Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Should More Land Use Professors be Libertarians? Part II

This post is, again, cross-posted fom the Concurring Opinions blog.

In my previous post, I asked why more land use/local government law professors do not identify as libertarians, considering the role many of us have played in exposing the dysfunctional workings of local government.

If there is an obvious argument in favor of the status quo in land use/local government regulation, it is that all the alternatives seem worse. Let us consider some of the candidates:

The Market

 An unimpeded free market in land use development would apparently be the worst of all worlds, as there would be no way to prevent open space from being gobbled up by new housing, roads and schools becoming impossibly congested, or a refinery locating next to a single-family home (or, perhaps more likely, a landowner threatening to build a refinery in order to extort his neighbor, a common scenario in pre-zoning Chicago).  In a densely populated society, we need some way of ensuring that landowners consider the impact of their land use on neighbors.   The good people of Oregon realized this after an ill-advised ballot initiative a few years ago effectively wiped out zoning, and suddenly a single landowner could, for example, subdivide his parcel into 100 lots for single-family homes with no regard for the impact the development would have on local services or infrastructure. The ballot initiative was repealed by a subsequent initiative a few years later.

In my previous post, I mentioned Houston as a possible alternative to most places’ current system of land use regulation. Houston is often touted for its lack of zoning, and corresponding low home prices. I should point out, however, that Houston is not quite a free-market paradise. Houston has a full complement of land use laws, including subdivision regulations (to prevent downtown-houston-at-night-1430683-sthe aforementioned 100 lot problem) billboard regulations, and the like. The city even enforces restrictions contained in private covenants.   As my friend and Houstonian Matt Festa points out, Houston has a quirky city charter that prohibits zoning without a voter initiative, so the city does lots of land use regulation but simply calls it something other than zoning.  And, while I’m on the subject, does anyone really think the reason Houston has lower land prices than San Jose is because of zoning?

Nuisance Law

The common law of nuisance, a favorite of libertarian land use scholars, would appear to solve some of the problems of a free-market system, such as the refinery locating near a single-family home. But what if, instead of a refinery, it’s a bowling alley?   A tavern? A cemetery? Are any of these nuisances? On that note, is subdividing my property into 100 new lots a nuisance? In all of these cases, the answer is … maybe. It depends on the severity and nature of the impact on my neighbors, the existing precedent on nuisance law in the particular state, and, most importantly, how the judge assigned to the case chooses to balance the interests involved.

This, of course, is exactly the problem. If local government land use control has been criticized for subjecting landowners to uncertainty about permissible uses of their property, for forcing developers to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to get permits, for picking winners and losers based on crass political concerns such as campaign contributions, the process of “judicial zoning” through nuisance law is little better. First, nuisance law is, if anything, more uncertain and expensive than local government land use control. Nuisance doctrine is so ambiguous that no landowner can ever know with certainty what his or her rights are without resorting to a highly fact-intensive litigation, which will inevitably involve a massive expenditure of time and money. (And Coasean bargaining won’t work if people don’t know their rights.) Second, judges inevitably pick winners and losers in nuisance cases, and while we might expect a judge – even an elected one – to rule on the legal merits of a nuisance case rather than political considerations, the nuisance inquiry is so vague and policy-driven (e.g., harm v. utility) that judges necessarily end up making value judgments about what land uses they find desirable and undesirable. Moreover, though judges – again, even elected judges – are surely less influenced than legislators by political concerns like campaign contributions, public choice research has shown that the judicial decision-making process shares many of the abuses that plague the political process – such as the dominance of repeat players and the ability of small, well-organized interests to exercise disproportionate influence.

To go a step further, the fact that local government decisionmaking is “political” whereas judicial decisionmaking is not (at least in principle) is precisely what makes local government land use control superior. When local officials make land use decisions, members of the community will at least have the opportunity to influence them through the political process. By contrast, a judge hearing a nuisance case is likely to be far less sensitive to the full array of interests affected by its decision, both because the adversarial nature of common-law litigation precludes anyone but the parties from being heard, and because judges, even when elected, are generally (and hopefully!) less amenable to pressure from voters than are local politicians.

