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)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Seaside at 30: Conference at ND on New Urbanism, Sept. 29th-Oct. 1st

From the Better-Late-than-Never Dept. comes this announcement of a three-day conference at the Notre Dame School of Architecture celebrating Seaside at 30: Lessons from the First New Urbanist Community and the Future of Traditional Town Building.  Here's the description:

The conference will examine the successes and failures of Seaside, Fla., by bringing together the architects, planners and builders who created it. By examining the founding of this seminal work in the history of urban design—the planning, the creation and testing of the code, and early building designs, experts will address the ongoing influence of Seaside today and look to the future of the New Urbanism movement.
Seaside is an unincorporated master-planned community on the Florida panhandle between Panama City Beach and Destin. The town has become the topic of lectures in architectural schools and housing-industry magazines, and is visited by design professionals from all over the world. It was also the setting for the 1998 satirical film “The Truman Show.”
Robert Davis, Seaside founder and developer; Andrés Duany, Seaside’s first architect and town planner; and Léon Krier, architect and master-plan consultant, will deliver keynote addresses at 5 p.m. Thursday in 104 Bond Hall. It will be followed by the launch of the Seaside Research Portal, an online resource for students and enthusiasts of architecture, urban design, planning and real estate that will serve as a digital archive of Seaside featuring maps, plans and images in a variety of media.
Friday’s presenters include Dhiru Thadani, a practicing architect, urban designer, educator and author of “The Language of Towns & Cities: A Visual Dictionary;” Scott Merrill, principal, Merrill, Pastor & Colgan Architects; and Christopher Leinberger, a land-use strategist, developer, researcher and author.
Saturday’s presenters include Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, a partner in the firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company and dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture; Daniel Parolek, a 1995 Notre Dame graduate, architect and urbanist committed to creating walkable, sustainable places; and Marianne Cusato, a 1997 Notre Dame graduate well known for her work on the Katrina Cottages and ranked the No. 4 most influential person in the home building industry in Builder magazine’s annual “Power on 50” list.

The conference is open to the public.  Although on-site registration is available, reduced-cost pre-registration ends Sept. 27th. 

Jim K.

September 23, 2011 in Conferences, DPZ, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

USPS Closing Many Rural Post Offices

An interesting article on the New Urbanist Network about how the Postal Service plans to close 3,600 rural post offices. 

For many communities, the closings may reduce activity in town or village centers. Even with diminishing mail volume, there are still many people who cross paths at the post office. The drawing power of post offices was recognized early by new urbanist developers such as Robert Davis in Seaside, Florida, and Buff Chace and Douglas Storrs in Mashpee, Massachusetts.

The article also links to the website "Save the Post Office," which has a list, by state, of the closings.  Georgia will lose about 45 post offices, mostly rural but some in Atlanta.

Jamie Baker Roskie

August 17, 2011 in Development, Downtown, Federal Government, Georgia, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

America's Top 10 Walkable Cities, 2011

Or so says WalkScore, according to this article America's Ten Most Walkable Cities of 2011, by Jason Notte in The Street.  A lot of the usual suspects are on the list, which you can see by clicking over to the story.  Also interesting is the description of Walk Score:

The people behind Walk Score, a Seattle-based service that rates the convenience and transit access of 10,000 neighborhoods in 2,500 cities, have spent the past four years judging the distance between residents and amenities and ranking places based on the results. That "walkability" led to the first set of rankings in 2008 and the use of those rankings by more than 10,000 cities, civic organizations and real estate groups in the years that followed.

Once something becomes measurable, then you have numers that start to play a role in policy debates, budgets, and markets.  I suspect we'll see even more use of metrics and quantitative analysis in areas like livability, sustainability, and so on in the years to come. 

I'm not familiar with their methodology, but if you go to the Walk Score website you can check out the walkability score for your own address.  Mine: 68 ("somewhat walkable").

Thanks to Mubaraka Saifee for the pointer.

Matt Festa


August 7, 2011 in Budgeting, Chicago, Density, Local Government, New Urbanism, New York, Pedestrian, Planning, Sustainability, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Europe: Annoying Drivers on Purpose

I haven't been able to blog as much as usual lately, and one of the reasons is that we just moved.  It was a local move, but I'm sure you all know what a hassle moving is.  But today, the move actually helped my blogging.  It seems that the previous tenant failed to cancel his multiple newspaper subscriptions.  I rarely read news on dead tree anymore, so I might not otherwise have seen this morning's front page New York Times Story by Elisabeth Rosenthal called: Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy.

