Friday, October 2, 2015

Sink or Swim: In Search of a Model for Coastal City Climate Change Resilience

New York City, like other major cities around the world, has acknowledged the problem of climate change, undertaken a comprehensive risk assessment, created a suite of adaptation and mitigation planning initiatives, and begun to implement policies to both decrease the city’s contribution to the problem and make the city less vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In an article published in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, I provide a detailed analysis of the city’s climate change resilience initiatives and conclude that many of the city’s initiatives provide a model for other coastal communities, but the city's initiatives nevertheless fall short of what is likely required to sufficiently moderate harm from dangerous interference with the climate system.

The city’s robust suite of initiatives put it ahead of the pack as compared to most other U.S. municipalities, especially with respect to comprehensive reform of zoning and building codes, integrated mitigation and adaptation planning, transparent climate change-related data analysis initiatives, and commitment to reduce GHG emissions 80% by 2050 from 2005 levels and progress toward that goal. However, the city also faces a host of wicked policy binds, ineffective regional structures, a lack of support at the federal level, and numerous conditions that constrain its ability to remain resilient. In light of this, the “toughness” theme that runs throughout the city’s plans risks undermining its robust data analysis and reporting initiatives by instilling in New Yorkers a false sense of security with respect to both the scope of the problem and their local government’s ability to protect them from it. The city faces an equally wicked policy bind with respect to waterfront development. Given the foreseeable risks of increasingly intensive and frequent coastal storms, flooding and storm surges, coastal municipalities must carefully evaluate their waterfront development policies to assure consistency with future climate risks and adopt regulations that curtail or eliminate waterfront development in high-risk areas, encourage or require relocation away from vulnerable areas, and take maximum advantage of opportunities to develop natural flood-mitigation infrastructure.

See Sink or Swim: In Search of a Model for Coastal City Climate Change Resilience, 40 Columbia J. Envt’l L. 433 (2015), available here.


Post by Sarah J. Adams-Schoen, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of Touro Law’s Institute for Land Use & Sustainable Development Law, and managing author of the blog Touro Law Land Use.

October 2, 2015 in Climate, Coastal Regulation, Green Building, Local Government, New York, Planning, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Online Professional Development Course in Adaptive Planning & Resilience

Land Use Prof colleagues -- please share the following information about an online self-paced course in adaptive planning and resilience as broadly as possible.  It's especially relevant for professionals who are engaged in planning and would benefit from skills to make their planning processes more adaptive and resilience-oriented.  Students, professors, and other professionals are welcome too.  Thanks for your interest and help!  All best wishes, Tony Arnold

I’m writing to let you know about an online self-paced professional development course in adaptive planning and resilience.  This course is aimed at any professional who engages in planning under conditions of uncertainty, complexity, or unstable conditions, whether in the public sector, private sector, local community, or multi-stakeholder partnerships. 

The course is ideal for professionals in sectors such as urban planning, community development water supply, water quality, disasters/hazards, environmental protection, land management, forestry, natural resources management, ecosystem restoration, climate change, public infrastructure, housing, sustainability, community resilience, energy, and many others.  I hope that you and the employees and/or members of your organization will consider enrolling in this course.

 The 12-hour course is offered by the University of Louisville for a cost of $150 and is taught by Professor Tony Arnold, a national expert in adaptive planning and resilience, and a team of professionals engaged in various aspects of adaptive planning.  The online lectures are asynchronous, and the course is self-paced; this offering will last until November 22.

 More information is provided below and at the registration web page:  This offering of the course begins October 12 but registration will be accepted through November 15 due to the self-pacing of the course.  We are seeking AICP CM credits for the course in partnership with the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association, but cannot make any representations or promises until our application is reviewed. 

Please share this blog post or information with anyone who might be interested.  Please contact me at, if you have any questions. 

Adaptive Planning and Resilience

Online and self-paced

Oct. 12 – Nov. 22, 2015

Adaptive Planning and Resilience is a professional development course in which professionals will develop the knowledge and skills to design and implement planning processes that will enable their governance systems, organizations, and/or communities to adapt to changing conditions and sudden shocks or disturbances.

Adaptive planning is more flexible and continuous than conventional planning processes, yet involves a greater amount of goal and strategy development than adaptive management methods. It helps communities, organizations, and governance systems to develop resilience and adaptive capacity: the capacity to resist disturbances, bounce back from disasters, and transform themselves under changing and uncertain conditions. Adaptive planning is needed most when systems or communities are vulnerable to surprise catastrophes, unprecedented conditions, or complex and difficult-to-resolve policy choices.

The course will cover the elements of adaptive planning and resilient systems, the legal issues in adaptive planning, how to design and implement adaptive planning processes, and case studies (including guest speakers) from various communities and organizations that are employing adaptive planning methods.  Enrollees will have the opportunity to design or redesign an adaptive planning process for their own professional situation and get feedback from course instructors.

The six-week course totals about 12 hours broken into 30-minute segments. It is conducted online and is asynchronous. Cost is $150.

 About Professor Tony Arnold

Professor Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold is the Boehl Chair in Property and Land Use at the University of Louisville, where he teaches in both the Brandeis School of Law and the Department of Urban and Public Affairs and directs the interdisciplinary Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility. Professor Arnold is an internationally renowned and highly-cited scholar who studies how governance systems and institutions – including planning, law, policy, and resource management – can adapt to changing conditions and disturbances in order to improve social-ecological resilience. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the 2013 Trustee’s Award, the highest award for a faculty member at the University of Louisville.

Professor Arnold has clerked for a federal appellate judge on the 10th Circuit and practiced law in Texas, including serving as a city attorney and representing water districts. He served as Chairman of the Planning Commission of Anaheim, California, and on numerous government task forces and nonprofit boards. He had a land use planning internship with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, did rural poverty work in Kansas, and worked for two members of Congress. Professor Arnold received his Bachelor of Arts, with Highest Distinction, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1987 from the University of Kansas. He received his Doctor of Jurisprudence, with Distinction, in 1990 from Stanford University, where he co-founded the Stanford Law & Policy Review and was a Graduate Student Fellow in the Stanford Center for Conflict and Negotiation. He has affiliations with interdisciplinary research centers at six major universities nationwide and is a part of an interdisciplinary collaboration of scholars studying adaptive governance and resilience.

 Professor Arnold will be joined in co-teaching the course by a team of his former students who are

professionals knowledgeable in adaptive planning. They include:

  • Brian      O’Neill, an aquatic ecologist and environmental planner in Chicago
  • Heather      Kenny, a local-government and land-use lawyer in California and adjunct      professor at Lincoln Law School of Sacramento
  • Sherry      Fuller, a business manager at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in Orange      County, California, and former community redevelopment project manager
  • Andrew      Black, who is Associate Dean of Career Planning and Applied Learning at      Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a former field      representative for two U.S. Senators in New Mexico
  • Andrea      Pompei Lacy, AICP, who directs the Center for Hazards Research and Policy      Development at the University of Louisville
  • Jennifer-Grace      Ewa, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Inequality and the Provision of Open Space      at the University of Denver
  • Alexandra      Chase, a recent graduate of the Brandeis School of Law who has worked on      watershed and urban resilience issues with the Center for Land Use and      Environmental Responsibility and now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.


October 12 – November 22, 2015,

Online, asynchronous, and self-paced



For more information



September 23, 2015 in Agriculture, Beaches, Charleston, Chicago, Coastal Regulation, Comprehensive Plans, Conferences, Conservation Easements, Crime, Density, Detroit, Development, Economic Development, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Exurbs, Federal Government, Finance, Financial Crisis, Food, Georgia, Green Building, Houston, HUD, Impact Fees, Inclusionary Zoning, Industrial Regulation, Lectures, Local Government, Montgomery, Mortgage Crisis, New York, Planning, Property, Race, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Sprawl, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Sustainability, Transportation, Water, Wind Energy, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Two Great Long Island, NY Land Use Planning and Zoning Programs this Week

Are you in the New York metro area? Join planners and attorneys, municipal board members and others this Thursday for the APA's 2015 East End Planning Conference and this Friday for Touro Law's Bagels with the Boards program.

  • 2015 East End Planning Conference

Thursday, September 24, 2015, 3 PM – 7:30 PM

Tour of Marine Sciences Center 2pm – 3pm

Stony Brook University

Tuckahoe Road, Southampton, NY 11968

For more information visit here

  • Bagels with the Boards

Friday, September 25, 2015, Program 9 – 10 AM (breakfast 8:30 – 9 AM)

Telecommunications Law for Planning and Zoning Boards by Christopher B. Fisher, Charles J. Gottlieb and Anthony F. Morando, of Cuddy & Feder LLP

For more information and to register visit or email

New cases, including recent U.S. Supreme Court cases, continue to shift the legal landscape relevant to planning for, permitting and siting telecommunications infrastructure. This one-hour program will provide participants with an update on recent changes in the law, and is especially relevant as municipalities continue to see increased deployment of wireless communications infrastructure to address the explosion in data use and demand for mobile broadband. To harness these advancements and growth in technology, municipalities must fully understand recent developments in Federal law to ensure that their local codes are not only compliant with the most recent Federal law and policy, but properly balance their own administrative burdens with the nature of the infrastructure being deployed. Tools to aid in the deployment of wireless infrastructure includes as-of-right sites, town wide planning, amendment of local laws including zoning regulations, as well as development of ongoing policies at the municipal level including use of municipal rights-of-way and properties. Successful use of these tools, however, requires staying abreast of federal law--which is evolving quickly as federal statutes and regulations are amended and as federal courts issue opinions interpreting these laws.

