April 19, 2010
Keep Portland Precious?
From last week's Economist, an editorial about whether Portland, Oregon's success as a environmentally-friendly, dense, bikable community can be replicated, or whether it is unique.
I'm a Portland transplant; I attended Lewis & Clark College and lived there for eight years post-undergrad. There are some things I miss about Portland, and many things I admire about its transformation as a city. However, when folks here in Athens hold up Portland as a paragon and model, I get a little itchy. I hate to sound like an old-timer, but the house we bought for $65,000 in 1992 is now easily is now worth four times that. The neighborhood grocery store has been replaced by Whole Foods, and the local restaurants and repair shops are now upscale eateries and boutiques. The city may be more desirable, but it feels more elitist. Is it possible to have one without the other?
Jamie Baker Roskie
April 08, 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. Asmara Tekle, Texas Southern University Moderator: Prof. Matthew Festa, South Texas College of Law
David Crossley, President & Founder, Houston Tomorrow
Kendall Miller, CEO, Houstonians for Responsible Growth
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.
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
March 30, 2010
New Approaches to Urban Redevelopment
Saturday I attended a very interesting lecture by Ken Reardon, who is a planning professor at The University of Memphis and a founding member of the Memphis Regional Design Center (MRDC). The lecture was part of an event called "Look at That! Fresh Approaches for Urban Redevelopment in Athens." The economy being what it is, many of our clients are looking for help with redevelopment, rather than combating sprawl, so I took the opportunity to attend this event, sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.
Reardon's lecture was very interesting. First he had all the participants engage in a group dialogue about our vision for Athens' future. Ideas included more urban agriculture, better downtown development, preservation of our small town character, and more affordable housing.
Then Reardon discussed how the MRDC has helped some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Memphis, using team members from local design firms, University of Memphis, the Urban Land Institute, and other partners. He declared himself most proud of a project that turned the largest outdoor drug market in Memphis into a farmers' market, which is truly a noteworthy accomplishment. The center also played a key role in helping Memphis pass its new, form-based, Unified Development Code. All the time he was talking, I was thinking, "We need that here!" I'm planning to spend some time picking Reardon's brain over the next several months.
Jamie Baker Roskie
March 17, 2010
County Struggles to Pay for Unused Infrastructure Capacity
In our relatively short time as co-editors of this blog, we've written several times about the impact of the implosion of the housing market. (Just check out our housing and mortgage crisis categories for many of these posts.) Recently, the local paper here in Athens - the Athens Banner Herald - carried a story about how nearby Jackson County is struggling to pay for the expanded water and sewer service they built to meet the expected demand for new home building. Jackson County is an exurb of Atlanta and before the economy crashed it was experiencing massive growth. Now, as in so many places in the country, subdivided land is little more than "PVC farms" (so called because they are empty except for PVC pipes sticking from the ground where homes are to be built). The Jackson County commission's solution to this is to begin charging a $10 a month maintenance fee on the pipes. However, with many of the builders gone bust, they will have to wait to collect this fee from future developers. Let's hope that works out for them.
Jamie Baker Roskie
February 11, 2010
Has Regulation Saved Some Cities from Foreclosure Crisis?
From today's NYT Opinionator Blog, a piece on what's happend in California - the unregulated sprawl in the Central Valley vs. the strictly regulated urban core:
It hasn’t happened. Just the opposite. The developers’ favorite role models, the laissez faire free-for-alls — Las Vegas, the Phoenix metro area, South Florida, this valley — are the most troubled, the suburban slums.
Would stricter land use regulation kept us out of this mess?
Jamie Baker Roskie
February 04, 2010
Property and Space from a Different Angle
Matt Festa posted last week about a dispute over property falling from space. Today my architecture source (you know who you are) sent me a link to an article from the NY Times on-line entitled, "Space: It's Still a Frontier." This article, however, is about an entirely different kind of space - the underutilized, trash-strewn, unmaintained space amid urban greenspace. Or, abandoned mall space. Or empty foreclosed homes, block after block. It's a wide-ranging piece about all the ways in which we fail to use land wisely, and the economic and environmental consequences. The piece also discusses how creative folks are using GIS and other tools to map those spaces and consider solutions to this land use dysfunction. I'm not the most visual person in the world (which is weird for a land use lawyer) but I know that the tools the planners, designers and mappers bring to our work is incredibly valuable. In fact, earlier this week I blogged briefly about some of the excellent work being done by UGA Environment & Design professor Alfie Vick and his students in collaboration with our clients. You can view video, maps and other resources about their work here. Their work is invaluable in helping communities envision a better future.
