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, May 1, 2013

How to Manage Smart Decline: Should We Demolish Vacant Buildings?

 

I stumbled across a recent artcle in Applied Geography that I think may be of interest to our readers. I got even more excited when I realized the piece was from colleagues in SUNY Buffalo's Geography Department. Amy Frazier, Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, and Jason Knight examine the effect of demolition on land-use patterns and changes in human-environment interactions.

While many cities are worried about smart growth and we land use profs spend a lot of time thinking about it, shrinking cities like Buffalo face another challenge: smart decline. The authors (and others) have convinced me that maintaining pro-growth policies in a shrinking city is ill-advised. Instead of thinking we're going to suddenly grow Buffalo, let's think about how we can grow smaller gracefully. Smart decline policies include things like land banks, urban farming, and green infrastructures.

Frazier et al. look at the smart decline policy of demolition. Earlier studies (as well as conventional wisdom) suggest that vacant buildings attract criminal activities (the broken window effect). This study examined a five-year demolition program in Buffalo to assess whether demolitions of vacant buildings actually lead to reduced crime. Their results are fascinating and like all of the best projects point out areas where more research is needed. The big take aways seem to be that there may be some local reductions in crime, but that likely means that the criminal activity is pushed elsewhere. This can have unanticipated impacts on surrounding areas, transportation needs, housing values etc. Such policies need to examine the way that demolitions will shift land uses and impact human-environment interactions. To do so in a successful way will necessarily include regional approaches.

Amy E. Frazier, Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, & Jason Knight, The Spatio-temporal Impacts of Demolition Land Use Policy and Crime in a Shrinking City 41 Applied Geography 55 (2013)

ABSTRACT: Land use change, in the form of urbanization, is one of the most significant forms of global change, and most cities are experiencing a rapid increase in population and infrastructure growth. However, a subset of cities is experiencing a decline in population, which often manifests in the abandonment of residential structures. These vacant and abandoned structures pose a land use challenge to urban planners, and a key question has been how to manage these properties. Often times land use management of these structures takes the form of demolition, but the elimination of infrastructures and can have unknown and sometimes unintended effects on the human-environment interactions in urban areas. This paper examines the association between demolitions and crime, a human-environment interaction that is fostered by vacant and abandoned properties, through a comparative statistical analysis. A cluster analysis is performed to identify high and low hot spots of demolition and crime activity, specifically assault, drug arrests, and prostitution, over a 5-year period. Results show that there is an association between the area targeted for significant demolition activity and the migration of spatial patterns of certain crimes. The direction of crime movement toward the edges of the city limits and in the direction of the first ring suburbs highlights the importance of regional planning when implementing land use policies for smart decline in shrinking cities.

Jessie Owley

May 1, 2013 in Community Design, Crime, Density, Downtown, Environmental Justice, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Zasloff: Has New Urbanism Killed Land Use Law?

Jonathan Zasloff (UCLA) has a piece on Legal Planet: The Environmental Law and Policy Blog (Berkeley/UCLA) called Has New Urbanism Killed Land Use Law?  

My Land Use casebook, like most of them, mentions New Urbanist zoning and planning techniques, but does not dwell on them. In order to teach New Urbanist concepts such as Form-Based Codes, SmartCode, and the Transect, I had to develop my own materials, as well as shamelessly stealing a couple of Powerpoint presentations from a friend who works at Smart Growth America.

What’s the cause of this gap? Is it because land use professors have a thing about Euclidean zoning?

I doubt it. A quick check in the Westlaw “ALLCASES” database yields only one result for the phrase “Form-Based Code” and none of the results for “transect” has anything to do with the New Urbanist land use concept. That means that it is very difficult actually to find cases that reflect aspects of New Urbanism.

One can understand that in several ways, I suppose. You could infer that New Urbanism just leaves less room for legal disputes than traditional Euclidean zoning. For example, there is no need to worry about non-conforming uses, use variances, or conditional use permits with Form-Based Codes because those codes do not regulate uses to begin with. . . .