And save the date for future Land Use & Sustainable Development Law Institute programs:

  • Oct. 16, 2015 – Land Use & Zoning for Fair and Accessible Housing including Overview of Regional Trends and Impediments by Chris Jones of the Regional Plan Association; Fair Housing Act Nuts and Bolts by Kevin Dwarka, land use and economic consultant and Senior Fellow at Pace's Land Use Law Center; Fair Housing Is Accessible Housing by Robin Malloy of Syracuse College of Law, Brian Baer of The Elevated Studio, and Marcie Roth of FEMA; Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing by George D. Williams, Sr., Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy, Legislative Initiatives, and Outreach at HUD/FHEO, and Lorraine Collins, Assistant Commissioner/Director Fair and Equitable Housing Office at NYS HCR; and Disparate Impact by Michael Goldberger, Chief of Civil Rights, Civil Division, Assistant US Attorney, USAO Eastern District of NY, and Peter L. Contini of L'Abbate, Balkan, Colavita & Contini.
  • Oct. 30, 2015 – Bagels with the Boards: Planning & Zoning for Disaster Resilience by Maggie Palmer, Sam Capasso & Chelsea Holland of the New York City Environmental Law Leadership Institute (NYCELLI)
  • Nov. 20, 2015 – Bagels with the Boards: Reed v. Town of Gilbert – Signs of Our Times by A. Thomas Levin of Meyer Suozzi English & Klein PC
  • Feb. 26, 2016 – Bagels with the Boards: Form Based Codes by Joel Russell, Executive Director of the Form-Based Codes Institute
  • Mar. 11, 2016 – Second Annual Long Island Coastal Resilience Summit
  • Apr. 22, 2016 – Bagels with the Boards: The Grasping Hand – Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain by Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law
  • May 27, 2016 – Bagels with the Boards: Planning & Zoning for Small and Medium Wind Energy by Sarah Adams-Schoen and Evan Zablow, Land Use & Sustainable Development Law Institute Director and Graduate Fellow
  • June 24, 2016 – Bagels with the Boards: Ethics Update by Touro Law Dean Patricia Salkin


All Land Use & Sustainable Development Law Institute programs at Touro Law Center are accredited for CLE (professional practice credits), AICP CM Law credits are anticipated for the Sept., Oct., Mar., April and June programs, and AICP CM general credits are anticipated for the Nov., Feb., and May programs. The Law Center issues certificates of attendance for self-accreditation for architecture, engineering and municipal board continuing education credits.

September 23, 2015 in Conferences, New York, Planning, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Edsall in NY Times on Milliken v. Bradley and Overconcentration of Poverty

Last week in the NY Times, Thomas Edsall (Columbia-Journalism) had an op-ed that looks at the past, present and future of overconcentration of poverty in the U.S.   In "Whose Neigborhood Is It?", Edsall begins with the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal in Milliken v. Bradley to extend school desegregation remedies across a municipal boundary without a showing that a defendant suburban district had a history of de jure racial segregation.   Legal scholars have frequently pointed to this 1974 case as a signal from SCOTUS that the suburban schools would be protected from inner-city decline. Interestingly, Edsall emphasizes the resulting exodus of middle-class African-American families to inner-ring suburbs.  The op-ed moves on to discuss the findings of Thomas, David Card and Paul Jargowsky, quickly bringing the reader into strong insights on a crucial issue. 

Today's op-ed is just one in a series that Edsall has written this year on the metropolitan geography of poverty.  Although  I found his criticism last month of low-income housing developers misplaced, that op-ed and others on the political fallout from the Inclusive Communities litigation and educational opportunities for low-income children make good resource material for supplemental assigned reading.

Jim K.

September 14, 2015 in Affordable Housing, Housing, Inclusionary Zoning, Planning, Race, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Only 6 Months Until New FEMA Guidance Requiring Consideration of Future Climate Risks in State HMPs Becomes Agency Policy

In March 2015, FEMA issued a State Mitigation Plan Review Guide, following notice and comment. Under the new guidance, state Hazard Mitigation Plans (HMPs) must consider the probability of future hazards, taking into consideration changing future conditions including changing climate and weather conditions.  And, on March 6, 2016, this new guidance will become the agency’s official policy on the natural hazard mitigation planning requirements of Title 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 201, and FEMA’s interpretation of federal regulations for state hazard mitigation plans.

A change in the requirements for state HMPs can mean real money to state governments because these plans are one of the conditions of eligibility for certain federal assistance—for example, Public Assistance Categories C-G and Hazard Mitigation Assistance mitigation project grants. Although states are currently required to adopt HMPs in order to qualify for certain disaster funds, under past FEMA guidelines state governments could assess their potential risks based on historic data. In other words, their HMPs could ignore risks from the foreseeable effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, higher storm surges, and more frequent and intense storms, droughts and heat waves. Expressly recognizing the significance of climate change to risk mitigation planning, the new guidance explains that future climate-change related risks must be considered because

“Past occurrences are important to a factual basis of hazard risk; however, the challenges posed by climate change, such as more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding, and higher sea levels, could significantly alter the types and magnitudes of hazards impacting states in the future.” (State Mitigation Plan Review Guide § 3.2.)

The new FEMA guidance also recognizes the significance of land use planning to risk reduction. The guidance suggests that to effectively increase community resilience the HMP must be more than an emergency management plan and the planning process must include the full range of effected sectors, including land use, economic development, housing, health and social services, and infrastructure.

In an apparent shot across the bow to state climate change deniers, the new guidance also finds that 44 CFR §201.4(c)(6), which requires state HMPs to “be formally adopted by the State,” means that the plan must be adopted by the highest elected official in the state or his or her designee. The guidance states that

“[Plan adoption by the state’s highest elected official or designee] demonstrates commitment to the mitigation strategy and may serve as a means to communicate priorities to entities within the state agencies regarding vulnerability and mitigation measures . . . [and] may increase awareness of and support from the state agencies with mitigation capabilities and responsibilities, not just the state agency responsible for the mitigation planning program.” (State Mitigation Plan Review Guide § 3.7.)

A survey of state HMPs from the 2010-11 period by Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, found that

  • 18 state HMPs had “[n]o discussion of climate change or inaccurate discussion of climate change.” (AL, DE, GA, ID, IN, IA, KT, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NM, ND, OK, TN, SD, WY)
  • 11 state HMPs had “[m]inimal mention of climate change related issues.” (AZ, AR, IL, KA, LA, OH, PA, SC, TX, UT, VA)
  • 10 state HMPs had an “[a]ccurate but limited discussion of climate change and/or brief discussion with acknowledgement of need for future inclusion.” (FL, ME, MI, MN, NJ, NC, OR, RI, WV, WI)
  • 11 state HMPs had a “[t]horough discussion of climate change impacts on hazards and climate adaptation actions.” (AK, CA, CO, CT, HI, MD, MA, NH, NY, VT, WA)

Even though it appears 21 states already include at least an accurate, albeit sometimes limited, discussion of climate change, the new FEMA guidance requires significantly more—which raises the question of whether states are equipped to address future hazards, including climate-related hazards, as robustly as the new guidance requires. For example, are states equipped to quantify climate-change related risks at the state level? For most, the answer is probably “no.” The Guide gives a nod to this problem, suggesting that “states are expected to look across the whole community of partners (for example, public, private, academic, non-governmental, etc.) to identify the most relevant data and select the most appropriate methodologies to assess risks and vulnerability.” (State Mitigation Plan Review Guide § 3.2.) However, notwithstanding potential support from community partners, the complexity of scaling global climate data to a regional scale and identifying related risks within a relatively short time frame means that most states will be hard pressed to quantify future hazard probabilities by the time their next HMP update is due.

New York may be among the few states that are equipped to respond in time. New York’s Department of State and Department of Environmental Conservation began developing statewide climate-related projections earlier this year in response to the newly enacted New York Community Risk and Resiliency Act, which among other things directs the state agencies to prepare climate projections and model municipal laws taking into consideration sea-level rise and other climate-related events.

Given the unmet need for state and local resources to adequately assess, plan and ultimately implement hazard mitigation strategies that account for climate change, as well as the political backlash from the new requirement, is FEMA’s new guidance ill conceived? My answer is “no.” Many resources exist to help states in their hazard mitigation planning process, and I suspect FEMA will accept plans that consider climate change risks even if the supporting climate data are not scaled to the state level, as long as the state risk assessment takes into consideration FEMA's updated flood maps and other available climate-related risk projections.

And, more significantly, the new guidance is a necessary step in closing a troubling gap between climate-related vulnerabilities and preparedness that exists in the United States. Global temperatures are increasing and the rate of increase is accelerating, with corresponding increases in sea levels, acidification of oceans, and losses of flood-mitigating wetlands. Many communities are already experiencing climate change related hazards, including eroding shores, more massive storm surges, more severe storms, salt water intrusion, loss of land, heat waves, wildfires, and droughts. State HMPs based solely on historic data that don’t take into account these changing conditions fail to address the full gambit and magnitude of hazards that are likely to impact the states—with resulting loss of lives, public health and welfare impacts, property damage, and potentially avoidable expenditures of federal disaster funds. Thus, although some lawmakers are charging FEMA with politicizing the hazard mitigation planning process and access to disaster funds, state administrations that are unwilling to fully consider and plan for foreseeable hazards are themselves jeopardizing public health and welfare in order to hold onto a political position that no longer holds water.

For more information check out:

Post by Sarah J. Adams-Schoen, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of Touro Law’s Institute for Land Use & Sustainable Development Law, and managing author of the blog Touro Law Land Use.

September 5, 2015 in Climate, Federal Government, New York, Planning, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 24, 2015

World Planning Schools Congress call for abstracts (October 5 deadline)

From the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP): You might be interested in the abstract submission window for the upcoming World
Planning Schools Congress in 2016: submission deadline October 5th.
For detailed information about the conference and how to submit an abstract
visit  The conference is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July, 3rd to July 8th, 2016.  A little land use law samba, anyone?

August 24, 2015 in Conferences, Planning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Interdisciplinary Readings on Land Use: Land Ethics

Individual and collective decisions about the use of land are fundamentally normative decisions, whether consciously made on the basis of a set of ethics and norms or reached through governance systems with implicit, imbedded normative underpinnings.  What do ethicists have to say about land use that could be interesting to land use legal scholars?  Quite a lot, it turns out. 

If you have time to read only one book on the topic, I’d highly recommend Timothy Beatley, Ethical Land Use: Principles of Policy and Planning (Johns Hopkins University Press 1994).  When I taught a land use seminar at Chapman University School of Law, I assigned this 300-page paperback book that covers land use from a diverse range of ethical perspectives.  The outline of the book is as follows:

Part I: Ethical Framework

1. Land-Use Policy and Ethical Choices

2. The Nature of Ethical Discourse about Land Use

Part II: Sets of Land-Use Ethics and Obligations

3. Utilitarian and Market Perspectives on Land Use

4. Culpability and the Prevention of Land-Use Harms

5. Land-Use Rights

6. Distributive Obligations in Land Use

7. Ethical Duties to the Environment

8. Land-Use Obligations to Future Generations

Part III: Ethics and Individual Liberties

9. Paternalism and Voluntary Risk-taking

10. Expectations and Promises in Land-Use Policy

11. Private Property, Land-Use Profits, and the Takings Issue

Part IV: Ethics, Community, and Politics

12. Defining Life-Style and Community Character

13. Duties beyond Borders: Interjurisdictional Land-Use Ethics

14. The Ethics of Land-Use Politics

Part V: Conclusions

15. Principles of Ethical Land Use

Of course, many of you were probably expecting me to recommend Aldo Leopold’s writings on his land ethic, which are wonderful and well worth reading.  Leopold urged a holistic view of the land community as encompassing both nature and humans, and a conservation ethic in how land is used and managed.  The classic is Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There (Oxford University Press 1949), but other collections of his writings are also worth reading, including For the Health of the Land (edited by J. Baird Callicott and Eric T. Freyfogle; Island Press 1999), and The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold (edited by Susan L. Flader and J. Baird Callicott; University of Wisconsin Press 1991).  Julianne Lutz Newton wrote an exciting biography of Leopold: Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey: Rediscovering the Author of A Sand County Almanac (Island Press 2006).  Writings by Wendell Berry and Wallace Stegner, discussed in a previous blog post, also articulate a land and environmental conservation ethic.

