Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Cul-de-Sacs are Bad for You

Nowadays I usually get inspired to post on this blog by things that appear in my Facebook feed. Due to my long association with UGA Law many of my friends are in Georgia, and Georgia-related news gets lots of play.   Recently a few land use savvy friends have posted this article from Slate, "Why Cul-de-Sacs Are Bad for Your Health." 

My first thought - "Isn't this something the New Urbanists have been telling us for, oh, 20 years or so?" Andres Duany has certainly been on the topic for a long time - his book Suburban Nation came out in 2001.

But, this article supports the truth many of us have known for awhile - that living in the suburbs and commuting by car has a negative impact on one's health.  This is being confirmed by a recent study at Georgia Tech.  The article makes for interesting reading, regardless of where you live.

Jamie Baker Roskie

December 11, 2013 in Development, DPZ, Exurbs, Georgia, Housing, New Urbanism, Pedestrian, Smart Growth, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Do we need a distinct rural land-use law?

I just returned from a short commute down to our other research and teaching laboratory in the southeastern part of our state (with Stephen Miller and the students from our Boise-based Economic Development Clinic). Of course, given Idaho’s geography, that commute is over 1,200 miles roundtrip and requires heading in the wrong direction for the first 90 miles before detouring through Montana. But I was able to stop for a bike race in Missoula on Saturday, and then ski with my brother in Wyoming on Sunday, so it turned into a somewhat normal traveling weekend in this part of the world.

As I traveled home and watched the growing tapestry of insect remains develop on my windshield, I gradually realized that it represented something of a land-use-law Rorschach test. While I prefer my insects alive (I studied biology and have two young boys), the growing number of dead insects continually improved my mood. I ultimately realized that those dead insects represented two things to me. First, that spring has finally arrived. And second, that I had just traveled to someplace worth traveling to.

What does this have to do with land use law? Stephen’s clinic students have been working with the Teton County, Idaho planning department and county commissioners on a number of land-use issues, including how the county might deal with the hundreds of paper subdivisions that are scattered across the county’s rural areas (and, not insignificantly, they’ve also addressed how to deal with ‘dogs at large’). As I listened to their conversations, I thought about how most of our land-use law developed in urban and suburban areas. And I thought about how our land-use law might be ill-equipped to deal with rural land-use issues.

Other academic disciplines argue that rural places are different in some fundamental way, even if they struggle to describe it. Rural Sociology and Rural Geography are distinct academic sub-disciplines with their own theories, methodologies, and understandings of how people interact with each other and their lands and landscapes. And Planning departments often draw boundaries between rural and urban planning.

But what about the law and the legal tools we use to implement those plans and understandings? In Idaho, at least, we treat counties and municipalities equally. They have the same land-use authority, developed in the same statutory regime, and are treated equally by court decisions interpreting those statutes. They use the same tools. But they often deal with different issues in different social, cultural and ecological landscapes. Why does it make sense to use the same legal tools to address all of the complex tapestry of issues we encounter across our diverse urban, suburban, and rural landscapes?

So why is the insect-splattered windshield a land-use Rorschach test? Because I think our reactions to it might say something about how we think about place. Is it just an annoyance that requires cleaning? Or is it something else? And what does that decision say about how we think about land? I know I shouldn’t generalize my personal experiences, but to me the insects represent emptiness, distance, and place in a particular way. More than anything, they represent something that is not urban. And those things -- and the social and cultural structures they engender – require a different approach to land-use regulation.

--Jerry Long

April 11, 2012 in Community Design, Exurbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

After the Zombie Apocalypse

I was mildly surprised, upon checking my mailbox a few Mondays ago, to find a zombie crawling out of it. My excitement at finally getting to use my zombie apocalypse skills quickly faded when I realized that it was just an article by Allen Best in High Country News about Teton County, Idaho and its “zombie subdivisions.”


We’ve written a lot about Teton County and similar rural or exurban areas (my own take is here), so the basic story is familiar. Beginning in about 1990, amenity-driven population growth substantially increased the value of land in many rural areas, leading to a boom in residential development that “bust” in 2007 and 2008. That bust left behind thousands of acres of partially developed subdivisions, empty houses, and roads to nowhere across rural and exurban America – Maricopa, AZ; Rio Vista, CA; Myrtle Beach, NC, and of course, Teton County, ID (and here, and here, and... well, just wander around on Google Maps yourself). To the extent the zombie subdivisions have a positive aspect, however, it is in how they make obvious the detrimental effects of particular land-use choices, and perhaps motivate new choices. Maybe we’ll emerge wiser, more careful, and better able to imagine the consequences of our choices.


So we know that part of the story. Short of an ugly photo of a zombie, what does High Country News have to add? Its contribution to the conversation is small but very significant, and it is perfectly distilled in a single quote by long-time Idaho farmer: “I see bicycle riders here, young people riding in the middle of the day!”