Now let me quibble with this a little bit: in Houston--the Unzoned City--we supposedly don't regulate uses either.  But it seems we do nothing here but apply for, and fight over, variances, nonconforming uses, and special exceptions, for everything from lot sizes and setbacks to sign code and HP rules.  It seems to me that people are going to want incremental exceptions for building form or site requirements at least as commonly, if not more so, than for use designations.

But overall it's a good point.  Zasloff concludes that even if we do move to form based codes, we'll still probably need to keep a little zoning around:

[W]hile New Urbanism coding can serve as a replacement for a lot of Euclideanism, it cannot eliminate it entirely — not because we are addicted to Euclidean forms, and not because we are dumb, but because lots of the world is uncertain, and cities will have to grapple with that.

I also find that New Urbanism is hard to teach in a doctrinal land use law class.  Zasloff concludes: 

If this is right, then land use casebooks will still emphasize Euclidean zoning, because that’s where the disputes are and necessarily will be.

A problem set with form-based codes would be nice, though. Just sayin’.

I know some recent land use casebooks have moved to a problem-based approach, and some of our colleagues have created their own materials for teaching New Urbanism.  Students find this stuff interesting, so we should all work towards developing these resources for teaching.

Matt Festa

February 8, 2013 in Books, Form-Based Codes, Historic Preservation, Houston, New Urbanism, Teaching, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Garnett on Redeeming Transect Zoning

NDLS colleague and super-mom Nicole Stelle Garnett (Notre Dame) has recently posted Redeeming Transect Zoning?, 78 Brook. L. Rev. ____ (forthcoming).  In it, she continues the skeptical evaluation of New Urbanists as successors to Jane Jacobs' response to bad planning that she set out in her book Ordering the City (2010).  This brief article takes a look at actual form-based zoning code reforms gaining currency in U.S. localities.  Here's the abstract:

Thanks to the growing influence of the new urbanists, transect zoning” is becoming the zoning reform du jour. This alternative to zoning traces its origins to architect Andrés Duany’s 2003 SmartCode, which proceeds upon the assumption that urban development naturally proceeds from more-dense areas to less-dense ones. Duany calls this progression the “transect” and urges cities to replace traditional use zoning with regulations on building form appropriate to the various “transect zones” along the progression. Over the last decade, increasing numbers of jurisdictions (large and small) have adopted “transect zoning” laws and the “form-based” codes that accompany and supplement them. Theoretically, transect zoning embraces a relatively simple conception of how to regulate urban development: buildings that are appropriate for the city center should go in the city center (regardless of their use), and suburban buildings should look suburban (again, regardless of their use). In its implementation, however, transect zoning is anything but simple. As a practical matter, the new urbanists favor meticulous and exhaustive aesthetic regulations, found in the form-based codes that represent the ubiquitous gap-fillers in transect-zoning regimes. This Essay begins by briefly describing the rapidly evolving phenomenon of transect zoning and its companion, form-based coding. It then discusses four concerns raised by the current uses of both devices as public land-use-regulatory devices. The Essay concludes by suggesting that form-based codes may be most appropriate in situations approximating the private-development context rather than as a public regulatory.

Jim K.

January 22, 2013 in Form-Based Codes, New Urbanism, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Foreign Policy Special Issue on Cities--Focus on China

Foreign Policy recently has published its Special Report "Cities Issue."  While the issue is themed on urban affairs generally, its articles coalesce around the amazing urban development taking place in China.  From the website intro:

Our special issue dedicated to the cities of the future has its eye squarely toward China, because the cities of the future are increasingly going to be speaking Mandarin -- even more than you realize. It's no longer news that China has embarked on the largest mass urbanization in history, a monumental migration from country to city that will leave China with nearly a billion urbanites by 2025 and an astonishing 221 cities with populations over 1 million. But this isn't just about size: It's about global heft. And that's where the scale of China's transformation into a world leader is truly astonishing. In an exclusive index for FP, the McKinsey Global Institute has run the numbers to produce what we're calling The 75 Most Dynamic Cities of 2025 -- an extraordinary 29 of which are in China. Some are already global powers, from top-ranked Shanghai to manufacturing dynamo Shenzhen; others, from Fuzhou to Xiamen, were little more than provincial backwaters in the 20th century but look to be household names in the 21st, powering the global economy not just through their sheer size but also through their urban innovation and pulsing drive. Europe, meanwhile, will manage only three cities on the list by 2025; the United States finishes second to China -- a very distant second -- with 13. Still think that debate about Western decline is overblown?

