Friday, May 18, 2012

Sun on Smart Growth in Dumb Places

Lisa Grow Sun posted this paper last year.  It should be of great interest to land users: Smart Growth in Dumb Places: Sustainability, Disaster, and the Future of the American City.  The abstract:

One of the many lessons of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan is that we cannot mitigate disaster risk through building codes and other structural solutions alone. Location is key to a community’s natural hazard vulnerability. Consequently, the most far-reaching and important question for disaster mitigation today is where we will channel the growth that will be needed to accommodate our expanding population. Yet, both environmental scholars and policymakers are promoting sustainability initiatives that will channel our country’s future growth into existing urban areas that are already extremely vulnerable to disaster. Indeed, many of these policies - and the legal tools used to implement them - are channeling growth, not only into particularly vulnerable cities, but into the riskiest areas of those cities. This Article is the first to identify and explore this critical tension between disaster mitigation and current sustainability policies.

The impact of current and future disasters on land use is a very important policy issue.  Sun offers a different take on the conventional wisdom--which I have indulged in too--that more urbanism is always better.  Sun suggests that we should be more discerning with our prescriptions.

Matt Festa

May 18, 2012 in Environmental Law, History, Planning, Politics, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Forum: Land Use in the Unzoned City (@ South Texas)

The South Texas College of Law is pleased to invite the public to what promises to be a very interesting forum called Land Use in the Unzoned City: Regulation, Property Rights, and Smart Growth in Houston's Future.  From the program:

Houston is the only major city in the U.S. without traditional zoning.  What should the government’s role be in regulating land use and development?  How should the law and the land intersect?  Should Houston stay as it is, adopt zoning, or consider Smart Growth principles to reduce sprawl and protect the environment?  Do regulations and policies to promote New Urbanism or transit-oriented development work, and are they right for Houston?  Our panelists will offer their perspectives on the future of land use in Houston and across the U.S.

Panelists:

David Crossley, President & Founder, Houston Tomorrow

Kendall Miller, CEO, Houstonians for Responsible Growth

Prof. Craig Anthony Arnold, University of Louisville & University of Houston (visiting)

Prof. Asmara Tekle, Texas Southern University

Moderator: Prof. Matthew Festa, South Texas College of Law

When:  Tuesday, April 13, 12:00 noon
Where: South Texas College of Law, 1303 San Jacinto, Downtown Houston, Garrett-Townes Auditorium

The event is being hosted by the student Real Estate Law Society, with co-sponsorship from Houston Tomorrow and Houstonians for Responsible Growth.  I'm very much looking forward to it.  If you can be in Houston next Tuesday, we'd love to have you attend (did I mention free lunch?).  Contact me if you have any questions. 

Matt Festa

April 8, 2010 in Community Design, Conferences, Density, Development, Form-Based Codes, Houston, Lectures, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Sprawl, Transportation, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Next American City on Smart Growth and Miami 21

Speaking of DPZ, and apropos of the discussion here on the blog about Miami 21 (DPZ is the lead consultant), the Next American City magazine has a piece by Mike Lydon on the very recent passage of the new form-based code by the city council:

While everyone from the Sierra Club to the National Association of Realtors believe compact, mixed-use, walkable development is an antidote to suburban sprawl, “smart growth” doesn’t just happen by itself. Indeed it can’t because most existing municipal zoning regulations make walkable urban form exceedingly difficult, if not impossible to implement. Surprisingly, this is often the case in large cities as much as it is in their sprawling suburbs. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to move smart growth from concept to reality, and at a meaningful scale, is to toss out the very zoning regulations that prevent sustainable growth from happening in the first place. Last week, Miami, Florida became the largest city in America to do so.

Miami will really be worth watching.  Lots of other interesting stuff over at Next American City to check out, as well.

Matt Festa

October 31, 2009 in Form-Based Codes, Local Government, New Urbanism, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Duany on Agricultural Urbanism

Andres Duany, of DPZ and CNU fame and generally esteemed as the godfather of new urbansim (and who recently called Brad Pitt's New Orleans architecture "bullshit"), gave a speech to a packed hotel ballroom in Houston last night (sponsored by Houston Tomorrow) on "Agricultural Urbanism." 

