Thursday, March 17, 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.
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!]
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)
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Joel Kotkin has another "New Geographer" column at Forbes challenging some prevailing attitudes about urbanism, using some early Census data. From The Protean Future of American Cities:
The ongoing Census reveals the continuing evolution of America’s cities from small urban cores to dispersed, multi-polar regions that includes the city’s surrounding areas and suburbs. This is not exactly what most urban pundits, and journalists covering cities, would like to see, but the reality is there for anyone who reads the numbers. . . .
But the bigger story — all but ignored by the mainstream media — is the continued evolution of urban regions toward a more dispersed, multi-centered form. Brookings’ Robert Lang has gone even further, using the term “edgeless cities” to describe what he calls an increasingly “elusive metropolis” with highly dispersed employment.
Rather than a cause for alarm, this form of development simply reflects the protean vitality of American urban forms. . . .
Houston Tomorrow president David Crossley, however, sees some of the same trends from Census data on the Houston region, and (tongue-in-cheek) credits the dispersal of new population into the edges as a "Brilliant Government Success":
Houston Tomorrow’s analysis shows that public policy aimed at moving growth away from our 134 towns, cities, and villages to the unincorporated areas of the 13 counties has been breathtakingly successful. In the 2000 Census, our towns and cities had 65% of all the population. In the new numbers, that share drops to 58%. That’s because fully 71% of all the growth was in unincorporated areas.
Crossley is concerned with the sprawl and reverse-urban trends that this growth indicates. This is going to be a lively debate for the foreseeable future; as more Census data comes out we can expect to see a lot more analysis. I know Kotkin's normative claims get a lot of pushback but I don't know about his descriptive analysis--the demographic numbers certainly are compelling, as Crossley's less sangine take indicates.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
For years cities, such as Montreal (the RESO), have been developing space underground. In what CNN reports as a "first," Helsinki has developed an Underground Master Plan. The plan designates a diverse group of uses for the underground area, ranging from industrial to recreation uses, such as an existing swimming pool (which, fortunately, doubles as a bunker when necessary). According to the report, Helsinki sits on bedrock strong enough to support the existing streetscape even when space is carved out for the lower levels. The CNN report claims a host of environmental benefits from the action, many of which are disputed in the comments.
As cities such as Helsinki start to think about the relationship between the street level and the subsurface (as inhabitable space), the next step may be to craft a three dimensional master plan. And who knows, this may be Seattle's chance to recommission its underground, although "[w]hen your dreams tire, they go underground and out of kindness that's where they stay." (Margaret Fuller).
March 1, 2011 in Architecture, California, Common Interest Communities, Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Sprawl, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Nicole Garnett (Notre Dame) has posted Governing? Gentrifying? Seceding? Real-Time Answers to Questions About Business Improvement Districts, 3 Drexel L. Rev. 35 (2010). Here's the abstract:
Business improvement districts ("BIDs") have become a ubiquitous feature of the urban development toolkit. An important - perhaps the most important - instantiation of the trend in urban governance toward the devolution of local authority to new "sublocal," quasi-governmental institutions, BIDs play an important role in urban re-development efforts, especially efforts to revitalize downtowns and satellite center-city business districts. Drawing upon case studies of Philadelphia’s BIDS, this symposium essay seeks to answer three questions about how BIDs actually work on the ground: First, whether BIDs are actually functioning as local governments rather than quasi-private providers of supplemental services; second, whether BIDs either generate an insider/outsider problem within urban neighborhoods; and, third, whether BIDs exacerbate the pre-existing inequalities between urban neighborhoods.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Today was the Houston Marathon, in which your humble blogger was joined by 26,000 others in self-inflicted pain and suffering. It occurred to me--in between bouts of cursing my foolhardy decision to enter the race--that running is a great way to observe land use in a city or town. It allows one to tour cities and neighborhoods more slowly than in a car, but faster than walking. And a race as long as a marathon gives you the chance to visit several areas in a city and observe both the use patterns within each neighborhood and the differences between them. The Houston Marathon course directs its runners through several of the more interesting neighborhoods in the city (albeit all in the "favored quarter"). The official race program describes several of the neighborhoods on the course:
Downtown. Downtown Houston is the seventh largest downtown business district in the United States and has the third most concentrated skyline after New York City and Chicago. [I should also note that the race started and ended at Discovery Green, a new urban park generally thought to be a highly successful planning and local government accomplishment.]