Jamie Baker Roskie
January 26, 2010
President Obama's New Strategy for Urban America
Our strategy to build economically competitive, environmentally sustainable, opportunity-rich communities that serve as the backbone for our long-term growth and prosperity -- three items: First, we'll build strong regional backbones for our economy by coordinating federal investments in economic and workforce development -- because today's metropolitan areas don't stop at downtown. What's good for Denver, for example, is usually good for places like Aurora and Boulder, too. Strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America.
Second, we'll focus on creating more livable and environmentally sustainable communities. Because when it comes to development, it's time to throw out old policies that encouraged sprawl and congestion, pollution, and ended up isolating our communities in the process. We need strategies that encourage smart development linked to quality public transportation, that bring our communities together.
* * *
Third, we'll focus on creating neighborhoods of opportunity. Many of our neighborhoods have been economically distressed long before this crisis hit -- for as long as many of us can remember. And while the underlying causes may be deeply-rooted and complicated, there are some needs that are simple: access to good jobs; affordable housing; convenient transportation that connects both; quality schools and health services; safe streets and parks and access to a fresh, healthy food supply.
He indicated that this strategy will be reflected in the budget submitted next month.
January 06, 2010
News You Already Knew - a.k.a Too Many Strip Malls
Today on public radio's Marketplace, a story about how the recession has shown that strip mall space has been way overbuilt. No suprise. The story predicts no new strip malls will be in the Sunbelt for years. No problem. The downside, though, is that strip malls are struggling because local businesses are struggling. ("Regional" malls are anchored by chains that don't rely on just one location to stay afloat.) The decline of locally-owned business is a trend I hope will be reversed sometime soon. Maybe they'll be helped by cheaper rents for commercial space.
Jamie Baker Roskie
December 24, 2009
It's a Wonderful Life & The Mortgage Crisis
I had my annual viewing of It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's 1946 classic, the other day, and it reminded me that a few commentators over the last year have drawn comparisons between the world of Bedford Falls and the Bailey Building & Loan, and the conditions that caused the current mortgage crisis.
The comparisons seem to go in two directions. Some have argued that when America ditched the Bailey Building & Loan model of small local banks as the locus for local real estate development and financing in favor of the nationalized lending institutions and international trading of pooled mortgage-backed securities, it set us on the road to ruin. But others have argued that it was the very assumption advanced by George Bailey that individual homeownership was the sine qua non of civic life and human flourishing that led to suburban sprawl, the decline of cities, and the irrational financial overleveraging that led to the subprime bubble.
Below are some links to articles comparing It's a Wonderful Life to the mortgage crisis, and I'll leave it to you to decide which critique is more persuasive, or whether there are elements of both that are true.
Just yesterday, Ray Brescia (Albany Law) sided with the Bailey Business & Loan and the CRA in "Banker's Holiday: Strengthen 'George Bailey's Law'" on the Huffington Post.
Andrew M. Rosenfeld (Chicago Law) compared the localized backing of whole mortgages with the national market process for securitzed mortgages last year Newsweek's "It's a Wonderful Mortgage Crisis."
Ross Douthat in the Washington Post suggested laying much of the blame on George Bailey for the expansion of easy credit and government overpromotion of suburbia in "Not So Wonderful Now: Looking for someone to blame in the worsening crisis? Let's go back to Bedford Falls". Douthat ultimately comes back to a limited defense of Bailey's vision, though.
I know that others have remarked on this theme so leave a comment if you know of a good one that I missed.
Watching the movie again left me with one more related thought: which is better, Beford Falls or Potterville?
Capra's audiences have long assumed that the quaint Bedford Falls was the ideal American community and that the wild Pottersville was dystopia. But a few years ago in Salon Gary Kamiya challenged this assumption head on in "All Hail Pottersville" with the simple observation that "Pottersville rocks!" I think there's something to be said for this. Bedford Falls does look a little boring. Putting aside the implication that instead of middle class homeowners Pottersville's denizens were all living in Mr. Potter's tenement slums, there is no reason that a community can't have a vibrant downtown accessible by neighborhoods. I know that Pottersville was painted to look like Sin City, but it also provided a busy and walkable area (with plenty of cops on hand to harass disoriented middle-aged bankers and guardian angels), and who's to say the more wholesome entertainment venues aren't thriving just a block or two away off of externalities generated by the seemingly popular Pottersville downtown entertainment district?
Maybe James Lileks put it best: "We all want to live in Bedford Falls . . . but we all would like a night in Pottersville." But wouldn't a good new urbanist say that they can both exist in the same community?
