October 31, 2012
The Trick-or-Treat Test
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!
August 17, 2012
Heintzelman, Walsh, & Grzsekowiak on Open Space Referenda
Martin D. Heintzelman (Clarkson--Business), Patrick J. Walsh, and Dustin J. Grzeskowiak (Clarkson--Business) have posted Explaining the Appearance and Success of Open Space Referenda. The abstract:
To guard against urban sprawl, many communities in the United States have begun enacting policies to preserve open space, often through local voter referenda. New Jersey sponsors such municipal action through the Green Acres Program by providing funding and low interest loans to towns that choose, through a referendum, to increase property taxes and spend the money raised on open space preservation for the purposes of conservation and/or recreation. Understanding which factors contribute to the appearance and success of these measures is important for policy makers and conservation advocates, not only in New Jersey, but across the United States. Although previous literature has examined this issue, this is the first study to account for spatial dependence/spatial autocorrelation and to explore dynamic issues through survival analysis. The traditional two stage model from the literature is extended by incorporating a Bayesian spatial probit for the first stage and a maximum-likelihood spatial error model in the second stage. A Cox – proportional hazard model is used to examine the timing of referenda appearance. Spatial dependence is found in the second stage of the analysis, indicating future studies should account for its influence. There is not strong evidence for spatial dependence or correlation in the first stage. The survival model is found to be a useful complement to the traditional probit analysis of the first stage.
July 16, 2012
Lewyn on Sprawl in Canada and the United States
Michael Lewyn (Touro) has taken his analysis of sprawl north of the border in Sprawl in Canada and the United States, 44 Urban Lawyer 85 (2012). The abstract:
The purpose of this article is to show that, in Canada as in the United States, government regulation promotes sprawl through anti-density zoning, minimum parking requirements, and overly wide streets. However, Canadian cities are less "sprawling" than American cities- perhaps because at least some of these regulations are less onerous than in the United States.
It's an interesting article that makes an original point. We tend to assume that places like Canada must be more regulated than the US, but it isn't necessarily true when it comes to land use. Lewyn suggests a potential link to comparative levels of sprawl.
April 11, 2012
Southern California's New Regional Plan
My last post discussed some of the backlash against Southern California's new regional plan, which emphasizes high-density transit-oriented development. California Planning & Development Report now provides some of the details of the plan, including:
- a total cost of $524 billion over 20 years
- $6.7 billion in funding for biking and walking
- $246 billion on public transportation
- 80 plus percent of all jobs and housing within a half mile of rail stations or bus stops by 2035
- 68% of all new development would be apartment or condos.
April 06, 2012
A car, or a smart phone (for my 16th birthday)?
Two interesting news items crossed the desk this week.
In the first, the U.S. Census reported that population growth in the country’s outer suburbs declined dramatically in 2010 and 2011 compared to the previous decade. And in the second, we learn that people in their late teens and twenties apparently would prefer a smart phone to a car, and that the percentage of young people obtaining a driver’s license has decreased consistently since 1983.
Taken together, these stories hint that our cultural taste for the automobile – and automobile commuting and its associated sprawl – might be waning a bit. But I can’t get over thinking that the news – at least the second piece of news – means something quite different.
Communities of place – cities, towns, etc. – exist because civil society and its economic, social, and cultural relationships have generally required physical proximity. That need for physical proximity has declined, of course, as the telegraph, telephone, internet, and whatever’s next allow us to live farther and farther apart. And it was that capacity to create virtual communities that facilitated much of the growth in outer suburbs and exurbia over the last few decades. If we don’t need to be together physically, we don’t need cities.
From this perspective, the fact that young people prefer a smart phone to a car suggests something different than that we might be entering a car-free future. It might suggest that the physical component of our culture is increasingly less important, reducing further the need for us to gather in specific communities of place. This might be problematic. Is there an emerging generation that will drive less, rely on the car less, and thus reduce our tendency to sprawl and consume more and more land per person? Or will that emerging generation not need cities? Will virtual communities, and the “cities” of Facebook, allow us to sprawl even more? So while we might drive less, at some level, we might also live farther and farther apart, consuming more land and more resources in the process.
April 04, 2012
After the Zombie Apocalypse
I was mildly surprised, upon checking my mailbox a few Mondays ago, to find a zombie crawling out of it. My excitement at finally getting to use my zombie apocalypse skills quickly faded when I realized that it was just an article by Allen Best in High Country News about Teton County, Idaho and its “zombie subdivisions.”