As many of you know, legal scholar Eric Freyfogle at the University of Illinois has written a number of highly important interdisciplinary books that integrate land ethics (including the writings of Leopold, Berry, historian Donald Worster, and others) with legal issues.  My favorite remains Bounded People, Boundless Land: Envisioning a New Land Ethic (Island Press 1998), which is unusually articulate, inspiring, and engaging.  Eric has commented on several occasions that he considers some of his later works his best writing, and all are certainly excellent and well worth reading.  Among them are: The Land We Share: Private Property and the Common Good (Island Press 2003), Why Conservation Is Failing and How It Can Regain Ground (Yale University Press 2006), and On Private Property: Finding Common Ground on the Ownership of Land (Beacon Press 2007).  Still, I stick by my special regard for his Bounded People, Boundless Land book.

J. Baird Callicott is a philosopher who has built on Leopold and yet gone beyond Leopold’s perspective with a strongly non-anthropocentric viewpoint.  His books are well worth reading, including In Defense of the Land Ethic (State University of New York Press 1989) and Beyond the Land Ethic: More Essays in Environmental Philosophy (State University of New York Press 1999).  Three other environmental ethics classics with relevance to land use are Holmes Rolston III, Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World (Temple University Press 1988), Bryan G. Norton, Toward Unity among Environmentalists (Oxford University Press 1991), and Laura Westra, An Environmental Proposal for Ethics: The Principle of Integrity (Rowman & Littlefield 1994). 

Despite the trenchant critique and normative guidance found in many writings on land ethics and conservation philosophies, the reality is that the land use system in the United States is characterized by pragmatism and ethical pluralisms at best.  I discussed this point in my article The Structure of the Land Use Regulatory System in the United States, 22 Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law 441 (2007), available at SSRN:  Nonetheless, important ethical imperatives can be found in pragmatic perspectives on land use, as explored in an outstanding book by Ben A. Minteer: The Landscape of Reform: Civic Pragmatism and Environmental Thought in America (MIT Press 2006).  Minteer examines the ideas of four major land-and-environment thinkers and reformers in the American 20th Century – Liberty Hyde Bailey, Lewis Mumford, Benton MacKaye, and Aldo Leopold – to illuminate an environmental pragmatism focused more on civic and policy reform than on picking sides in the anthropocentric/land-use versus ecocentric/environmental-preservation debates.  I highly recommend this informative and well-written book. 

By now (if you made it this far!), you’ve probably noticed that most of these writings involve environmental ethics and don’t really delve too much into social justice, distributive justice, procedural justice, and the like.  I will tackle some of those issues, albeit mostly at the land use-environment intersection, in my next post on interdisciplinary readings in environmental justice and land use. 

Coming Next: Environmental Justice and Land Use



August 18, 2015 in Books, Environmentalism, History, Planning, Property Theory, Scholarship, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Interdisciplinary Readings on Land Use: Planning

I’m excited to be back to regular posting on the Land Use Law Profs’ Blog, after a couple of different stints in administration at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law (two associate dean roles) and a couple of years of ramping up the interdisciplinary research of the Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility, which I direct. 

In fact, my interests in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspectives on land use will be the focus my postings on this blog.  (A few more facts about these interests: I have dual appointments in law and urban and public affairs, affiliations with interdisciplinary research centers at several major universities, such as the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, Bloomington, and participation in a number of multidisciplinary research collaborations.  My Land Use and Planning Law is cross-listed in 4 units: law, planning, urban & public affairs, and social work, and requires that the students work in interdisciplinary teams on service learning projects and simulations.  While I’ve been on a number of dissertation committees, I began serving as the primary advisor to PhD students on their dissertations this past year.) 

I’m starting my new postings on this blog with a series of recommended readings from other disciplines, mostly key books that land use law professors might find valuable.  I suspect that many of you will know these works already, but I’m hoping that everyone will find something intriguing in this series of posts. 

The series begins today with books about planning.  We all cover planning to some degree; if nothing else, the law requires that a locality’s zoning and land use decisions be consistent with a comprehensive plan.  But what is planning? 

The best introductory reading for a non-expert is Eric Damian Kelly, Community Planning: An Introduction to the Comprehensive Plan, 2nd Edition (Island Press 2010).  It strikes the right balance between comprehensiveness and readability.  It should be on every land professor’s shelf.  Two other good overview books are John Randolph, Environmental Land Use Planning and Management, 2nd Edition (Island Press 2011), which focuses on environmental planning, and John M. Levy, Contemporary Urban Planning, 10th Edition (Routledge 2012), which provides a good overview of planning history, structure, practice, tools, subfields, and cutting-edge issues. 

Two classic works that have strongly shaped current thinking about planning are: Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Vintage Books 1961) and Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (Harvest/Harcourt Brace Javanovich 1961).  Apparently 1961 was a significant year for thinking deeply and critically about the nature of planning. 

Three anthologies collect a variety of classic writings on planning theory and practice: 1) Jay M. Stein, Classic Readings in Urban Planning, 2nd Edition (American Planning Association 2004); 2) Jennifer Evans-Cowley, Essential Readings in Urban Planning (Planetizen 2014); and 3) Scott Campbell and Susan S. Fainstein, Readings in Planning Theory, 2nd Edition (Blackwell Publishing 2003). 

While many of these books contain basic critiques of conventional planning’s rational, comprehensive, up-front development of a static plan through a linear planning process (with the classic critique being Charles Lindblom, "The Science of Muddling Through," 19 Public Administration Review 79-88 (1959)), they don’t give much attention to an alternative type of planning: adaptive planning.  Adaptive planning is a planning process that is flexible, continuous, and iterative.  An adaptive plan’s goals, strategies, and/or implementation actions are subject to frequent changes, as lessons are learned from plan implementation and those lessons are applied to the planning process (known as “feedback loops”).  It is particularly appropriate under conditions of uncertainty, instability, or abrupt disturbances, such as climate change.  An article discussing the key characteristics of adaptive planning is: Arnold, "Adaptive Watershed Planning and Climate Change," 5 Environmental and Energy Law and Policy Journal 417 (2010), available at SSRN:

Coming next: Place-based perspectives on land use.

August 11, 2015 in Planning | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fennell and Peñalver on Exactions Creep

For those of you who have not already figured out exactly how land use planning officials are expected to proceed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, Lee Fennell (Chicago) and Eduardo Peñalver (Cornell) have posted Exactions Creep, __ Sup. Ct. Rev. ___ (forthcoming).   Rather than deny that the Court has aggravated the uncertainty faced by local governments, Lee and Eduardo explore the nature of the confusion in the Court's exactions jurisprudence and call for a significant revision.  Here's the abstract:

How can the Constitution protect landowners from government exploitation without disabling the machinery that protects landowners from each other? The Supreme Court left this central question unanswered — and indeed unasked — in Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District. The Court’s exactions jurisprudence, set forth in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Dolan v. City of Tigard, and now Koontz, requires the government to satisfy demanding criteria for certain bargains — or proposed bargains — implicating the use of land. Yet because virtually every restriction, fee, or tax associated with the ownership or use of land can be cast as a bargain, the Court must find some way to hive off the domain of exactions from garden variety land use regulations. This it refused to do in Koontz, opting instead to reject boundary principles that it found normatively unstable. By beating back one form of exactions creep — the possibility that local governments will circumvent a too-narrowly drawn circle of heightened scrutiny — the Court left land use regulation vulnerable to the creeping expansion of heightened scrutiny under the auspices of its exactions jurisprudence. In this paper, we lay out this dilemma and suggest that it should lead the Court to rethink its exactions jurisprudence, and especially its grounding in the Takings Clause, rather than the Due Process Clause. The sort of skepticism about bargaining reflected in the Court’s exactions cases, we suggest, finds its most plausible roots in rule-of-law concerns implicated by land use dealmaking. With those concerns in mind, we consider alternatives that would attempt to reconcile the Court’s twin interests in reining in governmental power over property owners and in keeping the gears of ordinary land use regulation running in ways that protect the property interests of those owners.

Jim K.

January 22, 2015 in Affordable Housing, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Development, Impact Fees, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 9, 2015

One Year Anniversary of the Elk River Spill

First, I'm delighted to be a guest blogger on the Land Use Prof Blog. Since I am getting a late start (and that's totally my fault), I may blog into February as well. As Steve's introduction stated, I am the Lead Land Use Attorney at the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at West Virginia University College of Law. Future blog posts will describe what the clinic does in greater detail. I am also and Associate Professor and teach Land Use and Reslience Law, as well as Water Law.

Although this post is tardy in many ways, the date is appropriate. One year ago today the Elk River chemical spill occurred in Charleston, West Virginia. In the past year, much in the state has focused on the impacts of the spill and possible ways to prevent future spills. Most notably, the West Virginia legislature quickly passed new above ground storage tank statute. January 1 was the deadline for registration and reporting of many of these tanks. Yesterday, the West Virginia Attorney General released a report on his investigation of the spill

If you are still reading, you may be asking yourself "What does this have to do with land use law?". As I say about almost anything, it has everything to do with land use law! Below is an essay that I wrote that appeared in the WVU Law Magazine that was published early in the Fall Semester. Thanks in part to the wonderful work being done at the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, the vision that I described in the last paragraph is beginning to become reality.

Although much of the focus in the aftermath of the spill has been on Freedom Industries, and rightfully so, I am equally concerned about the lack of planning and foresight by West Virginia American Water. I have asked "which was there first, Freedom Industries, or West Virginia American Water?" and few, if anyone seems to really know or to have even asked the question. Although both entities failed to take due care, the one the located on the river last should, in my mind, bear the bigger burden. If, for example, West Virginia American Water (WVAW) "came to the nuisance" and located shortly downstream of a company that stores chemicals along the river, what were they thinking?

Even if WVAW was there first, how could they not have back-up plan if the river is contaminated? Accidents happen and WVAW should have a contingency plan to assure that clean water can be delivered to customers in emergency situations.

