Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Trick-or-Treat Test

IMG_2790Happy Halloween!  If you're out trick-or-treating tonight, think about what planners call the "trick-or-treat test" for your neighborhood.  The idea is that based on design and form, a great neighborhood for trick-or-treating--kids and families walking around the streets, visiting door to door--is also likely to be a great neighborhood year-round. City Planner Brent Toderian writes about this at the Huffington Post in Does Your Neighbourhood Pass the 'Trick or Treat Test'?:

Great neighbourhoods for trick-or-treating also tend to be great neighborhoods for families everyday:

  • Tree-lined streets designed for walkers more than speeding cars.
  • Enough density and community completeness, to activate what I call "the power of nearness" - everything you need, nearby.
  • Good visual surveillance through doors and stoops, windows (and I don't mean windows in garages), porches and "eyes on the street."
  • Connected, legible streets that let you "read" the neighbourhood easily -grids tend to be good for this, but other patterns work too.

All of these are great for trick-or-treating, and equally great for walkable, healthy, economically resilient communities year-round.

It makes a great deal of sense, though I hadn't previously known that the "trick-or-treat test" was a term of art in the planning community.  Thanks to Jenna Munoz for the pointer.  A related item is Richard Florida's 2012 Halloween Index at The Atlantic Cities:

For this year's "Halloween Index," Kevin Stolarick and my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleagues focused on five factors that make for a great Halloween metro area — population density (which makes for efficient trick-or-treating), kids ages five to 14 (as a share of metro population), and median income (a measure of regional affluence), as well as candy stores and costume rental stores per one hundred thousand people.

In the story at the link, you can check out the map which shows the best scoring cities in the categories; Chicago is #1.  Zillow, however, has San Fransisco at #1 with its similar but slightly different methodology for determining the 20 Best Cities to Trick or Treat in 2012:

There is a common belief that wealthy neighborhoods are the Holy Grail for harvesting the most Halloween candy. However, to provide a more holistic approach to trick-or-treating, the Zillow Trick-or-Treat Index was calculated using four equally weighted data variables: Zillow Home Value Index, population density, Walk Score and local crime data from Relocation Essentials. Based on those variables, the Index represents cities that will provide the most candy, with the least walking and safety risks.

Finally, Paul Knight at Treehugger provides a mathematical forumula in More on the Trick or Treat Test: Calcluating the "Candy Density":

Potential Candy Score (Candy Pieces) = Target Neighborhood (Acres) x Houses-Per-Acre x Families-Per-House (accounting for duplexes, etc) x % Candy-Giving-Families x Candy-Pieces-Per-Family

I always say that land use is ultimately about the built environment of the communities in which we live.  If you are out in your community on Halloween night, be safe, and take the opportunity to observe and think about land use!

Matt Festa

October 31, 2012 in Chicago, Community Design, Crime, Density, Housing, Humorous, Planning, Sprawl, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Property Jokes

OK, I'll go ahead and post this . . . I wasn't sure if it was "blogworthy," but Steve Clowney seemed to think so (or else he was really desperate for content when he saw this yesterday on my facebook page). To prove that even the musty old historically contingent property forms can have some modern relevance, I showed the class the ironic nostalgia of this hipster, courtesy of former student Uri Heller:

Hipster feoffement

And the crazy thing is that it got a half-decent laugh.  Data point #2 in why I am worried about this Section of students is that yesterday--it being Sept. 19, of course-- I wished them a happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  (Pirates are certainly interested in acquiring your property through subsequent possession.)  Then--and this is what has me really worried--they actually laughed again when I mentioned that I was unable to take my 12-year-old daughter to the pirate movie . . . why? 

. . . Because, of course, it was rated Arrrrrrrrrrrr.

I would have thought these students would have had a little better taste in humor.  But at least they are so highly motivated for law school and property class that they are willing to find (or pretend to find) humor in some of the more obscure aspects of Property I. 

Matt Festa

PS  If, like some of us, you are in Milwaukee today, you might realize that you can be a pirate every day, at least at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

IMG_2623

September 20, 2012 in Humorous, Property Theory, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Man Fights to Keep Wife's Remains Buried in Front Yard

If you've been reading the work of some of our colleagues at Property Prof like Tanya Marsh and Al Brophy, you know that cemeteries, memorials, and burial rules can be important issues in law and historical memory.  Here's a more quotidian case in point, from the Huffington Post: James Davis, Alabama Man, Fights To Keep Remains Of Wife Buried In Front Yard.  From the article:

Davis said he was only abiding by Patsy Ruth Davis' wishes when he buried her outside their log home in 2009, yet the city sued to move the body elsewhere. A county judge ordered Davis to disinter his wife, but the ruling is on hold as the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals considers his challenge.