The Heights. Founded in 1891, The Heights was one of Houston's first suburbs and is best known for its tree-lined streets, beautiful parks and assortment of new homes, Victorian-era houses, and Craftsman bungalows. [One of the original "streetcar suburbs." In the Unzoned City, HP is a big issue in The Heights as a way of controlling development.]
Montrose. The Montrose area is considered one of Houston's most eccentric areas, and hosts a diverse community of young adults, business professionals, punk rockers and artists . . . . It is an area made for pedestrians where people can walk and cycle easily. [The APA named Montrose one of America's Top 10 Neighborhoods].
Texas Medical Center/Rice University. The Texas Medical Center is the largest medical district in the world, containing 42 medicine-related institutions. [You may have seen in the news recently that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is now being treated here].
The Galleria. The Galleria area, also known as Uptown, is Houston's best-known shopping district and second-largest business district. [One unusual thing about Houston is that there are four or five disparate business districts that would each qualify as "downtown" or the CBD in most cities].
Memorial Park. Opened in 1924 and covering 1,466 acres, Memorial Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States.
Just from these introductory descriptions, you can see how a comparison of one city's neighborhoods invokes both local and national land use issues. Running through the city was a great way to get a tour of the visual characteristics on the ground. At least that's what I'll be telling myself as I hobble to land use class in the morning.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
David Matthew Levinson (Minnesota) and Bhanu Yerra (Minnesota) have posted How Land Use Shapes the Evolution of Road Networks. The abstract:
The present research develops a model to treat the organization, growth, and contraction of network elements. The components of the model include travel demand, revenue, cost, and investment. Revenue earned by links in excess of maintenance costs is invested on the link until all revenue is consumed. After upgrading (or downgrading) each link in the network, the time period is incremented and the whole process is repeated until an equilibrium is reached or it is clear that it cannot be achieved. The model is tested with three alternative land use patterns: uniform, random, and bell-shaped, to test the effects of land use on resulting network patterns. It is also tested with alternative values of the trip distribution friction factor. It is found that similar, but not identical, equilibrium hierarchical networks result in all cases, with the bell-shaped land use network, with a CBD, having higher level roads concentrated in a belt around the CBD, while the other networks are less concentrated. The results suggest that networks are capable of self-organizing, and that the nature of that organization depends on land use and traveler preferences.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
For decades the trend in most American cities has been one of jobs moving from downtowns to the suburbs. A recent Wall Street Journal piece suggests that this trend may be shifting: Downtowns Get a Fresh Lease: Suburbs Lose Office Workers to Business Districts, Reversing a Post-War Trend. From the article by Anton Troianovski:
As the market for office space shows signs of recovery, the suburbs are getting left behind.
For decades, the suburbs benefited from companies seeking lower rent, less crime and a shorter commute for many workers. But now, office buildings in many city downtowns have stopped losing tenants or are filling up again even as the office space in the surrounding suburbs continues to empty, a challenge to the post-war trend in the American workplace and a sign of the economic recovery's uneven geography. . . .
Statistics show that suburban office markets were hit harder by the recession than their downtown counterparts and are recovering more slowly. The national office vacancy rate in downtowns was 14.9% at the end of the third quarter, the same level as in early 2005—while the suburban vacancy rate hit 19%, 2.3 percentage points higher than in 2005, according to data firm Reis Inc.
In the first three quarters of this year, businesses in the suburbs vacated a net 16 million square feet of occupied office space—nearly 280 football fields—while downtowns have stabilized, losing just 119,000 square feet.
You might argue that simply losing fewer square feet than the suburbs (where the harder-hit industries such as mortgage lending and home building tend to be located) doesn't necessarily presage the long-awaited Return to Downtown. But real estate guru and urbanism advocate Christopher Leinberger detects something bigger going on:
[S]ome scholars, urban advocates, and developers believe a secular shift is under way in the American workplace.
"Young people don't want to be out on the fringe...and as people are beginning to figure that out, it's beginning to get factored into office relocations," said Christopher Leinberger, a real-estate developer and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It's a major structural trend that we in real estate are going to have to adjust to."