These reactions doubtless arise due to the land use law lens through which I view the world. Does WVAW have a valid nuisance claim against Freedom Industries? Does Freedom Industries have a valid nuisance claim against WVAW? The situation brings to mind my favorite United States Supreme Court case, Miller v. Schoene, 276 U.S. 272 (1928). In that case, the Virginia state entomologist ordered ornamental cedar trees near apple orchards be destroyed to prevent the spread of cedar rust to the apple trees. But cedar trees with cedar rust do no harm unless they are close to apple trees and apple trees are no threat to surrounding landowners unless that landowner has infected cedar trees (cedar rust does not prove fatal to cedar trees, but it is fatal to apple trees). Both the chemical company and the water provider, standing alone, are valid land uses, but like oil and water, the two do not do well together.

Another issue that comes to mind is the lack of planning by the county (and Freedom Industries for that matter). Companies should not store hazardous substances along a waterway. The location of the storage facilities and the plant meant that the impact of any accident would be magnified many fold. The locations of both parties are doubtless artifacts of history, but the county should have drawn the community together to discuss the potential implications and plan to minimize the hazards. That's called land use planning.

The chemical spill in the Elk River is a horrible incident that has caused damage to the environment and to many citizens of West Virginia. The implications cannot and should not be minimized, and I do not intend to do so. However, some good may come from this horrible incident. My hope is that the spill will prompt the community to engage in a public land use planning process that will prevent some future incidents from occurring and will prepare the community in the case that an accident occurs in the future. Planning for disasters can both minimize the chance of the disasters from occurring and minimize the damages from future accidents that occur. I see signs of citizens mobilizing for such an effort. Although we should never forget the horrors of the chemical spill, planning efforts can ensure a brighter, and safer, future for the citizens of West Virginia.

Jesse Richardson

January 9, 2015 in Nuisance, Planning, Water | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Addressing American Indian Land Tenure – by Jessica A. Shoemaker

For my last guest post this month, I want to return to my primary area of research to date: American Indian land tenure. As I’ve written about here already, one of my primary interests is in thinking broadly about the many varied factors that influence landowners’ decision-making about how they use their lands. Our essential land tenure institutions are foundational in this sense and directly impact land use decision-making before anything like zoning or other direct regulation of land use even has a chance to take effect. Nowhere is the influence of the design of foundational property rights more apparent than in the land tenure relationships in the modern American Indian reservation, where significant swaths of Indian-owned lands are currently not used by Indian landowners themselves but instead sit idle or are leased to non-Indian users. In fact, I have a hard time imagining a property system better designed to discourage Indian prosperity on Indian land than the top-down system of property imposed on indigenous people in this country today. 

In this post, I want to give at least an overview of some of what I think are the most important and influential aspects of American Indian land tenure and then talk just a bit about why I think further scholarly engagement in this arena would be incredibly valuable in a range of settings.

    I.    The Indian Land Tenure Challenge

To start, I appreciate that there is a wide spectrum of knowledge regarding the nuances of modern American Indian land tenure. For some of us, it’s just a mystery how land is owned and held within reservation boundaries. For others, the system is so complex that once we start to study it at all, conversations and work regarding indigenous land rights devolve into a level of generality that isn’t as productive as it could be. Thus, a significant part of my current research agenda is trying to do the deep work required to develop a really rigorous understanding of the modern property rights framework within this very complex reservation setting. This post won’t be able to do all of this work justice.  Nonetheless, here is a brief overview.

Two of the biggest and most widely recognized challenges for Indian landowners are the federal trust status on many Indian-owned lands and the fractionation (or extreme co-ownership) conditions within many of those same properties.

Many, but not all, Indian-owned lands within federal Indian reservations are held in a special trust status over which the federal government acts as trustee for the benefit of the individual or tribal landowner. This trust status’s history is complex, but the important point for this purpose is that the trust status has been extended indefinitely and, to many eyes, appears to be perpetual.

This federal trust status certainly has some legal advantages—as evidenced, for example, by ongoing efforts by many Indian tribes to have additional lands taken into trust. The primary benefits include cementing a stronger case for exclusive federal/tribal (as opposed to state) jurisdiction over the space and also clarifying that state property taxes may not be imposed on that trust land. (The property tax issue is not quite that black and white. Many tribes still make special payments in lieu of taxes to state and local government in exchange for services and to help eliminate conflicts over fee-to-trust conversions.)

The trust status, however, also has significant disadvantages for Indian landowners. It is restrictive and extremely bureaucratic. The federal government exercises significant land management control, and most Indian-owned trust lands cannot be sold, mortgaged, leased, or otherwise developed or used without a formal approval from the Department of Interior after a cumbersome process of appraisals, oversight, and multi-level review. This trust system very dramatically increases the transaction costs for any land use and is often inefficient and even demoralizing for Indian landowners (not to mention extremely expensive for the federal government to maintain).

The second problem, fractionation, is closely related to the trust status issues. Fractionation refers to the fact that many individually owned Indian trust lands (often called allotments) are now jointly owned by many, many co-owners—sometimes as many as several hundred or more. Fractionation makes any kind of coordinated decision-making among all of these co-owners practically difficult and, as an individual co-owner’s interest size diminishes, reduces the likelihood that the co-owners will so cooperate. This then increases co-owners’ reliance on the federal government’s ongoing trust management role over these lands.  All of these tiny interests, in turn, overwhelm the federal trust system, as evidenced by the recent Cobell class action litigation which uncovered the federal government’s gross inability even to account accurately for all of these small interests. 

The federal government has explicitly acknowledged that this fractionation problem is a direct consequence of its own failed federal policies on Indian lands. For example, historic prohibitions on will writing for Indian landowners and the modern alienation restraints on Indian trust land have all exacerbated fractionation. Implementing any kind of solution to consolidate these small interests has been exceedingly difficult. This is true both because of the general idea that it’s much harder to reassemble property than it is to disassemble it and because of a host of other political, legal, economic, and even moral issues. Possible solutions do exist, and part of the Cobell settlement funds are currently going to fund a limited buy-back program that will purchase some individual small interests from willing sellers and re-consolidate them in tribal ownership. However, the general trend has been that any such effort at a solution moves so slowly and addresses such a small proportion of the problem that new tiers of fractionation outpace any improvements, with exponentially more small interests continually being created through further subdivision of already small interests over new generations of heirs. 

While these two issues—the federal trust status and the fractionated ownership patterns—are complex enough, I don’t think they give a complete picture of all of the issues going on in American Indian land tenure. For example, in a piece called No Sticks in My Bundle: Rethinking the American Indian Land Tenure Problem that I’m currently wrapping up edits on for the Kansas Law Review, I argue that a third significant problem for Indian land use is the gradual elimination over time of any informal use and possession right for co-owners of Indian trust land. Although co-owners in any non-Indian tenancy in common would have a default right to use and possess their own jointly owned land presumptively and informally and without any prior permission from their other co-owners, that is not the case in fractionated Indian lands. Modern federal regulations have recently evolved to require Indian co-owners to get permission or a formal lease from co-owners before taking possession of their own land and also to pay those co-owners rent. I think preserving some route for direct owner’s use of jointly owned land is important and valuable, even in highly fractionated properties, and as noted, I am writing about this more here

In addition, in another piece I’m currently writing and calling Emulsified Property, I am exploring the problem of uncertain and sometimes overlapping jurisdictional authorities within Indian Country as it relates to land use. This piece explores new dimensions of these property-related jurisdictional issues, but at a high level, the fact is that modern Indian reservation are uniquely plagued by a mind boggling array of unsettled, case-specific, or otherwise unresolved jurisdictional questions. Part of this stems from the fact that most reservations include not only Indian-owned trust lands but also fee lands, which might be owned by non-Indians, Indians of another tribe, tribal citizens, or the governing tribe itself. The state or local government is likely to assert jurisdiction at least over the non-Indian fee properties, but where that state and local jurisdiction ends, and when and if it overlaps with tribal or federal jurisdiction as well, turns on a complex balancing of multiple factors, depending on the type of jurisdiction being asserted. It continually shocks me (and my research assistants) how many unresolved questions there are in terms of who governs what in Indian Country.  In my property law class, we often talk about the importance of certainty in property rules. So many of our social and economic institutions rely on having clearly established, easily communicated entitlements and responsibilities with respect to a given thing. In Indian law, there is often very, very little of that certainty.

This just scratches the surface of the American Indian land tenure paradigm, but it is already easy to see why land use is such a challenge in Indian Country. Despite significant reserved lands and natural resources, Indian people suffer some of the worst poverty in the United States.

    II.    Why It Matters

Now for my plug for why I think more of us should be engaging in this important work around Indian property and land use. Of course, immediately and most importantly, there is the compelling problem of justice and fairness for indigenous people, who suffer the consequences of these failed property systems most directly. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development has found repeatedly that Indian people having the power and the liberty to make their own decisions with respect to their resources and their futures is the best and most effective solution to the persistent problems, including persistent poverty, in Indian Country. In many respects, it is the law that stands most in the way of this, and it will take legal minds to dismantle the current ineffective system. And legal minds who are uniquely interested in the transformative potential of property institutions are especially well suited to begin this task. 

On another practical note, the problem of American Indian land tenure also matters economically for all of us. The federal government has acknowledged again and again that it using (wasting) incredible resources continuing to maintain this broken property system.

However, as land use legal scholars, there are other important reasons to work in this rich area. I believe a sustained and careful understanding of these unique Indian property institutions, and the evolution of these property relationships through various federal land reforms over time, can help us address property and land use challenges not only in Indian Country but in other venues as well. Other scholars have sometimes analogized to Indian land tenure issues for this kind of purpose, but that work has sometimes lacked a real detailed and deep understanding of how complex Indian land tenure issues actually are. However, with more careful analysis, there could be very fruitful comparative work.  Let me give just two immediate examples, both of which I'm just beginning to work on.  

First, the co-ownership institutions in Indian Country are unique, but the fractionation (or heir property) issues are not. Paying attention to the default co-ownership rules for individually owned Indian lands can help us learn about and address co-ownership challenges in other settings—such as the role of default co-tenancy rules in balancing flexible use arrangements with land preservation strategies for at-risk communities. It can also inform property theory and practice on how co-ownership institutions can best be designed to promote coowner cooperation and efficient use of resources more generally, how anticommons properties actually work, and what methods are most useful to re-aggregate overly fractionated property rights.