While state health officials say family burial plots aren't uncommon in Alabama, city officials worry about the precedent set by allowing a grave on a residential lot on one of the main streets through town. They say state law gives the city some control over where people bury their loved ones and have cited concerns about long-term care, appearance, property values and the complaints of some neighbors.

But even some of the objecting neighbors are still concerned with the individual property-rights aspect of this situation:

A strong libertarian streak runs through northeast Alabama, which has relatively few zoning laws to govern what people do with their property. Even a neighbor who got into a fight with Davis over the gravesite – Davis said he punched the man – isn't comfortable with limiting what a homeowner can do with his property.

"I don't think it's right, but it's not my place to tell him he can't do it," said George W. Westmoreland, 79, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. "I laid my life on the line so he would have the right to do this. This is what freedom is about."

The article profits from the analysis of Samford law prof Joseph Snoe (invoking Mahon (which I just taught) and other important precedents):

A law professor who is familiar with the case said it's squarely at the intersection of personal rights and government's power to regulate private property. While disputes over graves in peoples' yards might be rare, lawsuits over the use of eminent domain actions and zoning restrictions are becoming more common as the U.S. population grows, said Joseph Snoe, who teaches property law at Samford University in suburban Birmingham.

While it's a quirky fact pattern, this sort of case is intensely personal, and goes to show the broad range of issues that can end up in disputes over land use law.  Thanks to Troy Covington for the pointer.

Matt Festa

August 24, 2012 in Caselaw, History, Humorous, Property Rights, State Government, Sun Belt, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fascinating 21st Century Real Estate Cases

The New York Observer has a list of the 15 Most Fascinating NY Real Estate Cases of the 21st Century, based on a survey of NYC real estate lawyers.  Although most involve contracts or financing gone awry, a few involve zoning and land use disputes.  They also make use of Sherlock Holmes-esque titles, like "The Case of the Mischievous Mall Developer." 

Of particular interest are "The Case of the Masterpiece & The Condo Ad," involving a dispute over advertising, public art, and landmarking.  The "Case of the Museum and the Architect" involves a building designed by Jean Nouvel next to MOMA, as well as zoning, landmarking and air rights issues. "The Case of the Brooklyn Basketball Arena" gives a very truncated summary of the series of legal battles over eminent domain and the construction of a new arena for the Brooklyn Nets.  (For a more detailed account in response from critics of the development see the Atlantic Yards Report).  And "The Case of the Abused J-51" details the legal battles over rent regulation following the $5.4 billion purchase of Stuyvesant Town.

John Infranca

August 15, 2012 in Architecture, Caselaw, Development, Eminent Domain, Historic Preservation, History, Humorous, New York, Real Estate Transactions, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Scottish "Frankenstein" Mummies and Land Rights

I probably should save this one for Halloween, but there's breaking news out of Scotland, where archaeologists have discovered a pair of 3,000-year-old mummified bodies . . . but it appears that there are more than two persons involved.  From Yahoo News, 3,000-year-old ‘Frankenstein’ mummies discovered in Scotland:

Researchers say that a pair of 3,000-year-old mummified corpses that were recently discovered in Scotland are actually composed of body parts originating from six different people. . . .

National Geographic reports that isotopic dating and DNA experiments revealed the unusual pairing of body parts. The tests also revealed that the body parts were assembled and buried together more than 600 years after death, meaning that the assemblage was almost certainly deliberate.

Why would they spend centuries assembling these composite cadavers?  It's not clear, but one of the researchers has a theory in land use law:

Meanwhile, fellow researcher and University of Sheffield professor Mike Parker Pearson tells LiveScience the parts could have been more specifically put together to show the connected lineage between families other time.

"Rights to land would have depended on ancestral claims, so perhaps having the ancestors around 'in the flesh' was their prehistoric equivalent of a legal document," Parker Pearson said.

"Merging different body parts of ancestors into a single person could represent the merging of different families and their lines of descent," Parker Pearson said. "Perhaps this was a prelude to building the row of houses in which numerous different families are likely to have lived."