The WSJ article has lots of links to photos, data, and interactive maps. Thanks to Houston Tomorrow for the pointer.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Richard Schragger (Virginia) has posted Does Governance Matter? The Case of Business Improvement Districts and the Urban Resurgence, forthcoming in the Drexel Law Review. The abstract:
This Essay, written for a conference entitled “Business Improvement Districts and the Evolution of Urban Governance,” examines the relationship between innovations in urban governance and the recent urban resurgence. Whether business improvement districts (BIDs) have played a role in that resurgence is part of a larger inquiry about the causes of local economic growth and decline. This Essay begins by providing some background to the debate about BIDs, suggesting that BIDs have played a less significant role in urban governance than either proponents or detractors have sometimes asserted. It then makes some tentative efforts to describe the connections between BIDs and the urban resurgence in places like Philadelphia, arguing that those connections are not particularly robust. Finally, the Essay suggests caution when attempting to draw causal connections between governance and economic outcomes. It is not at all certain that good governance matters to local economic growth. Other factors may be more significant. If that is so, then the current competitive model of city growth and decline that seems to dominate thinking about urban law and policy is far too simplistic.
Fascinating! In addition to the original thesis, the article does a great job laying out the positive and negative stories of the BID. Since the early '90s, there have been two relevant phenomena: an upsurge in BIDs, and much progress in urban renewal. But is there a causal relationship? Anyone interested in revitalizing downtowns, urbanism generally, or the public-private debate should check it out.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
From the Conservative Blogger, a post (with accompanying photo) about how the children's play area at the Salt Lake City airport inadvertently (or cleverly) replicates the typical planning dilemas of a small town. My favorites:
Underutilized Downtown: Even without those dirty deeds by developers to bring a Walmart to town, the downtown is suffering from a lack of businesses and street life. The town’s goal to bring artists and boutique shops was never realized due to personality conflicts between the local planning board and the chamber of commerce...
City Park: The park is unfortunately located on an environmentally-degraded site on the edge of town, the result of a manufacturing plant that skipped town 20 years ago and left the town without a major employer or a business generator for the freight railroad.
Surface Parking Lot: The downtown merchants complained of a parking problem downtown after years of being in a state of denial over their employees occupying parking spaces on Main Street, prohibiting shoppers from accessing their stores. The town spent millions to acquire land on the edge of downtown to build a non-descript parking facility that is rarely used except by vagrants wishing to make drug deals.
For those of you who travel to or live in the mountain west, next time you fly through Salt Lake check out this "emerging planning conundrum" near the E Gates.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Sunday, November 14, 2010
The New York Times has an interesting article on the current discussion about the building height limits in Washington DC: In the Capital, Rethinking Old Limits on Buildings. From the intro:
Its low-slung architecture is no accident. In 1910, Congress passed an act limiting the heights of buildings in the capital. The first residential skyscraper, the Cairo, had been built, and at 12 stories, it was higher than fire ladders could reach and scandalously out of sync with its smaller neighbors.
One hundred years later, most Washingtonians see the act as a good thing. Their sidewalks are shadowed by the outlines of trees, and the dome of the Capitol can be seen from most roof decks. The act, they say, preserves the unique nature of their city, whose landmarks draw millions of visitors each year.
Now, on the act’s centennial, a small tribe of developers, architects and urban experts are questioning the orthodoxy of the rule’s application. A modest change, they argue, would inject some vitality into the urban scene, would allow for greener construction, and could eventually deliver bigger tax receipts for the badly pinched city budget, currently in a hole of about $175 million.
But raising the limit is nothing short of sacrilege for preservationists here, who fear that any change, however slight, will open the door to more.
The DC building height limit controversy is a crystallization of many of the most significant and perplexing contemporary land use issues. On the one hand, the height limit was one of the earliest and longest-standing land use regulations; it invokes the Enfant/Parisian heritage of the historical DC plan; and it has undoubtedly led to the very pleasant streetscapes and visuals in much of DC today. On the other hand, it has mandated a density limit that has exacerbated the scarcity of urban land, inflated real estate prices, and helped cause the serious sprawl that has plagued the DC region over the past generation. It is also an interesting debate, considering that many leading urban theorists call for greater density and vertical development, while in the nation's capital it will literally take an Act of Congress to move in that direction.