ZURICH — While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Some cities have closed entire streets; some introduced stiff fees for driving into the city; many have reduced on-street parking drastically; bike lanes have replaced car lanes without offset for traffic; others have purposely added red lights to mess with drivers; Zurich's tram operators seem to have the ability to change the lights to their favor as they approach.  (I'm trying to imagine how much a magic traffic-light-changing remote control clicker would fetch on e-bay.)

According to the story, and probably not inconsistent with what some of you may have observed, many of these European cities have dramatically improved in walkability, transit options, and quality of public space.  How much the policies are related causally to the result isn't clear, but we can assume they've had an impact.

I'm not entirely sure what I think of all this.  I'm a strong proponent of improving urban life by incentivizing higher density, mixed-use development and increasing pedestrian-oriented neighborhood viability and transit-oriented development.  Love it.  Still, I am hesitant to pursue these goals through policies that actually make things worse for some people on purpose.  What do these policies do to affordable housing?  How about people from lower socioeconomic strata that need to make their living from driving goods and services around the city?  How do public shared bikes help women who don't cycle (and families with kids)?  By all means, make mass transit better, faster, more economical.  But purposely creating red-light patterns just to deliberately piss people off just concerns me a bit.  It also would seem to thwart a number of smart-growth-friendly options that nonetheless rely on roads, such as bus rapid transit.

Admittedly I'm looking at this from the urban planning side more than the environmental side, but it seems the environmental benefits of these policies will be much more difficult to observe than the effect on quality of life; it's easy to see the quality of life in the very nice and improved transit-accessible mixed-use public spaces, but these types of policies would seem to generate a lot of external costs--on purpose.  Maybe that's a tradeoff people are willing to make.  But to acheive the same progressive land use goals, I still have a preference for a positive approach (e.g., incentivizing (or even just allowing) smart growth and new urbanism) rather than purposely making some aspects of urban life worse by degrading capabilites to make some people's lives "miserable." 

Matt Festa

June 27, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Comparative Land Use, Density, Downtown, Environmentalism, New Urbanism, Parking, Pedestrian, Planning, Politics, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

CNU 19 Liveblog

As many of you know, and hopefully some were able to attend, the Congress for the New Urbanism held CNU 19 over the past four days in Madison.  I've seen a lot of interesting reports from the conference on Facebook (CNU is my "friend"!). 

If you couldn't go--or even if you did--there is a great resource in the CNU 19 Liveblog.  It recaps a lot of the interesting events and has some good links.  Some of the highlights include:

  • Former Mayor (and current CNU Prez/CEO) John Norquist's view of Milwaukee
  • Incremental Urbanism
  • Ed Glaeser's plenary on his new book, Triumph of the City
  • Pedestrians and Cyclists
  • Reports on the various tours
  • Urban Stormwater discussion
  • Conservatives and the CNU
  • Tactical Urbanism
  • Link to the livestream video of the closing plenary with Andres Duany and Charles Waldheim

Good stuff there, and more at the CNU main website.

Matt Festa

June 4, 2011 in Conferences, DPZ, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mixed Use/TOD/New Urbanism/Form-Based Codes "Day"

I'm asking for your help.  I've blocked out one day near the end of the semester to focus directly on "modern urban development forms"--i.e., mixed use; transit-oriented development; new urbanism/neotraditional development; form-based codes; etc.  The casebook I use has about ten pages on this, and they're good, but I'd like to supplement it with at least one accessible, interesting article that would help introduce the concepts to students.  We have been talking about these concepts peripherally throughout the semester, but I'd like to spend one class focusing exclusively on them.  I've got lots of great books on these subjects, but I'm looking for an assignable article-length piece; it could be academic or general-interest.

So if you had to pick one article to give to someone as a starting point for learning about the trend toward mixed use and new urbanism, what would it be?  I'd love to know what you think.  Please leave a comment or email me your recommendations.  I'd love to share the recommendations with the blog readers too.  Thanks!

