Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Alexander and Powell on Neighborhood Strategies for Vacant Properties

Frank Alexander (Emory) and Leslie Powell have posted Neighborhood Stabilization Strategies for Vacant and Abandoned Properties, 34-8 Zoning and Planning Law Report 1 (2011). Here's the abstract:

Vacant and abandoned properties are a growing inventory in many American neighborhoods as a result of unusually high foreclosure numbers, population loss, and property value declines. The impact of vacant and abandoned properties is tangible and requires a willingness by local governments to acknowledge and address the problem. This article outlines the problems caused by vacant and abandoned properties and suggests a variety of potential strategies, from property tax foreclosure reform to land banking. 

Frank has co-founded along with Dan Kildee the Center for Community Progress (f/k/a The National Vacant Properties Campaign).  His scholarly and consulting work with affordable housing, title-clearing and land bank present a model of engaged scholarship that should inspire all law teachers as Frank himself does for those who have the pleasure to meet him.

Jim K.

November 16, 2011 in Housing, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Nuisance, Redevelopment, Remedies, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Joplin Tornado Unearths Toxic Lead from Mining

The Weather Channel and other media outlets are reporting of a new problem for tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri - lead contamination.

As the cleanup in Joplin continues, another potentially deadly hazard has been uncovered, dangerously high levels of lead. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “In tests of 43 properties, 18 showed high levels of lead, prompting the city’s mayor to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for help in testing for, and cleaning up, the element.”

For more than 100 years, beginning in the mid-19th century, Jasper County was at the worldwide forefront of lead and zinc mining. The area included town names like Leadville Hollow and Minersville.

According to Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department, a waste product from lead mining called “chat” was dumped in several spots around the city of Joplin, and simply covered with soil. Those sites we likely exposed when the F-5 tornado ripped through the city.

Additionally, in an interview with the Joplin Globe, Pekarek said “Chat was pretty readily available around here, and they used it. It was used as fill for voids around footings and foundations, and to level out crawl spaces.”

As if the poor folks in Joplin haven't been through enough!  According to this news release the EPA is offering to enter a cooperative agreement with the city to test for and remediate the lead contamination.

Jamie Baker Roskie

 

November 4, 2011 in Environmentalism, Federal Government, Industrial Regulation, Local Government, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Somin on Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur

Ilya Somin (George Mason) has posted Let there be Blight: Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur, part of a February 2011 symposium “Taking New York: The Opportunities, Challenges, and Dangers posed by the Use of Eminent Domain in New York”, and published at 38 Fordham Urban Law Journal 1193 (2011). The abstract:

The New York Court of Appeals’ two recent blight condemnation decisions are the most widely publicized and controversial property rights rulings since the Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London. In Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corp., and Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corp., the Court of Appeals set new lows in allowing extremely dubious “blight” condemnations. This Article argues that the New York Court of Appeals erred badly, by allowing highly abusive blight condemnations and defining pretextual takings so narrowly as to essentially read the concept out of existence.

Part I briefly describes the background of the two cases. Goldstein arose as a result of an effort by influential developer Bruce Ratner to acquire land in Brooklyn for his Atlantic Yards development project, which includes a stadium for the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise and mostly market rate and high-income housing. Kaur resulted from Columbia University’s attempts to expand into the Manhattanville neighborhood of West Harlem. When some of the landowners refused to sell, Ratner and the University successfully lobbied the government to declare the land they sought to be blighted and use eminent domain to transfer it to them.

Part II addresses the issue of blight condemnation. Goldstein and Kaur both applied an extraordinarily broad definition of “blight” that included any area where there is “economic underdevelopment” or “stagnation.” In addition, the court opened the door for future abuses in three other, more novel, respects. First, it chose to uphold the condemnations despite evidence suggesting that the studies the government relied on to prove the presence of “blight” were deliberately rigged to produce a predetermined result. Second, it dismissed as unimportant the fact that the firm which conducted the blight studies had previously been on the payroll of the private parties that stood to benefit from the blight condemnations. Finally, the court refused to give any weight to extensive evidence indicating that Ratner and Columbia had themselves created or allowed to develop most of the “blight” used to justify the condemnations. The court’s approach opens the door to future abusive condemnations and violates the text and original meaning of the New York State Constitution.