The question, as my favorite economist Bill Fischel puts it, is whether we would rather be ruled by judges or by legislators. Though the choice, as I have presented it here, is an unpleasant one, the balance of the evidence seems to favor legislators. Judges have long understood this, and they have consciously assumed a passive and deferential role in the land use process from the beginning (Indeed, it is notable that the foundational 1926 case upholding the constitutionality of zoning, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926), was authored by perhaps the most libertarian justice of all time, George Sutherland. Sutherland’s opinion made a point that zoning was necessary because nuisance law had become an inadequate means of dealing with modern land use problems.)

Nevertheless, there is something unsatisfying about this justification for local government land use control, even for leftists. The leftist vision for local government is an optimistic one, rooted in the belief that local government offers an opportunity to realize our highest aspirations for democratic self-government.  The local-government-as-least-of-all-evils argument is for us an unacceptably pessimistic view of government, and its insistence on a merely quantitative accounting of the relative demerits of various systems of land use control invites every armchair empiricist to place a thumb on the scale in favor of his or her own preferred arrangement. On the other hand, given the unsparing descriptive account of local government detailed in my previous post, how can leftists be so optimistic? I will address that question in my next post.

Ken Stahl

October 7, 2014 in Affordable Housing, Environmental Law, Local Government, NIMBY, Nuisance, Planning, Politics, State Government, Suburbs, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Should More Land Use Professors be Libertarians?

In case you missed it, I am cross-posting something I initially posted to Concurring Opinions, that may be of interest to our readers here.  Parts II and III to follow:

Many professors who study land use and local government law, myself included, consider ourselves leftists rather than libertarians. That is, we have some confidence in the ability of government to solve social problems. Nevertheless, were you to pick up a randomly selected piece of left-leaning land use or local government scholarship (including my own) you would likely witness a searing indictment of the way local governments operate. You would read that the land use decisionmaking process is usually a conflict between deep-pocketed developers who use campaign contributions to elect pro-growth politicians and affluent homeowners who use their ample resources to resist change that might negatively affect their property values. Land use “planning” – never a great success to begin with – has largely been displaced by the “fiscalization” of land use, in which land use decisions are based primarily on a proposed land use’s anticipated contribution to (or drain upon) a municipality’s revenues. Public schools in suburban areas have essentially been privatized due to exclusionary zoning practices, and thus placed off limits to the urban poor, whereas public schools in cities have been plundered by ravenous teachers’ unions.

Continue reading

October 6, 2014 in Affordable Housing, Inclusionary Zoning, Local Government, NIMBY, Planning, Scholarship, Sprawl, State Government, Suburbs, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 24, 2014

What if They Don't Build It and/or No One Comes?: Combating Zombie Subdivisions

Jim Holway (Sonoran Institute), along with Don Elliot and Anna Trentadue, has written Combating Zombie Subdivisions: How Three Communities Redressed Excess Development Entitlements, Land Lines Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 4-13.  Not only is the article available through the Land Lines website, but so is the larger report on which it is based.   That is called Arrested Developments:  Combating Zombie Subdivisions and Other Excess Entitlements.  Here's a summary of the magazine piece:

The Teton County Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD) stepped in and petitioned the county to create a process to encourage the redesign of distressed subdivisions and facilitate replatting. VARD realized that a plat redesign could reduce intrusion into sensitive natural areas of the county, reduce governmental costs associated with scattered development, and potentially reduce the number of vacant lots by working with landowners and developers to expedite changes to recorded plats.

On November 22, 2010, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted a replatting ordinance that would allow the inexpensive and quick replatting of subdivisions, PUDs, and recorded development agreements. The ordinance created a solution-oriented process that allows Teton County to work with developers, landowners, lenders, and other stakeholders to untangle complicated projects with multiple ownership interests and oftentimes millions of dollars in infrastructure.

The ordinance first classifies the extent of any changes proposed by a replat into four categories: 1) major increase in scale and impact, 2) minor increase in scale and impact, 3) major decrease in scale and impact, 4) minor decrease in scale and impact. Any increases in impact may require additional public hearings and studies, whereas these requirements and agency review are waived (where possible) for decreases in impact. In addition, the ordinance waives the unnecessary duplication of studies and analyses that may have been required as part of the initial plat application and approval. Teton County also waived its fees for processing replat applications.