There are a whole bunch of interesting articles at the website.  Just one that I'll highlight is New Urbanism pioneer Peter Calthorpe's Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction: China's Cities are Making the Same Mistake America Made on the Path to Superpower Status.  Again, there's a whole lot of interesting analysis at the FP Cities Issue website.

Matt Festa

August 16, 2012 in Comparative Land Use, Development, New Urbanism, Property, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

More Buffalo Boosting: Artfarms!

I just can't enough of Buffalo these days. Yesterday, I posted about our "zombieness" and today I learned of something fun being done with some of our vacant land (up to 20% of the land in the city of Buffalo is vacant -- no that is not the same thing as open space). Some Brooklyn-based architects are suggesting we turn the land into artfarms. Never heard of artfarms? Me neither. The architects describe them as sculptures that serve as agricultural grow structures. Urban farming meets local artists.

"These above-ground, vertically designed sculptures will provide a means to produce fruits, vegetables and flowers for the surrounding community, but they will also provide a creative basis for expansion. In essence, the concept of Artfarms is to create and erect devices that are not just aesthetically appealing, but that will serve a greater purpose by triggering redevelopment."

I hope they find some funding and support to make these happen. Nothing tastes better than a local ogranic tomato grown on a structure that belongs at Burning Man.

Jessie Owley

August 7, 2012 in Agriculture, Architecture, Development, Food, New Urbanism, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Interesting Set of Interviews with Staff of New York City Planning, and a Note on Pruitt-Igoe

Over at Next American City there is a five-part series of interviews being conducted with staffers from New York City’s Department of City Planning, discussing changes to city zoning.  The first two installments provide some interesting insights into two innovations to the zoning code.

The first installment looks at the FRESH program, a combination of zoning and tax incentives that are intended to encourage the entry of grocery stores into underserved neighborhoods throughout the city.  The zoning incentives include a bonus allowing the construction of a larger mixed-use building if a developer includes a ground-floor grocery store as well as the easing of parking requirements.

The second installment looks at Zone Green, a set of changes to the zoning code that relax barriers to adding more environmentally friendly features to new and existing buildings.  Installing such features can often require lengthy approval processes to allow elements not permitted by the building code.  Both posts are worth checking out. 

On an unrelated note, following up on Stephen’s recommendation of the Pruitt-Igoe Myth, which I strongly second, I wanted to mention a proposed design for the current site, much of which remains empty, that I came across a while back.  It offers a neo-classical approach that tries to link the site back with the surrounding grid.  

John Infranca

August 6, 2012 in Economic Development, Environmentalism, New Urbanism, New York, Redevelopment, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

CUNY’s CUER

There is a lot of exciting stuff going on at CUNY these days. Not only have they got themselves a shiny new campus in Long Island City, the just inaugurated their new Center for Urban and Environmental Reform (CUER –pronounced “cure”). Headed up by Rebecca Bratspies, this new center is one of the few places engaging specifically with urban environmental issues. Such an endeavor necessarily involves land use issues. I was lucky enough to be invited to CUER’s inaugural scholar workshop. Titled a “Scholar’s Workshop on Regulating the Urban Environment,” the event brought together scholars from multiple disciplines as well as activists and policy makers. It was an interesting format for an event and I enjoyed hearing from architects, historians, geographers and others. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of interesting events and endeavors from this new center. I know I will be keeping my eye on it.

Jessie Owley

July 14, 2012 in Community Economic Development, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, Green Building, Historic Preservation, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, New York, Planning, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Brookings Paper on the Economics of Walkable Places

Christopher Leinberger (Brookings) and Mariela Alfonso have published Walk this Way:The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C., an economic analysis of certain DC neighborhoods using walkability measures. The study offers four findings:

--More walkable places perform better economically.


--Walkable places benefit from being near other walkable places.


--Residents of more walkable places have lower transportation costs and higher transit access, but also higher housing costs.


--Residents of places with poor walkability are generally less affluent and have lower educational attainment than places with good walkability.

