Tuesday, September 6, 2011
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/ .
Thursday, September 1, 2011
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!
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
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.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
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."
Monday, June 27, 2011
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 (0)
Monday, May 16, 2011
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.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Speaking of HUD, here's a new article from Lisa T. Alexander (Wisconsisn) called The Promise and Perils of ‘New Regionalist’ Approaches to Sustainable Communities, forthcoming in the Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 38 (2011). The abstract:
This Article argues that "new regionalism" is a form of "new governance." New regionalist approaches include collaborative efforts between cities and outlying suburbs to resolve metropolitan challenges such as affordable housing creation, transportation and sprawl. Such practices focus on regions as key sites for the resolution of public problems that transcend traditional local government and state boundaries. New regionalist praxis responds to local government law's failure to advance equity and sustainability throughout metropolitan regions. New regionalism promotes voluntary agreements and interlocal collaborations, rather than formal government or mandated regulation to resolve regional problems. New regionalism, then, is a form of new governance. The term new governance describes problem-solving processes that shift away from traditional government and regulation, towards voluntary, public/private collaborations including multiple stakeholders. New governance supporters assert that such approaches can enhance the participation of traditionally marginalized groups in reform and lead to more equitable outcomes. This Article examines the institutional design of the Obama Administration's Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program (the "Grant Program"), as well as its initial implementation in the Madison, Wisconsin/Dane County area, as a test of these claims. This Article identifies the Grant Program's promise and perils in advancing meaningful stakeholder participation and distributive justice. The Article concludes by making recommendations to improve the Grant Program and by outlining the implications of these observations for new regionalist and new governance practice.
May 15, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Community Design, HUD, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Sprawl, State Government, Suburbs, Sustainability, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
We've posted a few times about the curious topic of urban chickens. The issue really crosses a lot of lines between the public-health origins of zoning; class; sustainability; and modern trends like local food.
Local chickens are being debated in my hometown of Albany. Here is the story from the Times Union: Chickens Join City's Urban Sprawl. Apparently it's up to the Mayor now. The reporter also has a blog post asking for feedback here.
Thanks to Helen Festa for the link. Interestingly, Albany Law's Patricia Salkin mentioned this controversy last week when she was telling me that out of all of her (many!) recent pieces, it is her article Feeding the Locavores, One Chicken at a Time: Regulating Backyard Chickens, that has gotten the most SSRN downloads. There must be a lot of passion out there about urban chickens!
Monday, April 18, 2011
High oil prices are generally bad for the U.S.—oil spending goes largely to foreign producers, leaving less money for American goods and services—but if you look just at the dollars involved the terror they inspire is somewhat mysterious. Gas is a relatively small percentage of most household budgets, and prices are now about eighty-five cents a gallon higher than they were twelve months ago, which translates into a few hundred dollars more a year. That’s not trivial, particularly for lower-income Americans, but it’s not devastating. In fact, it’s less than the increase in income that most Americans will get this year as a result of the new payroll-tax cut...
And Carol Graham and Soumya Chattopadhyay, of the Brookings Institution, have shown that rising gas prices can have a significant impact on Americans’ level of happiness. In part, this is because most people, at least in the short run, have no choice but to fill their tanks. Gas prices are also literally the most visible prices we have; you can’t take a drive without seeing huge signs reminding you how much gas costs. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke, has even argued that the way we buy gasoline—standing at the pump and watching the dollars pile up—is inherently disheartening.
What Surowiecki doesn't mention, suprisingly, is why people feel they have little choice but to fill their tanks. You can all say it together with me, "It's because of sprawl!" Autocentric land use patterns are hard on the pocket-book and the psyche. I improved my personal happiness by riding my bike to work today.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Joel Kotkin has another "New Geographer" column at Forbes challenging some prevailing attitudes about urbanism, using some early Census data. From The Protean Future of American Cities:
The ongoing Census reveals the continuing evolution of America’s cities from small urban cores to dispersed, multi-polar regions that includes the city’s surrounding areas and suburbs. This is not exactly what most urban pundits, and journalists covering cities, would like to see, but the reality is there for anyone who reads the numbers. . . .
But the bigger story — all but ignored by the mainstream media — is the continued evolution of urban regions toward a more dispersed, multi-centered form. Brookings’ Robert Lang has gone even further, using the term “edgeless cities” to describe what he calls an increasingly “elusive metropolis” with highly dispersed employment.
Rather than a cause for alarm, this form of development simply reflects the protean vitality of American urban forms. . . .
Houston Tomorrow president David Crossley, however, sees some of the same trends from Census data on the Houston region, and (tongue-in-cheek) credits the dispersal of new population into the edges as a "Brilliant Government Success":
Houston Tomorrow’s analysis shows that public policy aimed at moving growth away from our 134 towns, cities, and villages to the unincorporated areas of the 13 counties has been breathtakingly successful. In the 2000 Census, our towns and cities had 65% of all the population. In the new numbers, that share drops to 58%. That’s because fully 71% of all the growth was in unincorporated areas.
