Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Here's a story out of Arizona, where apparently a historic Frank Lloyd Wright house was under dispute. From the New York Times story by Fernanda Santos and Michael Kimmelman:
The conservancy and other organizations petitioned the city in June to consider giving the house landmark status, after they learned of the former owners’ plans to split the lot to build the new homes. Three local government bodies approved the landmark designation, but the Council, which has the final say, postponed its vote twice, in part to give the parties more time to strike some type of compromise. There was also uncertainty over how some of its members would vote, given the homeowners’ lack of consent for the landmark process.
“If ever there was a case to balance private property rights versus the public good, to save something historically important to the cultural legacy of the city, this was it,” Larry Woodin, the president of the conservancy, said in an interview.
Seems like a good result here, while communities across the nation continue to struggle with how to strike that balance.
January 2, 2013 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, Historic Preservation, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Property Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Christopher J. Tyson (LSU) has posted Localism and Involuntary Annexation: Reconsidering
Approaches to New Regionalism, published in the Tulane Law Review, Vol. 87 (2012). The abstract:
"Involuntary" annexation - the ability of cities to expand their territory unilaterally by extending their boundaries - is one of the most controversial devices in land use law. It is under attack in virtually every state where it exists. Involuntary annexation is a direct threat to "localism," the belief in small,
autonomous units of government as the optimum forum for expressing democratic freedom, fostering community, and organizing local government. Localism has been justifiably faulted with spurring metropolitan fragmentation and the attendant challenges it creates for regional governance. This critique is at the center of "New Regionalism," a movement of scholars and policy makers focused on promoting regional governance structures that respect the cultural draw of localism while correcting for its deficiencies. New Regionalism emphasizes bottom-up, voluntary governance structures and dismisses approaches like involuntary annexation as politically infeasible. Both types of approaches face considerable political challenges, but there are arguably more examples of well-functioning involuntary annexation regimes than there are successful models of New Regionalism. While involuntary annexation has been critical to the success of metropolitan regions in Texas and North Carolina, many regard it as a violation of the liberty and freedom that comes with property rights. Property rights are rooted in instinctive and culturally reinforced notions of personal identity and the inviolability of ownership. Localism extends this logic to municipal identity. The hostility toward involuntary annexation, therefore, can be understood as a response to the taking of a person's perceived right to express individual identity, group identity, status, and ownership through municipal identity. This notion of municipal identity as property threatens to undermine both existing involuntary annexation regimes as well as future New Regionalist proposals. While New Regionalism has well-reasoned justifications for focusing on more-voluntary, bottom-up governance structures, involuntary annexation remains a potent tool for facilitating regional governance and is worthy of defense and preservation.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Tony Arnold (Louisville) sends word that he has co-authored a chapter with Lance Gunderson (Emory--Environmental Studies) called Adaptive Law, forthcoming in the book Resilience and Law, Craig R. Allen & Ahjond S. Garmestani, eds., Columbia University Press, 2013. The abstract:
This book chapter proposes a bold sweeping set of characteristics of "adaptive law": features of the legal system that promote the resilience and adaptive capacity of both social systems and ecosystems. Law, particularly U.S. law, has been characterized as ill-suited to management of natural resources and the environment for resilience and sustainability. The maladaptive features of U.S. law include narrow systemic goals, mononcentric, unimodal, and fragmented structure, inflexible methods, and rational, linear, legal-centralist processes. This book chapter proposes four fundamental features of an adaptive legal system: 1) multiplicty of articulated goals; 2) polycentric, multimodal, and integrationist structure; 3) adaptive methods based on standards, flexibility, discretion, and regard for context; and 4) iterative legal-pluralist proceses with feedback loops and accountability. It then discusses these four features in the context of several socio-ecological issues and identifies needs for future study and development of adaptive law, particularly in light of panarchy theory about how complex, adaptive, interconnected systems change over time.
As many land use lawyers already know, Prof. Arnold is one of the leading scholars in establishing the emerging area of adaptive law; this collaboration with Prof. Gunderson looks to be a very helpful starting point for comparing ecosystems and social systems with respect to adaptation to changing circumstances.