Part III discusses Goldstein and Kaur’s treatment of the federal constitutional standard for “pretextual” takings. In Kelo and earlier decisions, federal courts made clear that “pretextual” takings remain unconstitutional despite the Supreme Court’s otherwise highly deferential posture on “public use.” Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has been extremely unclear as to what constitutes a pretextual taking. As a result, courts have taken widely differing approaches to the issue. Nevertheless, Kaur and Goldstein are outliers in this area, deferring to the government more than almost any other court that has addressed the question since Kelo. They virtually read the concept of pretext out of existence.

Looks like another insightful piece on this still-controversial subject.

Matt Festa

October 3, 2011 in Caselaw, Conferences, Constitutional Law, Development, Eminent Domain, New York, Property Rights, Redevelopment, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Brooke Shields as Susette Kelo

Coming to the small screen. From the Hartford Courant: Brooke Shields To Star In Movie Based On New London Eminent Domain Case; Author Jeff Benedict Announces Deal On His Blog

"Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage," a book written in 2009 by Jeff Benedict about the Fort Trumbull eminent domain decision in New London, is being made into a Lifetime TV movie starring Brooke Shields as the decision's most prominent opponent, Susette Kelo, according to an announcement made Friday on the author's blog, http://www.jeffbenedict.com.

Rick Woolf, Benedict's editor at Grand Central Publishing, confirmed the report. "We're thrilled that this is going to be a movie on Lifetime," Woolf said. "Susette is a folk hero and Jeff has done a tremendous job telling the story."

Wonder if they'll get John Cougar Mellencamp's permission to use "Pink Houses" for the soundtrack. Thanks to Jason Kercheval for the pointer.

Matt Festa

September 16, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Humorous, Property Rights, Redevelopment, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and land use at Ground Zero

Today America commemorates 9/11 on its tenth anniversary.

While the tragedy and heroics of that day appropriately take precedence, 9/11 has created long-running and controversial land use issues since 2001. From the logistics of managing the rescue operations and the excavation, to last year's "ground zero mosque" kerfuffle, issues from the local to the international have played out in discussions over land use at the WTC site in lower Manhattan.

Two of the most controversial land use questions, especially as the years passed, have been (1) how should 9/11 be remembered at the site, and (2) what and how to build/rebuild to replace the twin towers.

On the first question, public memory and historic presentation, you may have seen the news that the 9/11 Memorial opens with a dedication ceremony today. The project seems to be a classic American example of public-private cooperation:

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, Inc. began formal operations in the spring of 2005 and worked with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation on the design and construction management plan. In the summer of 2006, the organization assumed responsibility for overseeing the design and working with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the construction manager on the project. . . . In the beginning of October 2006, the Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York, became Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Following the election of the Mayor as Chairman, the Foundation named Joseph C. Daniels as President.

At the website, there are links to a lot of of great photos and interactive views of the site and the Memorial.

The second enduring issue--whether and what to rebuild on the site--has generated a lot of criticism as a decade has passed without any replacement for the towers. This issue has been a perfect storm of land use issues: real estate, economics, regulation, federalism, urbanism, architecture, planning, transportation, culture, history, and of course, politics, politics, politics. For what it's worth, my impression has been that on the one hand, it's too simplistic to just say we should have built a ginormous tower immediately to stick it to the terrorists--yes, NY got the Empire State Building up in about 15 months during the Great Depression, but that's not realistic in lower Manhattan today. On the other hand, I think that the decade-long wait for putting some of the world's most valuable real estate to use says something important about the effect of the burdens that we have placed on property in the modern regulatory environment. Many of the procedural and political issues and delays might have been for justifiable ends, but really, a decade?

Things are finally moving along, though. From the Wall Street Journal's Developments real estate blog comes the helpful post Six Questions on Rebuilding the World Trade Center. The signature tower is in progress:

What’s the status of the office buildings? Some are further along than others. One World Trade Center, the site’s signature office building, is going up about a floor per week and is currently around 80 stories out of a total 104, and it’s already the tallest structure in Lower Manhattan.

On the delays:

What’s taken so long? Conflict has been a big theme of the rebuilding. There have been battles with insurers, wars between agencies, and repeated fights between the public sector and private developer Larry Silverstein over how to rebuild and fund his office towers. Those fights have often led to stalemates. Add onto that the fact that the site is extraordinarily complex — it’s often likened to a Rubik’s cube, but it’s sometimes more like a messy ball of rubber bands. The mechanics of the site are all intertwined — exits and emergency systems for the PATH station are in the neighboring towers, and deliveries to One World Trade Center need to run underneath 2, 3, and 4 World Trade Center. This means everything underground had to be built more or less at once, with precision. There is a laundry list of public agencies involved, and historically they hadn’t been great at communicating with each other.