The authors urge inclusion of walkability measures into lender underwriting criteria, developer feasability analyses, and private foundation sustainability metrics. In a brief article on TheAtlanticCities.com, Leinberger argues that walkability in neighborhoods has become a price benefit and that cities need to meet the growing demand. (Hat tip to my NDLS colleague Chris O'Byrne for sharing TheAtlanticCities.com piece)

Jim K.

June 6, 2012 in Community Design, New Urbanism, Planning, Sustainability, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strong Towns

Today I was listening to a podcast from the Congress for the New Urbanism's annual meeting last week (more on CNU 20 to come . . . ), and I heard a talk by Charles L. Marohn, Jr., the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Strong Towns.  The organization is dedicated to improving community life at the town and neighborhood level.  Here's a link to its ten Placemaking Principles for Strong Towns.

What looks like the best feature is the excellent Strong Towns Blog, which posts in-depth original analyses three times per week.  Recent posts are on topics such as "The Micro City Beautiful"; Low-Impact Development (LID) vs. New Urbanism; and weekly news digests of interesting land use and planning stories.  Check it out.

Matt Festa

May 22, 2012 in Development, Local Government, New Urbanism, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blocks Where No One Has Fun: Salon on Urban Entertainment Districts

Will Doig has an interesting article in Salon called Urban Entertainment Districts: Blocks Where no one has Fun.  Subtitle: "Cities keep trying to create downtown cool with dull nightlife districts. But who wants to hang out at the mall?"  The article starts with a criticism of Dallas' Victory Park, moves to Kansas City's Power & Light District, and generally paints a negative picture of big-project attempts to create "entertainement districts"--or "districts" of any kind, including "arts districts."  It's a well-written article with a good general critique, so read the whole thing.  Let me tease out one of the sub-themes here: the problem of comprehensive urban development projects.

What could be wrong with a district where nightclubs and galleries are encouraged to thrive? Nothing, necessarily; done right, a city can help foster these scenes with a gentle guiding hand. Constructing an entire milieu from whole cloth, however, is where cities get into trouble. “The problem with these created-overnight districts is that you’re trying to create a culture as opposed to letting one grow,” says Nathaniel Hood, a Minneapolis-based transportation planner. “You’re getting the culture that one developer or city council member thinks the city needs, as opposed to the ground-up culture that comes from multiple players.” . . .

“A district inherently becomes a single-use idea,” says [studio owner Patrick] Kennedy. “Everything [in the "arts district"] has to be ‘art.’ You end up with a bunch of performing arts spaces and when they’re not in use it becomes a vacuum.” This vacuum has made the district itself a museum of sorts, something impressive to observe but strangely inert. (The Chicago Tribune called the area “the dullest arts district money can buy.”) . . .

So it seems like there are two problems with the "let's-create-a-cool-urban-district" impulse: (1) the practical (and cultural) limitations of comprehensive development projects, and (2) the inherent tendency towards single-use separation that comes with large scale "districting" plans:

That’s a defeatist choice to have to make, but the monocultures created by urban districting make it almost inevitable. At last week’s 20th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, Hood spoke about the folly that is Kansas City’s Power & Light District, an $850 million entertainment district whose neon signage is as blinding as its eagerness to be hip. . . .

It’s not just that the developers are boring people — the economics of single-owner districts incentivize blandness. Chain stores and restaurants can afford to pay higher rent, so they get first dibs. To boost rents even higher, tenants are sometimes promised that no competition will be allowed nearby. “Starbucks will be willing to pay the higher rent if [the developer doesn't] let other cafes into the area,” says Hood. . . .

He contrasts these contrived districts with the more organic development of an entertainment scene at Boston's Kenmore Square: "it shows that these districts work better without all the bureaucratic attachment parenting."

Let's not forget that these grand schemes usually come from good intentions, which combine economic incentive with a genuine desire to create attractive places.  But there are some limitations that inhibit these grand schemes.  I think that the biggest challenge for the intermediate-term urban planning future will be to figure out how to make legal and incentivize the creation of public spaces through an incremental but still realizable process.

I'm going to Dallas for a bar lecture in a couple of weeks, so I'll try to check out Victory Park.  Thanks to Jason Rowe for the pointer.