Friday, November 2, 2012
Keith H. Hirokawa (Albany) and Jonathan D. Rosenbloom (Drake) have posted Land Use Planning in a Climate Change Context, forthcoming in RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON CLIMATE ADAPTATION LAW, Jonathan Verschuuren, ed., 2013. The abstract:
Although local governance is an experiment in adaptation (and often lauded for being so), climate change is distinct from traditional challenges to local governance. Nonetheless, many local governments are directing agencies to utilize existing and traditional local government tools to adapt to climate change. Local governments, for example, are adopting regulatory rules that require consideration of potential climate impacts in public-sector decisions with the goal of improving local adaptive capacity. Throughout these efforts, it is becoming clear that one of the most effective adaptation tools used by local governments is the power to plan communities. Through land use planning, local governments can increase resiliency to major climate shifts and ensure that our communities are equipped with built-in mechanisms to face and mitigate such changes. This essay identifies some of the most innovative planning tools available to local governments that illustrate the potential to plan for community resiliency. The essay begins by identifying some of the severe impacts local governments will experience from climate change. This part recognizes that not all local governments will experience climate change impacts the same, and that climate change adaptation is contextual. Part II provides an overview and inventory of traditional local governance tools, paying particular attention to zoning and nuisance laws. Part III looks more closely at specific structural tools that form the basic foundation for a wide variety of land use planning adaptation approaches and goals. The final part expands on the structural tools and explores specific mechanisms that can help local governments achieve adaptation goals and avoid catastrophic unpreparedness through proper land use planning in the climate change arena.
This piece, by two productive scholars who are also friends of this blog (Jonathan served as a guest blogger as well), should serve as a terrific introduction to the intersection of land use and climate change. The volume looks like good reading for students, scholars, and practitioners.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Happy Halloween! If you're out trick-or-treating tonight, think about what planners call the "trick-or-treat test" for your neighborhood. The idea is that based on design and form, a great neighborhood for trick-or-treating--kids and families walking around the streets, visiting door to door--is also likely to be a great neighborhood year-round. City Planner Brent Toderian writes about this at the Huffington Post in Does Your Neighbourhood Pass the 'Trick or Treat Test'?:
Great neighbourhoods for trick-or-treating also tend to be great neighborhoods for families everyday:
- Tree-lined streets designed for walkers more than speeding cars.
- Enough density and community completeness, to activate what I call "the power of nearness" - everything you need, nearby.
- Good visual surveillance through doors and stoops, windows (and I don't mean windows in garages), porches and "eyes on the street."
- Connected, legible streets that let you "read" the neighbourhood easily -grids tend to be good for this, but other patterns work too.
All of these are great for trick-or-treating, and equally great for walkable, healthy, economically resilient communities year-round.
It makes a great deal of sense, though I hadn't previously known that the "trick-or-treat test" was a term of art in the planning community. Thanks to Jenna Munoz for the pointer. A related item is Richard Florida's 2012 Halloween Index at The Atlantic Cities:
For this year's "Halloween Index," Kevin Stolarick and my Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) colleagues focused on five factors that make for a great Halloween metro area — population density (which makes for efficient trick-or-treating), kids ages five to 14 (as a share of metro population), and median income (a measure of regional affluence), as well as candy stores and costume rental stores per one hundred thousand people.
In the story at the link, you can check out the map which shows the best scoring cities in the categories; Chicago is #1. Zillow, however, has San Fransisco at #1 with its similar but slightly different methodology for determining the 20 Best Cities to Trick or Treat in 2012:
There is a common belief that wealthy neighborhoods are the Holy Grail for harvesting the most Halloween candy. However, to provide a more holistic approach to trick-or-treating, the Zillow Trick-or-Treat Index was calculated using four equally weighted data variables: Zillow Home Value Index, population density, Walk Score and local crime data from Relocation Essentials. Based on those variables, the Index represents cities that will provide the most candy, with the least walking and safety risks.
Finally, Paul Knight at Treehugger provides a mathematical forumula in More on the Trick or Treat Test: Calcluating the "Candy Density":
Potential Candy Score (Candy Pieces) = Target Neighborhood (Acres) x Houses-Per-Acre x Families-Per-House (accounting for duplexes, etc) x % Candy-Giving-Families x Candy-Pieces-Per-Family
I always say that land use is ultimately about the built environment of the communities in which we live. If you are out in your community on Halloween night, be safe, and take the opportunity to observe and think about land use!