The WSJ also has a great interactive graphic Exploring Ground Zero, Ten Years Later.

9/11 deserves our remembrance today, our continuing thanks for those serving in harm's way, and--secondarily--our commitment to good land use at this very important place for commerce, human activity, and public memory.

Matt Festa

September 11, 2011 in Architecture, Development, Downtown, Federal Government, History, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

City of South Bend Enjoined by U.S. District Court from Transferring Land to Catholic HS

The South Bend Tribune reports that U.S. District Judge Robert Miller (NDIN) has granted a preliminary injunction sought by four local residents represented by the ACLU of Indiana. The plaintiffs object to the transfer of the former Family Dollar site, recently bought by the City for $1.2 M, to a local CDC that would turn it over to St. Joseph High School, a co-ed Catholic school which would use it for athletics and parking and had committed to accomodate requested public use for 10 years.  (FD: my two older children recently began attending St. Joseph High School here in South Bend, shortly after I began my new post here at Notre Dame.)  The local council had approved the acquisition and transfer on a 5-4 vote.

In the opinion, Judge Miller agrees with the plaintiffs that the transfer constitutes a direct subsidy to a religious institution in violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.  The Court distinguished recent school voucher program precedent by emphasizing that the below-market transfer by the City is not part of a program with religion-neutral criteria.  To me, this point about the ad hoc nature of public-to-private land transfers makes the opinion an interesting land use case.  It raises the question:  Are religious institutions quarrantined from economic development land transfers even though (as the Court agrees) they are not from public benefits generally?    

Related to this point is the nature of the endorsement of (a?) religion.  With the qualification that I am not a First Amendment scholar, I did note that the Court found that the transfer violated the second prong of the Lemon test (you know, whether the action's primary effect is to advance/inhibit religion) Even though neither the City nor the plaintiffs thought the issue determinative, the Court disagreed. The Court implied in its ruling that the proposed transfer sends a message to adherents and non-adherents that they are insiders and outsiders respectively.  Was that part-and-parcel of the Court's distinction between programmatic and ad hoc public subsidies?

I would be glad to hear from you. I will be following the developments with not-just-an-academic interest.

 

Jim K.

J.Kelly@nd.edu

September 8, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Economic Development, First Amendment, Judicial Review, Local Government, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Alavi on Kelo Six Years Later

Boston College Third World Law Journal Notes Editor Asher Alavi has written KELO SIX YEARS LATER: STATE RESPONSES, RAMIFICATIONS, AND SOLUTIONS FOR THE FUTURE.  Here's the abstract:

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of eminent domain takings that benefit private developers in Kelo v. City of New London. The case led to public outcry on both the right and the left and the revision of many state eminent domain laws to curtail such takings. However, most of the new laws have been ineffective. In many states, the burden of the takings falls largely onto poor, minority communities while, in others, revitalization projects by private developers are prohibited entirely. This Note examines the negative implications of current approaches to takings on inner-city, minority communities and concludes that states should adopt an approach that allows revitalization of blighted areas by private developers but also provides effective limits such as a narrow definition of blight, enhanced compensation for the displaced, and procedural provisions such as Community Benefits Agreements.

Jamie Baker Roskie

August 30, 2011 in Community Economic Development, Development, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Property Rights, Race, Redevelopment, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Belajac on the Pennsylvania Land Bank Act

Student author Darren M. Belajac has published a comment, THE PENNSYLVANIA LEGISLATURE TAKES A SIGNIFICANT, THOUGH INSUFFICIENT, STEP TOWARD ADDRESSING BLIGHT AND TAX DELINQUENCY: HOUSE BILL 712, THE LAND BANK ACT in the Duquesne Law Review. From the introduction:

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently passed a bill authorizing the creation of land banks for the purpose of addressing vacant and tax-delinquent properties in Pennsylvania municipalities.  The bill, known as the Land Bank Act, is currently in the state Senate for consideration and will likely be voted upon soon. The Land Bank Act is an important, though insufficient, step toward addressing the problem of blight and abandonment of properties throughout Pennsylvania. The problem of blight is especially acute in the Commonwealth's two largest cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This comment will compare and contrast the contents of the bill against a competing version that stalled in the Pennsylvania Senate in early 2010. This juxtaposition will take place in the context of a more general discussion of how land banks operate to address blight and tax delinquency. In particular, the comment will analyze how the Land Bank Act should affect the City of Pittsburgh's efforts to address its blight. Lastly, this comment will seek to show how even once the bill passes the Senate (assuming it does), the legislature will still need to revamp the Commonwealth's tax foreclosure laws.