We’ve written a lot about Teton County and similar rural or exurban areas (my own take is here), so the basic story is familiar. Beginning in about 1990, amenity-driven population growth substantially increased the value of land in many rural areas, leading to a boom in residential development that “bust” in 2007 and 2008. That bust left behind thousands of acres of partially developed subdivisions, empty houses, and roads to nowhere across rural and exurban America – Maricopa, AZ; Rio Vista, CA; Myrtle Beach, NC, and of course, Teton County, ID (and here, and here, and... well, just wander around on Google Maps yourself). To the extent the zombie subdivisions have a positive aspect, however, it is in how they make obvious the detrimental effects of particular land-use choices, and perhaps motivate new choices. Maybe we’ll emerge wiser, more careful, and better able to imagine the consequences of our choices.
So we know that part of the story. Short of an ugly photo of a zombie, what does High Country News have to add? Its contribution to the conversation is small but very significant, and it is perfectly distilled in a single quote by long-time Idaho farmer: “I see bicycle riders here, young people riding in the middle of the day!”
Rural geographers (and others) speak of a concept they characterize as “re-territorialization”—the reassignment of resource access rights, and local or regional cultural hegemony, to a new population or interest group. In the public lands West, we see it in changing notions of the purpose of federally-managed lands, e.g., from resource extraction to amenity consumption. But it is no less important in the changing power structures and community visions that allocate rights in private lands.
The Idaho farmer’s bewilderment that people might be able to ride bicycles during the middle of the day, rather than be driving a tractor, represents a persistent understanding about place and what that place should look like. It is also an understanding increasingly overwhelmed, and perhaps disrespected, by emerging majorities. Our choices to formalize cultural transitions into law necessarily oppress reasonable perspectives about land, the appropriate allocation of particular interests in land, and the “sense” of a community. But in many cases these perspectives are fundamental aspects of a place’s cultural history. They are also fundamental aspects of what the rest of us understand as, and love about, rurality.
So while this insight isn’t particularly earth-shattering, it does seem that the zombie apocalypse forces us to focus more carefully on a specific question: To what extent should our new choices respect the cultural understandings that gave rise to the old choices we want to undo? Put another way, can we both love and protect the old rural while simultaneously eradicating the perspectives that created it?
February 06, 2012
Land Use Planning in a Recession - Newton County, Georgia
During his excellent stint as a guest blogger, Stephen Miller posed the question, "Does the best planning happen in a recession?" Like him, I tend to think that currently most jurisdictions are focused on crisis management rather than forward thinking.
However, one exception is Newton County, Georgia - a community that just happens to be a UGA Land Use Clinic client since we began assisting them in 2003 with sprawl reduction tools like infrastructure planning, agricultural land conservation, and transferable development rights. Newton's forward thinking planning processes are highlighted in a four part series on CoLab Radio. The first of the series is entitled "Planning for Growth in a Recession."
Jamie Baker Roskie
February 6, 2012 in Community Design, Development, Georgia, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Suburbs, Transferable Development Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
January 09, 2012
Outka on the Energy-Land Use Nexus
Uma Outka (Kansas) has posted an essay called The Energy-Land Use Nexus, forthcoming in the Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law, 2012. The abstract:
This Symposium Essay explores the contours of the “energy-land use nexus” – the rich set of interrelationships between land use and energy production and consumption. This underexplored nexus encapsulates barriers and opportunities as the trajectory of U.S. energy policy tilts away from fossil fuels. The Essay argues that the energy-land use nexus provides a useful frame for approaching policy to minimize points of conflict between energy goals on the one hand and land conservation on the other.
November 28, 2011
Leinberger on the Death of the Fringe Suburb
DRIVE through any number of outer-ring suburbs in America, and you’ll see boarded-up and vacant strip malls, surrounded by vast seas of empty parking spaces. These forlorn monuments to the real estate crash are not going to come back to life, even when the economy recovers. And that’s because the demand for the housing that once supported commercial activity in many exurbs isn’t coming back, either.
The better news:
Simply put, there has been a profound structural shift — a reversal of what took place in the 1950s, when drivable suburbs boomed and flourished as center cities emptied and withered.
The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population.
Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.
The millennials are just now beginning to emerge from the nest — at least those who can afford to live on their own. This coming-of-age cohort also favors urban downtowns and suburban town centers — for lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars.