November 14, 2010 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, Density, Development, Downtown, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, History, Local Government, Planning, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Prof. Donald Shoup (Urban Planning, UCLA) contributed a comment to our recent post on Daniel Kelly's eminent domain paper. In case you missed it, I wanted to be sure you had the chance to get the link to Prof. Shoup's important paper Graduated Density Zoning, from the Journal of Planning Education and Research (2008). The abstract:
The difficulty of assembling sites large enough to redevelop at higher density can impede regeneration in city centers and accelerate suburban sprawl onto large sites already in single ownership. One promising new planning strategy to encourage voluntary land assembly is graduated density zoning, which allows higher density on larger sites. This strategy can increase the incentive for owners to cooperate in a land assembly that creates higher land values. Graduated density zoning will not eliminatethe incentive to hold out, but it can create a new fear of being left out. Holdouts who are left with sites that cannot be combined with enough contiguous properties to trigger higher density lose a valuable economic opportunity.This article examines the difficulty of assembling land for infill development, and explains graduated density zoning as away to encourage voluntary land assembly. Finally, it presents the results of graduated density zoning in practice.
Graduated density zoning is a compelling idea. You may also be familiar with Shoup's influential work on parking, including his book The High Cost of Free Parking (APA, 2005), and very recent articles quoting him in the New York Times (Tyler Cowen, Free Parking Comes at a Price, Aug. 2010) and Slate (Tom Vanderbilt, Time Expired: The End of the Parking Meter, Oct. 2010).
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Antonia Layard (Cardiff Law School) has posted Shopping in the Pubic Realm: The Law of Place, published recently in the Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 37, p. 412, (2010). The abstract:
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Last weekend we saw a TV rerun of the 1985 classic Back to the Future. I was reminded of something that didn't occur to me until many years after I saw it for the first time, which is that it is, subtly, an excellent land use movie. Christopher Leinberger observed this in the opening pages of his terrific book The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream. From the intro:
When I teach a graduate real estate seminar, the first homework I give to the students is watching the 1985 movie Back to the Future. The film reflects most of the fundamental changes in how America has been built over the last sixty years.
Specifically, in 1985 suburban "Hill Valley," the old downtown is dead. The public square is deserted at all hours except for the homeless; once-thriving establishments have been replaced by adult businesses; and the clock hasn't been fixed in thirty years. The new (1980s) mall at the outskirts of town now has all the action, accessible only by car (including time-machine car, or terrorist van!).
When Michael J. Fox's character Marty McFly goes "back in time" to 1955 HIll Valley, he finds a vibrant downtown, where everyone walks around for work and shopping, teens go to the malt shop and the movie theater, and small businesses abound. Sacred, safe, and busy, perhaps? Back to Leinberger:
The two Hill Valleys show the only two viable divergent options we have in how to build our metropolitan built environment--which consists of the houses, roads, water and sewer lines, police and fire stations, office buildings, shops, factories, parks, and everything else that makes up where most Americans live, work, and play.
Leinberger goes on to label the 1955 version as "walkable urbanism," and proceeds from there. The Option of Urbanism has been one of the most insightful books I've read recently, and of course if you're looking for a Labor Day Weekend movie that deals with land use, you'll find Back to the Future worth a fresh look.
Now, this kind of goes downhill at the end of the movie when, in the sequel set-up, Doc goes thirty years forward and then returns in a flying car fueled by household garbage. So we can expect that in 2015?
With that, is it possible that those of us who are interested in new urbanism can now be more sympathetic with George McFly's botched pickup line: "you . . . are my . . . density!"
Thursday, August 26, 2010
From time to time here on the land use prof blog we post a link to one of the ubiquitous "top" lists that various media outlets like to publish about America's top cities for business, living, etc. I see a lot of these because a trend in recent years has been for Texas cities to dominate these lists, at least when they are based on economics. Here's a related, but more depressing list: America's Ten Dead Cities, from the site 24/7 Wall Street. The cities:
(1) Buffalo; (2) Flint; (3) Hartford; (4) Cleveland; (5) New Orleans; (6) Detroit; (7) Albany; (8) Atlantic City; (9) Allentown; (10) Galveston.
