Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Long on Sustainability v. Sprawl in the Post-Public-Lands West

Jerry Long (Idaho) explores the causes of and reasons for a community's commitment to sustainable land-use planning in his recently posted Private Lands, Conflict, and Institutional Evolution in the Post-Public-Lands West, 28 Pace Env. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2011).  Here's the abstract:

As rural communities face amenity-driven population growth and globalizing culture and economic systems, the process by which those communities imagine and implement desired futures grows increasingly complex. Globalization- and technology-facilitated and amenity-driven population growth increases the value of place-bound benefit streams – including land – promoting increased levels of physical development and a changed built environment. At the same time, globalizing culture and evolving local demographics might alter local land-use ideologies, yielding a preference for resource protection and more sustainable local land-use regimes. This article engages in a theoretical and empirical exploration that seeks to answer a single question: Why, in the face of competing land-use ideologies, might a community choose to adopt a more resource-protective, or resource-sustaining, land-use regime? Ultimately, it is only upon witnessing the actual effects of previous choices on the ground – including most significant, real harm to valued social or natural amenities – that a community is able to imagine and implement a land-use regime that can protect the amenities that community values.

Jim K.

March 2, 2011 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comprehensive Plans, Conservation Easements, Density, Development, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Globalism, Land Trust, Las Vegas, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Sustainability, Urbanism, Water, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

See the Mojave!

John Copeland Nagle (Notre Dame) has posted See the Mojave! , 89 Ore. L. Rev __ (forthcoming 2011).  Here's the abstract:

This article examines how the law is being asked to adjudicate disputed sights in the context of the Mojave Desert. The Mojave is the best known and most explored desert in the United States. For many people, though, the Mojave is missing from any list of America’s scenic wonders. The evolution in thinking about the Mojave’s aesthetics takes places in two acts. In the first act, covering the period from the nineteenth century to 1994, what began as a curious voice praising the desert’s scenery developed into a powerful movement that prompted Congress to enact the CDPA. The second act begins around 2005, when the nation’s energy policy again turned to the potential of renewable energy. The Mojave is an obvious sight for large-scale solar energy development, but that supposedly green technology threatens many of the scenic values that Congress decided to protect in the CDPA.

The common theme that runs through this article is that the law needs to develop better ways to address the importance of visual perception of both natural and cultural sights. The sights of the Mojave Desert elicit different reactions from different people. Each of these reactions is both strongly held and reasonable, which challenges the law’s ability to accommodate them. The experience with desert preservation and the proposed solar facilities shows that the law needs to find a way to respect contrasting perceptions of the same things. Sometimes this can be achieved by putting the right thing in the right place. Often, though, the same sight that some people treasure is a sight that others find offensive. In such cases, we should prefer decision-making processes that solicit public involvement that first identifies those contrasting perceptions and then seeks to honor them. The role of public input is especially critical on government property, which characterizes most of the Mojave Desert. Congress has intervened to insure the appropriate response to the conflicting public perceptions for each of the three contested Mojave Desert sights. That congressional action and the attendant place-based lawmaking offer the best hope of honoring the contrasting perceptions of the sights of the Mojave.

Jim K.

kellyj@wlu.edu

January 13, 2011 in Aesthetic Regulation, Clean Energy, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Las Vegas, Sun Belt, Sustainability, Wind Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vegas, Sodom, Gomorrah, and other bogeymen

I have been put in the unenviable position of defending Las Vegas against the claim that it is a racy, uncultured, highly sexualized theme park.

I can't.

But I can say that having lived in Las Vegas for 11+ years, I have not had 1/20 of the bawdy experiences that journalist J.R. Moehringer had in his relatively short stay here.  I don't know who this Caligula neighbor is, but in my experience the omniscient and omnipresent homeowners association would have put a quick stop to his noisy escapades.  And none of the friends who have visited me here have been treated to backyard parties stocked with statuesque women named Dallas and Paris.  I am a boring host in a boring suburb.

The article reminded me of two things about Vegas that I think about almost weekly.  First, what possessed people to stop here in the first place?  I know that the easy answer is water.  Believe it or not, Las Vegas was once a relatively lush oasis amidst the otherwise stark Mojave desert.  But it is hard to conjure up that image when it is 115 degrees outside and you are surrounded by brown dust and rocks.  Of course, if you find yourself in these stark surroundings, you have undertaken a deliberate hike into the desert or taken a serious wrong turn, because most of Vegas is now an irrigated, landscaped, palm tree-lined park.