Matt Festa

April 5, 2011 in Form-Based Codes, New Urbanism, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Transect, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cleveland's EcoVillage

Dennis Keating (Cleveland State) and Wendy Kellogg (Cleveland State-Urban Affairs) have posted Cleveland's Ecovillage: Green and Affordable Housing Through a Network Alliance.  The article offers a case study of EcoVillage, a transit-oriented affordable housing project in the Detroit Shoreway neigborhood of Cleveland.  Here's the abstract:

This article presents a case study of the inter-organizational network that formed to produce four housing projects in Cleveland's EcoVillage designed to integrate social equity and ecological stewardship as the basis for neighborhood redevelopment. Our paper builds on concepts of community development and housing production through inter-organizational networks spanning nonprofit, public, and private organizations that developed and supported four green and affordable housing projects. We are interested in understanding how development of the housing projects changed and connected traditional neighborhood development and ecologically-oriented organizations and how their interaction changed the practice of housing production and environmental and sustainability advocacy locally and regionally. The results of the study reveal that the marriage of green and affordable housing in Cleveland, despite some challenges, was viewed as important and beneficial by the organizations involved, and resulted in a range of demonstration projects that not only changed the EcoVillage, but affected other neighborhood housing projects in Cleveland as well. The projects resulted in enhanced capacity for green housing production through creation of a new network of organizations spanning the housing and environmental sustainability fields of practice that continues to support sustainable housing and neighborhood development in Cleveland.

Jim K.


March 12, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Climate, Community Economic Development, Density, Development, Environmentalism, New Urbanism, Pedestrian, Planning, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Three Dimensional Master Plan?

Helsinki Underground 
Hello all and thanks for the welcome, Matt.

For years cities, such as Montreal (the RESO), have been developing space underground.  In what CNN reports as a "first," Helsinki has developed an Underground Master Plan.  The plan designates a diverse group of uses for the underground area, ranging from industrial to recreation uses, such as an existing swimming pool (which, fortunately, doubles as a bunker when necessary).  According to the report, Helsinki sits on bedrock strong enough to support the existing streetscape even when space is carved out for the lower levels.  The CNN report claims a host of environmental benefits from the action, many of which are disputed in the comments.

As cities such as Helsinki start to think about the relationship between the street level and the subsurface (as inhabitable space), the next step may be to craft a three dimensional master plan.  And who knows, this may be Seattle's chance to recommission its underground, although "[w]hen your dreams tire, they go underground and out of kindness that's where they stay." (Margaret Fuller).

Jon Rosenbloom

March 1, 2011 in Architecture, California, Common Interest Communities, Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Sprawl, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Garnett on Mixed Land-Use Urban Neighborhoods

Nicole Garnett (Notre Dame) has added to her extensive body of work on land use, order, and quality of life in America's cities (read her book Ordering the City) by posting The People Paradox on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

American land-use regulators increasingly embrace mixed-land-use "urban" neighborhoods, rather than single-land-use "suburban" ones, as a planning ideal. This shift away from traditional regulatory practice reflects a growing endorsement of Jane Jacobs’s influential argument that mixed-land-use urban neighborhoods are safer and more socially cohesive than single-use suburban ones. Proponents of regulatory reforms encouraging greater mixing of residential and commercial land uses, however, completely disregard a sizable empirical literature suggesting that commercial land uses generate, rather than suppress, crime and disorder and that suburban communities have higher levels of social capital than urban communities. This Article constructs a case for mixed-land-use planning that tackles the uncomfortable reality that these studies present. That case is built upon an apparent paradox: In urban communities, people do not, apparently, make us safer. But they do make us feel safer. This "People Paradox" suggests that, despite an apparent tension between city busyness and safety, land-use regulations that enable mixed-land-use neighborhoods may advance several important urban development goals. It also suggests an often-overlooked connection between land-use and policing policies.

Jim K.

February 16, 2011 in Books, Community Design, Comprehensive Plans, Crime, Density, Form-Based Codes, Housing, New Urbanism, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Eagle on Urban Revitalization, Eminent Domain, and Jane Jacobs

Steven J. Eagle (George Mason) has posted Urban Revitalization and Eminent Domain: Misinterpreting Jane Jacobs, forthcoming in the Albany Government Law Review.  The abstract:

This article reviews the implications for land use policy of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Fifty years after its publication in 1961, Death and Life remains a clarion call for resistance to monolithic development and to the reigning paradigm of urban planning in the mid-20th century. The article asserts, however, that government officials and planners have learned the wrong lesson from Jacobs. Their emphasis on the top-down imposition of what purports to be varied development is evident in the growth of condemnation for retransfer for private economic redevelopment. Such policies are directly contrary to Jacobs’ insistence on bottom-up organic development.