Crossley is concerned with the sprawl and reverse-urban trends that this growth indicates. This is going to be a lively debate for the foreseeable future; as more Census data comes out we can expect to see a lot more analysis. I know Kotkin's normative claims get a lot of pushback but I don't know about his descriptive analysis--the demographic numbers certainly are compelling, as Crossley's less sangine take indicates.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Jerry Long (Idaho) explores the causes of and reasons for a community's commitment to sustainable land-use planning in his recently posted Private Lands, Conflict, and Institutional Evolution in the Post-Public-Lands West, 28 Pace Env. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2011). Here's the abstract:
As rural communities face amenity-driven population growth and globalizing culture and economic systems, the process by which those communities imagine and implement desired futures grows increasingly complex. Globalization- and technology-facilitated and amenity-driven population growth increases the value of place-bound benefit streams – including land – promoting increased levels of physical development and a changed built environment. At the same time, globalizing culture and evolving local demographics might alter local land-use ideologies, yielding a preference for resource protection and more sustainable local land-use regimes. This article engages in a theoretical and empirical exploration that seeks to answer a single question: Why, in the face of competing land-use ideologies, might a community choose to adopt a more resource-protective, or resource-sustaining, land-use regime? Ultimately, it is only upon witnessing the actual effects of previous choices on the ground – including most significant, real harm to valued social or natural amenities – that a community is able to imagine and implement a land-use regime that can protect the amenities that community values.
March 2, 2011 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comprehensive Plans, Conservation Easements, Density, Development, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Globalism, Land Trust, Las Vegas, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Sustainability, Urbanism, Water, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
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).
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)
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The Lincoln Institute for Land Policy has made available its report, Making Room for a Planet of Cities. The report predicts a rapid increase in the population of the developing world's largest cities in combination with a concurrent decrease in urban density. As a result, "[t]he world’s urban population is expected to double in 43 years, while urban land cover will double in only 19 years. The urban population in developing countries is expected to double between 2000 and 2030 while the built-up area of their cities is expected to triple [during that same period]." The Lincoln site also offers a companion Atlas of Urban Expansion.
Monday, February 14, 2011
This month's Atlantic has an article on skyscrapers. Here's the blurb:
Besides making cities more affordable and architecturally interesting, tall buildings are greener than sprawl, and they foster social capital and creativity. Yet some urban planners and preservationists seem to have a misplaced fear of heights that yields damaging restrictions on how tall a building can be. From New York to Paris to Mumbai, there’s a powerful case for building up, not out.
I'm only about halfway through - still working on the history bit - but the article promises to show "how skyscrapers can save the city." So far it's an interesting read.
Jamie Baker Roskie
UPDATE: a skeptical response to this article appears on New Urban Network.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Thanks, Matt, for the wonderfully kind introduction. I am excited to be guest-posting on the Land Use Prof blog. Despite the flood of emails (and steady stream of students and professors wanting an associate dean's immediate attention), I read the Land Use Prof blog every day, and find the posts both helpful and thought-provoking. It is a real honor to be a part of the great work that y'all do!
For my first post, I want to share some insights from Judith Welch Wegner's Boehl Distinguished Lecture in Land Use Policy at the University of Louisville this past Thursday, January 27, and to highlight the value of a land-use lecture series generally. Professor Wegner is well known in legal education for her past roles as a 10-year Dean at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, President of AALS, member of the Order of the Coif Executive Committee, and Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In the land use field, she is known as the Burton Craige Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and for her especially influential article "Moving Toward the Bargaining Table: Contract Zoning, Development Agreements, and the Theoretical Foundations of Government Land Use Deals," 65 N.C. L. Rev. 957 (1987). I predict that she will play a major role in reviving interest in annexation as a land use legal and planning issue.
Judith gave her Boehl Distinguished Lecture in Land Use Policy on "Annexation, Urban Boundaries, and Land Use Dilemmas: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future." Her basic concern is that annexation is often disconnected from land-use planning, which results in problems of sprawl, uncoordinated growth, inadequate infrastructure, and fiscal stress. Drawing on census data and examples from North Carolina's famous "annexation wars," Judith pointed out that there are no quick-fixes, no one-size-fits-all model solutions (a point that I particularly like and have addressed most recently in "Fourth-Generation Environmental Law: Integrationist and Multimodal"). Local culture matters. Some of the worst conflicts do not arise from expanding large cities but from small municipalities in rural or at least non-urban areas, making it difficutl to get a handle on what exactly "smart growth" might mean in these low-density communities. Water and wastewater dynamics play significant roles, as do municipalities' desires to improve their fiscal health by increasing their property-tax base through annexations. When municipal annexation is difficult, though, alternatives to annexation take its place, including the proliferation of special districts, the rise of county authority over land use, and the dominance of gated communities. All in all, according to Judith, annexation conflicts demonstrate why local governance structure is a "wicked problem" but one that is critically important to land use practices and sustainable development. I am looking forward to the publications that will result from her research. Annexation issues have received too little attention in the land use legal literature.