Second, one of the most charming features of Vegas (to me) is that it allows everyday people to experience the bacchanalia that is normally reserved for the rich or beautiful (or both) in other cities.  For one weekend, everyone is invited to Caligula's backyard to see how the other half lives.  Everyone is invited to strike it rich at craps or blackjack, surrounded by free drinks and beautiful people.  It's America's egalitarian, libertarian wonderland.

But I wouldn't know much about bacchanalia and blackjack.  Most weekends you'll find me on the couch, in the suburbs, watching football and reading email. 

Ngai Pindell, UNLV

October 13, 2010 in Humorous, Las Vegas | Permalink | Comments (3) | 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)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prum & Catz on Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets and Mass Transit

Darren A. Prum (Nevada-Las Vegas) and Sarah Catz have posted Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets and Mass Transit: Can the Government Successfully Accomplish Both Without a Conflict?  The abstract:

President Obama along with Congress has made it clear that there is a national need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the board. While state and federal smart growth legislative initiatives are being developed to accomplish the targets set by our policy makers, few if any initiatives have integrated the biggest tool in the tool box to reduce emissions -- transit. Most transit agencies across the board have cut service back by 20 to 40 percent. Retaining transit service levels (if not increasing levels) needs to be a national goal in order to reach a realistic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

This article reviews state and federal legislative greenhouse gas emissions initiatives and explores what legislative and fiscal opportunities exist to converge the funding of transit programs with greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. These smart growth regulations must begin to link land use with transportation systems that can positively influence greenhouse gas emissions.

Matt Festa

October 10, 2010 in Environmental Law, Federal Government, Las Vegas, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

CityCenter - New Urbanism in Vegas?

We're having a little run of Las Vegas related posts this week, so I thought I'd post an excerpt from the recent New Yorker article on CityCenter:

The complex is called CityCenter, and it is the biggest construction project in the history of Las Vegas. It has three hotels, two condominium towers, a shopping mall, a convention center, a couple of dozen restaurants, a private monorail, and a casino. There was to have been a fourth hotel, whose opening has been delayed indefinitely. But even without it the project contains nearly eighteen million square feet of space, the equivalent of roughly six Empire State Buildings. “We wanted to create an urban space that would expand our center of gravity,” Jim Murren, the chairman of the company, told me. Murren, an art and architecture buff who studied urban planning in college and wrote his undergraduate thesis on the design of small urban parks, oversaw the selection of architects, and the result is a kind of gated community of glittering starchitect ambition. There are major buildings by Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Viñoly, Helmut Jahn, Pelli Clarke Pelli, Kohn Pedersen Fox, and Norman Foster; and interiors by Peter Marino, Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis, Bentel and Bentel, and AvroKO. There are also prominent sculptures by Maya Lin, Nancy Rubins, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. “The idea I wanted to convey was to bring smarter planning to the development process in Las Vegas, to expand our boundaries of knowledge,” Murren told me. “Las Vegas is always looked down upon. CityCenter is a counterpoint to the kitschiness.”

I've never been a huge fan of Vegas, even though my husband and I once renewed our wedding vows before an Elvis impersonator at Graceland Chapel and had dinner afterward at the Stratosphere - where we could hear the screams of the 'coaster riders over the Michael Jackson impersonator in the bar. I'm a little bit confused, though, why this company is trying to bring what are now very typical urban forms into a totally unique urban environment.  It's hard to say how that's "expanding [the] boundaries of knowledge." We'll see if they succeed.

Jamie Baker Roskie

October 7, 2010 in Development, Las Vegas, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 1, 2010

The New American Home Goes Unfinished

Ngai Pindell and I have been lobbing this article back and forth, so I thought I'd go ahead and post it.  A desirable in-fill community containing the "New American Home 2010" is going unfinished due to the construction financing crisis.

The New American Home 2010 had already survived delays in the approval and installation of its insulated concrete form walls, rejection by the city of an innovative graywater recycling system, and an arson fire that engulfed a framed house on an adjacent lot. But it could not overcome an [acquisition, development and construction] lending environment that has dried up in Las Vegas and across the country.

Record-setting bank closings, tighter regulations for real estate lending, and reappraisals that are less than the amount of outstanding construction loans have put builders nationwide out of business or on the brink of insolvency. “The only way to describe the [AD&C] market is horrible,” says David Ledford, NAHB senior vice president for housing finance and land development. “Even good projects can’t get money, and it’s hard to identify any patterns about the lending that is being done.”

