Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ballot Box Zoning -- A Response to Festa

OK, I'll bite.  Matt has laid down the gauntlet with his criticism of the initiative process.  This subject is of great importance to land use profs because, at least in many sunbelt states, a good deal of land use policy is made through direct democracy -- so-called "ballot box zoning."  In this post, I want to respond to some of Matt's criticisms and offer a very tentative defense of ballot box zoning.  For those who are interested, I have defended ballot box zoning at greater length (although I ultimately call for its abolition anyway) in this paper.

I must first concede to Matt that the initiative process has serious deficiencies.  He mentions transparency and voter ignorance.  The social science literature confirms that these are major problems.  I would also add a few more: the initiative process is often captured by special interest groups, as money and organizational resources are often decisive in initiative contests; the initiative tends to favor the affluent and well educated, which is not surprising since the affluent and well educated are more likely to vote on initiatives; voters are easily confused by deceptive wording on initiatives, and initiative advocates often deliberately use deceptive terms to confuse voters; the initiative process reduces complex issues to a simplistic yes/no dichotomy in which hyperbolic sound bytes replace rational discourse.  I suppose I could go on, but you get the point.

So what virtues could the initiative process possibly have?  I want to focus specifically on the land use initiative, although some of my comments may be generalizable.  Although it is often asserted that local politics are controlled by homeowners who seek to limit or manage growth, that is generally true only in smaller municipalities.  Sunbelt states like Texas and California, however, have a disproportionate number of medium to large-size municipalities, dubbed "boomburbs" by sociologists Robert Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy.  The larger size of these municipalities gives homeowners less political power.  At the same time, sunbelt boomburbs have often pursued headlong development as a means of economic growth and to overcome fiscal constraints imposed by constitutional or political limitations on raising tax revenue.  Lang and LeFurgy accordingly assert that these municipalities tend to be in thrall to the "growth machine," a matrix of developers and related cohorts who facilitate urban growth.  As I further argue in my paper, the fact that many of these boomburbs use at-large voting structures rather than ward voting systems further enhances the power of developers and dilutes the ability of neighborhood groups to fight development.

Obviously, this system is less than ideal for homeowners.  And let's face it: while we might hate those NIMBYs, they have some pretty good reasons for opposing new growth.  For years it has been national policy to induce Americans to purchase property through a combination of incentives, including low-interest mortgages and municipal zoning ordinances that provide some assurances to homeowners that their property values, and hence their ability to pay off their mortgages, will be protected against unpredictable declines.  New growth and the externalities that accompany it are very likely to diminish property values, and hence prejudice the ability of homeowners to finance what is likely to be by far their most significant asset.  Existing homeowners are in effect subsidizing new growth through diminished property values, and although city officials claim that everyone benefits from new growth, it is often a concentrated group of homeowners alone who must bear a disproportionate degree of the cost.  As I questioned in a previous post, it can even be argued that homeowners have a regulatory takings claim -- but courts have never recognized such a cause of action.

As envisioned by its Progressive-era architects, the initiative is supposed to correct the defects in the ordinary legislative process, particularly the dominance of special interests.  And that is exactly what ballot-box zoning appears to do in the sunbelt states -- the very states where boomburbs, at-large voting and the growth machine dominate the political landscape are also the states where ballot-box zoning is most robust.  Ballot box zoning has proven to be a powerful weapon with which homeowners can fight back against the growth machine, because prevailing on a local initiative requires only a one-time infusion of cash and a constituency that is easily organized and highly motivated -- ie, a group of neighboring homeowners who are all extremely ticked off about land use changes around their neighborhood.  This can counteract the repeat player and other advantages that the developer has in the legislative process.  Granted, the initiative process itself invites special interest abuses and all sorts of other problems, but it seems no less messy or dysfunctional than the system of government it is designed to counterbalance. 