The article further describes the muddled state of the U.S. Constitution’s Public Use Clause, evident in Kelo v. City of New London and in state cases such as Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. It asserts that judicial unwillingness to provide meaningful scrutiny to condemnation for private redevelopment is based, in part, on acceptance of the revisionist, and incorrect, reading of Jacobs’ work.

Matt Festa

February 12, 2011 in Eminent Domain, History, Housing, New Urbanism, New York, NIMBY, Planning, Politics, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Arcosanti - City on a Hill

We went to Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona, Arizona over the holiday.  It was beautiful. On the drive back to Phoenix, I insisted (over my wife's rolling eyes) that we visit Arcosanti. An experimental town founded in 1970, Arcosanti aspires to fuse architecture with ecology.


The town seeks to provide social interaction and accessibility of urban living with ecological goals ranging from spare resource use to environmental integratoin.  The project-town rests on 25 acres of a 4,060 acre land preserve. Although originally envisioned for 5,000 people, Arcosanti's actual population varies between 50 and 100 people. The master plan envisions a massive complex, called Arcosanti 5000, that would dwarf the current buildings.

Despite Arcosanti's meager population, the underlying land use philosophy - arcology - is intriguing. Although certainly not new, "archology" is Paolo Soleri's concept of cities which compact human necessities in marked contrast to urban sprawl with its inherently wasteful consumption of land, energy and time. Instead of isolating people from each other and the community, the "complexification and miniaturization" of the city encourages and relies on community.

According to promomtional materials,

  • an archology would need about two percent as much land as a typical city of similar population 
  • Archology eliminates the automobile from within the city 
  • The multi-use nature of archology design would put living, working and public spaces within easy reach of each other, and
  • walking would be the main transportation within the city
  • "Arcosanti is probably the most important experiment undertaken in our lifetime"

Our visit to the town was uninspiring.  It did not meet the rhetoric above.  The bronze and ceramic wind bells Soleri sells were nice, but the edifices themselves were ill kept and uninspiring. We did not get a tour of the entire town, so perhaps judment should be reserved. 

Still, why only 50 residents (mostly students /educators) in a "city" that envisioned 5,000 way back in 1970?  Why does Soleri himself live in Scottsdale, Arizona (a sprawling well-to-do suburb)?  To me it tracks what James McWilliams calls "a problem endemic to modern environmentalism."  I agree with McWilliams's suggestion that "concerned consumers are flush with noble intentions, but too often these intentions succumb to external realities."

McKay Cunningham

December 1, 2010 in Architecture, Community Design, Environmental Law, Green Building, New Urbanism, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Smart Growth Achievement Awards

From the Office of Sustainable Communities at EPA:

2010 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement

Date: Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Time: 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Location: National Building Museum 401 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

The National Award for Smart Growth Achievement recognizes communities
that use the principles of smart growth to create better places. This
annual competition is open to public- and private-sector entities.

Please join us at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., on
Wednesday, December 1, 2010, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. to celebrate the
winners of the 2010 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. One
winner will be announced in each of the following categories: Smart
Growth and Green Building; Programs, Policies and Regulations; Civic
Places; Rural Smart Growth; and Overall Excellence in Smart Growth. The
communities honored this year range from a rural coastal area to a
historic reuse project. They show us that if we grow smarter, we can
make America's cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural communities more
resilient to economic and environmental challenges and more beautiful.

After the awards ceremony, representatives from each of the five
award-winning communities will participate in a panel discussion that
will include challenges they overcame; partnerships with government,
nonprofit, and public stakeholders; and lessons learned for other places
hoping to build sustainable communities.

Please RSVP at the National Building Museum's website

Jamie Baker Roskie

November 10, 2010 in Community Design, Development, Federal Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth | 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)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lefcoe on the Uses and Abuses of Tax Increment Financing

George Lefcoe (Southern California) has posted Competing for the Next Hundred Million Americans: The Uses and Abuses of Tax Increment Financing.  The abstract:

Demographers predict that the US population will grow by one hundred million in 2050. Newcomers will settle in suburbia, particularly to the fast growing big cities of the south and west, cities in the resurgent heartland of the country, exurbia and ‘superstar cities’. 

Communities eager to appeal to these newcomers will use tax increment financing for public improvements such as stadiums, museums, plazas and promenades. These public improvements are often integrated into signature private redevelopment projects carefully designed to achieve environmental and planning objectives by being pedestrian-friendly, high density, and mixed use, accessible not only by automobile but public transit as well. 