A little morbid, a little amusing, and also a reminder that issues of land ownership aren't just historical, they might be prehistorical as well. Thanks to William Bozeman for the pointer.

Matt Festa

July 11, 2012 in Comparative Land Use, History, Humorous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Superheroes and Zoning

Yesterday I took my kids to see The Avengers, the ensemble superhero movie featuring Ironman, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk.  But before all the world-saving action started up, I caught a throwaway line from the Gwyneth Paltrow character who plays Robert Downey Jr.'s assistant/girlfriend-- referring to their "Stark Tower" skyscraper in midtown Manhattan (powered by some futuristic sustainable energy source, natch) and their plans to build several more, she notes that she was planning to spend the next day "working on the zoning" for the other towers.  I made a mental note that this could be a humorous, quick blog post reaffirming my theory that there is a land use angle to everything, and then proceeded to watch the superheroes smash it out with the bad guys to my son's delight.

But just now, the majesty of the Internet has shown me how badly I've been beaten to the punch.  Via our Network colleagues at the Administrative Law Prof Blog, I found a link to a blog called Law and the Multiverse: Superheroes, Supervillans, and the Law, which has a blog post--nay, a 1,500+ word essay!--on this very subject called The Avengers: Arc Reactors and NYC Zoning Laws.  This is unbelievable--from the same offhand script line that set off my land-use radar, the author delves deep into the New York City zoning code, citing chapter and verse of the regulations; identifies where Stark Tower is on the maps (all with copious linkage); and then explains the legal options available to our developer/hero:

I. Stark Tower’s Zoning District

As it happens, we know exactly where Stark Tower is meant to be located within New York: it’s built on the site of the MetLife building at 200 Park Ave.

(Update: Early on some sources indicated that it was built on the site of the MetLife building and now others indicate that Stark built the tower on top of the preexisting building. This doesn’t change the analysis. Whatever the zoning status of the MetLife building, the construction of Stark Tower was likely a “structural alteration” of the building that would disallow a grandfathered nonconforming use. It certainly exceeded the kind of “repair or incidental alteration” that would preserve the nonconforming use.)

Here’s a zoning map of the area. As you can see, it’s in a C5-3 commercial district in the Special Midtown District, which means Stark Tower has a maximum Floor Area Ratio of 18 (3 of that comes from the special district). Basically this means that if the building takes up its entire lot then it can only have 18 full-size floors (or the equivalent). There are various ways to increase the FAR, such as having a public plaza on the lot. The sloped, tapering structure of Stark Tower means that it can have more floors without exceeding its FAR because the upper floors are much smaller than the lower ones. Given the size of the 200 Park Ave lot, it’s believable that Stark Tower could be that tall, given its shape and the various means of increasing the FAR.

Stark mentions that the top ten floors (excluding his personal penthouse, presumably) are “all R&D.” Is that allowed in a C5-3?

Apart from residential uses, the permitted commercial uses in a C5 are use groups 5 (hotels), 6, 9 and 10 (retail shops and business services) and 11 (custom manufacturing). Unfortunately, research and development is not allowed as a permitted or conditional use in this district. In fact, scientific research and development is specifically allowed in a C6 as a conditional use, which requires a special permit and approval from the City Planning Commission.

So Stark needs some kind of special dispensation. How can he get it? There are many possible ways.

The essay goes on to analyze the options for rezoning, variances, and the related issues of electrical power generation permits and FAA approval, again chock full o' links to the statutes, regs, and caselaw.  The author, James Daily, concludes that "while Pepper Potts may indeed have to do some work to get the next few buildings approved, it’s not far-fetched from a legal perspective."  Read the whole thing, it's wild, and quite sophisticated too. 

But I will draw this even more compelling conclusion: Even the world's greatest Superheroes are no match for the awesome power of the Zoning Code and the Planning Commission.

Matt Festa

May 28, 2012 in Architecture, Clean Energy, Density, Development, Green Building, Humorous, Local Government, New York, Planning, Redevelopment, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happy May Day

It's May 1, 2012, and that means a few different things around the world.  Regular readers know that we like to do the occasional holiday-themed post on related land use issues, but this one needs to be disaggregated!

The original May Day celebrations were pagan rituals throughout Europe, particularly in Celtic, Germanic, and other Northern European societies.  These tended to focus on the traditional spring/early summer themes of rebirth and fecundity, with venerations of the deities of earth and flowers and so on.  As Christianity spread, the Church tended to co-opt these pagan celebrations, which continued the tradition of Maypoles and public festivities.  This tradition obviously relates to land use in its focus on the renewal of the earth and its bounty going into the new summer.