But her lecture implicitly makes another point -- the value of a land-use lecture series. More on that tomorrow . . . . [OK, maybe not as tantalizing as who shot J.R., but hopefully something of a hook to bring you back.] Again, thanks for letting me come aboard!
January 31, 2011 in Agriculture, Common Interest Communities, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Development, Exurbs, Lectures, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Smart Growth, Sprawl, State Government, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Call them the new ghost towns - "premature" subdivisions that have been laid out in anticipation of a continuing housing boom and unfettered growth at the periphery. In many areas there is a large surplus of already platted lots, improperly located to foster smart growth. Teton County, Idaho has granted development entitlements in the rural countryside sufficient to quadruple their population. Most of these lots have non-existent or poor services.
Even in areas that expect large increases in population, these premature subdivisions are in the wrong location to foster smart growth patterns. In Arizona's Sun Corridor, approximately one million undeveloped lots, many not even platted yet, have been entitled and would lead to further sprawl.
The current economic downturn provides an opportunity to address past impacts, better anticipate and prepare for future growth and improve property values, says senior fellow Armando Carbonell, who will be moderating a panel, Reshaping Development Patterns, at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Charlotte Feb. 3.
Carbonell sees an opportunity to redesign communities to transfer development pressure from previously approved development areas to foster more sustainable development. For example, in the suburbs of the Northeast, there are projects that remake the suburban highway, turning "edge city" districts into compact mixed-use centers, and using green infrastructure strategies for shaping new communities at the metropolitan fringe."There's a sponge-like capacity to accommodate population growth without any further peripheral development," says Carbonell.
The panelists exploring these issues will be Arthur "Chris" Nelson, Metropolitan Research Center, University of Utah, on demographic and population trends; Jim Holway, head of Western Land and Communities, the Lincoln Institute-Sonoran Institute joint venture; and Thomas Wright, executive director of the Regional Plan Association of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.
New Partners for Smart Growth this year marks its 10th anniversary as a collaboration of the Loal Government Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Premature subdivisions" aren't just a western or northeastern problem - we've seen a fair number of them here in Georgia as well. If any of our readers attend this session, or any other session at the New Partners conference, please send us a report!
Jamie Baker Roskie
January 26, 2011 in Conferences, Development, Exurbs, Lectures, New York, Planning, Property, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
For decades the trend in most American cities has been one of jobs moving from downtowns to the suburbs. A recent Wall Street Journal piece suggests that this trend may be shifting: Downtowns Get a Fresh Lease: Suburbs Lose Office Workers to Business Districts, Reversing a Post-War Trend. From the article by Anton Troianovski:
As the market for office space shows signs of recovery, the suburbs are getting left behind.
For decades, the suburbs benefited from companies seeking lower rent, less crime and a shorter commute for many workers. But now, office buildings in many city downtowns have stopped losing tenants or are filling up again even as the office space in the surrounding suburbs continues to empty, a challenge to the post-war trend in the American workplace and a sign of the economic recovery's uneven geography. . . .
Statistics show that suburban office markets were hit harder by the recession than their downtown counterparts and are recovering more slowly. The national office vacancy rate in downtowns was 14.9% at the end of the third quarter, the same level as in early 2005—while the suburban vacancy rate hit 19%, 2.3 percentage points higher than in 2005, according to data firm Reis Inc.
In the first three quarters of this year, businesses in the suburbs vacated a net 16 million square feet of occupied office space—nearly 280 football fields—while downtowns have stabilized, losing just 119,000 square feet.
You might argue that simply losing fewer square feet than the suburbs (where the harder-hit industries such as mortgage lending and home building tend to be located) doesn't necessarily presage the long-awaited Return to Downtown. But real estate guru and urbanism advocate Christopher Leinberger detects something bigger going on:
[S]ome scholars, urban advocates, and developers believe a secular shift is under way in the American workplace.
"Young people don't want to be out on the fringe...and as people are beginning to figure that out, it's beginning to get factored into office relocations," said Christopher Leinberger, a real-estate developer and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It's a major structural trend that we in real estate are going to have to adjust to."