The first success story was the replatting of Canyon Creek Ranch Planned Unit Development, finalized in June 2013. More than 23 miles from city services, Canyon Creek Ranch was originally approved in 2009 as a 350-lot ranch-style resort on roughly 2,700 acres including approximately 25 commercial lots, a horse arena, and a lodge. After extensive negotiations between the Canyon Creek development team and the Teton County Planning Commission staff, the developer proposed a replat that dramatically scaled back the footprint and impact of this project to include only 21 lots over the 2,700 acre property. For the developer, this new design reduces the price tag for infrastructure by 97 percent, from $24 million to roughly $800,000, enabling the property to remain in the conservation reserve program and creating a source of revenue on it while reducing the property tax liability. The reduced scale and impact of this new design will help preserve this critical habitat and maintain the rural landscape, which is a public benefit to the general community.

Conclusion

While recovery from the most recent boom and bust cycle is nearly complete in some areas of the country, other communities will be impacted by vacant lots and distressed subdivisions well into the future. Future real estate booms will also inevitably result in new busts, and vulnerable communities can build a solid foundation of policies, laws, and programs now to minimize new problems stemming from the excess entitlement of land. Communities and others involved in real estate development would be well-served by ensuring they have mechanisms in place to adapt and adjust to evolving market conditions. For jurisdictions already struggling with distressed subdivisions, a willingness to reconsider past approvals and projects and to acknowledge problems is an essential ingredient to success. Communities that are able to serve as effective facilitators as well as regulators, as demonstrated in the case studies presented here, will be best prepared to prevent and then respond and treat distressed subdivisions and any problems that may arise from excess development entitlements.

Jim K.

 

February 24, 2014 in Community Design, Density, Mortgage Crisis, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Serkin and Wellington on Exclusionary Dynamics Beyond Zoning Ordinances

Chris Serkin (Vanderbilt) and Leslie Wellington have posted Putting Exclusionary Zoning in its Place: Affordable Housing and Geographical Scale, 40 Fordham Urb. L. J. 1667 (2013).  Here's the abstract:

The term “exclusionary zoning” typically describes a particular phenomenon: suburban large-lot zoning that reduces the supply of developable land and drives up housing prices. But exclusionary zoning in its modern form also occurs both within the urban core and region-wide. Exclusionary zoning at the sub-local and regional scales results in property values that fully capitalize the benefits of living in higher-wage regions, and the value of local public goods (like high-quality schools). Lower-income households then cannot meaningfully access those advantages, even if every municipality accommodates its fair share of regional need. The long-standing focus of exclusionary zoning on the content of local ordinances, instead of on these broader exclusionary dynamics, has defined the problem of exclusionary zoning too narrowly. We remedy that deficiency in our contribution to the Fordham Urban Law Journal’s Fortieth Anniversary issue.

 

December 10, 2013 in Affordable Housing, Inclusionary Zoning, Scholarship, Suburbs, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Atlanta Braves Stadium Change Causes Controversy

I no longer follow Georgia news closely, but recently my Facebook feed lit up with multiple article postings and opinions about the Atlanta Braves' plan to build a new stadium in suburban Cobb County, abandoning Turner Field, which they've occupied for only 16 years.  Sentiment amongst my friends is running about 20 to 1 against the move. It even merited national attention from a Huffington Post blogger.  He brings up the not-unfamiliar criticism that Cobb County has no business spending $450 million on a new stadium when they're furloughing teachers:

Now it seems that Cobb County is one of the 100th wealthiest counties in America, and the 12th most educated. So $450 million must be chump change -- it's not like they're Philadelphia, slashing public school teachers in the face of massive budget cuts. Oh, wait... actually they are sort of like that: "Cobb County's school board approved a 2013-14 budget Thursday night that will result in five furlough days for all employees, the loss of 182 teachers through attrition and a slimmer central administration staff."

The cuts are the result of reduced state aid and lower property tax revenues -- although apparently the lower property tax revenues that are low enough to mean fewer teachers aren't so low that they can't BUILD A NEW BASEBALL STADIUM! For a team that already has what you and I might, sanely, consider a pretty new baseball stadium.