Ken Stahl

November 9, 2011 in California, Density, Development, Exurbs, Local Government, Mortgages, NIMBY, Politics, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Takings, Texas, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Anderson on Dissolving Cities

Michelle Wilde Anderson (Berkeley) has posted Dissolving Cities, forthcoming in the Yale Law Journal, 2012. The abstract:

During the twentieth century, 3,000 new cities took shape across America. Stucco subdivisions sprawled and law followed, enabling suburbs to adopt independent governments. That story is familiar. But meanwhile, something else was also happening. A smaller but sizable number of cities were dying, closing down their municipal governments and returning to dependence on counties. Some were ghost towns, emptied of population. In those places, jobs were lost and families struggled; crops died off and industries moved on. A larger group of dead cities were humming with civic life: places with people but no longer with a separate government. In these cities, citizens from the political left and right, often in coalition, rose up to eliminate their local governments.

As an end in itself, understanding these changes would be worthwhile. But this past has not passed. An unprecedented groundswell of cities and citizens are currently considering disincorporation in response to economic crisis, tax pressure, and population loss. The dissolution law they are turning to, as it is written in state codes and as it is understood in theory, is immature and thin. Cities’ experiences with dissolution are unknown, constraining our ability to judge the values it serves or undermines. If dissolution is to grow in importance as part of the legal machinery of urban decline - as cities themselves are asking it to become - we must understand what it meant in the decades that passed before.

Dissolving Cities tells the story of municipal dissolution. It is an article of law, theory, and urban history - a reminder that urban growth and local government fragmentation, which have long dominated academic discourse on cities, may not be the upward ratchet we have assumed them to be. Cities can die (legally at least), and when they do, they raise critical questions about decline, governance, taxes, race, and community.

This is a critically important topic for the future of land use in American communities, and Prof. Anderson's article looks like a must-read piece.

Matt Festa

September 21, 2011 in Downtown, Economic Development, History, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Scholarship, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Salkin & Lavine on Regional Foodsheds

Patricia E. Salkin (Albany) and Amy Lavine (Albany) have posted Regional Foodsheds: Are Our Local Zoning and Land Use Regulations Healthy?, Fordham Environmental Law Journal, Vol. XXII (2011). The abstract:

Governments at all levels have become increasingly interested in fostering healthy eating habits and sustainable agricultural production. Promoting access to locally grown produce is an important part of many policy goals seeking to address these concerns, and the concept of regional foodsheds has risen in popularity as one method to achieve these goals. Research indicates that community based food systems have the potential to address food security, public health, social justice, and ecological health. Food production and consumption patterns are influenced by a range of federal, state, and municipal policies, but meaningful change in regional food system policies is likely to start with state and local governments, which can take proactive measures to strengthen their regional foodsheds through a variety of land use planning and regulatory actions. This Article focuses on how existing land use plans and regulations can promote healthier and more sustainable communities through the foodshed movement. In particular, this Article discusses specific land use strategies that can be implemented in urban and suburban settings to facilitate local and regional food production and distribution that go beyond farmland preservation strategies and examine, among other things, smaller-scale community gardens, residential agricultural uses and farmers markets.

Matt Festa

September 14, 2011 in Agriculture, Comprehensive Plans, Environmentalism, Food, Local Government, Scholarship, Suburbs, Sustainability, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 9, 2011

worst practices

If you do a Google Images search for "sprawl", what you will see is lots of aerial views of large subdivisions filled with small and medium-sized houses. But these places are "sprawl with a human face"; often there are sidewalks, or at least lawns for humans to walk on.

Right now, I'm visiting my parents' house in Atlanta and seeing sprawl at its worst. For example, look at this photo (a couple of miles from where I am sitting), showing a residential street where the trees go right up to the street, so there is no lawn to walk on; if you walk you just have to share the street with 40 mph car traffic. This sort of thing even happens in apartment complexes.

Michael Lewyn

September 9, 2011 in Pedestrian, Sprawl, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My next article: sprawl in Canada and the U.S.

