Friday, June 15, 2012

The Death and Life of Affordable Housing--panel video

Via Congress for the New Urbanism, I came across this link to what looks like a great panel discussion hosted by the Cato Institute and cosponsored by Next American City, called "The Death and Life of Affordable Housing."  Here is the link to the video.  The session features a terrific lineup of thoughtful commentators.  From the event description:

Featuring Ryan Avent, Author of The Gated City; Adam Gordon, Staff Attorney, Fair Share Housing; Randal O'Toole, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute, and author of American Nightmare: How Government Undermines the Dream of Homeownership; Matthew Yglesias, author of The Rent Is Too Damn High; moderated by Diana Lind, Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief, Next American City. . . .

The Cato Institute and Next American City will jointly host a panel discussion about housing and development policy in American cities. For several decades, U.S. policymakers have grappled with how to make housing more affordable for more people. In the past year, several new books have claimed that various government tools, such as zoning and subsidies, have limited people's access to desirable, affordable housing—while other leading thinkers have suggested that markets alone will not create socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable communities. With a shared goal of creating livable, affordable communities for all people—but diverging ideas of how to get there—the panel will give voice to a range of perspectives on the hotly debated issue of how to shape 21st-century American cities.

I plan to check it out this weekend.  Enjoy,

Matt Festa

June 15, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Books, Conferences, Development, Environmentalism, Housing, Lectures, Planning, Scholarship, Sustainability, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Brookings Paper on the Economics of Walkable Places

Christopher Leinberger (Brookings) and Mariela Alfonso have published Walk this Way:The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, D.C., an economic analysis of certain DC neighborhoods using walkability measures. The study offers four findings:

--More walkable places perform better economically.


--Walkable places benefit from being near other walkable places.


--Residents of more walkable places have lower transportation costs and higher transit access, but also higher housing costs.


--Residents of places with poor walkability are generally less affluent and have lower educational attainment than places with good walkability.

The authors urge inclusion of walkability measures into lender underwriting criteria, developer feasability analyses, and private foundation sustainability metrics. In a brief article on TheAtlanticCities.com, Leinberger argues that walkability in neighborhoods has become a price benefit and that cities need to meet the growing demand. (Hat tip to my NDLS colleague Chris O'Byrne for sharing TheAtlanticCities.com piece)

Jim K.

June 6, 2012 in Community Design, New Urbanism, Planning, Sustainability, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strong Towns

Today I was listening to a podcast from the Congress for the New Urbanism's annual meeting last week (more on CNU 20 to come . . . ), and I heard a talk by Charles L. Marohn, Jr., the Executive Director of a nonprofit called Strong Towns.  The organization is dedicated to improving community life at the town and neighborhood level.  Here's a link to its ten Placemaking Principles for Strong Towns.

What looks like the best feature is the excellent Strong Towns Blog, which posts in-depth original analyses three times per week.  Recent posts are on topics such as "The Micro City Beautiful"; Low-Impact Development (LID) vs. New Urbanism; and weekly news digests of interesting land use and planning stories.  Check it out.

Matt Festa

May 22, 2012 in Development, Local Government, New Urbanism, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sun on Smart Growth in Dumb Places

Lisa Grow Sun posted this paper last year.  It should be of great interest to land users: Smart Growth in Dumb Places: Sustainability, Disaster, and the Future of the American City.  The abstract:

One of the many lessons of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan is that we cannot mitigate disaster risk through building codes and other structural solutions alone. Location is key to a community’s natural hazard vulnerability. Consequently, the most far-reaching and important question for disaster mitigation today is where we will channel the growth that will be needed to accommodate our expanding population. Yet, both environmental scholars and policymakers are promoting sustainability initiatives that will channel our country’s future growth into existing urban areas that are already extremely vulnerable to disaster. Indeed, many of these policies - and the legal tools used to implement them - are channeling growth, not only into particularly vulnerable cities, but into the riskiest areas of those cities. This Article is the first to identify and explore this critical tension between disaster mitigation and current sustainability policies.

The impact of current and future disasters on land use is a very important policy issue.  Sun offers a different take on the conventional wisdom--which I have indulged in too--that more urbanism is always better.  Sun suggests that we should be more discerning with our prescriptions.

Matt Festa

May 18, 2012 in Environmental Law, History, Planning, Politics, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Sustainability, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Furman Center's State of New York City Housing & Neighborhoods

Last week the NYU Furman Center published its latest research on the State of New York City's Housing and Neighborhoods.

The Furman Center is pleased to present the 2011 edition of the State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods. In this annual report, the Furman Center compiles statistics on housing, demographics and quality of life in the City, its five boroughs and 59 community districts.