Second, I am also excited about how learning from indigenous land planning practices across multiple potential stakeholder jurisdictions within a given reservation (i.e., local municipalities and county governments, state governments, federal governments, and the tribe itself) may translate to inform other work on moving land use planning more generally to more regional, cross-jurisdictional models. Cooperation among multiple levels of government is a persistent challenge in efforts to plan more broadly on a regional, resource-based, or ecosystem level, and yet almost any natural resources or planning person would tell us that this is the kind of decision-making we must do. These kinds of jurisdictional conflicts are being addressed at the reservation level on an ongoing basis, and work on indigenous planning may teach us a lot about how we can plan across jurisdictional boundaries in wider settings. (This is not to suggest that there is a broad literature on indigenous planning or land use issues within reservation legal settings that already exists. There is not. However, for anyone looking to start to review the literature, I recently read an interesting dissertation on comprehensive planning on American Indian reservations and on the Oneida reservation in Wisconsin specifically by Dr. Rebecca Webster, a former law school classmate of mine, that provides a nice place to start and can be found here.) The challenges of planning within a reservation are different and, in some ways, arguably even more complex than the challenges of regional planning generally. Notably, within reservation boundaries, jurisdictional uncertainty may increase concerns about any decision that would jeopardize a future case for asserting jurisdiction, and there are long conflicted histories between neighboring sovereigns. Still, it is a comparison I hope to continue to explore.

This long post only barely skims the surface of all the rich and fascinating land use issues at play in American Indian land tenure. Please consider this an invitation to reach out any time for further discussions on this subject. I would love to continue to engage with more colleagues in this critical subject area and to build more critical learning connections across subject areas and disciplines.

Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss this and other issues here this month.

-          Jessica A. Shoemaker

November 30, 2014 in Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Economic Development, Federal Government, History, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Race, State Government, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

State of Plains - by Jessica A. Shoemaker

On this theme of public participation in land use planning and creating community-driven solutions to ecosystem-level challenges, I want to take this post to share a bit more about a particular tool that I have been working on developing called Plainsopoly.  Plainsopoly is a land use simulation “game.”  Participants engage around a large game board made up of an image of a hypothetical landscape that looks similar to, but is not exactly, a real space within the Great Plains region.  We call the hypothetical space of the game the “State of Plains.”  The State of Plains is depicted on the board by an amalgamation of aerial images including the edge of a large city, several small towns, both irrigated and dryland farming areas, the foothills of a larger mountain range, sensitive sandhills habitat, a winding river, and a recognized federal Indian reservation. Participants play the game in small, randomly assigned groups of four to six people and are assisted by a table facilitator.  Players roll the dice, move the game piece to a correspondingly numbered geographic square on the game board, and then answer and discuss an open-ended question that poses a specific land use challenge for that particular space. 

Game Board

The questions are intentionally wide-ranging.  I developed the question set last year with invaluable input and feedback from a great and generous interdisciplinary group of law students, graduate students, professors, and other experts from across the University and beyond.  We incorporated a range of disciplines, including law, planning, natural resources, applied ecology, business, and economics, and as a group, we worked hard to make sure the most difficult and provocative current land use challenges in the Great Plains are incorporated into the game.  (Two of my students, Jerry Jefferson and Preston Peterson, were particularly instrumental in this process.)  In the current question set, there are questions and challenges relating to urban growth; rural depopulation; infrastructure needs; drought and other climate issues; tourism; new energy siting, including fracking, renewables, and transmission line expansion; invasive species control; water quality and quantity; jurisdictional conflicts; and many other topics. 

Game play up closeIn addition to covering a wide spectrum of substantive issues, the questions are designed to touch on four bigger themes: (1) Values (values choices as reflected in land use), (2) Making Connections (who should make decisions about land use and land use planning and at what level), (3) Ecosystem Services (how public benefits from private land, especially environmental benefits, are valued and accounted for in land use ordering and landowner decision-making), and (4) Temporal Perspectives (which timeframe land use planners and landowners should consider in assessing the consequences of any land use decision). These four themes are not explicitly addressed during game play; however, the questions are designed implicitly to provoke thinking and dialogue around these larger issues.

This Plainsopoly project came about only because of Professor Alister Scott and his group’s original idea for a land use planning, decision-making, and visioning game that they call Rufopoly.  Rufopoly is a game focused on the unique landscapes of the rural-urban fringe spaces of Europe, and the themes of our questions grew out of Professor Scott’s work with stakeholders in this context.  In developing Plainsopoly, we collaborated closely with Professor Scott of the Birmingham School of the Built Environment in the United Kingdom and Professor Richard Wakeford, who is currently directing the Kazan Centre in Russia and was previously the Chair of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Rural Working Party.

As many readers of this blog may know, the use of games or other simulation exercises is an area of increasing scholarly interest in a range of disciplines, including public engagement and political science studies, natural resource management and applied ecology, psychology, business, and behavioral economics.  (For a few brief examples, particularly in the natural resources sector, you might look here and even here.)  Although our Plainsopoly tool has been used purely for informal discussion facilitating at invited events to date, it may also have broader potential.  My sense is that the game could be used to speed participants’ learning about complex land use interactions and may provoke a valuable period of self-reflection regarding resource and planning challenges across the region.  As one participant in one of the Plainsopoly games at the Rural Futures Conference last year said, the game forced him to think not only about his “little piece of land” but also about everyone else’s lands around him:  “I was forced to give opinions on what somebody else should do with their little piece of land. You have to challenge yourself at that point and say, if it’s good for them, maybe I have to relook at my opinion about others giving opinions about my land. It’s a very interesting way of taking a landowner and suddenly forcing me to reevaluate my position regarding my piece of ground.” Lower platte game

I have also found that the experience of engaging in a shared, civil dialogue around the game table on hypothetical (but still very realistic) topics that are otherwise highly charged and sometimes difficult to discuss (like private property rights, community planning, and actual land use conflicts) may have significant value in and of itself.  There is something very provocative about talking about these actual resources issues in the context of just a slightly modified hypothetical game setting that seems to really liberate people to have a much more open and comfortable conversation on these issues.  If we could effectively shape and harness this, I think games like Plainsopoly and Rufopoly could have very useful applications in assisting particular groups in solving real-world problems or developing consensus around specific planning challenges, and in an action-research model, these games might be used to help inform future policy making.

Second game play

I’ve noticed two big themes in the few times we have played Plainsopoly to date.  First, overwhelmingly, participants envision a land use future focused on a very long-term view of sustainability and a vast appreciation for the non-economic values of natural resources.  At least in this hypothetical space, a vast majority of participants seem to prefer decisions that are not made based on short-term economic gains and that consider not just one square parcel of property but rather look to an entire region’s interlocking resource dynamics.  Of course, in this game space, immediate things like grocery bills and retirement savings accounts do not exist, and the transaction costs of considering issues at a regional level are dramatically reduced.  But still, how do we, or could we, translate what appear to be relatively broadly shared values like this into more actual community action?  

The second major notable point of interest for me, so far, is implicit in how we designed the game, but it also comes up very often in participants’ reactions to the questions.  This relates to the extreme breadth of the range of factors that potentially influence an individual landowner’s decision-making about how he or she uses his or her land.  Often, we might think more simply of land use planning and zoning as the relevant forces; however, the game reminds us that so many different law and policy instruments influence landowners—including, as just a few examples, our crop insurance structures, property tax systems, and energy markets.  A much harder issue is not only how do we develop a shared vision for the future of these shared spaces but, more importantly, how do we execute it?  A persistent theme emerging anecdotally from the game play to date is the way in which top-down strategies have a host of unintended and mix-matched interactions that complicate decision-making and implementation at the ground level.  How do we better coordinate these influences?   

Happily, we have the opportunity to explore the potential of games like Plainsopoly and Rufopoly to address these and other issues in a more concentrated way over the next year or so.  We are just embarking on a new partnership with Professor Scott and several others on a  Knowledge Exchange Opportunities grant that we just recently learned has been approved from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK.  The goal of the new grant is to learn from the existing models of Rufopoly and Plainsopoly and another sister game in Sweden and think intentionally about all of the possibilities of this kind of planning, visioning, and decision-making tool.  One end goal is to try to develop a flexible resource kit that maximizes the potential of these tools to assist in planning processes and that hopefully is adaptable to a range of settings. 

As I am entering this new work, I’ve become an eager student of some new areas of scholarship.  For example, I’ve been doing some great reading on critical planning theory as it relates to whether we currently include all of the relevant voices in our typical planning processes and how, if we did achieve greater inclusiveness, such careful collective decision-making about the future of our shared spaces may be powerfully transformative.  I have also been looking at the work of others on effective and innovative new governance models.  This list includes, for example, Professor Beth Noveck and The Governance Lab at NYU; the procedural justice and group engagement work of Professor Tom Tyler; and the thinking on deliberative democracies and the capacity for informed “bottoms up” decision-making by Professor James Fishkin and the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford.  It’s all fascinating stuff, which I also read with a healthy and growing awareness of the potential framing influence of the person who poses the questions – as reflected, for example, in the “nudge” work of Professors Cass Sunstein, Richard Thaler, and others. 

I would more than welcome any other thoughts, comments, or ideas as we embark on further work on this endeavor.  I’m eager to see where it takes us.


(This last picture has nothing to do with the game, per se, but it's my little girls running in a preserved prairie not too far from our house.  One of many special places in the Great Plains worthy of some intentional thinking for its future.)

- Jessica A. Shoemaker

November 18, 2014 in Planning, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Growth Management In Canada - by Deborah Curran

The municipal elections concluded in British Columbia on Saturday night. As I watched the results roll in for my region of Greater Victoria where we have 13 municipalities and a large unincorporated rural area I was unconsciously tallying what kind of leadership would be at the table over the next four years (this will be the first four year local government election cycle in B.C.) to champion the adoption and implementation of the new Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). The current regional plan, renamed for the current process as the Regional Sustainability Strategy, has been surprisingly successful over the past decade - over 90 percent of new development has occurred within the awkwardly named Regional Urban Containment and Servicing Area - due to a number of factors that include a relatively low rate of growth (just over 1 percent), a provincial agricultural land protection regime that limits development on farmland, rural areas that want to stay rural, urban areas that agree to densify to an extent, and available land within the urban containment boundary for a variety of new uses. Metro Vancouver's Livable Region Strategic Plan and new plan Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future mirrors this success in a much faster growing region that is more significantly geographically constrained by oceans, mountains and the agricultural land reserve.  

Part 25 of the Local Government Act, enables the local government growth management regime in B.C., the centrepiece of which are these RGS's. As I describe the purpose and effect of RGS I am sure you have heard if before: a regional board may adopt a RGS to guide decisions on growth, change and development. The purpose of a RGS is to “promote human settlement that is socially, economically, and environmentally healthy and make efficient use of public facilities and services, land and other resources” (section 849). A RGS must cover a twenty-year period and must include a comprehensive statement on the future of the region, including the economic, social, and environmental objectives of the governing board in relation to projected population requirements for housing, transportation, regional district services, parks and natural areas, and economic development. It is an agreement between the local governments (municipal and regional) in a region and should work towards a wish list of smart growth goals: avoiding urban sprawl, ensuring development takes place where adequate facilities exist, settlement patterns that minimize the use of the automobile and encourage walking, bicycling and public transit, protecting environmentally sensitive areas, etc. (s.849). Individual municipalities bring their comprehensive plans, called official community plans (OCP), into conformance with a RGS by including a regional context statement in the OCP stating how it will become consistent with the RGS over time (s.866). The bottom line is that these are voluntary plans that have a circuitous impact on local comprehensive plans, which means they are tenuously binding. [And I will not go into the courts' recent treatment of whether or not bylaws are consistent with local and regional plans in this post. I will save that for my next post on the Death of Community Plans].

