is available on the SF Planning department's website.

Jamie Baker Roskie

August 2, 2011 in California, Comprehensive Plans, Downtown, History, Local Government, Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Europe: Annoying Drivers on Purpose

I haven't been able to blog as much as usual lately, and one of the reasons is that we just moved.  It was a local move, but I'm sure you all know what a hassle moving is.  But today, the move actually helped my blogging.  It seems that the previous tenant failed to cancel his multiple newspaper subscriptions.  I rarely read news on dead tree anymore, so I might not otherwise have seen this morning's front page New York Times Story by Elisabeth Rosenthal called: Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy.

ZURICH — While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Some cities have closed entire streets; some introduced stiff fees for driving into the city; many have reduced on-street parking drastically; bike lanes have replaced car lanes without offset for traffic; others have purposely added red lights to mess with drivers; Zurich's tram operators seem to have the ability to change the lights to their favor as they approach.  (I'm trying to imagine how much a magic traffic-light-changing remote control clicker would fetch on e-bay.)

According to the story, and probably not inconsistent with what some of you may have observed, many of these European cities have dramatically improved in walkability, transit options, and quality of public space.  How much the policies are related causally to the result isn't clear, but we can assume they've had an impact.

I'm not entirely sure what I think of all this.  I'm a strong proponent of improving urban life by incentivizing higher density, mixed-use development and increasing pedestrian-oriented neighborhood viability and transit-oriented development.  Love it.  Still, I am hesitant to pursue these goals through policies that actually make things worse for some people on purpose.  What do these policies do to affordable housing?  How about people from lower socioeconomic strata that need to make their living from driving goods and services around the city?  How do public shared bikes help women who don't cycle (and families with kids)?  By all means, make mass transit better, faster, more economical.  But purposely creating red-light patterns just to deliberately piss people off just concerns me a bit.  It also would seem to thwart a number of smart-growth-friendly options that nonetheless rely on roads, such as bus rapid transit.

Admittedly I'm looking at this from the urban planning side more than the environmental side, but it seems the environmental benefits of these policies will be much more difficult to observe than the effect on quality of life; it's easy to see the quality of life in the very nice and improved transit-accessible mixed-use public spaces, but these types of policies would seem to generate a lot of external costs--on purpose.  Maybe that's a tradeoff people are willing to make.  But to acheive the same progressive land use goals, I still have a preference for a positive approach (e.g., incentivizing (or even just allowing) smart growth and new urbanism) rather than purposely making some aspects of urban life worse by degrading capabilites to make some people's lives "miserable." 

Matt Festa

June 27, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Comparative Land Use, Density, Downtown, Environmentalism, New Urbanism, Parking, Pedestrian, Planning, Politics, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bus Rapid Transit boom?

A lot of attention gets paid to light rail, high speed rail, and highway expansion as possible (and highly contested) approaches toward solving urban, regional, and national transportation problems.  Comparatively, much less attention is given to the emerging concept of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).  However, several citites are implementing BRT and there seems to be some positive feedback.  From the May/June issue of the APA's Planning magazine, Now Boarding, the 5:15 Express; Bus rapid transit could be the economical answer to light rail.

It's the evening rush hour in downtown Cleveland, and the HealthLine bus pulls up to a sleek, modern station on bustling Euclid Avenue. The stop is brief — subway stop brief. In less than 30 seconds, passengers have gotten on and off and the bus has pulled away. Unlike a typical city bus, there is no line for the fare box. Passengers pay their fare and board from a slightly elevated loading platform something like the platforms  made famous by the express buses in Curitiba, Brazil. In seconds, the 100-passenger bus revs up and heads east on Euclid. It occupies a lane that is reserved for express buses.

To many observers, this is the future of public transit.

Dubbed bus rapid transit, or BRT, this urban transportation mode is designed to look and feel much like a light-rail system, but without the heavy start-up costs.

In addition to all of the politics now surrounding light rail and high speed rail, I think many Americans continue to associate bus travel with lower socioeconomic status; but BRT could help change that.  While it's not as widely known as an option, it could have a lot of upside:

While BRT is a relatively new idea in the U.S., the service is a good fit for many American cities, says Robert Cervero, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied BRT in Brazil and elsewhere. Because American cities have grown with automobile travel in mind, BRT service can be more easily incorporated than light-rail lines, he says. "I think it is the right technology. It's not the flavor of the day," he adds, referring to the buzz surrounding other new transit trends. "It's a meaningful response to emerging transit needs."

BRT doesn't necessarily have to throw light rail under the bus (sorry), but it's definitely worth more attention.

Matt Festa

June 2, 2011 in Downtown, Local Government, Pedestrian, Planning, Politics, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Free Speech in Baltimore's Inner Harbor Festival Marketplace

Today's Baltimore Sun reports on an ongoing controversy over the rights of protestors to leaflet in Baltmore's Inner Harbor.  The ACLU of Maryland sued the City over First Amendment rights on the promenade surrounding the harborside shops and restaurants.  Eight years later, the parties are still negotiating over permitted activities on the Inner Harbor's " hidden patchwork of quasi-private and public spaces."  

The article made me wonder what Jim Rouse, creator of this and many other open-air shopping malls called festival marketplaces, would have to say were he still alive.  So much of his work in developing Columbia, Md. and the Enterprise Foundation was aimed at social inclusion.   Yet, free speech controversies are not necessarily resolved by such singlemindedness.  

I recommend you check out perspectives outside the U.S. from Nicholas Blomley (British Columbia) and our former guest blogger Antonia Layard (Bristol, UK).

Jim K.