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Robert C. Ellickson (Yale) has posted The Law and Economics of Street Layouts: How a Grid Pattern Benefits a Downtown, forthcoming in the Alabama Law Review from its lecture series on boundaries. The abstract:
People congregate in cities to improve their prospects for social and economic interactions. As Jane Jacobs recognized, the layout of streets in a city’s central business district can significantly affect individuals’ ability to obtain the agglomeration benefits that they seek. The costs and benefits of alternative street designs are capitalized into the value of abutting lots. A planner of a street layout, as a rule of thumb, should seek to maximize the market value of the private lots within the layout. By this criterion, the street grid characteristic of the downtowns of most U.S. cities is largely successful. Although a grid layout has aesthetic shortcomings, it helps those who frequent a downtown to orient themselves and move about. A grid also is conducive to the creation of rectangular lots, which are ideal for siting structures and minimizing disputes between abutting landowners. Major changes in street layouts, such as those accomplished by Baron Haussmann in Paris and Robert Moses in New York City, are unusual and typically occur in bursts. Surprisingly, the aftermath of a disaster that has destroyed much of a city is not a propitious occasion for the revamping of street locations.
Highly recommended, with lots of interesting planning-type details in addition to the larger importance to land use theories and approaches.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
I've been stumbling across a lot studies lately about the links (or lack thereof) between vegetation and crime.I remember back in grad school when I was studying Landscape Architecture, we would meet with communities to discuss what types of parks and resources they would most like to see. The folks in the Fruitvale Neighborhood in Oakland repeatedly told us that they didn't want creeks or trees because these bred crime. Although there was no evidence to support this assertion, several people living in the area balked when we suggested opening up a waterway and adding greenspace.
Another study has come out examining the link between vegetation and crime. A study of Philadelphia indicated that where there are lots of trees, we see lower rates of assaults, robbery, and burglary. Theft, however, was not lower. Interesting to figure out how the perception of crime and statistics play out. (Personally, when I have been robbed the culprits have tended to hide behind cars, not trees). It is educational to juxtapose these crime studies with other work generally linking lower vegetation with lower income neighborhoods.
More on that Philadelphia Study:
"Does Vegetation Encourage or Suppress Urban Crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA" by Mary K. Wolfe and Jeremy Mennis in Landscape and Urban Planning (20 Sept. 2012).
ABSTRACT: There is longstanding belief that vegetation encourages crime as it can conceal criminal activity. Other studies, however, have shown that urban residential areas with well-maintained vegetation experience lower rates of certain crime types due to increased surveillance in vegetated spaces as well as the therapeutic effects ascribed to vegetated landscapes. The present research analyzes the association of vegetation with crime in a case study of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We examine rates of assaults, robberies, burglaries, and thefts in relation to remotely sensed vegetation abundance at the Census tract level. We employ choropleth mapping, correlation, ordinary least squares regression, and spatial econometric modeling to examine the influence of vegetation on various crime types while controlling for tract-level socioeconomic indicators. Results indicate that vegetation abundance is significantly associated with lower rates of assault, robbery, and burglary, but not theft. This research has implications for urban planning policy, especially as cities are moving towards ‘green’ growth plans and must look to incorporate sustainable methods of crime prevention into city planning.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Keith Hirokawa (Albany) has posted his latest interesting piece, Urban Forests as Green Infrastructure, a chapter from his book with Patricia Salkin GREENING LOCAL GOVERNMENT: LEGAL STRATEGIES FOR PROMOTING SUSTAINABILITY, EFFICIENCY, AND FISCAL SAVINGS, p. 257, Keith H. Hirokawa and Patricia Salkin, eds., American Bar Association, 2012. The abstract:
Urban forests capture air and water pollutants as they provide shade, habitat, and social value. The health and character of urban forests are determined by the priorities that communities place on them, the local regulations that direct land use choices, and the extent to which local governments address resource shortages through zoning, resource planning, and resource regulation. Local governments can plan and regulate urban forests to benefit (economically, socially, and environmentally) from the services that trees can provide to communities. This essay explores the role of urban forests in the local provision of local green infrastructure and the ways that local governments capture of the benefits of urban forests by planning and implementing tree protections.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Kathleen Oppenheimer Berkey (Pavese Law Firm) and Todd BenDor (Planning--North Carolina/MIT) have posted A Comprehensive Solution to the Biofouling Problem for the Endangered Florida Manatee and Other Species, Environmental Law, Vol. 42, No. 2, 2012. The abstract:
Biofouling is the undesirable accumulation of microorganisms, plants, algae, arthropods, or mollusks on a surface, such as a ship’s hull, when it is in contact with water for a period of time. Biofouling and its traditional remedies pose serious environmental consequences, including 1) the transportation of nonindigenous aquatic species that can outcompete native species for space and resources, thereby reducing biodiversity and threatening the viability of fisheries or aquaculture, 2) the harmful accumulation of zinc- or copper-based toxins, and 3) the increase in weight, decrease in flexibility and mobility, and topical damage of marine mammals hosting biofouling organisms. There are a number of existing legal mechanisms that address biofouling under international law. However, due to the complexity of biofouling, this Article posits that existing mechanisms are inadequate for comprehensively regulating the problem, leaving aquatic species susceptible to numerous negative effects from biofouling. To address these inadequacies, we recommend biofouling also be mitigated under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). First, we consider the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) as a case study species, and suggest that Florida’s Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) areas develop a Safe Harbor umbrella agreement under section 10 of the ESA to create a new generation of ecological harbors that are safe from the dangers of biofouling. The agreement would include a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that incorporates a combination of behavioral and infrastructural biofouling mitigation techniques to be applied regionally across estuary, freshwater, and saltwater ecosystems. Second, we suggest that both public and private owners of existing, proposed, and expanding marina developments be encouraged to voluntarily sign Safe Harbor Agreements under the RC&D areas’ umbrella agreement to avoid owners having to navigate the long and strenuous process of obtaining individual HCPs. The comprehensive biofouling management strategy proposed as a model here would require RC&D areas to carry out a range of biofouling best management practices that would protect species and the habitats on which they depend from the adverse effects of biofouling.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has an article providing an overview of the city's new zoning code, which replaces its 1962 code. The new code allows high-rises to be built more easily in the city's central commercial district and along its waterfront as-of-right. (See map of new zoning districts.) It also "assumes the city's population will grow in the future, and it encourages higher density buildings to accommodate the newcomers." (Note: Philly's population has declined from slightly over 2 million in 1960 to slightly over 1.5 million today.)
According to the article:
Because the previous code was so outmoded, the Zoning Board of Adjustment had gotten in the habit of handing out variances almost at whim, even when a project deviated dramatically from the neighborhood context. The haphazard process invited abuse from powerful gatekeepers, most of them Council members. It often seemed you only needed to make a campaign contribution to obtain a variance in Philadelphia.
Developers advocated for a more predictable development process, which would enable the city to better compete for residents and jobs. The new code is approximately 200 pages shorter than its predecessor.
Two thoughts come to mind after reading this article. First, the discussion surrounding the new zoning code echoes the considerations raised in relation to tax reform, particularly the desire for simplicity and predictability and the concern that a code laden with amendments, overlays, and other complexities favors sophisticated actors. Second, as Philadelphia pushes greater density and potential population growth in Center City, what will become of outlying city neighborhoods, which have seen substantial population declines (and a significant number of vacant properties) in recent decades? In May the city launched a website mapping its inventory of 9,000 vacant properties, approximately one-quarter of the estimated 40,000 abandoned buildings in the city.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Daniel R. Mandelker (Washington University) has published a new book on the important topic of sign regulation under the First Amendment: Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs (2012). Professor Mandelker's short summary:
The handbook explains the free speech law that determines how sign ordinances for on premise signs should be drafted. It first discusses the general free speech principles that apply, and next the free speech law that applies to different types of signs and the regulations that apply to these signs, such as height and setback requirements and design review.
Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs is available for free download at the United States Sign Council website, and also at Professor Mandelker's excellent website Land Use Law (the website--a companion to the Mandelker et al. Casebook, has a great collection of statutes, cases, scholarship, photos, and other resources for land use students and practitioners).