December 19, 2009
Are HOV lanes a good idea? They are controversial, to be sure. Some think that they are essential to disincentivizing traffic and rewarding carpooling. Others think that they are inefficient or infringe too much on liberty. But for those commuters who live in areas with HOV lanes, the practical question is how to adapt. KHOU.com reports on the emergence of one response to HOV lanes: Slugging.
HOUSTON – Would you jump into the car of a stranger? Hundreds of Houstonians do it every morning on the way to work to save time and money.
The phenomenon called "slugging" developed in the northeast and has caught on in Houston over the last few years.
The "sluggers" park at a Metro Park and Ride lot and form a line to get into cars with drivers who are looking for a passenger so they can legally take the HOV.
Slugging seems to have originated, or has been most successful in, the DC area. I think it would be creepy to rely on a commute in a stranger's car (plus, the story doesn't say how they get home). But on the other hand, I kind of like the free market ordering response to regulatory restrictions--when the government creates an HOV lane, the commuters establish a new informal but effective institution, the slugging line.
November 18, 2009
ULI conference: focus on planning during downturn
The Urban Land Institute recently held its fall meeting in San Fransisco. According to a summary from the California Planning & Development Report, the tenor of the meeting was that during tough economic times such as this, developers should invest in planning. From In Bad Times, ULI Talks Planning, not Development:
In particular, the topic seemed to be how developers can participate in the planning game – or, at the very least, work for the government during the downturn. For example, one panel of dealmaking experts focused exclusively on how to become a development advisor to local governments until the market turns again. "Developers understand the value of time and money," said Frank Baltz, of Maryland-based Edgemoor Real Estate Services. Governments don't understand the value of either, he added, but savvy government folks do understand that they can build necessary public projects at a low cost during an economic downturn.
I'm not entirely convinced that this description indicates any turn towards planning as opposed to a strategy for dealing with the slowdown. But at any rate the summary shows that many developers are quite sensitive to the public side of land use planning right now.
Meanwhile, ULI and PriceWaterhouseCoppers have released their Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2010 report, which looks like it has a lot of useful information and analysis. According to F. Kaid Benfield's analysis of the ULI report at the Huffington Post, the overall market may be bad, but it is much better for smart growth than it is for sprawl:
it is clear that the authors, who surveyed over 900 industry experts - investors, developers, property companies, lenders, brokers, and consultants - believe that the prospects for investment are much stronger for smart growth than they are for sprawl.
November 11, 2009
Veterans Day & Land Use
A very happy Veterans Day to all, with thanks to those who have served. In honor of the day, here are a few desultory land use issues involving military veterans.
The idea of rewarding veterans for their service with grants of land is an ancient one. I suspect it goes back at least to ancient Rome, and probably before. Cincinnatus and all that. It makes a lot of sense, historically, where cash-poor governments asking for or requiring military service have traditionally had one major asset to distribute: sovereign domain over land. Part of this historical generosity is certainly due to gratitude for service, and part of it must also be the social concern over standing armies in peacetime.
After the Revolutionary War, the thirteen states and the Continental Congress had two major issues: (1) crippling debt from financing the war; and (2) a whole lot of land that was largely unsettled (by Anglo-Americans, that is) and unregulated--the territory from the Appalachian Proclamation of 1763 line to the Mississippi. The solution? First, get the states to cede their western claims to the national government. After the Virginia Cession in 1784, Congress set about making a plan for the western lands. The 1785 Land Ordinance and the 1787 Northwest Ordinance did not mention veterans specifically, but they were part of the larger federal program designed to distribute and regulate the western territories with the notion of state land grants to Revolutionary War veterans in mind. [I have a work in progress on the Northwest Ordinance and property rights]. For you property law fans, the ensuing government survey of the lands was part of what originated the political/geographic establishment of counties and townships across the western states.
So government policy has long favored helping veterans obtain land. Harold Hyman wrote a really interesting book tracing the effects of this policy preference in the wake of major wars in American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a home loan guaranty program that allows qualified veterans to secure mortgage loans at favorable rates. This has been around for a while. Along with FHA loans, the VA loan program was instrumental in moving millions of veterans into single-family houses.
The entire story of post-WWII suburban development is in large part a story about how to give veterans--who survived both the War and the Depression--a piece of the American Dream (and also about what to do with and where to put the 8+ million men and women suddenly out of uniform and getting to work on the Baby Boom). The designers of Levittown(s) were mass-producing single-family suburban homes in large part because of the market imperative of housing returning veterans.