Read the story to get a sense of the narrative arcs of these once-prosperous cities fallen on harder times. Mostly, it won't surpise you. Other than the two Gulf Coast cities on the list (both of which (#5 & 10) I still visit regularly), they are mostly post-industrial Northeast or Great Lakes cities (including my birthplace (#8), my hometown (#7), and another place I lived as an adult (#4)). Of course, Billy Joel was already lamenting the decline of #9 back in 1982 (come to think of it, Bruce Springsteen told a pretty dark tale about #8 before that). It's interesting for us not only because of how much city economies have driven land use planning, but also because we need to consider the historical trajectory of these cities when considering policies to shape cities going forward.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
On The New Republic's excellent "The Avenue" blog, Christopher Leinberger (author of The Option of Urbanism) discusses a recent Brookings debate with Joel Kotkin (author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050). From Walking--Not Just for Cities Anymore, Leinberger notes:
I just had a debate with Joel Kotkin, whom many consider to be an apologist for sprawl. Surprisingly, there is a convergence between his view of the next generation of real estate and infrastructure development and mine: a constellation of pedestrian-friendly urban development spread throughout metropolitan areas, redeveloping parts of the central city and transforming the inner, and some outer, suburbs. There are certainly differences between the two of us: I happen to see significant pent-up demand for walkable urban development and massive over-building of fringe car-oriented suburban housing and commercial development.
In fact, I see compelling evidence that the collapse of fringe drivable suburban markets was the catalyst for the Great Recession, and the lack of walkable urban development due to inadequate infrastructure and zoning is a major reason for the recovery’s sluggishness. Joel feels the demand for walkable urban development is a fraction of the future growth in households. I think rail transit, biking and walking infrastructure are crucial to make this walkable urban future happen; Joel thinks bus rapid transit is as far as we have to go in the transit world… making cars more technologically efficient is his main answer.
I have been hoping that Leinberger will prove correct about his belief in the untapped market demand for walkable urbanism, which has not persuaded Kotkin and other critics. Leinberger concludes:
We need move away from 20th century concepts that confuse the conversation. If I am right, 70 to 80 percent of new development should be in walkable urban places, and my research leads me to think the majority of that development will be in the suburbs.
July 13, 2010 in Density, Development, Downtown, Exurbs, Financial Crisis, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, New Urbanism, New York, Pedestrian, Planning, Sprawl, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, July 10, 2010
The other day we mentioned the New York City Charter Revision Commission. Yesterday the Commission staff issued its Preliminary Report, available here. The Commission has noticed a public meeting for Monday, July 12 (viewable by live streaming at the Commission webpage).
So will the Charter revision include big, sweeping changes in New York's land use law? It doesn't seem likely, according to the NYC Streetsblog's analysis in Charter Revision Report: Land Use Process Should Stay Untouched, For Now.
. . . . The land use process, which was the subject of an entire commission forum last month, will likely remain unchanged for the time being. . . .
While a series of major revisions were floated at last month's land use forum -- like requiring comprehensive planning in addition to targeted rezonings, increasing the power of borough presidents and community boards in the land use process, and reforming the weak 197-a community planning process -- today's report recommends any proposals that "significantly implicate important structural issues... should be reserved for future consideration."
With regards to land use, the report makes only two small recommendations, each based on practices adopted by two borough presidents. . . .
Adam Friedman, the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, said that holding off on reforming the land use process is understandable, but that the need for change shouldn't be forgotten. "It's appropriate to take this lead time," said Friedman, "but you do have to begin the process."
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Saturday I attended a very interesting lecture by Ken Reardon, who is a planning professor at The University of Memphis and a founding member of the Memphis Regional Design Center (MRDC). The lecture was part of an event called "Look at That! Fresh Approaches for Urban Redevelopment in Athens." The economy being what it is, many of our clients are looking for help with redevelopment, rather than combating sprawl, so I took the opportunity to attend this event, sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.
Reardon's lecture was very interesting. First he had all the participants engage in a group dialogue about our vision for Athens' future. Ideas included more urban agriculture, better downtown development, preservation of our small town character, and more affordable housing.