I'm surprised that Pennsylvania - which I usually consider to be ahead of Georgia on all things related to land use planning - is just now authorizing land banks.  I'll add this to my considerable (and growing) pile of professional reading!

Jamie Baker Roskie

July 18, 2011 in Politics, Redevelopment, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Power on Wallace, McHarg and their Plans for (a) Greater Baltimore

Soon after releasing the new version of his electronic land use casebook, Garrett Power (Maryland) has posted Wallace McHarg's Plans for a Greater Baltimore. Here's the abstract:

This essay considers the growth of the partnership between David Wallace and Ian McHarg into one of the nation’s dominant urban design and environmental planning firms. It focuses on the firm’s undertaking in the Greater Baltimore region in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. With the benefit of fifty years of hindsight it looks at the successes and failures of their plans for Charles Center, the Green Spring and Worthington Valleys, and the Inner Harbor. Surprisingly, prize-winning innovations praised in one generation came to be judged as the design flaws of the next. Less surprisingly, their plans to "design with nature" sometimes were used by their clients to promote racial and economic segregation.

This last sentence refers to the use of McHarg-Wallace's plans promoting ecologically sound suburban development for exclusionary planning practices even though the original plans called for environmentally sensitive siting of dense affordable housing. Check it out.

Jim K.

 

June 5, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Community Design, Density, Development, Environmental Justice, Environmentalism, Planning, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rebuilding in Joplin

As May draws to a close, I’d like to thank the Land Use Prof Blog editors for what has been an enjoyable month of guest-blogging.  This month has been a devastating one for Missouri.  My first blog post of the month discussed legal issues surrounding the flooding of hundreds of square miles in Southeast Missouri, and this post examines land use questions facing Joplin, Missouri, in the wake of a tornado that ravaged much of that town on May 22.

Last Saturday, I went to Joplin to assist in a massive clean-up operation that is now underway.  Despite watching plenty of television footage earlier in the week, I was startled at the degree of destruction.  In the city’s most severely damaged neighborhoods, entire city blocks had been reduced to mere piles of debris.  Without fences or buildings to segregate their respective rights, effected landowners were ignoring property boundary lines and working together in a desperate effort to recreate some semblance of order.  

As we gathered rubble and piled it along roadsides and alleyways, it occurred to me that the tornado had temporarily suspended most property and land use laws in the area.    Laws of trespass, nuisance, and encroachment had been set aside.    Land that deeds, easements, covenants, and zoning restrictions had once sculpted into orderly middle-class neighborhoods had briefly reverted to a sort of regulated commons. 

Of course, property rights enforcement will soon re-emerge in Joplin’s tornado-stricken areas for the same sorts of reasons as those famously described by Harold Demsetz in his article, Toward a Theory of Property Rights.  As order gradually returns to Joplin, the city will need a strategy for rebuilding.  Hopefully, Joplin’s civic leaders will learn from the experiences of other tornado-ravaged towns.  An article published in the Kansas City Star last week discusses what Joplin might glean from Greensburg, Kansas—a town that has redefined itself as a cutting-edge “green” community after encountering its own tornado.   A different article published in today’s Charlotte Observer describes the successes and failures of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, and Xenia, Ohio, in land use policymaking as those cities recovered from major tornado damage in years past.  According to the article, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has already appointed a 50-person task force to generate a recovery plan following that city’s April 27 tornado.  Land use planning should play an important role as both Tuscaloosa and Joplin rebuild in the years ahead.