Then in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, May Day became a nearly universal labor holiday known as International Workers Day, as well as a day that became associated with socialism and communism.  Because the American Labor Day is not until September, I always assumed that this must have some European or Soviet origin.  But my exhaustive Wikipedia-based research for this post led me to realize that May 1 as International Workers Day originated right here in the U.S. of A., thanks to the 1886 Haymarket Riots in Chicago, where police fired shots into the crowd at a worker's strike after a bomb exploded.  This galvanized the interational labor movement, which led the Second International to declare May 1 as International Workers Day in 1889.  In fact, the reason the American Labor Day is set in September seems to have been a desire to disassociate it with the Haymarket anniversary.  Any time we're talking about riots, strikes, public demonstrations, or urban politics, there is always a host of land use issues involved.

The theme of May 1 as an international labor day has led some of the Occupy Movement to plan to Occupy May 1 to urge a general strike and as a chance to relaunch their protest movement in cities around the world.  The Occupy Movement deserves some further study for the interesting land use issues it presents, both in terms of its attempts to, well, "occupy" public and private spaces in cities, and also for its organization of those spaces-- I have heard from more than one observer that in some of the Occupy encampments they have instituted an informal sort of zoning apparatus.  At this hour it seems that the Occupy May Day affairs have been generally peaceful

Another prominent commemoration of May 1 in the U.S. comes with Law Day.  While not widely known outside the legal profession, bar associations across the land have programs to celebrate and educate members on the importance of law (e.g., today I went to the local bar's Law Day banquet to recognize a major award earned by one of my students).  Land use law being a field of growing importance in the profession, it goes without saying that any commemoration of law generally should include a nod to those who practice land use law in our communities.  I had thought that Law Day was mostly an inside-baseball event for lawyers and bar organizations, but again (thanks to Wikipedia) I just learned that the origin of Law Day was really an anti-communist maneuver.  In response to the growing importance of May 1 in the communist and particularly the Soviet sphere (think back to parades of tanks and nuclear missiles down the central square), President Eisenhower declared the first Law Day as a celebration of the rule of law and its critical importance to democracy and civilization.  The commemoration of Law Day is codified at 36 U.S.C. 113.

So whether you celebrate May 1 for it's pagan/Christian celebration of earthly renewal; it's relevance to the international labor movement and urban politics; or for it's commemoration of the importance of the rule of law in society, May Day has an important relationship with land use.  The last use of the term "Mayday," as a distress signal, comes not from the first day of this month, but rather from the French venez m'aider (come help me).  The only academic connection I can think of from that usage, however, is that it is perhaps being muttered right now by the students who are taking my exam tomorrow.

Matt Festa

May 1, 2012 in Agriculture, Federal Government, History, Humorous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day

Hey everyone, it's February 29th, and that doesn't happen every year.  So Happy Leap Day! 

Some of you who follow the blog might recall that we like to do a holiday post now and then about the land use angles of the tradition-- like on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Columbus Day, St. Patrick's Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Day, and even Groundhog Day.  Today is the first chance I've had since relaunching the blog in 2009 to consider Leap Day, so it's time to add Feb. 29 to the list.  I must admit, however, that coming up with a land use angle for Feb. 29 looked like a bit of a challenge.  But I take pride in my skill at the game my students call "What Can't Festa Turn into a Land Use Story," so here goes:

First, it's an Irish tradition (supposedly), going back to the times of St. Patrick and St. Bridget, that on the quadrennial occurrence of Leap Day, the women get to make marriage proposals to the men (the legend is probably the progenitor of Sadie Hawkins Day).  In a traditional feudal society with a land-based economy and social structure, with primogeniture and entailments controlling the land, this social inversion could have a significant effect on how feudal power and family wealth get organized.  If it ever actually happened, that is . . . I'm skeptical, but the legend seems to have enough purchase to back the 2010 Amy Adams movie Leap Year

A second land use tie-in is related to the appellation "Leap" Day/Year.  LEAP is also an acronym that stands for "Land-use Effects on Amphibian Populations."  It's a multi-regional collaboration sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  Academic research programs were established at Missouri, Maine, and South Carolina.  And lest you think that I'm stretching here, many organizations today are using the occasion of Leap Day to celebrate Amphibians.  Amphibian Ark has rolled out an international campaign for Leap Day:

To coincide with Leap Day (February 29th) 2012, Amphibian Ark is launching a new international event, Leaping Ahead of Extinction: A celebration of good news for amphibians in 2012.