One of my most interesting teaching experiences was having a nontraditional student who was semi-retired from the billboard business; his experiences of the interaction between free speech law and sign regulation were what inspired him to go to law school. Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs, which explains these sophisticated legal concepts in a readable and practical way, will be very valuable to any planner, policymaker, or lawyer whose work brings them into this area.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Brett M. Frischmann (Cardozo) has posted Managing Congestion, which is a chapter from his book Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources, Oxford University Press, 2012. The abstract:
This chapter considers partially (non)rival infrastructure and congestion. Specifically, it explains and analyzes congestions problems and solutions. It begins with the basic economic model of congestion, which assumes homogenous uses, and discusses various approaches to managing congestion. It turns to more complex congestion problems, involving heterogeneous uses and cross-crowding, and discusses management options. The chapter evaluates congestion management strategies for infrastructures as well as the relationship between commons management and congestion management.
The SSRN document also includes the book's Table of Contents, so you can view the larger outline for this valuable book.
Friday, July 27, 2012
As reported on Planetizen, Seattle's City Council approved a series of changes to the city's land use regulations on Monday that, it is claimed, "will create jobs and encourage flexibility and creativity in new development." These changes include an easing of parking requirements for new projects, a higher threshold for the size of projects subject to environmental review, and the elimination of a requirement of ground-floor retail space in certain areas. Last month, New York City initiated a program aimed at speeding up the land use review process and reducing associated costs for developers. New York is also considering reductions, in certain areas, of off-street parking requirements for new developments. (See a Furman Center report on the impact of minimum parking requirements on housing affordability.) Similarly, Los Angeles recently approved five years of funding for its Planning Department to revise the city's zoning code, part of a broader initiative to streamline development approvals.
These programs are championed for their benefits in spurring development and increasing predictability. But for critics they threaten to reduce public input and the careful consideration of neighborhood concerns. It will be interesting to see whether these changes represent a trend, partly motivated by the current economic climate, towards major reforms in city land use regulations and review processes. If readers know of similar efforts underway elsewhere, please share.
Thursday, July 26, 2012
As Jessie noted in her post on the Olympic Villages, there are many land use issues involved when a city hosts the Olympic Games. For a fantastic overview of these issues, with numerous in-depth stories, there's no better place to start than The Atlantic Cities' "Special Report" Olympics 2012: London Gets Ready for the Summer Games. Feargus O'Sullivan has been reporting from London for months, and in the past couple of weeks many of their other writers have contributed excellent stories on a slew of land-use-related Olympic issues. Here are just a few examples of the wide range of topics they've addressed:
Whether hosting the Olypmic "boondoggle" is good or bad for your city; homelessness and tourism; security issues; public attitudes--politicians telling "whingers" to "put a sock in it"; transportation concerns; architecture; planning for post-Games facilities use; affordable housing; the always-controversial of building new stadiums (stadia?); and many, many other important issues that come up when a big city offers to play host to the world.
The British media, of course, have lots of excellent coverage. But for a more specific focus on land use, local government, and urban planning issues, I highly recommend starting with The Atlantic Cities' Olympics 2012 page. They're posting several new stories each day.
In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy watching that important land use event known as the Olympic Games!
July 26, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Comparative Land Use, History, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Redevelopment, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The authors study land use near national parks and how those land uses affect biodiversity in the parks. The article is helpful for its results but also the methodology of studying and comparing land uses.
Extent of fragmentation of coarse-scale habitats in and around U.S. National Parks by Nathan B. Piekielek, Andrew J. Hansen -- Biological Conservation, Volume 155 (2012)
U.S. National Park Service land managers face a variety of challenges to preserving the biodiversity in their parks. A principle challenge is to minimize the impacts of surrounding land use on park condition and biodiversity. In the absence of ideal sets of data and models, the present study develops methods and results that demonstrate a coarse-filter approach to understanding the effects of land use change on habitat types for four pilot study-areas. The area of analysis for each park is defined by a protected-area-centered-ecosystem. Habitat types were defined by biophysical factors assumed to represent the distribution of vegetation communities as they may have existed prior to European settlement.