Matt Festa

May 21, 2012 in Development, Downtown, New Urbanism, Planning, Property, Scholarship, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Would Jane Jacobs Do?

Regular readers know that we love the National Building Museum.  And any land use professional knows that we all love to talk about Jane Jacobs.  So here's an event that might be of great interest: Urban Forum: What Would Jane Jacobs Do?

Fifty one years after Jane Jacobs published her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her ideas on liveable, walkable, and diverse neighborhoods continue to impact how urban environments are designed. A panel discusses Jane Jacobs’ legacy, including urban renewal, historic preservation, mixed-use zoning, and public space. Light refreshments will be served.

Panelists include:

  • Bing Thom, Bing Thom Architects 
  • Harriet Tregoning, director, Washington D.C. Office of Planning 
  • Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief, Metropolis Magazine (moderator) 
  • John Zuccotti, co-chairman of the board, Brookfield Properties Corporation and former Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission

Free (but required) registration is available for the event on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 10:00-11:30.  Check it out!  If you are able to go to WWJJD, I'd love to hear about it.

Matt Festa

May 16, 2012 in Architecture, Density, Downtown, Historic Preservation, History, Houston, Lectures, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Forefront: New Online Planning Magazine (and more on Redevelopment)

Next American City, a planning website with a primarily "New Urbanist" bent, recently launched a new online magazine called "Forefront," which will publish long-form articles on planning issues.  The first edition of Forefront features an interesting piece by Josh Stephens, editor of California Planning & Development Report, on the end of redevelopment in California.  For those interested, this very blog also devoted some attention to the demise of redevelopment in posts here, here, here and here.

Ken Stahl 

April 18, 2012 in California, Eminent Domain, New Urbanism, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Land Use Planning in a Recession - Newton County, Georgia

During his excellent stint as a guest blogger, Stephen Miller posed the question, "Does the best planning happen in a recession?"  Like him, I tend to think that currently most jurisdictions are focused on crisis management rather than forward thinking.

However, one exception is Newton County, Georgia - a community that just happens to be a UGA Land Use Clinic client since we began assisting them in 2003 with sprawl reduction tools like infrastructure planning, agricultural land conservation, and transferable development rights. Newton's forward thinking planning processes are highlighted in a four part series on CoLab Radio.  The first of the series is entitled "Planning for Growth in a Recession."

Jamie Baker Roskie

 

 

February 6, 2012 in Community Design, Development, Georgia, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Suburbs, Transferable Development Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

CNU Booklet on Sustainable Street Network Principles

The Congress for the New Urbanism has published a booklet called Sustainable Street Network Principles.  From the press release:

The Congress for the New Urbanism has long recognized that the street network is a fundamental part of human civilization because it serves as the setting for both commerce and culture. For the first time, the CNU has compiled a set of principles and key characteristics of the sustainable street network into a document that is practical, inspirational, and beautifully illustrated.

The CNU Sustainable Street Network Principles, a product of the CNU Project for Transportation Reform, is being released to coincide with the Transportation Research Board’s annual event in Washington D.C. on January 22, 2011. The Principles have been crafted through nearly a decade of CNU member discussion, research, and involvement. The Principles are a must-have for every traffic engineer, urban designer, urban planner, and engaged urban citizen. They outline not only why sustainable street networks are essential to a vibrant and healthy society, but also what makes a street network sustainable in the first place.

The full booklet can be downloaded here.  H/t to Houston Tomorrow.

Matt Festa

January 25, 2012 in New Urbanism, Planning, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

John Norquist hearts (good) congestion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kotkin: report of suburbs' death was an exaggeration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leinberger on the Death of the Fringe Suburb

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

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

The better news:

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

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

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

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

Interesting times.

Matt Festa

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The 19 Building Types That Caused the Recession"

Over at The Atlantic Cities website, I stumbled across this fun little piece,

Among his favorite examples of all the standard real-estate products built ad nauseum across the country over the last half-century, Christopher Leinberger likes to point to the Grocery Anchored Neighborhood Center. This creation is generally about 12 to 15 acres in size on a plot of land that’s 80 percent covered in asphalt. It’s located on the going-home side of a major four-to-eight lane arterial road, where it catches people when they’re most likely to be thinking about what to buy for dinner. . .