After illustrating the beneficial use of tax increment financing, I describe six major criticisms often leveled against tax increment financing (TIF). (1) TIF helps outer suburbs lure jobs from center cities and inner suburbs; (2) TIF should be confined to seriously blighted areas and is not; (3) TIF is often used to subsidize the increased supply of retail development in markets where demand is static, achieving little except the displacement of sales from other locations; (4) cities sponsoring tax increment projects unfairly and inefficiently drain property tax revenues from other taxing entities including schools and counties; (5) There are few serious obstacles preventing local governments from sponsoring TIF projects in places that would have attracted private development anyway, or bestowing subsidies greater than necessary upon firms agreeing to locate in marginal areas; and (6) Many local governments don’t bother to analyze whether TIF projects are net tax revenue producers or assess periodically whether actual yields match initial projections.
We're working on TIFs right now in my state & local government class.  Students find these animals to be challenging and interesting, because they are very powerful drivers of land use yet fairly obscure to the general public.  This article helps explain TIFs and put them in the context of land use debates over density, development, and urbanism.

Matt Festa

October 5, 2010 in Community Design, Density, Development, Environmentalism, Finance, Local Government, New Urbanism, Pedestrian, Planning, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Suburbs, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kotkin: Why Housing Will Come Back

On his New Geography blog for Forbes, Joel Kotkin has an essay on why he thinks there will be a resurgence in the housing market starting later this decade: Why Housing Will Come Back.  He begins with a historical observation:

Few icons of the American way of life have suffered more in recent years than  homeownership. Since the bursting of the housing bubble, there has been a steady drumbeat from the factories of futurist punditry that the notion of owning a home will, and, more importantly, should become out of reach for most Americans.

Before jumping on this bandwagon, perhaps we would do well to understand the role that homeownership and the diffusion of property plays in a democracy. From Madison and Jefferson through Lincoln’s Homestead Act, the most enduring and radical notion of American political economy has been the diffusion of property.

Kotkin then notes that in recent years, and especially in light of the mortgage crisis, the single-family homeownership ideal has been criticized from both the right (government overpromotion) and the left (sprawl, new urbanism, environmentalism).  His response:

Yet for all the problems facing the housing market, homeownership–not exclusively single-family houses–is not likely to fade dramatically for the foreseeable future. The most compelling reason has to do with continued public preference for single-family homes, suburbs and the notion of owning a “piece” of the American dream.   This is why that four out of every five homes built in America over the past few decades, notes urban historian Witold Rybczynski, have less to do with government policy than “with buyers’ preferences, that is, What People Want.

Kotkin goes on to explain several reasons why he believes housing will come back, after adjusting to the market correction imposed by the economic recession.  Why I find most interesting is that his prediction is based less on economics or law than on demographics:

As boomers age, the two big groups that will drive housing will be the young Millenial generation born after 1983 as well as immigrants and their offspring. Sixty million strong, the millenials are just now entering their late 20s. They are just beginning to start hunting for houses and places to establish roots. Generational chroniclers  Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, describe millenials in their surveys as family-oriented young people who value homeownership even more than their boomer parents. They also are somewhat more likely to choose suburbia as their “ideal place to live” than the previous generation.

These tendencies are even more marked among immigrants and their children. Already a majority of immigrants live in suburbia, up from 40% in the 1970s. They are attracted in many cases by both jobs and the opportunity to buy a single-family home. For an immigrant from Mumbai, Hong Kong or Mexico City, the “American dream” is rarely living in high density surrounded by concret

An interesting take.  For more writings on urban theory from the center-right perspective (e.g., Why we Have to Learn to Love the Subdivision--Again) see Kotkin's New Geography website. 

Matt Festa

September 25, 2010 in Density, Development, Environmentalism, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, New Urbanism, Planning, Real Estate Transactions, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gotta Get Back in Time

Last weekend we saw a TV rerun of the 1985 classic Back to the Future.  I was reminded of something that didn't occur to me until many years after I saw it for the first time, which is that it is, subtly, an excellent land use movie.  Christopher Leinberger observed this in the opening pages of his terrific book The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream.  From the intro:

When I teach a graduate real estate seminar, the first homework I give to the students is watching the 1985 movie Back to the Future.  The film reflects most of the fundamental changes in how America has been built over the last sixty years.  