May 28, 2011 in Downtown, First Amendment, Property Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Final Four and Land Use in the Unzoned City

Img_0468 As many of you might be aware, the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four has been this weekend in Houston, where I live and teach.  As I write this, the championship game is set to tip off in about an hour in Reliant Stadium, about a mile from my home.  So of course you must be thinking "how is Festa going to turn this into a land use issue?" 

Already done, with my students' help.  On the first day of the semester, to make the point that land use issues intersect with almost everything that goes on in our communities, I put up the home page of the Houston Chronicle and challenged them to explain the land use issues in a given story.  The lead story was something about the then-upcoming Final Four.  So here's some of what we came up with on the fly:

Land assembly--where did they get the land to build the stadium and the parking?  It's next to the old Astrodome (you can see a corner of it in the picture), so I don't believe eminent domain was needed this time around, but you know that's always a big issue with new sports stadiums. 

Use--the Reliant/Astrodome complex was just used up until about two weeks ago for one of the nation's largest Livestock Show & Rodeo events with accompanying carnival.  It's impressive that they could retrofit for the Final Four so quickly.

Transportation--can people get there?  Do the roads need to be widened, etc.?  If so, who pays, and are there legal changes needed?  Houston has a seven-year old light rail that goes from downtown through the Texas Medical Center to the stadium, and it's been quite busy the past weekend.  Also, there've been lots of limos, helicopters, and blimps around town the last few days--where do they go?

Local government--the stadium is goverened not by the City of Houston, but by an independent quasi-public County Sports Authority.  Plus the transportation is governed by a separate Metro agency.  However a lot of coordination is necessary for big events like the Final Four. Final Four 010

Facilities--lots of people coming in from all over the country; where do they stay, etc.  For example, I took a ULI-sponsored construction site tour about a year ago of the just-opened Embassy Suites downtown.  The city's goal was to get a hotel opened in time for the Final Four, so there was a fairly complicated tax incentive scheme put in place that involved changing the law to provide an occupancy-tax break for new hotels sited in a particular space (and they say we don't have zoning based on use).  The incentivized siting was between the light rail and the new Discovery Green park--where a lot of free concerts have been given as part of the festivities--and the downtown convention center, where the "Bracketown" official hoopla program was held.  All of this is just a few blocks from where I teach at South Texas College of Law.  Discovery Green is itself also a recently-built and critically acclaimed new urban park and public space.  Finally, all of the planning and coordination that involves a city's hosting a big event requires lots of logistics, regulatory changes, and many many permit approvals, for things ranging from temporary buildings to new signs.

So my students and I think there are a lot of land use issues involved with having the Final Four in town, and it goes to show that even in the Unzoned City, there are many ways that land use gets regulated and controlled.  It's been fun having all the activity in town, and . . . Go Butler!

UPDATE: It wasn't to be for the underdogs, so congrats to Connecticut.  The photo above was taken by Natalie Festa at almost the exact time that the national championship game tipped off.  "The Road Ends . . ." = land use metaphor?  Tuesday is the women's championship--don't tell my fellow Texans that I'll be pulling for Notre Dame vs. A&M. 

Matt Festa

April 4, 2011 in Development, Downtown, First Amendment, Green Building, History, Houston, Humorous, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, Signs, Sun Belt, Teaching, Texas, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day 2011

[This is a reprise of last year's St. Pat's post, plus a picture from 2011--MJF]

Now it's time to try and make a land use-related post about St. Patrick's Day.  First of all, the legend of St. Patrick has it that he drove the snakes out of Ireland.  If that isn't an awesome land use regulatory feat, then nothing is!     

St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, and the Church played a major part in land control over the centuries.  Later on in Irish history, the Catholic-Protestant struggle had a great deal to do with English land ownership and the relationship of the Irish people to the land.  Even until recent years, the symbol of St. Patrick has been part of the controversy over the IRA and Northern Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day has spread throughout the Irish diaspora worldwide.  In the U.S., St. Patrick's Day has, of course, served as a semi-official Irish-American holiday.  Irish immigrants moved throughout the country, but are particularly known for rising to political power in the cities.  Anti-Irish/Catholic prejudice loomed over the Gilded Age ("no Irish need apply") and the Progressive Era (multifamily housing (the "pig in the parlor") associated with immigrants).  Irish Catholic churches played a major role in urban affairs and continue to have a presence in First Amendment and RLUIPA issues.  After attaining some political power in urban political systems such as Tammany Hall, Irish-Americans have played a central role in city governance for over a century.  My undergrad alma mater, Notre Dame, served as a source of pride for Irish-Americans for its competitiveness in that land-use struggle known as football, and later in academics.  When John F. Kennedy was elected President, it seemed to many Americans of Irish extraction that they had finally become accepted into the American Dream. Img_0390

In the last few decades, St. Patrick's Day has continued to influence American land use issues.  Major celebrations take place in many U.S. cities, and places like Chicago, most famously, and Savannah dye their rivers green for the occasion.  [ancillary question: is being "green" a good thing, in this sense?]  In some American cities the St. Patrick's Day parade has become one of the most important political events of the year, which has led in turn to protracted litigation over the question of who gets to decide who marches in privately-organized yet publicly-sanctioned St. Patrick's Day parades.  The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the matter in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557 (1995).  Justice Souter's opinion for a unanimous Court upheld the First Amendment associational rights of the parade organizers to exclude an Irish-American GLBT group (would the case come out the same way today?). 

St. Patrick's Day has a lot of cultural significance and a little bit of land-use significance too.  So hoist a green beer and celebrate.  [And in 2011, Jim and I are hoping that the luck of the Irish works all the way to Houston for the Final Four!]

Matt O'Festa

March 17, 2011 in Chicago, Comparative Land Use, Constitutional Law, Downtown, First Amendment, History, Houston, Humorous, Local Government, New York, Politics, Supreme Court, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)