Rural geographers (and others) speak of a concept they characterize as “re-territorialization”—the reassignment of resource access rights, and local or regional cultural hegemony, to a new population or interest group. In the public lands West, we see it in changing notions of the purpose of federally-managed lands, e.g., from resource extraction to amenity consumption. But it is no less important in the changing power structures and community visions that allocate rights in private lands.

The Idaho farmer’s bewilderment that people might be able to ride bicycles during the middle of the day, rather than be driving a tractor, represents a persistent understanding about place and what that place should look like. It is also an understanding increasingly overwhelmed, and perhaps disrespected, by emerging majorities. Our choices to formalize cultural transitions into law necessarily oppress reasonable perspectives about land, the appropriate allocation of particular interests in land, and the “sense” of a community. But in many cases these perspectives are fundamental aspects of a place’s cultural history. They are also fundamental aspects of what the rest of us understand as, and love about, rurality.


So while this insight isn’t particularly earth-shattering, it does seem that the zombie apocalypse forces us to focus more carefully on a specific question: To what extent should our new choices respect the cultural understandings that gave rise to the old choices we want to undo? Put another way, can we both love and protect the old rural while simultaneously eradicating the perspectives that created it?

Jerry Long

April 4, 2012 in Community Design, Exurbs, Planning, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations | 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 9, 2011

Ballot Box Zoning -- A Response to Festa

OK, I'll bite.  Matt has laid down the gauntlet with his criticism of the initiative process.  This subject is of great importance to land use profs because, at least in many sunbelt states, a good deal of land use policy is made through direct democracy -- so-called "ballot box zoning."  In this post, I want to respond to some of Matt's criticisms and offer a very tentative defense of ballot box zoning.  For those who are interested, I have defended ballot box zoning at greater length (although I ultimately call for its abolition anyway) in this paper.

I must first concede to Matt that the initiative process has serious deficiencies.  He mentions transparency and voter ignorance.  The social science literature confirms that these are major problems.  I would also add a few more: the initiative process is often captured by special interest groups, as money and organizational resources are often decisive in initiative contests; the initiative tends to favor the affluent and well educated, which is not surprising since the affluent and well educated are more likely to vote on initiatives; voters are easily confused by deceptive wording on initiatives, and initiative advocates often deliberately use deceptive terms to confuse voters; the initiative process reduces complex issues to a simplistic yes/no dichotomy in which hyperbolic sound bytes replace rational discourse.  I suppose I could go on, but you get the point.

So what virtues could the initiative process possibly have?  I want to focus specifically on the land use initiative, although some of my comments may be generalizable.  Although it is often asserted that local politics are controlled by homeowners who seek to limit or manage growth, that is generally true only in smaller municipalities.  Sunbelt states like Texas and California, however, have a disproportionate number of medium to large-size municipalities, dubbed "boomburbs" by sociologists Robert Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy.  The larger size of these municipalities gives homeowners less political power.  At the same time, sunbelt boomburbs have often pursued headlong development as a means of economic growth and to overcome fiscal constraints imposed by constitutional or political limitations on raising tax revenue.  Lang and LeFurgy accordingly assert that these municipalities tend to be in thrall to the "growth machine," a matrix of developers and related cohorts who facilitate urban growth.  As I further argue in my paper, the fact that many of these boomburbs use at-large voting structures rather than ward voting systems further enhances the power of developers and dilutes the ability of neighborhood groups to fight development.

Obviously, this system is less than ideal for homeowners.  And let's face it: while we might hate those NIMBYs, they have some pretty good reasons for opposing new growth.  For years it has been national policy to induce Americans to purchase property through a combination of incentives, including low-interest mortgages and municipal zoning ordinances that provide some assurances to homeowners that their property values, and hence their ability to pay off their mortgages, will be protected against unpredictable declines.  New growth and the externalities that accompany it are very likely to diminish property values, and hence prejudice the ability of homeowners to finance what is likely to be by far their most significant asset.  Existing homeowners are in effect subsidizing new growth through diminished property values, and although city officials claim that everyone benefits from new growth, it is often a concentrated group of homeowners alone who must bear a disproportionate degree of the cost.  As I questioned in a previous post, it can even be argued that homeowners have a regulatory takings claim -- but courts have never recognized such a cause of action.