This year we examine the distribution of the burden of New York City’s property tax, analyze the changing racial and ethnic makeup of city neighborhoods, evaluate the state of mortgage lending in New York City and highlight the Furman Center’s latest research on public and subsidized rental housing.

Here is a link to the full report:  http://furmancenter.org/files/sotc/SOC_2011.pdf

The Furman Center does the leading empirical analysis of land use policy today.  This report shows that "owners of New York City’s large rental apartment buildings are subject to a higher effective property tax rate than owners of one-to three-family homes, and bear a disproportionate share of the city’s overall property tax burden."  Very interesting stuff.  Thanks to Meghan Lewit for the link. Here is the web link to the project, and the full report is here.

Matt Festa

May 16, 2012 in Affordable Housing, History, Housing, Mortgages, New York, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

What Would Jane Jacobs Do?

Regular readers know that we love the National Building Museum.  And any land use professional knows that we all love to talk about Jane Jacobs.  So here's an event that might be of great interest: Urban Forum: What Would Jane Jacobs Do?

Fifty one years after Jane Jacobs published her seminal book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her ideas on liveable, walkable, and diverse neighborhoods continue to impact how urban environments are designed. A panel discusses Jane Jacobs’ legacy, including urban renewal, historic preservation, mixed-use zoning, and public space. Light refreshments will be served.

Panelists include:

  • Bing Thom, Bing Thom Architects 
  • Harriet Tregoning, director, Washington D.C. Office of Planning 
  • Susan Szenasy, editor-in-chief, Metropolis Magazine (moderator) 
  • John Zuccotti, co-chairman of the board, Brookfield Properties Corporation and former Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission

Free (but required) registration is available for the event on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 10:00-11:30.  Check it out!  If you are able to go to WWJJD, I'd love to hear about it.

Matt Festa

May 16, 2012 in Architecture, Density, Downtown, Historic Preservation, History, Houston, Lectures, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gillespie on Judicialization of Urban Land Disputes in Vietnam

John Gillespie (Monash University) has posted Exploring the Limits of the Judicialization of Urban Land Disputes in Vietnam, Law and Society Review, Volume 45, No. 2, pp. 241-275, 2011.  The abstract:

Economic and legal reforms have triggered waves of conflict over property rights and access to urban land in Vietnam. In this article I develop four epistemic case studies to explore the main precepts and practices that courts must negotiate to extend their authority over land disputes. Courts face a dilemma: Do they apply state laws that disregard community regulatory practices and risk losing social relevance, or apply community notions of situational justice that undermine rule formalism? I conclude that reforms designed to increase rule formalism in the courts may have the unintended consequence of reducing the capacity for judges to find lasting solutions to land disputes.

Matt Festa

April 13, 2012 in Comparative Land Use, Property Rights, Scholarship, Urbanism | 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)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Dyngus Day!

I hope you all have had a happy holiday--not Passover or Easter, which were celebrated this weekend-- but rather today's holiday: Dyngus Day!  Readers know that we like to do the occasional holiday land-use post, so here goes.  Dyngus Day 2012 Image_200

Dyngus Day is an east-central European tradition, primarily from Poland, that is celebrated on Easter Monday.  It appears to come from a pre-Christian veneration of the pagan gods of water (Dingus) and earth (Smigus).  It's linked to the spring themes of rebirth, renewal, and even "spring cleaning."  Apparently the tradition is that on Dyngus Day the young men get to pursue the young women whom they wish to court with buckets of water and willow branches.  Today, both sexes can participate and there seems to be much use of squirt guns and water balloons. 

What's the land use angle?  Well, first, the whole seasonal/earth/water/renewal theme resonates with the land.  But the next chapter of the Dyngus Day story is how it flourished in America from the height of 19th Century Polish immigration to today, and that story involves the same local government and politics issues that are familiar to land use observers.  Dyngus Day first became a big deal in northern U.S. cities with large Polish-American immigrant populations.  The sources I've read haven't quite come out and said so, but my impression is that the original American Dyngus Day celebrations probably had the intention of serving as the Polish-American equivalent of an ethnic pride/civic engagement day along the likes of what St. Patrick's Day was for the Irish and Columbus Day for the Italians.  Dyngus Day traditionally involved a mix of festival and politics, such as when RFK gave an important campaign speech at the West Side Democratic Club's Dyngus Day affair in South Bend, Indiana.  So Dyngus Day is part of the great American history of urban politics and local government.