November 25, 2011
Thanksgiving & Black Friday
I hope all of our U.S. readers had a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday. As we've suggested before, Thanksgiving is in many senses the original American land use holiday, and itself derives from even more longstanding traditions of honoring the relationship between people, communities, and the land. Over the years since it became an official U.S. holiday, we still have the element of celebrating the harvest, but I would say it's evolved more into an event that revolves around that other significant land use element: the home.
If you're heading out shopping for the big sales today on "Black Friday" (the day many retailers go "in the black" financially), many of you might be confronted with some other aspects of modern American land use: sprawl, traffic, and the architecture of modern suburban development. Growing up, we spent Thanksgiving visiting relatives in the older, traditional New Jersey town in which my parents grew up, but which was adjacent to newer suburban development. Perhaps this weekend, you're experiencing what I often did: on Thursday, dinner at a relative's home in the older traditional neighborhood; then Friday, out to the suburban shopping malls and big-box parking lots. Looking back, I think I was subconsciously aware that there was a big difference. It just occurred to me that because of these two major activities--traditional family dinner, then shop-til-you-drop--the Thanksgiving holiday weekend might be about the sharpest contrast that many people experience with such different land use models.
I wonder how this sort of experience affects people--how it might impact the emotions that many people feel during the holidays when visiting relatives, and perhaps old homes since moved away from, or a walk around the old downtown; thinking about the old days, and talking about how their communities have changed. I wonder if a holiday spent experiencing the stark visual and spatial contrasts between the traditional neighborhood and suburban sprawl heightens these emotions. While much of the holiday experience centers around spending time with people, surely the visual and geographical elements of time and place certainly play a big role for many, even if not explicitly acknowledged. Ideas, memories, and feelings about the places in which we live and have lived must have an effect on the way people think about, and during, the holidays.
I hope that yours were and are mostly pleasant ones. We're thankful for the opportunity to blog here, and for everyone who reads and contributes in this land use blog community.
October 26, 2011
"The 19 Building Types That Caused the Recession"
Among his favorite examples of all the standard real-estate products built ad nauseum across the country over the last half-century, Christopher Leinberger likes to point to the Grocery Anchored Neighborhood Center. This creation is generally about 12 to 15 acres in size on a plot of land that’s 80 percent covered in asphalt. It’s located on the going-home side of a major four-to-eight lane arterial road, where it catches people when they’re most likely to be thinking about what to buy for dinner. . .
Leinberger, an urban land-use strategist and professor at the University of Michigan, includes the Grocery Anchored Neighborhood Center on his list of the 19 standard real estate product types dominant in post-war America. Also on the list: suburban detached starter homes, big-box anchored power centers, multi-tenant bulk warehousing and self-storage facilities. All of these products are designed for drivable suburban communities. They reflect almost exclusively what investors have been willing to finance for the last 50 years. And as construction picks back up following the recession, Leinberger says we'll need to get away from every single one of them.
It's a slightly fancier way to say we must get away from sprawl, but it's certainly food for thought.
And when you're done with that, check out Richard Florida's article "2011's Best Cities for Trick-or-Treating."
Jamie Baker Roskie
October 11, 2011
Ostrow on Land Law Federalism
Ashira Ostrow (Hofstra) has posted Land Law Federalism, 61 Emory L.J. ___ (forthcoming 2012). A must-read, this foundational work explores the theoretical framework for appropriate federal intervention in the state/local-dominated area of land use regulation. Here's the abstract:
In modern society, capital, information and resources pass seamlessly across increasingly porous jurisdictional boundaries; land does not. Perhaps because of its immobility, the dominant descriptive and normative account of land use law is premised upon local control. Yet, land exhibits a unique duality. Each parcel is at once absolutely fixed in location but inextricably linked to a complex array of interconnected systems, natural and man-made. Ecosystems spanning vast geographic areas sustain human life; interstate highways, railways and airports physically connect remote areas; networks of buildings, homes, offices and factories, create communities and provide the physical context in which most human interaction takes place.
Given the traditional commitment to localism, scholars and policymakers often reflexively dismiss the potential for an increased federal role in land use law. Yet, modern land use law already involves a significant federal dimension resulting, in part, from the enactment of federal statutes that have varying degrees of preemptive effect on local authority. Moreover, this Article maintains that federal intervention in land use law is warranted where the cumulative impact of local land use decisions interferes with national regulatory objectives (such as developing nationwide energy or telecommunications infrastructure).