As envisioned by its Progressive-era architects, the initiative is supposed to correct the defects in the ordinary legislative process, particularly the dominance of special interests.  And that is exactly what ballot-box zoning appears to do in the sunbelt states -- the very states where boomburbs, at-large voting and the growth machine dominate the political landscape are also the states where ballot-box zoning is most robust.  Ballot box zoning has proven to be a powerful weapon with which homeowners can fight back against the growth machine, because prevailing on a local initiative requires only a one-time infusion of cash and a constituency that is easily organized and highly motivated -- ie, a group of neighboring homeowners who are all extremely ticked off about land use changes around their neighborhood.  This can counteract the repeat player and other advantages that the developer has in the legislative process.  Granted, the initiative process itself invites special interest abuses and all sorts of other problems, but it seems no less messy or dysfunctional than the system of government it is designed to counterbalance. 

Ken Stahl

November 9, 2011 in California, Density, Development, Exurbs, Local Government, Mortgages, NIMBY, Politics, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Takings, Texas, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fracking Conference

We've got a lot of exciting things going on here in Buffalo these days. At the end of March, we'll be holding a symposium and community forum on fracking. I hope to see some of you there!

- Jessica Owley

 Hydrofracking: Exploring the Legal Issues in the Context of Politics, Science and the Economy

March 28-29, 2011 at University at Buffalo School of Law

Buffalo, New York

On March 28-29, 2011 the University at Buffalo Environmental Law Program and the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy will host the conference: Hydrofracking: Exploring the Legal Issues in the Context of Politics, Science and the Economy.

Horizontal-gas drilling involving hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking or fracking, and its potential effects is an important environmental and energy concern for the nation. This conference provides an opportunity for a scholarly exchange of ideas regarding the issue as well as a forum for community discussion.

We welcome submissions on any related topic, including the following:

  • Hydrofracking and Nuisance Law
  • Impacts on Tribal Lands
  • Administrative law and the EPA Rulemakings
  • Environmental Review Processes    
  • Application of federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act
  • Energy issues, in including the Energy Policy Act and DOE policy
  • Endocrine Disruption and Human Health Impacts

Authors will have an opportunity to publish their work in the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. You are invited to submit a paper or presentation proposal for of no more than 250 words by Monday, February 21st to jol@buffalo.edu.

For more information, contact Jessica Owley [jol@buffalo.edu or 716-645-8182] or Kim Diana Connolly [kimconno@buffalo.edu or 716-645-2092]

February 7, 2011 in Clean Energy, Climate, Conferences, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Exurbs, Federal Government, Local Government, New York, NIMBY, Nuisance, Oil & Gas, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Sustainability, Water | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Judith Wegner, Annexation, and the Boehl Lectures

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

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

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

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

Tony Arnold

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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Panel on "Premature Subdivisions" for New Partners Conference

As I previously posted, the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference is happening in Charlotte, NC February 3-5.  Here's an announcement from the Lincoln Institute about their panel at the conference.

Call them the new ghost towns - "premature" subdivisions that have been laid out in anticipation of a continuing housing boom and unfettered growth at the periphery. In many areas there is a large surplus of already platted lots, improperly located to foster smart growth. Teton County, Idaho has granted development entitlements in the rural countryside sufficient to quadruple their population. Most of these lots have non-existent or poor services.

Even in areas that expect large increases in population, these premature subdivisions are in the wrong location to foster smart growth patterns. In Arizona's Sun Corridor, approximately one million undeveloped lots, many not even platted yet, have been entitled and would lead to further sprawl.

The current economic downturn provides an opportunity to address past impacts, better anticipate and prepare for future growth and improve property values, says senior fellow Armando Carbonell, who will be moderating a panel, Reshaping Development Patterns, at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Charlotte Feb. 3.

Carbonell sees an opportunity to redesign communities to transfer development pressure from previously approved development areas to foster more sustainable development. For example, in the suburbs of the Northeast, there are projects that remake the suburban highway, turning "edge city" districts into compact mixed-use centers, and using green infrastructure strategies for shaping new communities at the metropolitan fringe."There's a sponge-like capacity to accommodate population growth without any further peripheral development," says Carbonell.

The panelists exploring these issues will be Arthur "Chris" Nelson, Metropolitan Research Center, University of Utah, on demographic and population trends; Jim Holway, head of Western Land and Communities, the Lincoln Institute-Sonoran Institute joint venture; and Thomas Wright, executive director of the Regional Plan Association of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

New Partners for Smart Growth this year marks its 10th anniversary as a collaboration of the Loal Government Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Premature subdivisions" aren't just a western or northeastern problem - we've seen a fair number of them here in Georgia as well.  If any of our readers attend this session, or any other session at the New Partners conference, please send us a report!

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 26, 2011 in Conferences, Development, Exurbs, Lectures, New York, Planning, Property, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WSJ says More Office Jobs going from Suburbs to Downtowns

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.

Matt Festa

December 14, 2010 in Downtown, Exurbs, Financial Crisis, Houston, Real Estate Transactions, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is Vegas a Sodom and Gomorrah Theme Park?