Specifically, in 1985 suburban "Hill Valley," the old downtown is dead.  The public square is deserted at all hours except for the homeless; once-thriving establishments have been replaced by adult businesses; and the clock hasn't been fixed in thirty years.  The new (1980s) mall at the outskirts of town now has all the action, accessible only by car (including time-machine car, or terrorist van!).  

When Michael J. Fox's character Marty McFly goes "back in time" to 1955 HIll Valley, he finds a vibrant downtown, where everyone walks around for work and shopping, teens go to the malt shop and the movie theater, and small businesses abound.  Sacred, safe, and busy, perhaps?  Back to Leinberger:

The two Hill Valleys show the only two viable divergent options we have in how to build our metropolitan built environment--which consists of the houses, roads, water and sewer lines, police and fire stations, office buildings, shops, factories, parks, and everything else that makes up where most Americans live, work, and play.  

Leinberger goes on to label the 1955 version as "walkable urbanism," and proceeds from there.  The Option of Urbanism has been one of the most insightful books I've read recently, and of course if you're looking for a Labor Day Weekend movie that deals with land use, you'll find Back to the Future worth a fresh look.  

Now, this kind of goes downhill at the end of the movie when, in the sequel set-up, Doc goes thirty years forward and then returns in a flying car fueled by household garbage.  So we can expect that in 2015?  

With that, is it possible that those of us who are interested in new urbanism can now be more sympathetic with George McFly's botched pickup line: "you . . . are my . . . density!"

Matt Festa

September 2, 2010 in Books, Density, Downtown, History, New Urbanism, Planning, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rybczynski in Slate on Ordinary Places

Witold Rybczynski, Slate's architecture critic, UPenn prof, and author of many fascinating books, has an article--well, they call it a "slideshow"--called Ordinary Places: Rediscovering the parking lot, the big-box store, the farmer's market, the gas station.  It's a nice presentation with photos and commentary and well worth taking a quick look.    

Rybczynski has written scads about great public spaces, traditional neighborhood development, and so on, so he certainly isn't a defender of sprawling suburbia.  So I think that his comments on the "ordinary places" in the slideshow are interesting, and make a good point about finding value in the spaces in which we live.  Rybczynski cites landscape historian J.B. Jackson's concept of the "vernacular landscape."  For example, here are some counterintuitive observations on that evil, un-green scourge of our soulless car-bound culture, the Parking Lot:

Whether you are going to a farmers market or a big-box store, chances are you will have to park. Parking lots, rather than squares and plazas, are the most common public outdoor open spaces in America. They are complicated social spaces, where travelling gives way to arriving, driving to walking, privacy to publicness—and vice versa. Although inevitably described as "seas of asphalt"—they look bleak in photographs—they are orderly, clean places; Jackson once referred to their "austere beauty." Parking lots are also surprisingly civic. People politely observe rules of behaviour for the sake of the common good, parking between the lines, staying out of the handicapped spaces, driving slowly. It is one place where cars and pedestrians happily coexist.
Interesting stuff; definitely check out the link for the photos and commentary.

Matt Festa

August 24, 2010 in Architecture, Community Design, New Urbanism, Parking, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Friday, July 2, 2010

Denver's new Form Based Zoning Code

Denver has adopted a brand new zoning code, it's first major revision in over 50 years.  The new code is billed as form-based.  We've posted before about Denver's process towards this new code.  From the Denver Post: Denver Council Passes Overhaul of City's Zoning Laws.

The Denver City Council on Monday unanimously approved an overhaul of the city's zoning laws, making the first comprehensive change to the city's land-use rules since 1956. . . . 

The new code would replace one that city planners characterize as inefficient and inflexible. They said the new rules would steer growth and density to areas near transit corridors and support existing development patterns in long-established neighborhoods.

The Post article is a little short on substantive description of the new ordinance, but it has a nice graphic illustrating the different characteristics of the new zones: downtown; urban center; general urban; urban edge; and suburban [sounds pretty transect-y, doesn't it?].  The process started with the Denver comprehensive plan in 2000 and was supplemented by the Blueprint Denver movement.  There is a very good website promoting the new code called The New Zoning Code: Putting Blueprint Denver to Work, at lots of information, explanations, and the new ordinance's text and map.  Check it out.

Matt Festa

July 2, 2010 in Form-Based Codes, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)