However, interestingly last time I looked all RGS' in B.C. have urban growth boundaries. They may not be in the right place from a planning perspective, they may simply follow the lines of our provincial agricultural land protection zone, or they may mirror the jurisdictional boundary between private and Crown land, but it seems that the language of urban containment is alive and well in B.C. A line on the regional map that is adopted into each municipal official community plan is also the best type of policy to have in the RGS because it is clear and there is no discretion in its interpretation. Municipalities agree not to extend water or sewer service beyond that urban containment line except where needed to address public health or fire suppression needs.

In contrast, the relatively recent Ontario regime called "Places to Grow" involves provincially-imposed land use plans that were motivated by untenable increases in infrastructure, primarily road, costs in the Greater Toronto region around Lake Ontario. The foundation is the Places to Grow Act, 2005 that allows for the identification and designation of growth plan areas and the development of strategic growth plans. The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2006 establishes the modest goal of 40 percent of all residential development occurring annually within designated built up areas, and meeting intensification targets for density based on predicted growth rates for each municipality. Municipalities must achieve intensification and meet intensification targets through their official plans and other documents. The Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal has established a built boundary for each municipality, and urban growth centres are identified to take much of the new growth. 

The growth management regimes in B.C. and Ontario are an interesting long term study in different legal approaches. In B.C. each RGS is an awkward negotiation between urban and rural municipalities that is facilitated by a regional government. One could argue that such a structure would lead to agreement on the lowest common policies. However, whether unwittingly or not, several of the RGS have proven to be remarkably effective in relation to urban containment. In Ontario the provincial government controversially imposes intensification targets and built boundaries in very large regional plans (the Greater Golden Horseshoe is many hundreds of kilometres deep and wide). Although mandatory and imposed by the provincial government, which raises the ire of local councils, the growth management targets are modest. Perhaps I am spoiled with our 90 percent urban containment rate here in Greater Victoria, but in a North American context intensification of 40 percent is seen as a gold standard as evidenced by the American Planning Association awarding the Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (apparently the first time the award has been presented to an organization outside the United States).



November 18, 2014 in Agriculture, Books, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Planning, Sprawl, Suburbs, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Reactions to the Lower Platte River Summit - by Jessica A. Shoemaker

Following up on my introductory post, I was fortunate to get to help facilitate the biannual summit of the Lower Platte River Corridor Alliance (LPRCA) last week. The Alliance is a unique organization composed of three Natural Resource Districts and six state agencies in Nebraska. It aims to work “with people to protect the long-term vitality of the Lower Platte River Corridor” (an area that includes “the Lower Platte River, the bluffs, and adjoining public and private lands located within the floodplain” for approximately 100 miles along the river from Columbus to Plattsmouth). The Lower Platte faces both supply and water quality issues. The river traverses unique rural landscapes and also bisects the expanding Omaha-Lincoln metropolitan areas. It provides water for important agricultural and mining uses in the region, and it is also supplies drinking water for over half of Nebraska’s population. (For more information, look here.)

For me, one of the most unique and important aspects of the Alliance is its focus on supporting locally drawn solutions and strategies to protect the river and the surrounding landscape, especially in the face of great demographic changes. My experience at the summit has me thinking more about my ongoing interest in the role of public participation in complex land use and resource management issues, like planning for the long-term sustainability of this important watershed.

Getting out of the office and elbow deep into some of the real-world debates about the future of the Corridor (where I not only work but also live) was invaluable to me. In many respects, I learned more in one day discussing shelter belts, crop insurance, trail development, Main Street facade improvements, property tax systems, and various potential models for valuing ecosystem services with such a diverse group of landowners, agricultural producers, conservationists, advocates, and government officials, than I probably could have from many days in a library. Somewhat unexpectedly, the primary takeaway for me was some renewed perspective about the role of legal solutions in what are often really ecosystem-level social problems. Although I spend most of my days analyzing and trying to craft legal solutions to real-world problems, back on the ground things looked a little different.

For example, Chuck Schroeder, Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute (RFI), started the day with a keynote about the resiliency of rural communities within the Corridor and beyond. At one point, he told a story about a small town community working hard on some marketing and revitalization efforts that had struggled to address a blighted property located right at the entrance to the downtown area. The mayor, according to Chuck, complained to two undergraduate students interns (there for the summer as part of an RFI-funded teaching grant for service learning) about this eyesore house and how all their town’s marketing efforts might be undercut if a visitor’s first impression was this dilapidated house and junk-filled yard. Chuck said the mayor and town had tried “everything” to address the house to no avail, but my ever-legal lawyer mind immediately started ticking off other possible legal solutions to the problem: nuisance claims, aesthetic zoning regulations, condemnation, code enforcement, tax enforcement, etc.  My issue-spotting lawyer brain was so occupied checking off possible legal procedures that I almost missed the punchline of Chuck’s story. Although the mayor and the town had not had success communicating with the home’s owner about the issue in the past, Chuck said the two student interns took it upon themselves to walk up to the landowner’s door and offer to help him sell the stacks of tires on his  lawn and recover some cash for them…. The homeowner, pleased with the result and liking the student interns who helped put some money in his pocket, then proceeded to let the interns and some other community volunteers engage in additional clean up work around the house. Problem almost immediately solved.

It’s a simple story, but for me an important reminder. In my rush to legal analysis, my instinct was not to consider first what might motivate the landowner to fix the problem himself or what may be standing in the way of him doing so. Or how public engagement in the clean up process might be the most efficient and simple solution, while also likely creating a host of other intangible community benefits.

I was also struck at the summit by how many examples there were from stakeholders actively working on land use challenges within the Corridor of the law working more as an obstacle to progress than as an opportunity or useful tool. These people who do the daily work of trying to make the Corridor a better place seemed incredibly competent and intelligent, but in many cases, they described to me very specific instances where well intentioned laws were getting in the way of actually achieving the desired results (e.g, too much bureaucracy, cumbersome procedures, agency rules that didn't make sense).  I heard complaints of the persistent problem of top-down policies and priorities being implemented in ways that are not fully matched up on the ground or that create unintended inefficiencies or obstacles.

This isn’t universally the case. For example, we visited a family farm along the river outside of Omaha where an innovative conservation easement has been created in coordination with the Nebraska Land Trust. The family, at least, said they felt very satisfied that the legal tool of the easement had satisfactorily addressed their concerns in the face of “houses coming over the hills.” 2014-11-06 14.00.39

(Photo: Dave Sands, Executive Director of the Nebraska Land Trust, discusses his organization’s conservation easement work within the Corridor at the site of one of these easements.)

However, the theme that there are limits on the ability of the law to respond perfectly or exclusively to the complex land use challenges in the Corridor--including how we will value and protect a range of ecosystem services in the face of growing populations and a changing climate--lingers.  Of course, these watershed issues are more complex than one junked property with too many tires in the lawn and more difficult to respond to than the threat of new development around a historic farm that an entire family agrees should be preserved. However, after this summit experience, I look forward to more thinking and engagement around the issues of (1) how law and policy can be better designed with real feedback from, and attention to, the on-the-ground realities of the people working in the trenches and (2) the proper mix of legal and non-legal responses to challenges like the longterm vitality a fragile ecosystem, and especially the role of public participation in designing and implementing these varied solutions.

- Jessica A. Shoemaker

November 11, 2014 in Agriculture, Conservation Easements, Development, Land Trust, Planning, Water | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Greetings from Nebraska!

Thank you for the chance to guest post here on the Land Use Prof Blog. As Jessie mentioned, my current research agenda is focused primarily on the intersection of property law and federal Indian law. I’m actively exploring how the unique property frameworks that have been applied in a top-down fashion to American Indian lands over the years have disproportionately limited the abilities of Indian landowners and tribal governments to make flexible and efficient uses of their own resources and how this, in turn, is negatively impacting the health and vibrancy of many indigenous communities today. I’m really looking forward to sharing more of my work on these American Indian land tenure issues and how this all relates to the broader land use theme of this blog over the next month.

In the meantime, though, I’m also just this week participating in some real boots-to-the-ground land use planning work here in Nebraska that may also be of interest to this group (and that I would love comments and feedback on as we go). As Jessie also mentioned, in addition to my more traditional law professor responsibilities at Nebraska, I get to participate in some outreach-oriented work with an actively expanding university-wide effort here called the Rural Futures Institute ("RFI" or the “Institute”). This Institute, though new, has done some really interesting things in a short time (see, for example, recent grant awards and conference proceedings) and is working to be a local, state, regional, and even global leader “for increasing community capacity as well as the confidence of rural people to address their challenges and opportunities, resulting in resilient and sustainable rural futures.” You can read more about RFI’s official mission, vision, and core values here. In my own words, though, I see the Institute as charting new territory in really re-committing to the University’s original land grant purpose and working to create a two-way bridge between the resources of the University as a powerful teaching and research institution and the resources of rural communities, with their own invaluable local knowledge and expertise about both challenges in need of innovative solutions and opportunities that may be expanded and from which important learning can come. RFI focuses on being as community-driven as possible and defines community success broadly (i.e., not just economic indicators but also looking to other critical elements of community life, such as art, culture, health, education, and longterm security and sustainability).

My own view is that land use—and all the complex factors that influence how individual landowners make decisions about using their land and natural resources—is at the crux of a lot of the issues around how we create positive futures for rural landscapes and rural communities. This week I will be exploring that theme directly as I moderate a plenary panel at the Lower Platte River Summit, an event sponsored biannually by the Lower Platte River Corridor Alliance, on Thursday. The theme this year is “Urban Grown – Rural Resiliency.” I’m looking forward to talking to a variety of experts about balancing growth and sustainability along the Lower Platte, with its unique resource issues and mix of urban and rural places. The panel includes local landowners, a water quality and public health professor, a real estate developer, agricultural producers, and a National Park Service program director who helps communities develop recreational trails in places like the Lower Platte River Corridor. I'm also looking forward to the Summit's afternoon bus tour of real properties along the Corridor that raise interesting land use issues, including a farm with a unique set of conservation easements in place and a small town doing its best to bridge its historical traditions with modern development in light of some encroachment pressure from the Omaha metro.