Contiuning in our Las Vegas theme, I ran across an article in the October issue of Smithsonian magazine by someone who dislikes Vegas even more than I.  Journalist J.R. Moehringer lived in Vegas while collaborating on a book with Andre Aggasi, and he has this to say about America's playground:

Vegas isn’t a real city. It’s a Sodom and Gomorrah theme park surrounded by hideous exurban sprawl and wasteland so barren it makes the moon look like an English rose garden.

and;

No matter what you read about Vegas, no matter where you read it, this assertion invariably pops up, as sure as a face card in the hole when the dealer’s showing an ace. Vegas is unlike any other American city, and yet Vegas is America? Paradoxical, yes, but true. And it’s never been more true than during these past few years. Vegas typified the American boom—best suite at the Palms: $40,000 a night—and Vegas now epitomizes the bust. If the boom was largely caused by the housing bubble, Vegas was bubble-icious. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the Vegas area leads the United States in foreclosures—five times the national rate—and ranks among the worst cities for unemployment. More than 14 percent of Las Vegans are without work, compared with the national rate of 9.5 percent.

Still:

I’ll miss the whole seamy, seedy, icky, apocalyptic tawdriness of it all. While I was busy hating Vegas, and hiding from Vegas, a funny thing happened. I grew to love Vegas. If you tell stories for a living or collect them for fun, you can’t help but feel a certain thrill at being in a place where the supply of stories—uniquely American stories—is endless.

That doesn’t mean I’m staying. Vegas is like the old definition of writing: though I don’t enjoy writing, I love having written. Though I didn’t enjoy Vegas, I love having lived there.

Read the whole article here.

Jamie Baker Roskie

October 12, 2010 in Development, Exurbs, Humorous, Las Vegas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

County Struggles to Pay for Unused Infrastructure Capacity

In our relatively short time as co-editors of this blog, we've written several times about the impact of the implosion of the housing market.  (Just check out our housing and mortgage crisis categories for many of these posts.)  Recently, the local paper here in Athens - the Athens Banner Herald - carried a story about how nearby Jackson County is struggling to pay for the expanded water and sewer service they built to meet the expected demand for new home building.  Jackson County is an exurb of Atlanta and before the economy crashed it was experiencing massive growth.  Now, as in so many places in the country, subdivided land is little more than "PVC farms" (so called because they are empty except for PVC pipes sticking from the ground where homes are to be built).  The Jackson County commission's solution to this is to begin charging a $10 a month maintenance fee on the pipes.  However, with many of the builders gone bust, they will have to wait to collect this fee from future developers.  Let's hope that works out for them.

Jamie Baker Roskie

March 17, 2010 in Development, Exurbs, Georgia, Housing, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Sprawl, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Developer Doubles Up on New Buyer Tax Credit

From today's Gainesville (Ga.) Times, a story about a developer who is offering to double the first time homebuyer and "move up" homebuyer tax credits as an incentive to buy in his subdivision in South Hall County (less than an hour north of Atlanta).  I've heard of lots of incentives, but that's a new one on me.

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 22, 2010 in Exurbs, Georgia, Housing, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Has Regulation Saved Some Cities from Foreclosure Crisis?

From today's NYT Opinionator Blog, a piece on what's happend in California - the unregulated sprawl in the Central Valley vs. the strictly regulated urban core:

...[L]ook at the cities with stable and recovering home markets. On this coast, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and San Diego come to mind. All of these cities have fairly strict development codes, trying to hem in their excess sprawl. Developers, many of them, hate these restrictions. They said the coastal cities would eventually price the middle class out, and start to empty.

It hasn’t happened. Just the opposite. The developers’ favorite role models, the laissez faire free-for-alls — Las Vegas, the Phoenix metro area, South Florida, this valley — are the most troubled, the suburban slums.

Would stricter land use regulation kept us out of this mess?

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 11, 2010 in California, Exurbs, Financial Crisis, Mortgage Crisis, Sprawl, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Superfast Bullet Trains are Finally Coming to the US"

Earlier today Matt Festa posted about Obama's funding for high speed trains.  Wired Magazine also has a great spread this month on high speed rail coming to the US.  The writers are breathless about the technology, of course, but the article also covers some very interesting land use aspects of the scheme.  Catch the sidebars about how NIMBYism threatens part of the route of the California train, and how the train will reduce travel time from exurbs like Merced to population centers like Sacramento, making those exurbs a more viable housing option for big-city workers. There's also an analysis of how high speed rail, while expensive, will ultimately be cheaper than maintaining our current car culture.  The article has maps of the proposed routes and a history of fast trains. I'm not normally much of a train buff, but I found the whole piece really fascinating.

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 30, 2010 in California, Development, Exurbs, NIMBY, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)