At the state level, many states have additional programs that supplement the VA's federal benefits to veterans with respect to land- or home-ownership. Texas, for example, has the Veterans Land Board, which is under the Texas General Land Office. The Veterans Land Board has a number of loan programs with favorable terms for qualified veterans. On November 3, 2009, Texas voters approved Proposition 6, a state constitutional amendment to allow the Veterans Land Board to issue general obligation bonds to finance these programs.
It's a credit to state and federal governments that we have these policies to reward those who have served. The legitimate critical questions we should ask are whether these are the right policies to express that gratitude to veterans. Like other government land use policies--such as Euclidean zoning, highway construction, tax breaks on mortgages--land programs for veterans have favored the single-family suburban lifestyle and have subsidized sprawl. As Chad Emerson has blogged here, these policies seem to be continued in the federal government's responses to the economic crisis. Can policy that favors veterans for their service be modified to mitigate today's land use problems?
Thanks again to all who have served.
November 08, 2009
Education, Wealth, and Land Use
Professor Edward Glaeser of Harvard posted recently on the New York Times' Economix Blog about the connections between investments in education 100 years ago with income levels in 2009. Click here to read "Education Last Century, and Economic Growth Today." It is not surprising to learn that countries that invested aggressively in education in 1900 tend to be the wealthiest today, whereas those that did not tend to be the poorest. The study also indicates that people who work or live in close proximity to other skilled people tend to earn more, too. To the extent that sprawl interrupts this pattern, affordable housing and "smart growth" could provide an antidote.
Will Cook, Charleston School of Law
November 05, 2009
Climate Change & Land Use
Over the last week or so there has been an debate on the Environmental Law Professors listserv about climate change. John Nolon sent an interesting overview of his latest article on how encouraging more compact land use addresses climate change and a host of other environmental concerns. Following is the text of that e-mail, posted here with Professor Nolon's permission.
'One of the ways of appealing to the priority environmental concerns of Americans, which do not yet include climate change, is to focus on policies that reduce carbon dioxide through compact, mixed use developments that improve energy efficiency in buildings and reduce driving. In a forthcoming article in William & Mary Environmental Law & Policy Review, I calculate that doubling the density of future development, as 100 million more Americans join the population in the next three decades, will decrease carbon dioxide emissions by 1.2 Gt/yr compared to housing them at current densities.
"The article suggests that focusing on land use settlement patterns may be one method of reaching the hearts and minds of Americans. Here are two excerpts [footnotes and calculations omitted]:
Illustrative of the type of development that is within the power of municipalities to encourage, and that reduces energy consumption and CO2 emissions, is Hudson Park, which is an enhanced transit oriented development project in Yonkers, New York. Located next to the main commuter rail station in the downtown, it is designed for and marketed to young professionals, most of whom commute to Manhattan or one of the other New York City boroughs. Hudson Park occupies 4.362 acres and contains 560 rental apartments, along with 15,000 square feet of commercial and office use.
The density of this development is 128 dwelling units per acre, much more than the 15 dwelling units per acre used for the climate change mitigation calculations above, but somewhat typical of the residential density needed around express-stop transit stations to generate the ridership required to make commuter rail service economically viable. If we could shift 25 percent of the nation’s next 100 million residents (25 million people or 10 million households) from single-family dwellings on quarter acre lots to developments such as Hudson Park, the corollary benefits to the environment would be dramatic. To illustrate, such a shift would prevent 876,951 acres of impervious coverage, and achieve annual reductions of 477 billion gallons of stormwater runoff and 394 billion gallons of potable water consumption.
Professor Nolon has written extensively and interestingly about what he terms "local environmental law" and how land use impacts environmental concerns. I'm looking forward to reading this forthcoming article.
Jamie Baker Roskie
November 03, 2009
Las Vegas water pipeline potentially plugged
The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) received a setback to its proposed pipeline to pump groundwater from Northern Nevada to Southern Nevada. A Nevada district court denied the SNWA authority to tap the northern counties' groundwater. The decision will be appealed.
At first glance, the pipeline project appears to reflect Las Vegas' seemingly insatiable desire for water to support rapid residential and commercial development. But the reality is a bit more complicated. While the idea of living in the middle of the desert seems audacious, the Las Vegas Valley has generally been a good steward of water resources. The density of residential development, for example, is quite high and cuts against common anti-sprawl arguments. The real trouble for Las Vegas is that it receives very little water from the Colorado River compared to neighboring states. When the Colorado River allocation agreement was initially struck, Nevada (and Las Vegas) were much smaller in population and weaker in political power. With the subsequent growth of Las Vegas, it becomes necessary to find a back-up plan to buttress the limited water resources from the Colorado.