In public debate over suburban sprawl, one common argument is the “Inevitability Theory.”  The Inevitability Theory is based on the following chain of logic:

1.  Sprawl happens even in places where government policy doesn’t favor sprawl (such as Canada, Europe, etc.)

2.  Therefore, sprawl is an inevitable result of the free market, rather than government policy.

The Inevitability Theory is designed to rebut the environmentalist argument that sprawl is the result of American public policies such as highway construction, minimum parking requirements, anti-density zoning, and anti-pedestrian street design.

My next article criticizes the Inevitability Theory by focusing on Canada.  Part 1 of the Inevitability Theory discussed above can be broken down into two assumptions: (a) that Canada sprawls as much as the U.S.; and (b) Canadian public policy is antisprawl.  But in my article, I challenge both assumptions, arguing that:

a.  Canada is less suburbanized than the United States; even controlling for changes in city boundaries, Canadian central cities have been more likely to grow than their American counterparts.  Even Canadian cities that have lost population are better off than many older American cities.  For example, the fastest-declining major Canadian city, Montreal, lost 18 percent of its population between 1971 and 2001 (excluding areas annexed to the city in the intervening decades).  By contrast, St. Louis lost 44 percent of its population, and other cities such as Cleveland and Detroit lost over 30 percent of their population.

b.  If you treat sprawl as a matter of “how we develop” rather than “where we develop”,Canada again differs.  14 percent of Canadian commuters (as opposed to 6 percent of Americans) use public transit to get to work, and 5 percent walk (as opposed to 2 percent in the U.S.)

To be sure, Canada has some automobile-dependent cities and suburbs.  But is this necessarily the result of the market at work?  In my article, I show that Canadian cities and suburbs have the same kind of anti-density, pro-sprawl regulations as their American counterpart.  For example, in both nations, municipal zoning regulations limit density, thus limiting the number of people who can live within walking distance of public transit and other destinations.  And in both nations,  zoning regulations require businesses to install large amounts of parking, thus reducing density, making driving more convenient, and also making businesses more inhospitable to pedestrians (who often have to walk through large parking lots).   And in both nations, streets are often designed to be too wide to be comfortably crossed.  However, Canadian regulations do tend to be more lenient (and thus less anti-pedestrian) than their U.S. counterparts.

The full article is at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn/65/ .

September 6, 2011 in Comparative Land Use, Density, Local Government, Parking, Pedestrian, Scholarship, Sprawl, Suburbs, Transportation, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The suburbs are a Ponzi scheme

I enjoyed this post by Charles Marohn from Strong Towns on grist.org. At our clinic (VLS) we discuss smart growth/smart decline principles and have focused on environmental and social impacts. I'd never heard the Ponzi scheme analogy and think it's a great way to bring cost into the discussion.


"Since the end of World War II, our cities and towns have experienced growth using three primary mechanisms:

  1. 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.
  2. Transportation spending: where transportation infrastructure is used to improve access to a site that can then be developed.
  3. 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."

Read more…

Kat Garvey

June 28, 2011 in Budgeting, Finance, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Power on Wallace, McHarg and their Plans for (a) Greater Baltimore

Soon after releasing the new version of his electronic land use casebook, Garrett Power (Maryland) has posted Wallace McHarg's Plans for a Greater Baltimore. Here's the abstract:

This essay considers the growth of the partnership between David Wallace and Ian McHarg into one of the nation’s dominant urban design and environmental planning firms. It focuses on the firm’s undertaking in the Greater Baltimore region in the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. With the benefit of fifty years of hindsight it looks at the successes and failures of their plans for Charles Center, the Green Spring and Worthington Valleys, and the Inner Harbor. Surprisingly, prize-winning innovations praised in one generation came to be judged as the design flaws of the next. Less surprisingly, their plans to "design with nature" sometimes were used by their clients to promote racial and economic segregation.