Present-day land use was overlaid on historical habitat and change in area and pattern was quantified for private and public lands separately. Results suggest that patterns of development are affecting study-areas differently. Therefore, the conservation challenges faced by each study-area are distinct to their landscape contexts. For some parks, the primary challenge is to work towards maintaining ecosystem condition in its present or near-present state while paying particular attention to habitats that are underrepresented on public lands. For other parks, the challenge is to address spatially aggregated land use that is affecting only a few habitat types. For still other parks, the challenge is to maintain connectivity with a regional network of protected lands and to undertake restoration projects where feasible. The present methods and results help to focus conservation attention on habitats that have been most impacted by land use change.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
These authors create a model to figure out which land uses optimize species protection while maximizing economic output.
Analytical Solutions to Trade-Offs between Size of Protected Areas and Land-Use Intensity from Conservation Biology by Van Butsic, Volker C. Radeloff, Tobias Kuemmerle, and Anna M. Pidgeon
Land-use change is affecting Earth's capacity to support both wild species and a growing human population. The question is how best to manage landscapes for both species conservation and economic output. If large areas are protected to conserve species richness, then the unprotected areas must be used more intensively. Likewise, low-intensity use leaves less area protected but may allow wild species to persist in areas that are used for market purposes. This dilemma is present in policy debates on agriculture, housing, and forestry. Our goal was to develop a theoretical model to evaluate which land-use strategy maximizes economic output while maintaining species richness. Our theoretical model extends previous analytical models by allowing land-use intensity on unprotected land to influence species richness in protected areas. We devised general models in which species richness (with modified species-area curves) and economic output (a Cobb–Douglas production function) are a function of land-use intensity and the proportion of land protected. Economic output increased as land-use intensity and extent increased, and species richness responded to increased intensity either negatively or following the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. We solved the model analytically to identify the combination of land-use intensity and protected area that provided the maximum amount of economic output, given a target level of species richness. The land-use strategy that maximized economic output while maintaining species richness depended jointly on the response of species richness to land-use intensity and protection and the effect of land use outside protected areas on species richness within protected areas. Regardless of the land-use strategy, species richness tended to respond to changing land-use intensity and extent in a highly nonlinear fashion.
Patricia Salkin (Albany) has posted Zoning Ordinance Variances, published in the American Planning Association's PAS Quicknotes, no. 38 (2012). The abstract:
This short piece designed for planners describes the purpose of variances, both use and area variances, conditions on variances and alternatives to variances.
It is an excellent short introduction to the legal concept of variances. There is a lot of confusion out there on the differences between variances, special exceptions, nonconforming uses, and zoning amendments as methods for altering the rules. In addition to planners, I think it would also be a great piece to share with clients, community members, . . . and land use law students.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Check out this interesting article and fascinating slide show on Olympic Villages over the years. As Matt always tells us, everything can be a land use issue and the Olympics are no exception. Many buildings and facilities are erected for each Olympics, and one necessary element is a place to house all the visiting athletes. This slide show of what the housing as looked like over the year (and in some cases what those properties look like still today).
Thursday, July 19, 2012
I am very excited for the opportunity to blog on the Land Use Prof Blog over the next month. Thanks to Matt Festa and the other editors for inviting me to do so. As Matt mentioned in his introduction, I am a Research Fellow at NYU's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. For those not familiar with the Center, we are a joint endeavor of NYU's law and public policy school and we conduct interdisciplinary legal and empirical research on land use, affordable housing, housing finance, neighborhood change, and a host of other urban issues. Although we particularly focus on issues in New York City, we are increasingly pursuing projects in other cities and working on national affordable housing and urban policy issues.
My plan during the next month is to talk about a few interesting projects I am pursuing with the Furman Center, a few of my personal research projects, and of course to write about new land use issues.
For this first post, I thought I would discuss one of the big land use issues on our radar here in New York, Mayor Bloomberg's recent proposal to rezone a significant part of East Midtown Manhattan, in the area around Grand Central Terminal. Over the past decade the Bloomberg administration has dramatically altered New York City's zoning through over 100 rezonings affecting approximately one-quarter of the city's land. This new proposal, which includes changes in the rules governing the use of the air rights/transferable development rights over Grand Central (the rights at issue in Penn Central, only a fraction of which have been sold) raises a number of interesting issues and questions.