In the last couple of decades there seems to have been something of a Dyngus Day revival.  Buffalo is leading the way on the Dyngus front.  It claims to have the world's largest Dyngus Day festival.  There are also significant Dyngus events in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, South Bend, Milwaukee, and other cities.  Of course these community events require the involvement of planners, street closures, and permits.  The Buffalo Dyngus Parade is a centerpiece, and everyone knows that civic parades have land use implications.  They even have a facebook page.  Mostly, it's just a good time, an important community event, and a good example of local public-private cooperation.

I studied a lot of Polish history as an undergraduate, and I have my own fond memories of one Easter Monday striking out away from campus into South Bend (once one of the world's largest Polish-speaking cities), seeing the parade, and ending up down at the American Legion's Dyngus Day party, with good kielbasa, pierogies, and music.  Remember, Everybody's Polish on Dyngus Day!

Matt Festa

April 9, 2012 in History, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Food Trucks, Land Use, and the Free Rider Problem

The food truck wars continue. In this piece on Slate, Matt Yglesias talks about several cities' and states' efforts to ban or regulate food trucks in a way that prevents them from competing with existing restaurants.  He cites what he considers a particularly egregious example: a San Francisco ordinance that permits any existing business to comment on an application for a new vending license and directs the city to "consider" whether the new vendor will operate within 300 feet of an existing vendor in deciding whether to grant the license.  Yglesias concludes: "a basic rule of thumb seems to suggest itself: The fact that business owners would prefer not to face competition is not a valid regulatory purpose."

This proposition would surely come as a surprise to most land use folks, who generally accept as a matter of course that land use regulations are, at their core, anti-competitive.  From large-lot single-family residential zoning that inflates the cost of housing for the benefit of existing homeowners to anti-big-box store laws that are designed to protect quaint mom-and-pop businesses, zoning represents pure economic protectionism.  Indeed, the San Francisco ordinance Yglesias mentions is pretty familiar: many zoning laws give neighbors the right to file a protest to a proposed land use change in their neighborhood, which can result in requiring the city to enact the zoning change by a supermajority vote or possibly even block the zoning change (I address the legality of these neighborhood zoning provisions in my article Neighborhood Empowerment and the Future of the City.)

Zoning laws are generally allowed to be anti-competitive because they are thought to be means of combatting free-rider problems.  Economists like William Fischel and Bruce Hamilton have argued, for example, that a preponderance of expensive homes on large lots tends to correlate with higher-quality schools.  But in the absence of large-lot zoning, people would have strategic incentives to build smaller, less expensive homes in the area just to have access to the better schools.  Of course, if too many folks did the same, the very thing that attracted people to the area (the good schools) will be lost as the area becomes congested with smaller homes and more schoolchildren.

Food trucks, it would seem, present an even stronger free-rider problem.  Foot traffic is drawn to an area because of the existing shops, restaurants, etc, and the foot traffic in turn generates a demand for more shops, restaurants, etc.  Rents and property values go up, as do property taxes, and many high-traffic areas use special assessments or business improvement districts to provide collective sanitation or security services for the area (again overcoming a free-rider problem, as I explain in my Neighborhood Empowerment piece).  When a food truck swoops into a high-traffic area, it pays no rent, no property taxes, and no assessments for that privilege, and its lower operating costs enable it to siphon some of that foot-traffic away from existing fixed eateries, thus free-riding on the efforts of those eateries to bring in the foot traffic in the first place.  Think of it this way: if the food trucks are sufficiently successful to bankrupt the existing fixed eateries, leaving lots of vacant storefronts in their wake, people will stop coming to the area altogether, and the food trucks will move elsewhere. In other words, the food trucks depend on the existence of fixed eateries to fuel their business.  But while fixed eateries pay taxes and fees for the ability to do business in a particular place, food trucks do not.  So it should not be a surprise that existing businesses are unhappy.

The solution that suggests itself to me is fairly obvious: since business improvement districts are mechanisms for overcoming free-rider problems, than food trucks should be forced to pay assessments to the business improvement district or special assessment district in those areas where they operate.  Legally and conceptually, though, this is difficult to accomplish because special assessments are, as a matter of hornbook law, supposed to be keyed to the benefits that accrue to real property.  Because food trucks are not real property, it is difficult to apply the special assessment to them.  But wouldn't it be possible for municipalities to use their home rule powers to impose some sort of free-rider fee on food trucks?   I would hope that cities and states will consider this alternative rather than simply banning food trucks altogether.

For more on food trucks, see my colleague Ernesto Hernandez-Lopez's piece, LA’s Taco Truck War: How Law Cooks Food Culture Contests.

Ken Stahl 

April 6, 2012 in California, Food, Parking, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What's Buried Under Dodger Stadium?