For about the first half of the lecture Duany spoke "horizontally" about new urbanism, the transect, and smart growth generally, then he focused "vertically" on incorporating agriculture into urban planning.  The two most interesting points I took away from Duany's speech were (1) agricultural planning is an integral part of the transect; and (2) developers today are interested in hearing about agricultural urbanism in plans.

Duany argues that while much of the attention given to new urbanist developments focuses on the housing, to be faithful to the transect concept requires a spectrum of land uses, and agriculture is one of the uses that is appropriate in various forms and degrees over different places on that spectrum.  Chad has posted about the regulatory obstacles to urban farming.  To be honest, though, I had previously presumed that attempting to incorporate agriculture into urban design was for the most part a lifestyle thing, a consumer choice for people interested in doing a little eco-friendly organic gardening around the neighborhood.  But Duany makes a persuasive case that planning for agricultural uses "is not an add-on," as he says, but rather is a necessary part of transect-based planning.  While agriculture may not be necessary or practical in the urban core, it does not need to be relegated completely to the rural zone either; it can and should be incorporated in varying degrees across the suburban and urban zones of the transect.  He notes that the entire concept of the "village"--as distinguished from the town or the city--is historically based on a community's arrangements to grow its own food. 

[Relatedly, I found Duany's characterization of the differences between American and European environmentalism to be interesting.  American environmentalism, he says, grew out of the fight for national parks and holds the untrammeled wilderness to be the ideal, while European environmentalism has more typically incorporated environmental uses into the human domain.]

To take Jamie's "urban chickens" example, Duany laments that under most zoning laws in the US, you can either have zero chickens or 500,000 chickens (In his recent high profile appearance at the UN, Colonel Sanders presumably lobbied for the latter policy), but almost nowhere can you have two chickens in the yard (except maybe Cleveland).  That makes a lot of sense, although my argument would be that the larger problem is not zoning ordinances' failure to include chickens (or agriculture) per se, but rather the restrictive definitions and separations of "residential" use themselves. 

At any rate, the natural place of agriculture in different degrees across various points on the transect leads to the second point I described above: the emerging marketability of agricultural urbanism.  Duany is cautious about both overregulation generally and overprescription of specific ideas.  He believes that new urbanism can work in the marketplace.  "The new urbanist argument," he says, is that "we don't ask you to do what's right because it's ethical; we ask you because it works better," which he says can be rephrased as "it sells more real estate."  And as far as any uniform requirement for agricultural uses, "anyone who sets up one standard undermines urbanism" because it violates the differentiation of the transect. 

Americans will be willing to trade open space for the village ideal, Duany says.  He discussed and showed diagrams of several DPZ or affiliated projects that include agricultural urbanism, including Southlands, BC, and Sky, Florida.  It seems that one of the most effective tools in these developments is cluster building, which allows for smaller walkable village-like living areas.  But the open space preserved by these clusters is not just random farmland, but rather is agricultural space designed to mesh with the living arrangements--there are smaller plots for individual/family gardening, medium-sized tracts for greater local food production, and larger tracts for more typical farming, all designed and placed along the transect for the particular community.  Various incentives for growing food and options for trading or reallocating the agricultural space are incorporated.

If Duany is right that agricultural urbanism can work, this implicitly leads to the important question for land use planners and lawyers: if agricultural urbanism is good, what should we do to encourage it?  Amend the zoning ordinance to allow it?  Or to require it?  Or--if it is marketable--leave it to the private sector to design and implement?  Duany seemed to imply that plans could incorporate regulatory or development incentives for agrigultural uses.  Duany states that the agricultural urbanism as incorporated into the DPZ projects he describes as basically a "module" of the SmartCode that can be modified and applied to fit particular local circumstances. 

Peter Brown made an appearance as well.  Brown is a Houston city council member, an architect, planning advocate, and one of the leading candidates in this Tuesday's Houston mayoral election.  Land use is an important issue in the election, and it will be interesting to see what happens next in the Unzoned City.

It was a fascinating presentation and it was great to have Duany in Houston.  For now though, no chickens are allowed in my townhouse (but I guess I could try this). 

UPDATE: Duany's presentation is available for download at Houston Tomorrow's summary of the event.

Matt Festa

October 31, 2009 in Architecture, Development, Environmental Law, Houston, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth, Smartcode | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)