I expect it will all be fantastic fodder for further work and thought, and I look forward to sharing some observations and reactions to the discussions around land use at the Summit this week. However, I also plan to tell you about one other project that I’ve been doing with RFI and that I’ll be using as a discussion tool and interactive exercise at the Summit: a land use simulation “game” we’ve developed called Plainsopoly. Plainsopoly is experienced truly as a game in which participants engage around a large game board image of a hypothetical landscape and roll dice to answer a series of real-world (but still hypothetical) land use visioning challenges. An interdisciplinary group of students and professors from across the University, including from law, natural resources, applied ecology, business, and agricultural economics, helped me develop this as a discussion tool last year, and we worked in conjunction with a group from Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom to adapt Professor Alister Scott's original idea for this kind of planning game (what they call RUFopoly for its focus on the Rural Urban Fringe (i.e., RUF) space in Europe). So far, I’ve only piloted Plainsopoly for the purpose it will be used again this Thursday: as a discussion facilitator at conference-type events. However, it has gotten very positive feedback for its potential to improve stakeholders’ engagement around land use issues, open civil dialogue, and speed participants’ learning around land use management challenges and opportunities. Like my colleagues in the UK, I'm interested in thinking further about whether this kind of tool may have future applications for conflict resolution, consensus building, or even real-world planning and policy development.

I’ll look forward to telling you more about the Summit and about this Plainsopoly exercise over the next week or so and then also to turning to the Indian land tenure issues later in the month.

- Jessica A. Shoemaker

November 4, 2014 in Agriculture, Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Development, Planning, Sustainability, Water | Permalink | Comments (0)

Land Use in Canada - Where "Extensive and Restrictive Land Use Regulation is the Norm" by Deborah Curran

Greetings from Canada where most of the water flows north and there is no Canadian equivalent to the Fifth Amendment. Arguably the biggest difference in land use law between Canada and the U.S. is that we have no constitutionally protected property rights in Canada. Of suprise to many of you and, indeed, to many landowners in Canada, this approach to land use regulation allows provincial and local governments to restrict virtually all use of land without compensating the property rights holder for loss of land value as long as the regulation is in the public interest. As Justice Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada reasoned in Mariner Real Estate Ltd. v Nova Scotia (Attorney General), (1999) 177 D.L.R. (4th) 696, 178 N.S.R.(2d) 294 (NSCA) when he was a judge of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in a judgment that thoroughly canvassed this area of law (at paras. 41-42):

These U.S. and Australian constitutional cases concern constitutional limits on legislative power in relation to private property. As O'Connor, J. said in the Unites States Supreme Court case of Eastern Enterprises v Apfel 118 S. Ct. 2131 (U.S. Mass. 1998), the purpose of the U.S. constitutional provision (referred to as the "takings clause") is to prevent the government from "...forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be born by the public as a whole." Candian courts have no similar broad mandate to review and vary legislative judgments about the appropriate distribution of burdens and benefits flowing from environmental or other land use controls. In Canada, the courts' task is to determine whether the regulation in question entitles the respondents to compensation under the Expropriation Act, not to pass judgment on the way the Leiglature apportions the burdens flowing from land use regulation.

In this country, extensive and restrictive land use regulation is the norm. Such regulation has, almost without exception, been found not to consitute compensable expropriation.

However, the principle that a government or expropriating entity must pay compensation when expropriating an interest in property is alive and well in Canada. Its foundation rests in the royal perogative, powers bestowed on the Crown or government from the common law, and the common law principle that unless a statute explicitly provides, it is not to be construed as taking away property without just compensation (Attorney General v DeKeyser's Royal Hotel [1920] A.C. 508 H.L.). As a common law principle for which the courts have set a high bar when testing whether regulatory behaviour equals regulatory or de facto expropriation. The claimant must prove that:

1. The legislation or government action must so restrict a landowner's enjoyment of property as to constitute confiscation an interest in property; and

2. That interest in property must be acquired by the Crown (government).

It is the second part of the test that is the hardest to meet. Courts have found that simply benefitting Crown land such as a park is not sufficient to prove acquisition by the Crown.

In many provinces this common law rule is codified in a modified form in provincial land use law. For example, sections 914 of the Local Government Act in British Columbia and 621 of the Alberta Municipal Government Act state that no compensation will be paid for changes in the value of land caused by specified decisions made under a land use bylaw or permitting function. It is only when regulation takes away virtually all incidents of private ownership that the regulation will be found to be improper. The precise wording in British Columbia under s.914 is:

(1) Compensation is not payable to any person for any reduction in the value of that person's interest in land, or for any loss or damages that result from

(a) the adoption of an official community plan or a bylaw under this Division [zoning and other development regulation] or the issue of a permit under Division 9 [development permit] of this part,


(2) Subsection (1) does not apply where the bylaw under this Division rstricts the use of land to a public use.

These regulatory or de facto expropriations are few and far between in Canada. Although we hear about successfully argued "takings" cases in the U.S. courts, in Canada a court has never found land use regulation by a local government to result in a regulatory expropriation for which compensation is owed. See Mariner Real Estate Ltd. v Nova Scotia (Attorney General) 1999 CanLII 7241 (NSCA) for an excellent discussion of this area of law, and Canadian Pacific Railway Co. v Vancouver (City) [2006] 1 SCR 227, 2006 SCC 5 for the most recent Supreme Court of Canada discussion in the municipal land use context. Courts have ruled that significantly curtailing development on land that is environmentally sensitive, freezing development, development moratoria, and requirements to plant a vegetated buffer adjacent to a watercourse to protect a drinking water source do not require compensation.

The cases where courts have awarded compensation for loss of an interest in property centre around federal or provincial regulation that essentially prohibits an otherwise existing lawful activity or prevents access to a property right. Several cases in British Columbia award compensation for mineral rights that the provincial government rendered inaccessible upon creating a provincial park [R v Tener [1985 1 SCR 533; Casamiro Resource Corp. v British Columbia (Attorney General), 1991 CanLII 211 (BCCA)]. The classic case is Manitoba Fisheries v The Queen [1979] 1 SCR 101 where the court found a de facto expropriation by the federal government when it enacted legislation that created a monopoly in favour of a Crown corporation dealing with a freshwater fishery that removed all economic viability, including the goodwill, of one business.

Before I seal your view of Canada as the quiet socialist neighbour to the north ("What? No constitutionally protected property rights?") I must add that in practice land use regulation by local governments works much the same in Canada as in most parts of the U.S. Zoning typically awards development potential or development rights, and once an application is submitted to a local government that zoning and other regulations vest. Few local governments attempt to curb growth in any comprehensive way. There is little coordination at a regional scale about where new development will occur, and most cities are challenged with revitalization of a formerly industrialized water front or downtown core that has to compete with the big box periphery. Proposals for a slight increase in residential density in existing neighbourhoods result in an eight hour public hearing, and there is, of course, no accounting for municipal bad taste in what was kind of development council believes is in the public interest. Although we have somehow resisted building freeways through most of our urban centres and do have a few somewhat successful provincial growth management or agricultural land protection law in place (more on that this month), the local politics of land use law often favours individual property rights.

If we conducted a poll I would be willing to wager that most Canadians and, in particular, municipal elected officials believe that compensation is owed if development "rights" are taken away by regulation. Most intersting is the fact that the Canadian law of regulatory expropriation has remained unchanged since land use regulation came into vogue yet it is popularly trumped by the law of eminent domain from the U.S. Perhaps telecommunications law has more impact on land use than land use regulation itself.

November 4, 2014 in Comparative Land Use, Constitutional Law, Development, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Should More Land Use Professors be Libertarians? Part III (Final Post)

This is (hopefully) the last in a series of three posts, again cross-posted from Concurring Opinions. In the first, I asked why more land use professors are not libertarians, considering the strong leftist critique of local government. In the second, I suggested that one reason for the leftist commitment to local government (and specifically to local government land use control, albeit often in the guise of “regionalism”) is that the relevant libertarian alternatives – namely, the marketplace and the common law of nuisance – are far worse. Nevertheless, I conceded that this answer was unsatisfactory, considering that many leftists – myself included – betray a Tocquevillian optimism about local government that is difficult to square with the position that local governments are merely the least bad of all the alternatives. So I am left here, in this third post, with the hardest question: How can left-leaning local government scholars have any optimism about local government in light of the abusive local government practices we have witnessed (and documented)?

State Structuring of Local Governments

Alright, here goes… While there is no denying the manifold abuses of which local governments are guilty (see my initial post), the blame for these abuses really falls upon state governments, not local governments. The reason local governments act in the parochial fashion they do is because states have empowered and constrained local governments in such a way that effectively forces local governments to be parochial. In a variety of ways, states have facilitated and encouraged the proliferation of small local governments within metropolitan regions, each of which is thus coerced into a zero-sum competition with the others for scarce revenues. States have, at the same time, dumped all kinds of unfunded and underfunded mandates on local governments, which they must meet with whatever revenue they raise locally. Yet, there is one saving grace for local governments: states have given them an awesome power — the land use power. Is it any surprise that local governments use the biggest power states have given them to solve the biggest problem states have saddled them with –an ongoing obligation to provide costly services with limited funds? The local government abuses I mentioned in my initial post, including the “fiscalization” of land use, exclusion of undesirable land uses (and users), strategic annexation and incorporation efforts, and sprawl are thus not things local governments do because they are inherently corrupt; they do so because the state has structured local government law so as to make these abuses inevitable.  

That’s not even the interesting part. This is: Why have the states created a system in which local governments have such perverse incentives? According to Jerry Frug, states created the modern system of local government law because they were threatened by cities. Cities’ openness and spirit of participation stood in contrast to the bureaucratizing tendencies of the state. States created a system of local government law designed specifically to emasculate and frustrate cities’ ambitions. In other words, local government represents a vital aspect of human experience that has been actively suppressed by the state.  Frug and many others have argued ever since that in order to recover the essence of the local, we need to recalibrate local power and change cities’ incentive structures.

Local Governments and Participatory Democracy

Frug wrote in the tradition of the New Left, with its emphasis on participatory democracy, and in the aftermath of a period in which cities had been devastated by riots, white flight, urban renewal, disinvestment, and outright hostility from state and national political figures.  During the late 1960s, there had been a moment when cities appeared to be on the brink of realizing their potential as fora for public participation – a heady time of citizens’ councils and “maximum feasible participation” – but this potential was quickly squashed by nervous elites.

Frug’s argument echoes theorists of participatory democracy such as Hannah Arendt. Arendt writes that, despite the bureaucratization of modern life, there periodically erupt spontaneous displays of citizen activism that demonstrate a latent human desire for political participation. These moments, of which she includes the Paris Commune of 1871, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and others, are quickly snuffed out when powerful interests feel threatened.  Nevertheless, Arendt sees participatory democracy as lying at the core of the human condition, and the quest to recover the lost tradition of spontaneous citizen activism as a noble calling, which she refers to as “pearl diving.”  This “pearl diving,” this quest to recover the vital potentiality of the local, is I think what motivates many leftist local government scholars, and fuels our optimism.