Finally, this Article advances an interjurisdictional framework for federal land law that harnesses (a) the capacity of the federal government, with its distance from local politics and economic pressures, to coordinate land use on a national scale and (b) the capacity of local officials, who have detailed knowledge of the land and are politically accountable to the local community, to implement land use policies.
October 11, 2011 in Climate, Development, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Globalism, Green Building, Inclusionary Zoning, Local Government, NIMBY, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Sustainability, Transportation, Wetlands, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
September 15, 2011
Why planning is overrated
It is conventional wisdom in some circles that “comprehensive planning” and sprawl are polar opposites- that planning is the enemy of sprawl.
But in fact, a comprehensive plan is almost as likely as a zoning code to be pro-sprawl. Many of the land use policies that make suburbs automobile-dependent: wide roads, long blocks, low density, single-use zoning, etc. can just as easily be found in a comprehensive plan.
For example, Alpharetta, Georgia is an outer suburb of Atlanta. Its plan’s future land use map , like the city's zoning code, lists a variety of single use zones. Most of these zones are quite low in density; the highest density, for apartments, is only 10 units per acre, barely enough to support minimal bus service. At these densities, not too many people live within walking distance of public transit, so there is not enough demand to support buses running more often than every half an hour or so, let alone rail service.
The plan also provides for numerous zones that are clearly incapable of supporting public transit, such as a “residential estate” area of 3-acre lots and a “very low density” area of half-acre lots. The plan provides that only 4% of the city’s land is to be used for apartments, as opposed to 54% for low-density residential.
Moreover, the land use map reveals that what passes for compact development in Alpharetta is not intermingled with the city’s offices; instead, high-density residential is a buffer zone between the city’s large stock of offices (near the Georgia 400 highway) and the city’s even larger stock of single-family homes. As a result, most of Alpharetta’s renters will not be able to walk to work even if they work in Alpharetta.
The transportation elements of suburban land use plans may also support car-oriented sprawl. For example, Jacksonville, Fla.'s comprehensive plan calls for 150-foot rights of way on major streets, thus effectively mandating streets with eight or ten lanes. Such streets are a bit too wide for most sane pedestrians.
In sum, comprehensive plans will typically reincorporate the status quo. So if a municipality's zoning code favors sprawling, low-density development, so will the comprehensive plan.
P.S. A more comprehensive discussion of these plans and their deficiencies is in a more extensive blog post at www.planetizen.com.
September 09, 2011
If you do a Google Images search for "sprawl", what you will see is lots of aerial views of large subdivisions filled with small and medium-sized houses. But these places are "sprawl with a human face"; often there are sidewalks, or at least lawns for humans to walk on.
Right now, I'm visiting my parents' house in Atlanta and seeing sprawl at its worst. For example, look at this photo (a couple of miles from where I am sitting), showing a residential street where the trees go right up to the street, so there is no lawn to walk on; if you walk you just have to share the street with 40 mph car traffic. This sort of thing even happens in apartment complexes.
September 06, 2011
My next article: sprawl in Canada and the U.S.
In public debate over suburban sprawl, one common argument is the “Inevitability Theory.” The Inevitability Theory is based on the following chain of logic:
1. Sprawl happens even in places where government policy doesn’t favor sprawl (such as Canada, Europe, etc.)
2. Therefore, sprawl is an inevitable result of the free market, rather than government policy.
The Inevitability Theory is designed to rebut the environmentalist argument that sprawl is the result of American public policies such as highway construction, minimum parking requirements, anti-density zoning, and anti-pedestrian street design.
My next article criticizes the Inevitability Theory by focusing on Canada. Part 1 of the Inevitability Theory discussed above can be broken down into two assumptions: (a) that Canada sprawls as much as the U.S.; and (b) Canadian public policy is antisprawl. But in my article, I challenge both assumptions, arguing that:
a. Canada is less suburbanized than the United States; even controlling for changes in city boundaries, Canadian central cities have been more likely to grow than their American counterparts. Even Canadian cities that have lost population are better off than many older American cities. For example, the fastest-declining major Canadian city, Montreal, lost 18 percent of its population between 1971 and 2001 (excluding areas annexed to the city in the intervening decades). By contrast, St. Louis lost 44 percent of its population, and other cities such as Cleveland and Detroit lost over 30 percent of their population.
b. If you treat sprawl as a matter of “how we develop” rather than “where we develop”,Canada again differs. 14 percent of Canadian commuters (as opposed to 6 percent of Americans) use public transit to get to work, and 5 percent walk (as opposed to 2 percent in the U.S.)