The event’s been timed to coincide with Leap Day (29th February) 2012, and will promote the great successes in the conservation of amphibians in captivity and in the wild. The focus will be on institutions that are managing amphibian rescue or supplementation programs, recommended either during an AArk conservation needs assessment, or by national governments or field experts.

Many zoos, wildlife and conservation organizations, and even Disney are also getting into the spirit with Leap Day events for amphibians.  Hopefully they won't get too jumpy in Calaveras County.

Once again, a special day with a land use angle!  Kind wishes to our amphibian friends, especially if a princess proposes to one.

Matt Festa

UPDATE: The "Leap Day" observance is broader than I had thought, and implicitly with the amphibian connection too-- I'm getting emails imploring me to take advantage of the Leap Day discounts from the excellent LeapFrog brand of learning toys that my son enjoys.  You know you've arrived as an American holiday when businessess try to commemorate it by selling stuff.  Like the old "life, liberty, and no money down!" type of sales promotions. 

UPDATE 2: For yet another land use angle, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood tells us that we should "Leap Into Safety" today by investigating our states' pipeline profiles. 

February 29, 2012 in Environmentalism, History, Humorous, Property, Sustainability, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bad Acronym: The Real Problem With RLUIPA

Some argue that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) is an unconstitutional establishment of religion.  Others claim that it unduly restricts municipal land use authority.  Still others wonder what constitutional authority Congress had to enact such a law.  While these are important questions, this blog post argues that RLUIPA suffers from a far more serious defect that has so far been neglected in the legal scholarship: it has a really bad name.  I mean, seriously, how do you even pronounce RLUIPA?  Is is Ahrr-loopa?  Uhrrr-loopa?  Rah-loopa?  All of these are equally plausible and, frankly, equally awful.  For those of us who need to actually pronounce this acronym at least fifty times during a semester, it's a big problem.

So what to do?  Some statutes with unwieldy names are simply called by the names of their sponsors.  I like the Taft-Hartley Act myself (standing in for the acronymically challenged "Labor-Management Relations Act" or LMRA.  "Lmoora?"  OK, that's pretty bad too).  RLUIPA, unfortunately, had six sponsors, and I'm afraid the Hatch-Daschell-Kennedy-Canady-Nadler-Edwards Act would be a bit of a mouthful.  Other statutes are given cool nicknames -- the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act is called "Superfund" (and let's be honest, even "CERCLA" isn't half as bad as RLUIPA.)  I'm not sure there's an obvious nickname for RLUIPA though -- unless it's "the Establishment Act." 

I invite your thoughts during this grading season about how to handle this pressing problem.  One solution, of course, is to just do nothing.  Maybe we should just embrace the fact that land use and environmental law are full of terrible acronyms.  After all, we're the people who brought you such gems as PUDs, TPPs, CUPs, MURPs, SIDs, MUDs, and SMSAs, among others.  On this list, RLUIPA is practically a beauty queen.  Please feel free to leave a note with your favorite horrible land use acronym.

Ken Stahl

December 14, 2011 in First Amendment, Humorous, RLUIPA | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Georgia Judge Slaps Down US Bank Over Potentially Wrongful Foreclosure

Thanks to Atlanta lawyer Robert Jackson for the heads' up on this amazing decision from a Carroll County judge regarding the potentially wrongful failure to modify a mortgage for homeowner Otis Wayne Phillips.  My favorite part of the opinion:

This court cannot imagine why U. S. Bank will not make known to Mr. Phillips, a taxpayer, how his numbers put him outside the federal guidelines to receive a loan modification. Taking $20 Billion of taxpayer money was no problem for U. S. Bank. A cynical judge might believe that this entire motion to dismiss is a desperate attempt to avoid the discovery period, where U. S. Bank would have to tell Mr. Phillips how his financial situation did not qualify him for a modification. Or, perhaps he was qualified, yet didn't receive the modification, in violation of U. S. Bank's Service Participation Agreement (SPA). A cynical judge might think that, if the guidelines clearly prevented Mr. Phillips from getting his modification, then U. S. Bank would have trotted out that fact in mathematic equations, pie charts, and bar graphs, all on 8 by 10 glossy photo paper, with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back explaining each winning number. [Here the judge puts a footnote begging indulgence from Arlo Gutherie for the Alice's Restaurant reference.]  U. S. Bank's silence on this issue might heighten the suspicions of such a cynical jurist. I, on the other hand, am sure that nothing of the sort could be true. Maybe U. S. Bank no longer has any of the $20 billion dollars left, and so their lack of written explanation might be attributed to some kind of ink reduction program to save money. I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for why the U. S. Bank will not print out the ONE page of figures that show Mr. Phillip's financials compared to the RAMP guidelines to clear all this up.