Troy Rule

May 31, 2011 in Community Design, Comprehensive Plans, Development, Economic Development, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Somin on State Court Limits on Eminent Domain since Kelo

Ilya Somin (George Mason) has posted The Judicial Reaction to Kelo, 4 Alb. Gov't L. Rev 1 (2011). Here's the abstract:

Kelo v. City of New London was one of the most controversial decisions in Supreme Court history, generating a massive political backlash that led 43 states to adopt eminent domain reform laws restricting economic development takings of the kind the Court ruled were constitutional. In addition to the better-known legislative reaction, Kelo was also followed by extensive additional property rights litigation in both federal and state courts. This is the first article to systematically analyze the judicial reaction to Kelo.
Part I briefly summarizes Kelo and its holding. Part II considers state court interpretations of their state constitutional public use clauses since Kelo. Most of these cases have repudiated Kelo, either banning economic development takings outright or significantly constraining them. Part III considers judicial interpretations of Kelo’s “pretext” standard. This is the one area where Kelo might potentially permit nontrivial public use constraints on condemnation. Kelo indicated that condemnations are unconstitutional if the officially stated rationale for the taking is a pretext “for the purpose of conferring a private benefit on a particular private party.” State and lower federal courts have not come to any consensus on what qualifies as a pretextual taking. Nevertheless, several decisions suggest that the pretext standard may have some bite.
Overall, state courts have taken a skeptical view of Kelo, often rejecting it as a guide to the interpretation of their state constitutions. This reaction continues the pre-Kelo trend of increasing judicial protection for property rights at the state level.

The article introduces a symposium issue entitled Eminent Domain in the United States: Public Use, Just Compensation, & “The Social Compact.” Published participants include Steven Eagle, Gideon Kanner and Amy Lavine.

Jim K.

May 31, 2011 in Caselaw, Community Economic Development, Constitutional Law, Development, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Judicial Review, Property, Property Rights, Redevelopment, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Has Preservation Become a Dangerous Epidemic?

" . . . And is it destroying our cities?"  That's how this NY Times piece starts out, but it isn't an anti-HP property rights screed.  It's an exhibition review of "Cronocaos," at the New Museum: An Architect's Fear that Preservation Distorts.

That’s the conclusion you may come to after seeing “Cronocaos” at the New Museum. Organized by Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu, a partner in Mr. Koolhaas’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the show draws on ideas that have been floating around architectural circles for several years now — particularly the view among many academics that preservation movements around the world, working hand in hand with governments and developers, have become a force for gentrification and social displacement, driving out the poor to make room for wealthy homeowners and tourists.

Mr. Koolhaas’s vision is even more apocalyptic. A skilled provocateur, he paints a picture of an army of well-meaning but clueless preservationists who, in their zeal to protect the world’s architectural legacies, end up debasing them by creating tasteful scenery for docile consumers while airbrushing out the most difficult chapters of history. The result, he argues, is a new form of historical amnesia, one that, perversely, only further alienates us from the past.

In New York, the exhibition is in an old restaurant supply store adjacent to the museum, with a line drawn down the middle; one side has been "renovated" and the other left "raw and untouched."

The result is startling. The uneven, patched-up floors and soiled walls of the old space look vibrant and alive; the new space looks sterile, an illustration of how even the minimalist renovations favored by art galleries today, which often are promoted as ways of preserving a building’s character, can cleanse it of historical meaning.

Interesting.  One other point the architect makes is that preservation can be selective in what periods and styles ought to be preserved:

This phenomenon is coupled with another disturbing trend: the selective demolition of the most socially ambitious architecture of the 1960s and ’70s — the last period when architects were able to do large-scale public work. That style has been condemned as a monstrous expression of Modernism. . . . To Mr. Koolhaas, these examples are part of a widespread campaign to stamp out an entire period in architectural history — a form of censorship that is driven by ideological as much as aesthetic concerns.

Matt Festa

May 24, 2011 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, Historic Preservation, History, New York, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fitzpatrick on Land Banking and Disposition of Vacant REO Properties

Among the more visible, lasting land-use legacies of the foreclosure crisis is an abundance of vacant REO (Real Estate Owned) properties held by foreclosing lenders.  Tom Fitzpatrick (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland) has posted How Modern Land Banking Can Be Used to Solve REO Acquisition Problems in REO and Vacant Properties: Strategies for Neighborhood Stabilization (Federal Reserve Banks of Boston and Cleveland). Here's the abstract:

Modern land banks hold great promise as a dynamic community development tool that can help shrinking cities and local nonprofits overcome the two biggest challenges they face when trying to acquire REO property: interest in only a small number of properties and a lack of funding for acquisition. Practice provides us with a powerful example of their successes. As regions struggle to control their inventories of vacant, abandoned, or REO properties, they would be remiss not to consider the innovative modern land banking approach that is currently being employed in states like Ohio.