I'm friends with several local government lawyers, and my friend, law school classmate, and former member of the Georgia legislature Rob Teilhet rightly pointed out that building the stadium has no direct relationship to school funding.  But, as Land Use Prof chief blogger Matt Festa noted in a blog post he wrote in 2009 on stadium controversies generally, claims are often made that the overall economic development caused by the stadium will benefit the community generally.  This project is no exception

Jamie Baker Roskie

November 15, 2013 in Development, Economic Development, Georgia, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kirp in NY Times on Mt. Laurel Today

David Kirp (UC Berkeley--Public Policy)  has published an op-ed in the NY Times entitled "Here Comes the Neighborhood."  In it, he discusses the overwhelmingly positive impact of the affordable housing built in the New Jersey township of Mt. Laurel.  Referencing the recently published book, Climbing Mt. Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb by Douglas Massey (Princeton-Sociology) with others, Kirp counters the claims of those who saw the judicial response to exclusionary zoning as grafting urban cancer onto healthy suburban tissue.  The cancer metaphor comes from Mt. Laurel's then-mayor Jose Alvarez and seems absurd in light of the overwhelmingly positive effects documented four decades later.

My good friend and NDLS clinic colleague, Bob Jones, sent the link to me because I am working on a paper looking at Catholic Social Teaching's response to overconcentration of poverty.  I think this anectdotal account from the birthplace of judicially mandated inclusionary zoning should complement the 2011 study American Murder Mystery Revisited by Ingrid Gould Ellen, Michael Lens and Katherine O'Regan undercutting some loose talk about spreading violence and disorder through the Housing Choice Voucher program that followed the controversial eponymous 2008 Atlantic Monthly article.

 

Jim K.

October 21, 2013 in Affordable Housing, Housing, Inclusionary Zoning, Race, Suburbs, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dispute over Yard Sign Destroys Fairfax HOA

A Virginia Homeowner's Assocation appears to have gone bankrupt due to litigation over its attempts to enforce its rules against a four-inch violation by a couple's Obama yard sign during the 2008 election.  After four years, skyrocketing assessments, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, the bankrupt HOA is considering selling off the central common area.  From the Washington Post, Feud over sign could force Fairfax's Olde Belhaven to sell square.

Such HOA disputes are as suburban as cul-de-sacs and two-car garages, but few metastasize into legal battles that spend years in the courts, break legal ground and bankrupt the HOA.

Most damaging of all, though, was a move probably unprecedented in area neighborhood feuds: The common area that is the literal and metaphoric heart of Olde Belhaven was put up for sale last year to settle its debts. It appeared that “the square,” as some called the neighborhood, would no longer have a square.

“It destroyed our community,” Maria Farran said.

The litigation ranged from a challenge to the HOA's power to fine the owners, and a retaliation claim.  It made some new law:

In 2010, a county judge sided with the Farrans on the fining issue. The case set a Virginia precedent that HOAs cannot claim powers, such as fining, that are not specifically laid out in their covenants. 

 You can read the whole article for a great description of the legal issues and the story.  As HOAs trend toward more extensive sets of rules, and as not everyone buys in, you can probably finds examples of similar (if not quite so expensive) conflicts in communities around the country.  And one thing that's common to both public and private regulation: when individual property rights clash with collective restrictions regarding people's homes, passions run high--even (especially?) when the stakes are as low as four inches on a political yard sign.

Thanks to Helen Jenkins for the pointer.

Matt Festa

February 12, 2013 in Common Interest Communities, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Homeowners Associations, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Urban Gun Violence

Today I stumbled across this compelling Associated Press story about how urban advocates have very mixed feelings about how the Newtown shootings have seemingly changed the national debate around gun control.

The moment also is causing some to reflect on the sudden change of heart. Why now? Why weren't we moved to act by the killing of so many other children, albeit one by one, in urban areas?

Certainly, Newtown is a special case, 6- and 7-year-olds riddled with bullets inside the sanctuary of a classroom. Even in a nation rife with violence, where there have been three other mass slayings since July and millions enjoy virtual killing via video games, the nature of this tragedy is shocking.

But still: "There's a lot of talk now about we have to protect our children. We have to protect all of our children, not just the ones living in the suburbs," said Tammerlin Drummond, a columnist for the Oakland Tribune.