Fantastic!

Jamie Baker Roskie

December 1, 2011 in Financial Crisis, Humorous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Land Use Rules

Just got back from trick-or-treating with Peter Pan and a human pineapple. As they sort through the loot, I'm reminded of the increasing trend towards regulating Halloween activity. Where I grew up there weren't any rules, just social norms that controlled things like how late kids could reasonably stay out ringing on doorbells (with law enforcement as a backstop for teenagers out too late or too unruly). But then a few years ago I moved to a town in Ohio, and was surprised to learn that the town promulgated "official trick-or-treat hours" . . . and I'm not 100% sure on this, but I think the official hours to trick-or-treat were the day before Halloween, because it fell on a Sunday, or something. To get even more land use-y, it was restricted to residential neighborhoods only (not sure why you'd want to do otherwise).

Just trolling around the web tonight, I came across this Yahoo article compiling Bay Area Halloween Laws and Regulations. A few examples:

- Sex offenders: stay home; no candy; no decorations, and expect a police visit.

- Curfew laws enforced-- 10 p.m. seems like the most common time for Halloween curfew.

- Parades: several communities have kids' parades, requiring street closures, permits, police.

- Street festivals: for the second year in a row, the Castro District celebration has been cancelled; therefore traffic, parking, etc. will not be disrupted.

- Public safety: last year there was gunfire at an Oakland festival; expect tighter restrictions on large gatherings.

One other thing I have observed the past couple of years: people driving their kids to the more pedestrian-friendly, slightly denser, but still single-family residential neighborhoods to trick-or-treat-- the "sweet spot" (if you will) of efficient foot travel and probability of treats at each house. It turns out that kids are intuitively rational candy-maximizers. Happy Halloween!

Matt Festa

October 31, 2011 in Density, Food, Housing, Houston, Humorous, Local Government, Pedestrian | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Brooke Shields as Susette Kelo

Coming to the small screen. From the Hartford Courant: Brooke Shields To Star In Movie Based On New London Eminent Domain Case; Author Jeff Benedict Announces Deal On His Blog

"Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage," a book written in 2009 by Jeff Benedict about the Fort Trumbull eminent domain decision in New London, is being made into a Lifetime TV movie starring Brooke Shields as the decision's most prominent opponent, Susette Kelo, according to an announcement made Friday on the author's blog, http://www.jeffbenedict.com.

Rick Woolf, Benedict's editor at Grand Central Publishing, confirmed the report. "We're thrilled that this is going to be a movie on Lifetime," Woolf said. "Susette is a folk hero and Jeff has done a tremendous job telling the story."

Wonder if they'll get John Cougar Mellencamp's permission to use "Pink Houses" for the soundtrack. Thanks to Jason Kercheval for the pointer.

Matt Festa

September 16, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Humorous, Property Rights, Redevelopment, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Newer Way to Relate to the Built Environment

Happy Labor Day! This morning I was perusing the Athens paper and happened upon this article about local parkour enthusiasts. The folks at parkour.com define it as "‘Efficient movement from A to B’ (i.e. anything you would do if you were running for your life)," and it involves jumping on and over buildings, stairwells, trees, and anything that comes in your way.  I'm always looking for ways to get my students out of the office and seeing how land use really happens out in the world.  Maybe I should encourage them to get into parkour, for an up-close-and-personal perspective.

Jamie Baker Roskie

September 5, 2011 in Architecture, Georgia, Humorous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Urbanology: On-Line Urban Planning Game

This might be fun for students:  the BMW Guggenheim Lab has posted the on-line urban planning game Urbanology.  Answer 10 questions to find your future city (based on your decisions on issues like converting an affordable housing block into a hotel and allowing startup companies to pay less than minimum wage). My future city was most like Toronto, maybe because I would allow the local college to build a 50 story dorm.