This last sentence refers to the use of McHarg-Wallace's plans promoting ecologically sound suburban development for exclusionary planning practices even though the original plans called for environmentally sensitive siting of dense affordable housing. Check it out.

Jim K.

 

June 5, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Community Design, Density, Development, Environmental Justice, Environmentalism, Planning, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ramapo Village Spent $450,000 in Losing Battle over Discriminatory Zoning

Most land use professors are familiar with the town of Ramapo, New York, whose phased-growth program was upheld as constitutional nearly 40 years ago.  Among other things, the court in the famed Ramapo case found that the town’s program was “far from being exclusionary” and sought only to “provide a balanced and cohesive community.”  Interestingly, certain land use controls in one Ramapo village have proven far more vulnerable to constitutional challenge for their exclusionary effects.

Recently, the Village of Airmont (which is located within Ramapo) settled a lawsuit filed under the RLUIPA and Fair Housing Act relating to the Village’s zoning prohibition on boarding schools.  The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office brought its claim against the Village back in 2005 after the Village denied a permit application from the Hasidic Jewish Congregation Mischknois Lavier Yakov to construct a religious boarding school in the community.    

According to recent stories in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, the Village finally settled the lawsuit a couple of weeks ago after expending more than $450,000 in legal fees.  The May 9 consent decree formalizing the settlement gives the Village until October 15, 2011, to amend its zoning code to allow construction of the religious school and to otherwise bring its code into compliance with federal laws “prohibiting discrimination and unreasonable imposition on religious freedom.” 

This isn’t the first time that Airmont has effectively lost a discriminatory zoning claim.  According to the New York Times, the Village previously had to amend its zoning ordinances in response to a 1991 Fair Housing Act claim contesting a zoning prohibition on the use of private homes as places of worship.

These constitutional zoning challenges in the decades following the Ramapo case offer at least some support for the theory offered by Fred Bosselman back in the 1970s (see generally 1 Fla. St. L. Rev. 234, 248-50 (1973)) that exclusionary motives were partly behind the town’s famous phased-growth scheme. 

Troy Rule

May 19, 2011 in Housing, Inclusionary Zoning, Local Government, New York, RLUIPA, Suburbs, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Alexander on New Regionalist Approaches to Sustainable Communities

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.

Matt Festa

May 15, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Community Design, HUD, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Sprawl, State Government, Suburbs, Sustainability, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Slate Declares the "Death of the McMansion"

Read all about it here. A quote from the article:

While the evidence is fragmentary—the current reduction in average new house sizes has more to do with the preponderance of first-time buyers than an overall shift in demand—it is clear that the long recessionary cold-shower will dampen the exuberance that characterized the boom years of 2000 to 2005. That will mean smaller houses closer together on smaller lots in inner suburbs, fewer McMansions, and fewer planned communities in the distant hinterland. An alternative scenario is that American optimism will prevail and it will be business as usual, as happened during the boom of the 1950s following the Great Depression, or during the period following the Energy Crisis of 1973, when car buyers, after a brief flirtation with Japanese compact cars, embraced minivans and SUVs. But I wouldn't count on it.

Of course, there were scooped on this story last summer by CNBC, who was scooped in turn in 2009 by a builder/blogger in Dallas. Hope springs eternal, I guess.  Still, to follow an (unrelated) trend to citing Dylan, the times, they are a'changin'.

Jamie Baker Roskie

May 12, 2011 in Architecture, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kotkin on the Protean Future of American Cities and growth at the edge

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.

Matt Festa

March 8, 2011 in Density, Downtown, Exurbs, Federal Government, History, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sustainable Suburbia

Speaking of the suburbs, I just got this report from Houston Tomorrow (via Planetizen) by the Sustainable Cities Collective about what sounds like a very interesting conference on "The Sustainable Suburb: Reimagining the Inner Ring" at North Carolina State.  From the article:

[T]hough they once symbolized growing American modernity in the post-war period, many suburbs now suffer from the same sort of decay that has been attacking inner cities for decades.