In her column Monday, Drummond wrote about 7-year-old Heaven Sutton of Chicago, who was standing next to her mother selling candy when she was killed in the crossfire of a gang shootout. Also in Chicago, which has been plagued by a recent spike in gun violence: 6-year-old Aaliyah Shell was caught in a drive-by while standing on her front porch; and 13-year-old Tyquan Tyler was killed when a someone in a car shot into a group of youths outside a party.

Food for thought.

Jamie Baker Roskie

 

December 22, 2012 in Crime, New York, Race, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Osofsky on Suburban Climate Change Efforts

Hari M. Osofsky (Minnesota) has posted Suburban Climate Change Efforts: Possibilities for Small and Nimble Cities Participating in State, Regional, National, and International Networks, forthcoming in the Cornell Journal of Law & Public Policy.  The abstract:

This Article provides a novel analysis of the capacity of suburbs to play a constructive role in addressing climate change. Small suburban cities represent the majority of metropolitan populations and emissions; encouraging their mitigation efforts, in addition to those of large center cities, is critical. In contrast to the conventional critique of suburbs as an undifferentiated group of sprawling emitters, the Article analyzes pathways for different types of small, nimble, suburban governments to learn from other localities and find cost-effective approaches to reducing emissions. It intertwines scholarship on (1) cities, suburbs, and climate change, (2) the complex demography of suburbs, (3) the role of climate change networks in transnational governance, and (4) more inclusive multi-level climate change governance to describe the limits of the current discourse on suburbs and climate change and to propose a new model for encouraging more suburban action. Using the Twin Cities metropolitan region as an initial case example, the Article considers what steps different types of leader suburbs are taking and how they are participating in voluntary multi-level climate change and sustainability networks. It argues that, especially in the absence of top-down mandates requiring cities to mitigate their emissions, these voluntary networks play an important role in fostering local action and connecting that action to international climate change treaties. It proposes that these networks could have a greater impact, however, through strategies that reflect the differences among types of suburban cities and foster more cross-network interaction.

Matt Festa

October 4, 2012 in Climate, Environmental Law, Local Government, Scholarship, Suburbs, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Proposed Final Settlement in Baltimore Fair Housing Case

The Baltimore Sun reported this past weekend on the proposed final settlement in Thompson v. HUD, a fair housing case that dates to 1995. 

The case arose when the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland sued HUD, saying that it demolished old public housing high-rises where mostly African-Americans lived — only to move the residents to equally segregated housing and poor conditions in other parts of the city.

Attorneys for the residents said Friday that the government in effect “perpetually locked” African-American families in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, violating federal civil right laws. The settlement, which would cover all claims in the case, was filed in conjunction with Baltimore City and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

As the Legal Defense Fund, which worked with the ACLU on the case, notes in its press release, the court had ruled in 2005 “that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) violated the Fair Housing Act by unfairly concentrating African-American public housing residents in the most impoverished, segregated areas of Baltimore City.  Judge Garbis held that HUD must take a regional approach to promoting fair housing opportunities throughout the Baltimore Region.” 

The settlement requires HUD to allocated money towards expansion of the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program, which has been in place since a partial settlement in the 1990s.  The program has enabled over 1,800 families to move to neighborhoods in other parts of the city and to surrounding suburbs.  Under the settlement, the program will, among other things, fund vouchers and counseling over the next seven years for up to 2,600 additional families.

The case is particularly interesting given its regional approach to questions of housing and segregation.  Housing vouchers can be used throughout the region, enabling participants to voluntarily move to suburban areas with greater employment and educational opportunity.  The program provides extensive housing counseling and mobility assistance to aid families interested in moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods.  For more details, see this  2009 report discussing the progress of the program at that time. 

John Infranca

August 29, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Federal Government, Housing, HUD, Local Government, Race, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Schindler on the Future of Abandoned Big Box Stores

Sarah Schindler (Maine) has posted The Future of Abandoned Big Box Stores: Legal Solutions to the Legacies of Poor Planning Decisions, 83 Universtiy of Colorado Law Review 471 (2012).  The abstract:

Big box stores, the defining retail shopping location for the majority of American suburbs, are being abandoned at alarming rates, due in part to the economic downturn. These empty stores impose numerous negative externalities on the communities in which they are located, including blight, reduced property values, loss of tax revenue, environmental problems, and a decrease in social capital. While scholars have generated and critiqued prospective solutions to prevent abandonment of big box stores, this Article asserts that local zoning ordinances can alleviate the harms imposed by the thousands of existing, vacant big boxes. Because local governments control land use decisions and thus made deliberate determinations allowing big box development, this Article argues that those same local governments now have both an economic incentive and a civic responsibility to find alternative uses for these “ghostboxes.” With an eye toward sustainable development, the Article proposes and evaluates four possible alternative uses: retail reuse, adaptive reuse, demolition and redevelopment, and demolition and regreening. It then devises a framework and a series of metrics that local governments can use in deciding which of the possible solutions would be best suited for their communities. The Article concludes by considering issues of property acquisition and management.

Prof. Schindler's article addresses an important problem in communities across the U.S., and offers some innovative solutions.

Matt Festa

May 6, 2012 in Architecture, Development, Economic Development, Green Building, Local Government, Planning, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Suburbs, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 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.

Ken Stahl

April 11, 2012 in California, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Sprawl, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 6, 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.

Jerry Long

April 6, 2012 in Planning, Sprawl, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 6, 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 (0)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Walter Russell Mead on the Crisis of the American Dream

Walter Russell Mead (Bard College) has posted a fascinating essay at The American Interest called Beyond Blue Part One: The Crisis of the American Dream.  An excerpt:

I’ve written in earlier posts about the shift from the first American Dream to the second: from the family farm to the suburban “homestead.” It was a profound change in American life and culture that has not yet been fully explored.  The family farm integrated production and consumption, work and leisure, family and business.  The family wasn’t just a union of sentiment: it was an element of production.  Mom and Dad worked as a team to feed, house and clothe the family, and as the kids grew up they took on greater and greater responsibilities in the common effort.  Their lives at home prepared them for the new lives they would lead on their own: the kids would grow up, marry, and start farms.

The 20th century suburban homestead was a very different place. 

This is almost exactly the theme of an article I am writing, so naturally I find it interesting!  Mead's essay ranges well beyond land use, but his grounding of the "American Dream" in patterns of living and social organization speaks to how incredibly relevant land use models are to the compelling issues facing American society in the 21st Century.

Matt Festa

January 30, 2012 in Agriculture, History, Mortgage Crisis, Scholarship, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 31, 2011

ULI Report on What's Next in Urban Land Use

As we head into the New Year, The Urban Land Institute has also been looking ahead at the future of land use.  ULI recently issued its report What's Next? Real Estate in the New Economy.  From the press release:

A new economy is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change urban planning, design and development through 2020, according to a new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy outlines how every aspect of living, working and connecting will change in major ways, driven in large part by the values, preferences and work ethic of Generation Y, the largest generation in American history. . . .

Among the report’s findings:

  • Technology will reshape work places. Office tenants will decrease space per employee, and new office environments will need to promote interaction and dialogue. Offices will be transforming into meeting places more than work places, with an emphasis on conference rooms, break areas and open configurations. Developers will craft attractive environments to attract young, talented workers.
  • Major companies will value space that enables innovation. They will continue to pay more for space in a global gateway served by a major international airport, or in 24-hour urban centers. Hard-to-reach suburban work places will be less in demand.
  • The influx of Generation Y, now in their teens through early thirties, will change housing demand. They are comfortable with smaller homes and will happily trade living space for an easier commute and better lifestyle. They will drive up the number of single households and prompt a surge in demand for rentals, causing rents to escalate.
  • For most people, finances will still be constrained, leading to more shared housing and multi-generational households. Immigration will support that trend, as many immigrants come from places where it is common for extended families to share housing. This may be the one group that continues to drive demand for large, suburban homes.
  • The senior population will grow fastest, but financial constraints could limit demand for adult housing developments. Many will age in place or move in with relatives to conserve money. Developers may want to recast retirement communities into amenity-laden “age friendly” residences. Homes near hospitals and medical offices will be popular, especially if integrated into mixed-use neighborhoods with shops, restaurants and services.
  • Energy and infrastructure take on greater importance. Businesses cannot afford to have their network connections down, and more will consider self-generated power or onsite generator capacity. Developers, owners and investors are realizing that the slightly higher costs of energy- and water-saving technologies can pay for themselves quickly, creating more marketable and valuable assets. Ignoring sustainability issues speeds property obsolescence.