Jim K.

May 23, 2011 in Economic Development, Financial Crisis, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Nuisance, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Demolition Day

Today I will be proud to participate in Commencement at South Texas College of Law.  We're thrilled to have Houston Mayor Annise Parker as our keynote speaker.  But shortly before Mayor Parker begins speaking, she will order hundreds of buildings destroyed all across the city.

No, it's not the May 21 Rapture.  It's Demolition Day! 

With the donated help of the Houston Contractors Association, 99 abandoned, dangerous buildings will be bulldozed as part of Mayor Annise Parker's 2nd annual Demo Day.  Some of these structures are in your neighborhood.  Click here to see addresses for the 99 buildings http://www.houstontx.gov/citizensnet/hcasites.pdf

Mayor Parker and District D Houston City Council Member Wanda Adams will help kick off Demo Day Saturday, May 21, 2011 9:00 a.m.

Initiated in 2010, Demo Day is a one-day concentrated effort to rid neighborhoods of abandoned and dangerous buildings that often serve as havens for drugs, prostitution and other crimes.  This year's effort will extend beyond one day to include the demolition of approximately 300 more derelict structures over the summer months.  This second batch of demolitions will be carried out by City contractors once the buildings have undergone asbestos abatement. Click here to see the complete list of about 400 structures http://www.houstontx.gov/citizensnet/demoinitiative.pdf.

There has been a lot of attention given to the problem of abandoned and derelict properties from several angles recently, from the foreclosure crisis, to dying cities & neighborhoods, to crime & disorder, to blight and eminent domain.  "Demolition Day" sounds like a cool movie title, but more importantly it looks like Mayor Parker has an innovative approach to the problem.

Matt Festa

May 20, 2011 in Crime, Eminent Domain, Housing, Houston, Local Government, Redevelopment, Texas, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mallach on CDCs and Shrinking Cities

Alan Mallach (Brookings) has published Where Do We Fit In? CDCs and the Emerging Shrinking City Movement in the Spring 2011 issue of Shelterforce. In this short piece, Alan looks at the efforts of community development corporations (CDCs) to contend with the problems faced by cities such as Cleveland, Youngstown and Detroit. He goes on to discuss the fundamental problem of how to craft a local development mission in a market that is clearly shrinking. Unlike Baltimore, a post-industrial city in a growing region, the cities Mallach highlights are located in parts of the country that continue to lose population. We here at Land Use Prof have blogged about the release of Detroit's 2010 census numbers and a recent NY Times discussion of the shrinking-cities quandary. With this Shelterforce article, Alan Mallach brings his formidable analysis and decades of community development experience to bear on this critical issue for American cities in the 21st century.

Jim K.

April 29, 2011 in Community Economic Development, Detroit, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NYT Dialogue on Shrinking Cities

The latest census figures from Detroit (Chad's hometown blogged about here and here) have inspired the New York Times to solicit opinions from several urban planning experts about the way forward for post-industrial cities confronted with large-scale property abandonment.  Jennifer Bradley (Brookings-MPP) and Terry Schwarz (Kent State's Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative) each offer shrinking city visions that challenge the idea that all planning must be for demographic expansion and economic growth.  Their greening strategies, including attention to urban agriculture and ecosystems, contemplate a 'new normal' for cities that may, in some ways, be better than historical peak periods.

Richard Florida (Toronto-Business) and Sam Staley urge beleaguered areas to pursue a focused (and apparently unsubsidized) effort to retain and attract residents in a mobile society.  Still others, such as Toni Griffin (Harvard-Planning), see Detroit and similar cities as merely the most egregiously wounded casualties of unsustainable sprawl-promoting policies that must be changed throughout the U.S.  These brief articles and even the comment board are all worth checking out. (Hat Tip to Nicole Garnett (Notre Dame) and her student, Sean Ashburn)

I would also encourage those interested in working with the land use challenges faced by undercrowded, post-industrial cities to check out The Center for Community Progress (f/k/a National Vacant Properties Campaign).  Over the years, I have had the chance to participate in conferences and technical assistance efforts that have brought urban development practitioners together with experts such as Jennifer Bradley, Terry Schwarz, Kermit Lind (Cleveland State), Joe Schilling (Va. Tech-Metropolitan Inst.)  and CCP's co-founder, Frank Alexander (Emory).