If there’s a lesson from this, it is that the old lines drawn between city and suburb may no longer apply so neatly.

It was appropriate, then, that North Carolina State University’s 2011 Urban Design Conference, held earlier this month, focused on the “Sustainable Suburb.” Though held in a Downtown Raleigh convention hall, the meeting was enlightening in its exploration of the ways suburbs can evolve to adapt to their new realities.

Most interesting was Ellen Dunham-Jones, whose Retrofitting Suburbia (with June Williamson) has become a frequently cited handbook for people looking for ways to reconfigure their environments for a new century. The book shows how strip shopping centers can be morphed into churches and how office parks can be densified.

Sounds fascinating; check out the conference reports as well as Dunham-Jones' Retrofitting Suburbia

Matt Festa

March 3, 2011 in Conferences, Development, History, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Long on Sustainability v. Sprawl in the Post-Public-Lands West

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.

Jim K.

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)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Super Land Use Bowl

In class, we started off the week with a quick session of Current Events in Land Use (aka, what-can't-Festa-turn-into-a-land-use-issue).  The topic?  Super Bowl.  The students were prepared.  Here's what they came up with:

The weather.  Of course that was on everyone's mind last week all around the country, with blizzards in the northeast and midwest, and even a snow day in Texas.  But Dallas had it particularly rough, affecting travel both to and around the DFW metroplex.  When the Super Bowl is held in New Jersey in 2014, the weather may be worse, but I predict that it won't cause as many problems as it did in Dallas because it isn't (usually) rational for a city like Dallas to make the local government investments in snowplows, employees, and materials (salt) that will be on hand in NJ.

The parties.  The worst weather was earlier in the week, so not that big a deal, right?  I didn't realize this until the big game came to Houston in 2004, but the Super Bowl brings a full 1-2 weeks of celebrities, money, and parties--everything from huge VIP bashes to public street parties.  Unlike any other sports event that I know of.  And these things take lots of permits, approvals, resources, and land use coordination with local governments.  I even have it on good authority from a DFW land use prof that there were private helicopter services to take people from party to party.  I remember my very first assignment as an associate was to research the Houston sign code for a client who wanted to do a lot of temporary advertising during the Super Bowl festivities.  Probably lots of SOB issues too.

The stadium issue.  I'm sure you've all heard about controversies over sports teams' demanding new facilities, and the debate over whether the projects prove as economically beneficial as promised.  The nearby baseball Ballpark at Arlington was built in the early 1990s using public funding and eminent domain (under the supervision of then-owner George W. Bush).  Apparently the same tactics were used for the recently-built (just in time for the team to not play in the Super Bowl!) Cowboys Stadium.  Another land use issue is the location--out in the suburbs.  One student told me that team owner Jerry Jones tried to get it built close to downtown, but for issues of either land assembly or zoning and permitting (or maybe tax issues too), it couldn't get done.

I'll add one more: the team names.  I take no side in the Clowney-Edwards debate at Property Prof Blog (though I did see a "Cheesheads for Obama" pin at the junior scholars conference in Albany).  But I like the fact that these two team names say something about their cities' histories, and of course, land uses: Pittsburgh is obviously a steel town, and Green Bay's team is named after its meat-packing industry.

So that was in land use class.  In my Property I classes, I simply noted that at the end of last week I predicted that the final score would be Packers 31, Steelers 24; and that the actual score was Packers 31, Steelers 25.  So there!

Matt Festa

February 9, 2011 in Development, Eminent Domain, History, Local Government, Politics, Suburbs, Texas, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Judith Wegner, Annexation, and the Boehl Lectures

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!

Tony Arnold

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

Panel on "Premature Subdivisions" for New Partners Conference

As I previously posted, the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference is happening in Charlotte, NC February 3-5.  Here's an announcement from the Lincoln Institute about their panel at the conference.