To be sure, Canada has some automobile-dependent cities and suburbs. But is this necessarily the result of the market at work? In my article, I show that Canadian cities and suburbs have the same kind of anti-density, pro-sprawl regulations as their American counterpart. For example, in both nations, municipal zoning regulations limit density, thus limiting the number of people who can live within walking distance of public transit and other destinations. And in both nations, zoning regulations require businesses to install large amounts of parking, thus reducing density, making driving more convenient, and also making businesses more inhospitable to pedestrians (who often have to walk through large parking lots). And in both nations, streets are often designed to be too wide to be comfortably crossed. However, Canadian regulations do tend to be more lenient (and thus less anti-pedestrian) than their U.S. counterparts.
The full article is at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn/65/ .
September 01, 2011
Welcome Michael Lewyn
I'm excited to introduce our newest guest-blogger, Michael Lewyn. Prof. Lewyn is on the faculty of the Touro College Jacob D. Fuschberg Law Center, where he just moved after several years at the Florida Coastal School of Law. He teaches and writes in the area of property law and land use, specializing in urban and suburban development and sprawl. He's been a contributor at Planetizen and other places. You can check out his SSRN page here. I suspect many of you are familiar with his work, which includes a number of great articles on sprawl and related topics (including my personal favorite: How Overregulation Creates Sprawl (Even in a City Without Zoning).
We're thrilled to have Prof. Lewyn aboard at the Land Use Prof Blog for September. Welcome!
July 05, 2011
Ziegler on Sustainable Urban Development
Edward Ziegler (Denver) has posted Sustainable Urban Development and the Next American Landscape: Some Thoughts on Transportation, Regionalism, and Urban Planning Law Reform in the 21st Century, 43 Urb. Lawyer ___ (forthcoming 2011). Here's the abstract:
This article discusses sustainable development problems in the United States related to regional automobile-dependent sprawl and focuses on the need for devising and implementing growth strategies that provide people in the United States with affordable and sustainable housing and transportation options. The article provides a critical global perspective on the potential for creating sustainable neighborhoods of transit-oriented urban core areas within a metropolitan region and calls for the reform of the legal primacy in the United States of local zoning and urban planning controls which largely operate to require low density automobile-dependent living arrangements. The article crystallizes four major sustainable development points that highlight the need for developing integrated regional urban planning policies that support regional transit planning in the United States in the twenty-first century.
Metropolitan areas cannot resolve their challenges alone. Counties, cities, and suburbs operate within a national policy framework, and face challenges [bigger] than their own capacities. What’s needed is a new partnership between federal, state, local, and private-sector players to help metropolitan areas build on their economic strengths, foster a strong and diverse middle class, and grow in environmentally sustainable ways.
June 28, 2011
The suburbs are a Ponzi scheme
I enjoyed this post by Charles Marohn from Strong Towns on grist.org. At our clinic (VLS) we discuss smart growth/smart decline principles and have focused on environmental and social impacts. I'd never heard the Ponzi scheme analogy and think it's a great way to bring cost into the discussion.
"Since the end of World War II, our cities and towns have experienced growth using three primary mechanisms:
- Transfer payments between governments: where the federal or state government makes a direct investment in growth at the local level, such as funding a water or sewer system expansion.
- Transportation spending: where transportation infrastructure is used to improve access to a site that can then be developed.
- Public and private-sector debt: where cities, developers, companies, and individuals take on debt as part of the development process, whether during construction or through the assumption of a mortgage.
In each of these mechanisms, the local unit of government benefits from the enhanced revenues associated with new growth. But it also typically assumes the long-term liability for maintaining the new infrastructure. This exchange -- a near-term cash advantage for a long-term financial obligation -- is one element of a Ponzi scheme.
The other is the realization that the revenue collected does not come near to covering the costs of maintaining the infrastructure. In America, we have a ticking time bomb of unfunded liability for infrastructure maintenance. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates the cost at $5 trillion -- but that's just for just major infrastructure, not the minor streets, curbs, walks, and pipes that serve our homes.