Jamie Baker Roskie

August 26, 2011 in Community Design, Humorous, Planning | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Homeowner Forecloses on Bank

Yes, you read that right.  A homewoner in Collier County, Florida foreclosed on a bank branch!  Bank of America gets Padlocked after Homeowner Forecloses on It.

It started five months ago when Bank of America filed foreclosure papers on the home of a couple, who didn't owe a dime on their home.

The couple said they paid cash for the house.

The case went to court and the homeowners were able to prove they didn't owe Bank of America anything on the house. In fact, it was proven that the couple never even had a mortgage bill to pay.

A Collier County Judge agreed and after the hearing, Bank of America was ordered, by the court to pay the legal fees of the homeowners', Maurenn Nyergers and her husband. 

The Judge said the bank wrongfully tried to foreclose on the Nyergers' house.

So, how did it end with bank being foreclosed on?  After more than 5 months of the judge's ruling, the bank still hadn't paid the legal fees, and the homeowner's attorney did exactly what the bank tried to do to the homeowners. He seized the bank's assets.

About an hour after the sheriff locked the doors, the bank branch manager handed the attorney a check.  Nice to see at least one instance of good news for Florida homeowners in the foreclosure crisis.  Thanks to Dru Stevenson and Louie Rodriguez for the pointer.

Matt Festa

June 5, 2011 in Financial Crisis, Housing, Humorous, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (1) | 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)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Eminent Domain Song

 

I am neither endorsing the musicality of this video nor its message but I just can't resist sharing land-use-inspired music.

- Jessica Owley

February 7, 2011 in Constitutional Law, Development, Eminent Domain, Humorous, Planning, Politics, Property Rights, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Robert Moses, The Musical

Not too long ago, Jamie posted about a musical based on Atlantic Yards.  It seems like the New York theater scene just can't resist land use topics (not that I blame them).  Now we have . . .

"Robert Moses Astride New York," a new show based on Robert Caro's Pulitzer-winning biography of the legendary New York figure, The Power Broker.  From the NY Times article by Robin Pogrebin:

So a reporter invited Mr. Caro to join her for a sneak peek at the budding musical, “Robert Moses Astride New York,” a work in progress that will have its world premiere in a one-night-only free performance at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan.

To be sure, the musical is considerably less comprehensive than Mr. Caro’s 1,286-page 1974 book, “The Power Broker,” which follows Moses’ career as city parks commissioner and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. “Robert Moses Astride New York” moves through major chapters of history in just a few stanzas, and the piece to be performed Saturday is only a sampling of what the composer, Gary Fagin, ultimately hopes will become a full-fledged production featuring additional characters like the neighborhood activist Jane Jacobs and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. Saturday’s concert will feature the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra (Mr. Fagin is its music director and conductor), which will also perform classics by American composers like Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein and Bob Dylan.

I'm about halfway through Caro's The Power Broker--it's a great read, but very long.  If you're in New York, you can get the abridged version (+ songs!) at tonight's free world premiere at the World Financial Center

Matt Festa

January 15, 2011 in History, Humorous, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 7, 2011

Creative Participation

Here in the UK I'm currently finalising a research projects with colleagues who are experts in creative participation and community development. It will take some time to discover whether or not we're awarded the grant  but in the process of writing the application I've re-discovered some familiar favourites. 

The first is a project by CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, which is about to lose its funding due to the new Government's austerity measures and the 'bonfire of the quangos'. CABE is highly rated by those in the built environment and has carried out some ground breaking working engaging local communities in thinking about and contributing to their own local built environments.

One notable project is a short film about Beauty where residents of Sheffield (a city in the North of England with a longstanding industrial heritage and a vibrant and diverse local community) were asked what they considered to be beautiful in their local environment. One memorable part of the film considers the beauty of a mosque as seen from a hill, looking down on the historic centre of Sheffield below.

A second and extremely lighthearted attempt to engage particularly young people in planning and land use processes was this short video performed by a local Councillor who was once a member of the Monster Raving Looney Party (who regularly field candidates in elections) and is also a local radio DJ. The video is a spoof of a familiar car commercial that was cheap to produce and reached a wide audience. As the youtube comments after the video show, this is a much less formal way to engage and can involve residents who otherwise have little interest in writing letters or attending meetings through formal participatory processes.

Are there any other examples of creative participation out there?

Antonia Layard

January 7, 2011 in Aesthetic Regulation, Humorous, Local Government, Planning, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)




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