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)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inclusionary Housing in International Perspective

 The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has recently released Inclusionary Housing in International Perspective: Affordable Housing, Social Inclusion and Land Value Recapture, edited by Nico Calavita (Planning-San Diego State) and Alan Mallach (Brookings).  After 60 pages on the U.S., the book devotes a chapter each to Canada, England, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy.  The penultimate chapter looks at inclusionary practices in a variety of other countries including India, Israel, Colombia and South Africa.

Jim K.

James J. Kelly, Jr.

Visiting Prof. of Law, W&L

kellyj@wlu.edu

January 10, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Books, Comparative Land Use, Development, Inclusionary Zoning, Local Government, Planning, Smart Growth, Suburbs, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

WSJ says More Office Jobs going from Suburbs to Downtowns

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.

Matt Festa

December 14, 2010 in Downtown, Exurbs, Financial Crisis, Houston, Real Estate Transactions, Sprawl, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Arcosanti - City on a Hill

We went to Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona, Arizona over the holiday.  It was beautiful. On the drive back to Phoenix, I insisted (over my wife's rolling eyes) that we visit Arcosanti. An experimental town founded in 1970, Arcosanti aspires to fuse architecture with ecology.

 

The town seeks to provide social interaction and accessibility of urban living with ecological goals ranging from spare resource use to environmental integratoin.  The project-town rests on 25 acres of a 4,060 acre land preserve. Although originally envisioned for 5,000 people, Arcosanti's actual population varies between 50 and 100 people. The master plan envisions a massive complex, called Arcosanti 5000, that would dwarf the current buildings.

Despite Arcosanti's meager population, the underlying land use philosophy - arcology - is intriguing. Although certainly not new, "archology" is Paolo Soleri's concept of cities which compact human necessities in marked contrast to urban sprawl with its inherently wasteful consumption of land, energy and time. Instead of isolating people from each other and the community, the "complexification and miniaturization" of the city encourages and relies on community.

According to promomtional materials,

  • an archology would need about two percent as much land as a typical city of similar population 
  • Archology eliminates the automobile from within the city 
  • The multi-use nature of archology design would put living, working and public spaces within easy reach of each other, and
  • walking would be the main transportation within the city
  • "Arcosanti is probably the most important experiment undertaken in our lifetime"


Our visit to the town was uninspiring.  It did not meet the rhetoric above.  The bronze and ceramic wind bells Soleri sells were nice, but the edifices themselves were ill kept and uninspiring. We did not get a tour of the entire town, so perhaps judment should be reserved. 

Still, why only 50 residents (mostly students /educators) in a "city" that envisioned 5,000 way back in 1970?  Why does Soleri himself live in Scottsdale, Arizona (a sprawling well-to-do suburb)?  To me it tracks what James McWilliams calls "a problem endemic to modern environmentalism."  I agree with McWilliams's suggestion that "concerned consumers are flush with noble intentions, but too often these intentions succumb to external realities."

McKay Cunningham

December 1, 2010 in Architecture, Community Design, Environmental Law, Green Building, New Urbanism, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

You might be surprised at how much land use and veterans' issues have been intertwined over the course of American history.  From land grants and westward expansion, to the expansion of education, to the postwar expansion of suburbia, many federal, state, and local policies have tied land use and development to an appropriate public concern for veterans; the results have been mixed.  I wrote a post on these issues last year; you can read it here.  

This year, we have at least one new land use/veterans issue to add: the U.S. Supreme Court decided Salazar v. Buono, which dealt with a land swap by Congress to protect a monument to servicemembers killed in World War I, placed on public land by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, that was in the shape of a cross.  Read our post here, and SCOTUSblog's resource page, and check out Christoper Lund's Northwestern Colloquy article on the case.

A happy Veterans Day to all, with gratitude to those who have served in harm's way.  

Matt Festa

November 11, 2010 in California, Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Federal Government, First Amendment, History, Property, Scholarship, Suburbs, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)