A front-page story in today's LA Times throws some cold water on the celebratory mood surrounding the recent sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the upcoming 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. The story recounts how the city of Los Angeles acquired the land to build the stadium by uprooting (through the use of eminent domain) more than 1,000 mostly Mexican-American families who lived in the area.  The story concludes with a chilling quote from one of the uprooted: "There's an old Mexican custom that where you're born, the umbilical cord is buried. Mine's buried under third base....And I hate home runs, 'cause every time they step on third base, my stomach hurts."  The story of Chavez Ravine has been well told before, including by my friend Matt Parlow in his article Unintended Consequences: Eminent Domain and Affordable Housing, 46 Santa Clara L. Rev. 841, 843–46 (2006).

Ken Stahl 

April 5, 2012 in California, Eminent Domain, History, Local Government, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Schindler on The Conflict Between Local Governments and Locavores

As regular readers know, we have a fondess for blogging about chickens.  Now our friend Prof. Sarah Schindler (Maine) has given us another opportunity with her new article Of Backyard Chickens and Front Yard Gardens: The Conflict between Local Governments and Locavores, forthcoming in the Tulane Law Review, Vol. 87 (2012).  The abstract:

Locavores aim to source their food locally. Many locavores are also concerned more broadly with living sustainably and decreasing reliance on industrial agriculture. As more people have joined the locavore movement, including many who reside in urban and suburban areas, conflict has emerged between the locavores’ desires to use their private property to produce food — for personal use and for sale — and municipal zoning ordinances that seek to separate agriculture from residential uses.

In this article, I consider the evolution of this conflict and its implications for our systems of land use, local government, and environmental law. Specifically, I investigate the police power rationales for the existence of ordinances that disallow urban homesteading in urban and suburban communities. I then demonstrate that public health, civic virtue, and free market principles can be used to justify the passage of ordinances that would expressly permit these behaviors. Central to this analysis is a discussion of the problems caused by industrial agriculture and the lack of access to locally produced foods — food insecurity, food deserts, obesity tied to processed foods, monoculture-induced environmental catastrophes, harm to animals, and greenhouse gas emissions — all of which could be alleviated, at least in part, through urban agriculture. In recognition of these changing conceptions of harm, some local governments have begun to pass ordinances expressly allowing gardens, chickens, and the sale of produce in residential areas. I conclude by considering what this movement toward loosening restrictions on the use of private property says more broadly about the decline of Euclidean zoning controls and the future of land use law.

While the urban agriculture issues are very interesting in their own right, the implications of this article go to the heart of the modern discomfort with the legacy of traditional Euclidean land use regulation.  Well worth a read. 

Matt Festa

March 30, 2012 in Agriculture, Property Rights, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Waldman on Yglesias, Avent, and Zoning and Property Rights

Economics blogger Steve Randy Waldman has a fascinating review post on the Interfluidity blog called Zoning Laws and Property Rights.  From the intro: 

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down and read Matt Yglesias’ The Rent Is Too Damned High and Ryan Avent’s The Gated City back to back. Both were a pleasure to read, for their content, and for the opportunity to kick a couple of bucks to two of my fave bloggers behind an ennobling veil of commerce. As an avid reader of both authors’ online work, there were no huge surprises, but reading the ebooks took me deeper and inspired some more considered thought on their ideas. Ryan Avent and Matt Yglesias (and Ed Glaeser too!) are separate humans with their own identities and ideas. But these “econourbanists” share a core view, and I hope they will forgive me if I consider their work together. Although they arrive at a similar place, the two books take very different roads: Avent’s book is a bit wonkier and more economistic, focusing on the macro role of cities in enhancing productivity through economies of scale and agglomeration; Yglesias treats the same set of issues more polemically and with an emphasis on the personal, thinking about how individuals should expect to make a living in an increasingly service-oriented economy, the importance of accessible cities to the kind of prosperity he envisions, and the perils of any obstacle that makes urban life inaccessible (“the rent is too damned high!”). Read both!

This is a long post with extensive analysis of the reviewed work and the authors' own insights.  Waldman is a qualified skeptic of the authors' approaches.  A very insightful essay that grapples with the issues I am trying to address in my own scholarship.  I am glad to add a new term-- "econourbanist"-- to my land use lexicon!  Thanks to Geoff Corn for the link.

Matt Festa

March 28, 2012 in Books, Property Rights, Scholarship, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 26, 2012

NYU's Controversial Expansion Plans

Property Prof Blogger extraordinaire and official Land Use Prof Blog Buddy Steve Clowney draws attention to an interesting recent column from NY Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman about NYU's plans to expand within Greenwhich Village.  I agree with Steve's assessment that the column focuses too much attention on the effect the expansion would have on a little used plot of park space.  It is curious that Kimmelman opens the column describing NYU's expansion plans as "acrimonious" but then immediately pivots away from describing any of the actual acrimony to an issue that only he seems to care about, to wit, this "underrated" park that nobody know exists.  