Then Reardon discussed how the MRDC has helped some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Memphis, using team members from local design firms, University of Memphis, the Urban Land Institute, and other partners. He declared himself most proud of a project that turned the largest outdoor drug market in Memphis into a farmers' market, which is truly a noteworthy accomplishment. The center also played a key role in helping Memphis pass its new, form-based, Unified Development Code. All the time he was talking, I was thinking, "We need that here!" I'm planning to spend some time picking Reardon's brain over the next several months.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
While we're on the subject of manufactured housing I'd like to give a shout out to People of Hope. This Athens-based organization is creating the first resident-controlled, affordable manufactured home development in Georgia. This organization arose out of an eviction of a group of tenants from a mobile home park in Athens when the owner sold off the land for development. Like many places, Athens is short on affordable housing in general, so these tenants took matters into their own hands. With the help of the fine folks at Georgia Legal Services and Sutherland law firm, as well as Athens Land Trust and the Georgia Community Loan Fund, these folks are well on their way to realizing their goals.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Sunday, January 17, 2010
The talk in Charleston these days--apart from Boeing's decision to build a new manufacuturing center nearby--focuses primarily on proposed plans to construct an upgraded terminal for cruise lines--specifically for Carnival, doubling the current number of cruises departing from the Holy City. Even though Charleston boasts a seafaring past, the land use community's reception to the proposal has been mixed. By way of example, for those who've visited Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a busy day when thousands of tourists pour from multiple muti-story cruise ships and overwhelm local infrastructure, similar developments in Charleston may not be such a good thing. To this end, preservationists are weighing in, pro and con, on the proposed two-story system of shops, dining, and lodging planned for the area adjacent to the terminal. Striking the right balance between tourism, economic diversity, quality of life for local residents, and preservation of historic resources is never easy, but public discussions on the topic suggest that local consensus may be reached. Click here and here to learn more. New York design firm Cooper Robertson & Partners, which has already designed several public buildings in historic Charleston (Visitors Center, Judicial Center, College of Charleston School of Education) has been selected to do the work.
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I had my annual viewing of It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's 1946 classic, the other day, and it reminded me that a few commentators over the last year have drawn comparisons between the world of Bedford Falls and the Bailey Building & Loan, and the conditions that caused the current mortgage crisis.
The comparisons seem to go in two directions. Some have argued that when America ditched the Bailey Building & Loan model of small local banks as the locus for local real estate development and financing in favor of the nationalized lending institutions and international trading of pooled mortgage-backed securities, it set us on the road to ruin. But others have argued that it was the very assumption advanced by George Bailey that individual homeownership was the sine qua non of civic life and human flourishing that led to suburban sprawl, the decline of cities, and the irrational financial overleveraging that led to the subprime bubble.
Below are some links to articles comparing It's a Wonderful Life to the mortgage crisis, and I'll leave it to you to decide which critique is more persuasive, or whether there are elements of both that are true.
Just yesterday, Ray Brescia (Albany Law) sided with the Bailey Business & Loan and the CRA in "Banker's Holiday: Strengthen 'George Bailey's Law'" on the Huffington Post.
Andrew M. Rosenfeld (Chicago Law) compared the localized backing of whole mortgages with the national market process for securitzed mortgages last year Newsweek's "It's a Wonderful Mortgage Crisis."
Ross Douthat in the Washington Post suggested laying much of the blame on George Bailey for the expansion of easy credit and government overpromotion of suburbia in "Not So Wonderful Now: Looking for someone to blame in the worsening crisis? Let's go back to Bedford Falls". Douthat ultimately comes back to a limited defense of Bailey's vision, though.
I know that others have remarked on this theme so leave a comment if you know of a good one that I missed.
Watching the movie again left me with one more related thought: which is better, Beford Falls or Potterville?
Capra's audiences have long assumed that the quaint Bedford Falls was the ideal American community and that the wild Pottersville was dystopia. But a few years ago in Salon Gary Kamiya challenged this assumption head on in "All Hail Pottersville" with the simple observation that "Pottersville rocks!" I think there's something to be said for this. Bedford Falls does look a little boring. Putting aside the implication that instead of middle class homeowners Pottersville's denizens were all living in Mr. Potter's tenement slums, there is no reason that a community can't have a vibrant downtown accessible by neighborhoods. I know that Pottersville was painted to look like Sin City, but it also provided a busy and walkable area (with plenty of cops on hand to harass disoriented middle-aged bankers and guardian angels), and who's to say the more wholesome entertainment venues aren't thriving just a block or two away off of externalities generated by the seemingly popular Pottersville downtown entertainment district?
Maybe James Lileks put it best: "We all want to live in Bedford Falls . . . but we all would like a night in Pottersville." But wouldn't a good new urbanist say that they can both exist in the same community?