November 02, 2009
LaCroix on Urban Agriculture
Speaking of urban agrictulture, Catherine LaCroix (Case Western Reserve) has posted on SSRN
For many decades, the primary challenge of land use law has been how to promote and channel growth and development. Nobody wants stagnation; the cure is growth, and lately the cure has been “smart growth.” In the last several years, however, some cities have begun openly to address a previously unacknowledged truth: some cities will and do shrink. They lose population and have no foreseeable prospect of ever regaining it. The land use planning community has begun to grapple with the issue of the shrinking city, asking how we can achieve managed, “smart” shrinkage To some extent, the answer is to shift density and promote green uses of various kinds This brings us to the legal question Does an organized effort to help a city shrink pose any distinctive legal issues? What constraints might the law impose on a city’s goals of diminishing its infrastructure responsibilities, downzoning its land to less intensive uses, or taking other steps consistent with a goal of managed shrinkage This paper explores a few of those issues, using Cleveland, Ohio as an example. It considers legal challenges the shrinking city might face, particularly when downzoning urban property to promote urban agriculture and other green uses, focusing on the application of takings law It also briefly considers the fairness issues associated with downzoning and the limitations of the current legal structure for revitalizing Brownfields in a setting where traditional redevelopment is unlikely.
October 30, 2009
Planetizen's Halloween Costumes for Urban Planners
For the Halloween edition of my month-old tradition of more humorous posts on the weekend, Planetizen's Nate Berg has Halloween Costumes for Urban Planners, 2d ed. A taste:
One way to celebrate Halloween is to dress up like a city. This costume could rely heavily on stereotypes, but can also be influenced by current affairs. For example, get yourself a black eye and put your arm in a sling, and bam, you're Detroit. Or block some traffic and set up lawn chairs on a local street and you're New York City. Or you could get Brad Pitt to follow you around and be New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.
Hey, didn't someone around here post about Brad Pitt in New Orleans? And don't forget Will's post about Detroit's troubles. Anyway, Berg goes on to offer trick-or-treat costumes for LEED, walkable urbanism, charettes, carbon footprints, FARs, and so on. This follows on last year's 1st edition of Halloween Costumes for Urban Planners, with ideas such as:
This costume is more of a role-playing challenge. Try to take up as much room as possible. Drink a lot of water. Bring two cars. And wherever you go, make sure it's at least 20 miles away.
. . . . Along with dress-up ideas for bike lanes, UGBs, historic preservation, public transit, new urbanism, big box, and TOD. Pretty good stuff. Don't quit your day job, Nate, but thanks for the fun ideas!
Happy Halloween to the Land Use community.
October 27, 2009
The Bailout of Sprawl
When the financial history of this era is told, it is possible that it will be seen as the bailout of not just the banks, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, it will also to some extent be seen as the bailout of sprawl.
Leinberger's argument is that the highest rates of foreclosure are in the low-density, single family houses on the suburban/exurban fringe; therefore the federal efforts to reduce foreclosures will disproportionately flow to these homeowners. Leinberger says that we have structurally overbuilt housing in the exurbs compared to market demand, and that despite efforts to bail out overleveraged mortgages, sprawl housing may continue to decline in value. Meanwhile, he notes, property values for walkable urban housing have remained flat and may even include a price premium. Leinberger is concerned that if the value of sprawl housing continues to decline even after the recovery, it is "the recipe for the creation of a slum."
There are a number of other interesting items on metropolitan governance, planning, and land use on The Avenue.
October 16, 2009
NYT on Environmentalism in the Suburbs
The New York Times published several articles on environmentalism in the suburbs, seemingly on the same day last week but on different pages of different sections in different editions (NY, NJ, CT, LI) of the paper. (I don't get the dead-tree version so correct me if I'm wrong about this.) An interesting batch:
Each article discusses a different issue in a different locality, but a common theme that I picked up is just how deeply environmental consciousness has affected the suburbs. Several of these local governments have gone as far as to change their zoning codes or offer incentives to promote green building, conservation, and carbon output reduction. The suburbs get the blame for causing sprawl but the people in the suburbs may be reaching a threshold point of incorporating environmentalism into local policy.
UPDATE: Mireya Navarro, the New York Times environmental writer who authored three of the six articles linked above, emails to confirm that the stories all ran in the Sunday, Oct. 11 metro section, which (as Ms. Navarro put it) is "zoned"(!) for the different suburban areas (NJ, LI, CT, Westchester, etc.). So if you only got one of these stories in your Sunday NY Times, you can read them all here on the Land Use Prof Blog!