Jim K.

March 30, 2011 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comprehensive Plans, Crime, Density, Detroit, Development, Economic Development, Planning, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lind on Public Nuisance Law and Bank Foreclosures

This blog has had the good fortune to feature the amazing work of Cleveland-Marshall's Urban Development Law Clinic (here and here, too) as well as dispatches from the front lines of the foreclosure fallout in Cleveland's neighborhoods from the Clinic's outgoing director, Kermit Lind (Cleveland State).  Kermit has now posted Can Public Nuisance Law Protect Your Neighborhood from Big Banks?, 44 Suffolk L. Rev. 89 (2011).  Here's the abstract:

One manifestation of the mortgage crisis of the past decade is the destabilization of housing markets and neighborhoods where mortgage defaults were concentrated. As banks and their mortgage servicers employ business practices that result in banks or their agents controlling or owning vacant dwellings, the noncompliance with housing and other municipal codes by these institutional absentee owners presents neighborhoods and cities with a huge and costly public nuisance problem.

This article explores both the theory of public nuisance law and the experience of applying nuisance law in practice to mitigate the harmful consequences of bank debt collection and REO management. It looks at how and to what extent public nuisance law provides protection for those non-defaulting homeowners whose health, safety and welfare are threatened by the business practices of big banks. It compares litigation that applies public nuisance law in different ways to distinguish viable uses from unsuccessful uses of public nuisance law doctrine. The recent efforts to use public nuisance law against manufacturers and marketers of harmful products like guns and tobacco are distinguished from the application of public nuisance law against owners of real estate maintenance deficiencies are in violation of laws protecting the public health, safety and welfare.

Jim K.

March 27, 2011 in Crime, Economic Development, Financial Crisis, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Nuisance, Redevelopment, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cleveland's EcoVillage

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

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

Jim K.

 

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

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How do you feel about the federal government controlling housing?

On Friday, the federal government assumed control over the Philadelphia Housing Authority.  For months, The Inquirer in Philadelphia had been reporting about corruption and mismanagement in the Housing Authority's finances, including "$38.3 million in legal expenditures since 2007."  "That tab included conflict-laden payment to the law firm of [the son of former Mayor Street, who also just resigned as chair of the Housing Authority]."  In addition, it included $11.7 million to Ballard Spahr, where former Gov. Ed Rendell is a partner now (and was prior to being governor). As a point of comparison, the Housing Authority paid $10.3 million (16,700 units of housing and 14,800 vouchers) in legal fees in 2010, while New York City's housing authority paid $8.6 million (180,000 units of housing and 99,000 vouchers).  The Philadelphia's Housing Authority's executive director was fired in September (for, among other things, settling sexual harassment complaints against him for $648,000) and the board resigned last week.

This all led me back to an article I wrote 5 years ago critical of public authorities, focusing primarily on the lack of relationship between public funds and the democratic process.  At the time, public authorities issued more debt per year than all the cities and states combined (i.e. borrow) and they held more debt than all the cities and states combined (i.e. borrowed).  Many states had the majority of their debt held by public authorities.  New York, for example, had about 90% of its debt held by public authorities.  I then discussed how typical elections for mayor, governor, representatives, and councilmembers have little impact on the decisionmakers at public authorities (see, e.g., Gov. Mitt Romney's desperate attempts to remove the head of the Mass Turnpike Authority).  This lack of oversight and accountability, I argued, allows for mismanagement, corruption, and graft. 

With so many of public authorities existing (more than all cities combined) and performing significant land use functions including, housing, transportation, economic development, water, sewer . . . etc, I wonder how, if at all, infusing more democracy into the control of these functions would impact land use today.  Would placing these functions under a city or state allow for more integration of land use issues?  Would it allow cities to be more flexibility in spending on land use issues (see, e.g., Philadelphia's unsuccessful attempt to gain access to Philadelphia Parking Authority's funds, generated from land in Philadelphia)?  How would it impact the democratic process?  I'm not sure where these functions should reside, but with each new revelation of public authority corruption, I question whether we have the most efficient system.

Jon Rosenbloom

March 8, 2011 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Development, Economic Development, Housing, HUD, Local Government, Planning, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Three Dimensional Master Plan?

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

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

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

Jon Rosenbloom

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