The reason we have this gap is because the public yield from the suburban development pattern -- the amount of tax revenue obtained per increment of liability assumed -- is ridiculously low. Over a life cycle, a city frequently receives just a dime or two of revenue for each dollar of liability. The engineering profession will argue, as ASCE does, that we're simply not making the investments necessary to maintain this infrastructure. This is nonsense. We've simply built in a way that is not financially productive.
We've done this because, as with any Ponzi scheme, new growth provides the illusion of prosperity. In the near term, revenue grows, while the corresponding maintenance obligations -- which are not counted on the public balance sheet -- are a generation away."
June 27, 2011
Europe: Annoying Drivers on Purpose
I haven't been able to blog as much as usual lately, and one of the reasons is that we just moved. It was a local move, but I'm sure you all know what a hassle moving is. But today, the move actually helped my blogging. It seems that the previous tenant failed to cancel his multiple newspaper subscriptions. I rarely read news on dead tree anymore, so I might not otherwise have seen this morning's front page New York Times Story by Elisabeth Rosenthal called: Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy.
ZURICH — While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
Some cities have closed entire streets; some introduced stiff fees for driving into the city; many have reduced on-street parking drastically; bike lanes have replaced car lanes without offset for traffic; others have purposely added red lights to mess with drivers; Zurich's tram operators seem to have the ability to change the lights to their favor as they approach. (I'm trying to imagine how much a magic traffic-light-changing remote control clicker would fetch on e-bay.)
According to the story, and probably not inconsistent with what some of you may have observed, many of these European cities have dramatically improved in walkability, transit options, and quality of public space. How much the policies are related causally to the result isn't clear, but we can assume they've had an impact.
I'm not entirely sure what I think of all this. I'm a strong proponent of improving urban life by incentivizing higher density, mixed-use development and increasing pedestrian-oriented neighborhood viability and transit-oriented development. Love it. Still, I am hesitant to pursue these goals through policies that actually make things worse for some people on purpose. What do these policies do to affordable housing? How about people from lower socioeconomic strata that need to make their living from driving goods and services around the city? How do public shared bikes help women who don't cycle (and families with kids)? By all means, make mass transit better, faster, more economical. But purposely creating red-light patterns just to deliberately piss people off just concerns me a bit. It also would seem to thwart a number of smart-growth-friendly options that nonetheless rely on roads, such as bus rapid transit.
Admittedly I'm looking at this from the urban planning side more than the environmental side, but it seems the environmental benefits of these policies will be much more difficult to observe than the effect on quality of life; it's easy to see the quality of life in the very nice and improved transit-accessible mixed-use public spaces, but these types of policies would seem to generate a lot of external costs--on purpose. Maybe that's a tradeoff people are willing to make. But to acheive the same progressive land use goals, I still have a preference for a positive approach (e.g., incentivizing (or even just allowing) smart growth and new urbanism) rather than purposely making some aspects of urban life worse by degrading capabilites to make some people's lives "miserable."
June 27, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Comparative Land Use, Density, Downtown, Environmentalism, New Urbanism, Parking, Pedestrian, Planning, Politics, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
May 16, 2011
Prairie Chickens: Another Challenge for Wind Energy Development
The Kansas Department of Wildlife is asking a wind energy developer to spend an extra $567 million to route its project’s power lines away from “lesser prairie chicken” mating areas.
According to a Kansas City Star article published yesterday, the Department’s revised power transmission route would spare about 140 of the 20,000 to 40,000 lesser prairie chickens estimated to live in Kansas. Based on those figures, the developer is being asked to spend about $4 million per prairie chicken saved. An ordinary Kansas hunter can purchase a license to kill up to 40 of the birds for less than $21.
Usually, conflicts between bird conservationists and wind energy developers center around the risk that birds or bats will suffer fatal collisions with turbines and towers. Developers now tend to install wind turbines outside of migratory bird paths to help limit bird fatalities on wind farms.
In contrast, wind turbines and transmission systems threaten prairie chickens by inhibiting the birds’ breeding activities. A Bloomberg article from 2009 states that the species’ mating rituals involve an “elaborate dance” and suggests that “the chickens have learned to avoid such mating displays around structures like wind turbines or utility poles where predators may perch.”
Based on the available information, revising the transmission route to steer clear of the chickens’ breeding grounds seemingly isn’t cost-justified in this case. It will be interesting to see whether the Kansas Corporation Commission, which is deciding this dispute, reaches the same conclusion.