Leinberger, an urban land-use strategist and professor at the University of Michigan, includes the Grocery Anchored Neighborhood Center on his list of the 19 standard real estate product types dominant in post-war America. Also on the list: suburban detached starter homes, big-box anchored power centers, multi-tenant bulk warehousing and self-storage facilities. All of these products are designed for drivable suburban communities. They reflect almost exclusively what investors have been willing to finance for the last 50 years. And as construction picks back up following the recession, Leinberger says we'll need to get away from every single one of them.

It's a slightly fancier way to say we must get away from sprawl, but it's certainly food for thought.

And when you're done with that, check out Richard Florida's article "2011's Best Cities for Trick-or-Treating."

Jamie Baker Roskie

October 26, 2011 in Architecture, Community Design, Development, Finance, New Urbanism, Parking, Pedestrian, Planning, Sprawl, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Is mixed use crimogenic?

In Euclid v. Ambler Realty, the Supreme Court upheld single-use zoning; one of the arguments that the Court credited was that a “place of business in a residence neighborhood furnishes an excuse for any criminal to go into the neighborhood, where, otherwise, a stranger would be under the ban of suspicion.” After Euclid, cities everywhere adopted single-use zoning codes; nevertheless, crime exploded and cities decayed in the 1960s.

As neighborhoods built under Euclidean zoning began to fail, the intellectual tide turned. In the 1960s, Jane Jacobs wrote that the presence of shopkeepers creates “eyes on the street” and thus actually reduces crime. Her views are popular among new urbanists, who have occasionally created neighborhoods with more of a mix of uses than under typical Euclidean zoinng.

Some recent scholarship has discussed criminological literature which apparently supports the Euclid Court’s point of view, by drawing a correlation between nonresidential land uses and crime or disorder. But in my view, this scholarship fails to support the Euclid Court’s view.

For example, one criminology article by Profs. Samson and Raudenbush in the American Journal of Sociology asserts that “Mixed land use has been shown to be a robust but understudied correlate of crime and disorder.” (1) Samson and Roudebush then discuss a study of Chicago census tracts which (according to them) proves the point.

Based on videotapes of 196 Chicago census tracts, Samson and Raudenbush find a positive correlation between mixed land use and forms of minor social disorder such as littering and “loitering” (whatever that means).

But the kinds of disorder Samson and Raudenbush are interested in did not translate into crime (as measured by surveys of neighborhood residents). According to them, the relationship between disorder and predatory crime is “spurious”; after controlling for a variety of other factors, “the coefficient for [physical and social] disorder is reduced to insignificance.”

The same table they use to prove the point shows that the correlation between mixed land use and personal violence is in fact negative, and that the correlation between mixed land use and burglary is (although positive) insignificant.

Samson and Roudebush also seek to measure crime through police reports (as opposed to surveys, which pick up crimes not reported to police). This measurement also does not support a correlation between crime and mixed use; as to homicide, burglary, and robbery, the correlation between mixed use and crime is not significant.

In support of their critique of mixed use, Samson and Raudenbush cite an article by Ralph Taylor asserting that mixed-use blocks have “more physical deterioration” (to quote the title)(2) But the whole point of Samson and Roudebush’s work is that crime doesn’t necessarily correlate with minor disorder; if this is the case, then a correlation between mixed use and disorder, even if true, proves nothing about the relationship between mixed use and crime.

Of course, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I cannot claim to have reviewed every possibly relevant article, just a couple that I have seen cited in law reviews.

 

(1) Robert J. Sampson and Stephen W. Raudebush, Systematic Social Observation of Public Spaces: A New Look at Disorder in Urban Neighborhoods, 105 American Journal of Society 603 (1999). In particular see id. At 622, 627, 629.

(2) Ralph Taylor et. Al., Street Blocks with More Nonresidential Land Use Have More Physical Deterioration: Evidence from Baltimore and Philadelphia, 31 Urban Affairs Review 20 (1995).

Michael Lewyn

October 2, 2011 in Community Design, New Urbanism, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)