The proposed rezoning (see the Department of City Planning study presentation) covers 78 blocks and seeks to encourage the development of more modern and taller office buildings in an area where the average office building is currently over 70 years old. The proposal would allow new buildings substantially taller than what currently exists in the area and potentially as large as the Empire State Building. These new buildings, which would only be allowed on sites that cover a block's full frontage on one of the area's avenues, would provide larger floor plates, fewer internal supports, and other amenities the City feels are needed for the area to stay competitive with business districts in "global competitor cities."
What is particularly interesting is that -- rather than simply upzone the area to allow these larger buildings -- developers would be able to obtain greater densities (through a higher maximum floor-area-ratio) as-of-right (meaning no required city planning approval process) only by either purchasing transferable development rights (TDRs) from nearby landmarks (the major seller being Grand Central, which has nearly two million square feet available) or by obtaining a bonus in exchange for a contribution to a City fund dedicated to area improvements. Beyond these as-of-right FAR increases, even taller buildings (close in size to the Empire State Building) could be constructed, but would be subject to a Special Permit process, which would include a design review and would require certain public improvements to be provided.
The proposal raises a host of issues. If additional density is desirable in the area, why not simply rezone, rather than require the purchase of TDRs on the private market or contributions to a City fund? Is the City simply selling an upzoning or demanding an exaction from developers? And of course, for area residents and workers and potential developers other concerns exist: what effect would these new buildings have on the nearby subway, which already operates above capacity, and how much will it cost to buy these additional square feet of permitted development?
The proposal is also interesting because it represents the latest example of the City's creative use of transferable development rights, a tool that in New York has historically operated in a manner akin to density zoning or, in the case of landmarks, as a means of mitigating the effects of development restrictions. These new programs in New York use TDRs instead as a means of furthering traditional and quite specific planning and land use goals in a manner more akin to how TDRs have been used in suburban and rural areas nationwide. The City's proposal builds upon the use of TDRs in the rezoning of West Chelsea, site of the elevated High Line Park, and at Hudson Yards, an area west of Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan. Both these districts involve the innovative use of TDRs to serve a variety of planning, preservation, and development goals. Vicki Been and I will be exploring these themes further in a forthcoming article.
At the Furman Center, we are also nearing completion of the first comprehensive database of TDR transactions in New York City. We have recorded data on over 400 of these transactions between 2003 and 2011 and have begun reviewing the data to learn more about the market for TDRs in New York and how developers use them in place or in addition to other tools for increasing the size of a project. I plan to say more about this data, our plans for it, and its relevance for thinking about TDRs in other cities in a future post.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Stephen Clowney (Kentucky), our colleague over at Property Prof, has posted his latest piece, called Landscape Fairness: Removing Discrimination from the Built Environment, forthcoming in the Utah Law Review (2012). It looks very interesting. The abstract:
At its core, this Article argues that the everyday landscape is one of the most overlooked instruments of modern race-making. Drawing on evidence from geography and sociology, the paper begins by demonstrating that the built environment inscribes selective and misleading versions of the past in solid, material forms. These narratives — told through street renamings, parks, monuments, and buildings — ultimately marginalize African-American communities and transmit ideas about racial power across generations.
After demonstrating that the landscape remains the agar upon which racial hierarchies replicate themselves, the Article then pivots and examines current efforts to rid the built environment of discriminatory spaces. I put forth that contemporary attacks on the landscape are doomed to fail. The approaches suggested by academics in law and geography either turn a blind eye to the political economy of local decision-making or fail to consider entrenched legal precedent.
The final section of the manuscript lays out a policy proposal that could spark a new focus on issues of “landscape fairness.” I argue in favor of a set of basic procedural requirements that would force jurisdictions to reconsider the discriminatory places within their borders. Procedural mandates would force government to internalize values it might otherwise ignore, allow citizen-critics to challenge dominant historical narratives, and push communities to view the past (and future) in much more diverse terms.
This article touches on one of the most important but least discussed aspects of land use and the community landscape, and it builds on some of Steve's earlier work. Check it out.