Is this true everywhere?  It certainly seems to be so in Georgia.  Developers with their own money or with nontraditional partners are the only folks getting anything built nowadays.  Do comment and tell us about the situation in your area.

Jamie Baker Roskie

March 1, 2010 in Development, Georgia, Las Vegas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Small signs of economic recovery

From Las Vegas -

CityCenter is due to open soon.  MSNBC has the following description:

           SoHo with slot machines

Set to open its multi-billion-dollar doors in December, CityCenter is more than just another casino resort. It’s also the largest privately funded construction project in the U.S., a much-touted honorific that, in hindsight, strikes some as more burden than blessing. Conceived before the recession — and almost bankrupted by it — CityCenter is making its debut in a very different world.


And another mixed use development, Tivoli, is renewing construction work after taking time off during the (hopefully) worst of the recession.  While the residential real estate market in Las Vegas has a long way to go toward recovery, this commercial, mixed use construction is a promising sign.

Ngai Pindell

November 13, 2009 in Las Vegas, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Las Vegas water pipeline potentially plugged

The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) received a setback to its proposed pipeline to pump groundwater from Northern Nevada to Southern Nevada.  A Nevada district court denied the SNWA authority to tap the northern counties' groundwater.  The decision will be appealed.

At first glance, the pipeline project appears to reflect Las Vegas' seemingly insatiable desire for water to support rapid residential and commercial development.  But the reality is a bit more complicated.  While the idea of living in the middle of the desert seems audacious, the Las Vegas Valley has generally been a good steward of water resources.  The density of residential development, for example, is quite high and cuts against common anti-sprawl arguments.  The real trouble for Las Vegas is that it receives very little water from the Colorado River compared to neighboring states.  When the Colorado River allocation agreement was initially struck, Nevada (and Las Vegas) were much smaller in population and weaker in political power.  With the subsequent growth of Las Vegas, it becomes necessary to find a back-up plan to buttress the limited water resources from the Colorado.    

Ngai Pindell

November 3, 2009 in Las Vegas, Sprawl, Water | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Choo Choo Trains Meet the Space Age

In contrast to the spiderweb of interstate highway and railway connections typical of the eastern United States, much of the west - particularly the southwest - has far less transportation infrastructure.  Las Vegas and Phoenix are connected in large part by a single highway that shrinks to one lane in each direction for many miles.  Las Vegas and Southern California are connected by I15, a major interstate highway.  Anyone who has ever made the trip between the two areas, however, will quickly tell you that the road is not big enough to handle the weekend crush of visitors into and out of Las Vegas.  And there is no rail service between Las Vegas and any of these areas.

Las Vegas is vying to be the hub of a future network of southwest railways.  Similarly, many companies are competing to create this next generation of rail transportation.  The two leading proposals pit traditonal steel on rails technology running from Las Vegas to Victorville, CA against magnetic levitation (Maglev) trains that will run between Las Vegas and Anaheim, CA.  For those unfamiliar with the cities between Las Vegas and Southern California, I'll try to put the two proposals in context.  A railway between Las Vegas and Victorville is the equivalent of building a railway to connect Washington DC to New York City, but dropping riders off in Philadelphia, PA and telling them to get to New York the best way they can.  A railway between Las Vegas and Anaheim is the equivalent of getting the DC riders to Newark, NJ and giving them the option of taking a cab or renting a car into New York City.  There are, of course, real facts on the ground (so to speak) that help to explain some of the differences between the proposals.  Cost is a big deal, as is the feasibility of the technology.  Moreover, the pesky Cajon Pass between Vegas and Southern California contains steep grades that would defy the steel on rails technology.  Finally, no large transportation project can go proceed without political and fiscal ... intrigue.  Each side is jockeying for political and economic support, with dizzying results.

I don't want to dismiss the other contenders in the race too quickly.  The southwest offers the opportunity to dream big.  For example, I am certain that few could have envisioned today's glittering Vegas metropolis emerging from a dusty airstrip and a few scattered motels in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  Here is a brief description of the other rail contenders:

SolaTrek, a highway-decluttering maglev hybrid that motorists would be able to board while the train is in motion; Texas-based Robert Pulliam of Tubular Rail, which puts the rails on the vehicle and the locomotion in a series of O-rings stretched across the countryside; and America’s Sunlight Bullet Expressway, a subsidiary of a Las Vegas-based operation that would blend rail transportation with electrical transmission lines linking cities with solar-power-generation stations.

It will be interesting to see how imaginative today's leaders will be.

Ngai Pindell

October 22, 2009 in Clean Energy, Las Vegas, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)