The WSJ article has lots of links to photos, data, and interactive maps. Thanks to Houston Tomorrow for the pointer.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
On his New Geography blog for Forbes, Joel Kotkin has an essay on why he thinks there will be a resurgence in the housing market starting later this decade: Why Housing Will Come Back. He begins with a historical observation:
Few icons of the American way of life have suffered more in recent years than homeownership. Since the bursting of the housing bubble, there has been a steady drumbeat from the factories of futurist punditry that the notion of owning a home will, and, more importantly, should become out of reach for most Americans.
Before jumping on this bandwagon, perhaps we would do well to understand the role that homeownership and the diffusion of property plays in a democracy. From Madison and Jefferson through Lincoln’s Homestead Act, the most enduring and radical notion of American political economy has been the diffusion of property.
Kotkin then notes that in recent years, and especially in light of the mortgage crisis, the single-family homeownership ideal has been criticized from both the right (government overpromotion) and the left (sprawl, new urbanism, environmentalism). His response:
Yet for all the problems facing the housing market, homeownership–not exclusively single-family houses–is not likely to fade dramatically for the foreseeable future. The most compelling reason has to do with continued public preference for single-family homes, suburbs and the notion of owning a “piece” of the American dream. This is why that four out of every five homes built in America over the past few decades, notes urban historian Witold Rybczynski, have less to do with government policy than “with buyers’ preferences, that is, What People Want.
Kotkin goes on to explain several reasons why he believes housing will come back, after adjusting to the market correction imposed by the economic recession. Why I find most interesting is that his prediction is based less on economics or law than on demographics:
As boomers age, the two big groups that will drive housing will be the young Millenial generation born after 1983 as well as immigrants and their offspring. Sixty million strong, the millenials are just now entering their late 20s. They are just beginning to start hunting for houses and places to establish roots. Generational chroniclers Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, describe millenials in their surveys as family-oriented young people who value homeownership even more than their boomer parents. They also are somewhat more likely to choose suburbia as their “ideal place to live” than the previous generation.
These tendencies are even more marked among immigrants and their children. Already a majority of immigrants live in suburbia, up from 40% in the 1970s. They are attracted in many cases by both jobs and the opportunity to buy a single-family home. For an immigrant from Mumbai, Hong Kong or Mexico City, the “American dream” is rarely living in high density surrounded by concret
An interesting take. For more writings on urban theory from the center-right perspective (e.g., Why we Have to Learn to Love the Subdivision--Again) see Kotkin's New Geography website.
September 25, 2010 in Density, Development, Environmentalism, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, New Urbanism, Planning, Real Estate Transactions, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Wayne Batchis has published Enabling urban sprawl: revisiting the Supreme Court's seminal zoning decision Euclis v. Ambler in the 21st century in the Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law. Here's the abstract:
Today, many urbanists look back at our built environment with bemusement. The outcome of over fifty years of post-war suburbanization has fundamentally reshaped America's manmade landscape. From coast to coast, amorphous urban sprawl envelops America as far as the eye can see - and scholars have just begun to struggle to understand its causes and assess its impact. In this article I examine the phenomenon of urban sprawl and its relationship to exclusionary zoning. I argue that the Supreme Court in 1926 played a key role in enabling sprawl though its permissive zoning jurisprudence in Euclid v. Ambler. Had the Court scrutinized America's early zoning laws with greater rigor, these laws could have been deemed constitutionally suspect - effectively stopping sprawl in its tracks. I conclude by exploring four significant flaws of the Euclid decision in light of the modern epidemic of sprawl.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Witold Rybczynski, Slate's architecture critic, UPenn prof, and author of many fascinating books, has an article--well, they call it a "slideshow"--called Ordinary Places: Rediscovering the parking lot, the big-box store, the farmer's market, the gas station. It's a nice presentation with photos and commentary and well worth taking a quick look.
Rybczynski has written scads about great public spaces, traditional neighborhood development, and so on, so he certainly isn't a defender of sprawling suburbia. So I think that his comments on the "ordinary places" in the slideshow are interesting, and make a good point about finding value in the spaces in which we live. Rybczynski cites landscape historian J.B. Jackson's concept of the "vernacular landscape." For example, here are some counterintuitive observations on that evil, un-green scourge of our soulless car-bound culture, the Parking Lot:
Whether you are going to a farmers market or a big-box store, chances are you will have to park. Parking lots, rather than squares and plazas, are the most common public outdoor open spaces in America. They are complicated social spaces, where travelling gives way to arriving, driving to walking, privacy to publicness—and vice versa. Although inevitably described as "seas of asphalt"—they look bleak in photographs—they are orderly, clean places; Jackson once referred to their "austere beauty." Parking lots are also surprisingly civic. People politely observe rules of behaviour for the sake of the common good, parking between the lines, staying out of the handicapped spaces, driving slowly. It is one place where cars and pedestrians happily coexist.Interesting stuff; definitely check out the link for the photos and commentary.
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