You can download the full report here

Matt Festa

December 31, 2011 in Architecture, Clean Energy, Density, Development, Downtown, Environmentalism, Finance, Green Building, Housing, Planning, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Suburbs, Sustainability, Transportation, Urbanism, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Morgan Stanley says US moving toward "Rentership Society"

I came across a link to this Bloomberg report in reading for my previous post on the Leinberger-Kotkin debate.  The article is a few months old, but I still think it's highly relevant: U.S. Moves Toward Home 'Rentership Society,' Morgan Stanley Says, discussing a report on housing.

The U.S. homeownership rate has fallen below 60 percent when delinquent borrowers are excluded, a sign of the country’s move toward a “rentership society,”Morgan Stanley said in a report today. . . .

The homeownership rate reached an all-time high of 69.2 percent in 2004 as relaxed lending standards fueled home sales and President George W. Bush promoted an “ownership society.” Mortgage delinquencies, foreclosures and tighter credit for housing loans are reducing property buying, [Morgan Stanley analysi Oliver] Chang said.

“Taken together they are forcibly moving the country away from being an ownership society,” Chang, based in San Francisco, said in an e-mail. “This change is only beginning, and is moving the country towards becoming a rentership society.”

A real estate professional demurs, but look at the reason why:

Most Americans still aspire to own their houses and don’t want to be renters forever, said Rick Davidson, president and chief executive officer of Century 21 Real Estate LLC in Parsippany, New Jersey.

“It isn’t about the financial aspects, but about building a family and having a part of the American dream,” Davidson, whose company is a unit of Realogy Corp., said today during an interview at Bloomberg’s offices in New York. “What really drives purchases at the end of the day is emotional and has to do with lifestyle.”

We're still conditioned to think of homeownership as the sine qua non of the American Dream--but it's not necessarily in our financial or economic interest; it's emotional and about lifestyle.  But is there an adequate range of opportunities presented for Americans to choose (emotionally?) between different forms of lifestyle?  I believe that at their base, issues of housing, community, and urban form are primarily cultural.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Financial Crisis, History, Housing, Landlord-Tenant, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Kotkin: report of suburbs' death was an exaggeration

Last week we posted on Christopher Leinberger's recent New York Times piece on The Death of the Fringe Suburb.  Joel Kotkin at Forbes counters with Is Suburbia Doomed? Not so Fast.  Some excerpts:

Perhaps no theology more grips the nation’s mainstream media — and the planning community — more than the notion of inevitable suburban decline. The Obama administration’s housing secretary, Shaun Donavan, recently claimed, “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.”

Yet repeating a mantra incessantly does not make it true. Indeed, any analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census would make perfectly clear that rather than heading for density, Americans are voting with their feet in the opposite direction: toward the outer sections of the metropolis and to smaller, less dense cities. During the 2000s, the Census shows, just 8.6% of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6% represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4%.

Nor are Americans abandoning their basic attraction for single-family dwellings or automobile commuting. Over the past decade, single-family houses grew far more than either multifamily or attached homes, accounting for nearly 80% of all the new households in the 51 largest cities. And — contrary to the image of suburban desolation — detached housing retains a significantly lower vacancy rate than the multi-unit sector, which has also suffered a higher growth in vacancies even the crash. . . .

It turns out that while urban land owners, planners and pundits love density, people for the most part continue to prefer space, if they can afford it. No amount of spinmeistering can change that basic fact, at least according to trends of past decade.

But what about the future? Some more reasoned new urbanists, like Leinberger, hope that the market will change the dynamic and spur the long-awaited shift into dense, more urban cores.

Kotkin provides further statistics derived from his Census analysis.  This debate is central to the future of housing policy and urban planning in America.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Density, Development, Downtown, Exurbs, Housing, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leinberger on the Death of the Fringe Suburb

Christopher Leinberger (Brookings/Michigan), author of The Option of Urbanism and many other great pieces, has written The Death of the Fringe Suburb in the New York Times.  The bad news:

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.

Interesting times.

Matt Festa

November 28, 2011 in Architecture, Density, Downtown, Housing, New Urbanism, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 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.

Matt Festa

November 25, 2011 in Downtown, History, Housing, Sprawl, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)