A False Utopia?

Before we all choke on the sentimentality of the last paragraph, I should note that the nostalgia for the pre-Progressive era city is somewhat discomfiting. The Gilded Age city was no enlightened democracy; even before the political machines turned cities into cesspools of corruption, as legal historian Robin Einhorn writes, cities were highly privatized, “segmented” entities that almost exclusively served the will of propertied interests. Going back further in history, certainly very few of us would like to live in the “free” cities of the middle ages, which were basically totalitarian communes, or the Athenian polis, which was rooted in the exploitation of slave and female labor.

Moreover, it is hard for cities to fulfill their potential as fora for participation when they are so embroiled in the quotidian business of governing at the local level.   While states have the freedom to delegate hard decisions and devote their energies to ideological struggles, cities have to deal with the pragmatic daily chore of picking up the garbage, literally and figuratively. On a nearly daily basis, cities must address intractable issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, climate change, education, health care, security, immigration, and more, issues that, in an era of globalization, are only likely to intensify the pressure on cities as states and national governments recede in influence.  Managing all these issues will require shortcuts, and city governments will be forced to make unpopular decisions that are sure to anger significant segments of the community; these issues cannot possibly be addressed if we see urban politics as merely, or even principally, a forum for democratic deliberation.

But everything I have just said also explains why we leftists insist on putting all our eggs in the local government basket. Like it or not, cities are, and for the foreseeable future will be, the primary means of dealing with the messy everyday problems we confront. In some cases, as with the provision of clean water (see my earlier post on cities in the developing world) they have succeeded spectacularly. In others, such as the provision of affordable housing, they have failed miserably. But even where they have failed, as in the case of affordable housing, we can often point the finger at the way states have empowered local governments, rather than some inherent flaw in local government. In any event, as I mentioned in my previous post, we have few viable alternatives to local government. For reasons both practical and utopian, it figures to think that cities represent our best hope for the future, and to rest our efforts on improving urban governance rather than displacing it.

Ken Stahl

October 9, 2014 in Density, Development, Local Government, NIMBY, Nuisance, Planning, Politics, Sprawl, State Government, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Should More Land Use Professors be Libertarians? Part II

This post is, again, cross-posted fom the Concurring Opinions blog.

In my previous post, I asked why more land use/local government law professors do not identify as libertarians, considering the role many of us have played in exposing the dysfunctional workings of local government.

If there is an obvious argument in favor of the status quo in land use/local government regulation, it is that all the alternatives seem worse. Let us consider some of the candidates:

The Market

 An unimpeded free market in land use development would apparently be the worst of all worlds, as there would be no way to prevent open space from being gobbled up by new housing, roads and schools becoming impossibly congested, or a refinery locating next to a single-family home (or, perhaps more likely, a landowner threatening to build a refinery in order to extort his neighbor, a common scenario in pre-zoning Chicago).  In a densely populated society, we need some way of ensuring that landowners consider the impact of their land use on neighbors.   The good people of Oregon realized this after an ill-advised ballot initiative a few years ago effectively wiped out zoning, and suddenly a single landowner could, for example, subdivide his parcel into 100 lots for single-family homes with no regard for the impact the development would have on local services or infrastructure. The ballot initiative was repealed by a subsequent initiative a few years later.

In my previous post, I mentioned Houston as a possible alternative to most places’ current system of land use regulation. Houston is often touted for its lack of zoning, and corresponding low home prices. I should point out, however, that Houston is not quite a free-market paradise. Houston has a full complement of land use laws, including subdivision regulations (to prevent downtown-houston-at-night-1430683-sthe aforementioned 100 lot problem) billboard regulations, and the like. The city even enforces restrictions contained in private covenants.   As my friend and Houstonian Matt Festa points out, Houston has a quirky city charter that prohibits zoning without a voter initiative, so the city does lots of land use regulation but simply calls it something other than zoning.  And, while I’m on the subject, does anyone really think the reason Houston has lower land prices than San Jose is because of zoning?

Nuisance Law

The common law of nuisance, a favorite of libertarian land use scholars, would appear to solve some of the problems of a free-market system, such as the refinery locating near a single-family home. But what if, instead of a refinery, it’s a bowling alley?   A tavern? A cemetery? Are any of these nuisances? On that note, is subdividing my property into 100 new lots a nuisance? In all of these cases, the answer is … maybe. It depends on the severity and nature of the impact on my neighbors, the existing precedent on nuisance law in the particular state, and, most importantly, how the judge assigned to the case chooses to balance the interests involved.

This, of course, is exactly the problem. If local government land use control has been criticized for subjecting landowners to uncertainty about permissible uses of their property, for forcing developers to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to get permits, for picking winners and losers based on crass political concerns such as campaign contributions, the process of “judicial zoning” through nuisance law is little better. First, nuisance law is, if anything, more uncertain and expensive than local government land use control. Nuisance doctrine is so ambiguous that no landowner can ever know with certainty what his or her rights are without resorting to a highly fact-intensive litigation, which will inevitably involve a massive expenditure of time and money. (And Coasean bargaining won’t work if people don’t know their rights.) Second, judges inevitably pick winners and losers in nuisance cases, and while we might expect a judge – even an elected one – to rule on the legal merits of a nuisance case rather than political considerations, the nuisance inquiry is so vague and policy-driven (e.g., harm v. utility) that judges necessarily end up making value judgments about what land uses they find desirable and undesirable. Moreover, though judges – again, even elected judges – are surely less influenced than legislators by political concerns like campaign contributions, public choice research has shown that the judicial decision-making process shares many of the abuses that plague the political process – such as the dominance of repeat players and the ability of small, well-organized interests to exercise disproportionate influence.

To go a step further, the fact that local government decisionmaking is “political” whereas judicial decisionmaking is not (at least in principle) is precisely what makes local government land use control superior. When local officials make land use decisions, members of the community will at least have the opportunity to influence them through the political process. By contrast, a judge hearing a nuisance case is likely to be far less sensitive to the full array of interests affected by its decision, both because the adversarial nature of common-law litigation precludes anyone but the parties from being heard, and because judges, even when elected, are generally (and hopefully!) less amenable to pressure from voters than are local politicians.

The question, as my favorite economist Bill Fischel puts it, is whether we would rather be ruled by judges or by legislators. Though the choice, as I have presented it here, is an unpleasant one, the balance of the evidence seems to favor legislators. Judges have long understood this, and they have consciously assumed a passive and deferential role in the land use process from the beginning (Indeed, it is notable that the foundational 1926 case upholding the constitutionality of zoning, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926), was authored by perhaps the most libertarian justice of all time, George Sutherland. Sutherland’s opinion made a point that zoning was necessary because nuisance law had become an inadequate means of dealing with modern land use problems.)

Nevertheless, there is something unsatisfying about this justification for local government land use control, even for leftists. The leftist vision for local government is an optimistic one, rooted in the belief that local government offers an opportunity to realize our highest aspirations for democratic self-government.  The local-government-as-least-of-all-evils argument is for us an unacceptably pessimistic view of government, and its insistence on a merely quantitative accounting of the relative demerits of various systems of land use control invites every armchair empiricist to place a thumb on the scale in favor of his or her own preferred arrangement. On the other hand, given the unsparing descriptive account of local government detailed in my previous post, how can leftists be so optimistic? I will address that question in my next post.

Ken Stahl

October 7, 2014 in Affordable Housing, Environmental Law, Local Government, NIMBY, Nuisance, Planning, Politics, State Government, Suburbs, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Should More Land Use Professors be Libertarians?

In case you missed it, I am cross-posting something I initially posted to Concurring Opinions, that may be of interest to our readers here.  Parts II and III to follow:

Many professors who study land use and local government law, myself included, consider ourselves leftists rather than libertarians. That is, we have some confidence in the ability of government to solve social problems. Nevertheless, were you to pick up a randomly selected piece of left-leaning land use or local government scholarship (including my own) you would likely witness a searing indictment of the way local governments operate. You would read that the land use decisionmaking process is usually a conflict between deep-pocketed developers who use campaign contributions to elect pro-growth politicians and affluent homeowners who use their ample resources to resist change that might negatively affect their property values. Land use “planning” – never a great success to begin with – has largely been displaced by the “fiscalization” of land use, in which land use decisions are based primarily on a proposed land use’s anticipated contribution to (or drain upon) a municipality’s revenues. Public schools in suburban areas have essentially been privatized due to exclusionary zoning practices, and thus placed off limits to the urban poor, whereas public schools in cities have been plundered by ravenous teachers’ unions.

Continue reading

October 6, 2014 in Affordable Housing, Inclusionary Zoning, Local Government, NIMBY, Planning, Scholarship, Sprawl, State Government, Suburbs, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Resilience, Smart Growth and Equitable Development on Long Island

Check out EPA's Greening The Apple blog, which reported today on a collaboration between Touro Law Center's Land Use & Sustainable Development Institute and the Long Island Smart Growth and Resiliency Partnership (LISGRP):  Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Resilience, Smart Growth and Equitable Development on Long Island | Greening The Apple. LISGRP is partnership of EPA, FEMA, New York State Department of State, Suffolk County, Nassau County and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) formed shortly after Super Storm Sandy to help Long Island rebuild in a smarter, stronger and more resilient fashion. 

Among other projects that focus on the intersection of climate resiliency and smart growth, LISGRP is working with Touro Law Center to place law students with the City of Long Beach to support sustainable rebuilding. Consistent with priorities identified in the City's recently completed NY Rising Community Reconstruction Plan, the City is implementing recommendations from a Global Green Technical Assistance project (funded through a grant from EPA’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program) and a New York University study on green infrastructure and storm water management.

Thus, according EPA Greening the Apple bloggers Joe Siegel and Rabi Kieber, LISGRP and its collaborators are "turning lemons into lemonade" in the wake of the devestation of Super Storm Sandy.

...Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership has turned lemons into lemonade by incorporating not only climate change resilience but smart growth and equitable development into long term planning on Long Island. The groundbreaking work of the Partnership will no doubt serve as a model for other recovery efforts in Region 2 and beyond.

Posted by Professor Sarah J. Adams-Schoen, Director of Touro Law's Land Use & Sustainable Development Law Institute. You can follow the Institute's blog here, and contact Professor Adams-Schoen by email or phone (, (631)761-7137).

September 26, 2014 in Beaches, Climate, Coastal Regulation, Community Economic Development, Federal Government, Green Building, Local Government, Planning, Smart Growth, State Government, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)