Kimmelman's main argument appears to be that NYU itself is responsible for the park space in question falling into disuse, and so the city should leverage its zoning power to force NYU to make the park more accessible.  At this point, I was running for my land use casebook to consult the Supreme Court's exactions jurisprudence (For land use newbies: governments are generally not allowed to leverage their zoning power for concessions absent an "essential nexus" between the concession sought and the land use approval requested).

In any event, I can't say Kimmelman is wrong as a policy matter.  He may be right that the village needs more open space and that NYU's plan is antithetical to that need.  To me, the most interesting part of Kimmelman's piece was his contention that the original Modernist "tower-in-the-park" design that spawned the endangered park space had actually done a good job of bringing much-needed open space to the village before NYU messed it all up.  This is at odds with the conventional wisdom that the tower-in-the-park idea was a monstrosity that necessarily brought about extremely alienating public spaces (wisdom made conventional, of course, by a previous crusader against Greenwhich Village construction plans, Jane Jacobs).  For an example of such an alienating space, check this out:

Albany

For those wondering, this is Empire State Plaza in Albany, New York, a gift of Modernist-loving governor Nelson Rockefeller. 

I see an interesting parallel between Kimmelman's affection for Modernist park design in this column and his paean to the virtues of Modernist housing complexes in another column about which I blogged previously.  Kimmelman seems committed to resuscitating a form of urban design that has been largely relegated to the dustbin of bad planning ideas. For that, I commend him!

Ken Stahl 

March 26, 2012 in Community Design, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, Local Government, New York, Planning, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Greatest Grid: New Exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York

While visiting New York City recently for the Association of American Geographers' annual meeting, I took in a great exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York entitled The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan 1811-2011.  The exhibit coincides with the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the famous street grid for the island of Manhattan.  It is a fascinating exploration of one of the most significant urban planning endeavors in American history.  You can see an overview of the exhibit here, and the New York Times Review of the exhibit here.  My thoughts on the exhibit, with pictures, are below:

Continue reading

March 14, 2012 in Comprehensive Plans, Development, History, Local Government, New York, Planning, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Byrne on the Contemporary Role of Preservation Law in Urban Development

J. Peter Byrne (Georgetown) has posted Historic Preservation and its Cultured Despisers: Reflections on the Contemporary Role of Preservation Law in Urban Development, George Mason Law Review, Vol. 19 (2012).  The abstract:

The past years have seen widely noticed critiques of historic preservation by “one of our leading urban economists,” Edward Glaeser, and by star architect Rem Koolhaas. Glaeser, an academic economist specializing in urban development, admits that preservation has value. But he argues in his invigorating book, Triumph of the City, and in a contemporaneous article, Preservation Follies, that historic preservation restricts too much development, raises prices, and undermines the vitality of the cities. Koolhaas is a Pritzker Prize-winning architect and oracular theorist of the relation between architecture and culture. In his New York exhibit, Cronocaos, he argued that preservation lacks an organizing theory, imposes inauthentic consumer-friendly glosses on older structures, and inhibits architectural creativity. Although these critiques are as different as the cultural spaces inhabited by their authors (although both are professors at Harvard), both seemed to strike nerves, suggesting an underlying unease about how large a role preservation has come to play in urban development. This article assesses these critiques as part of an ongoing effort to make sense of historic preservation law.

This article proceeds as follows: First, it presents Glaeser’s critique in detail, placing it within the context of his larger argument about what makes cities attractive and dynamic. Grappling with the strengths and weaknesses of Glaeser’s critique leads to a discussion of how preservation regulation actually works and clarification of some of the benefits it confers. Second, this Article will attempt to specify Koolhaas’s critique, connecting it to similar complaints about preservation by more linear thinkers. Weighing objections to the coherence or authenticity of preservation leads to further discussion of the role that preservation plays in the larger culture. This article concludes with a call for future research.

Matt Festa

March 14, 2012 in Architecture, Books, Development, Historic Preservation, History, Planning, Property, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stahl on Local Government, One Person/One Vote, and the Jewish Question

I have just posted my most recent paper on ssrn. It is entitled Local Government, One Person/One Vote, and the Jewish Question.  It can be downloaded for free here, and has recently been submitted to law reviews for publication.  I presented a version of this paper at the ALPS conference last week  Here is the abstract:

This article argues that the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence regarding the application of the 'one person/one vote' rule to local governments, while often considered hopelessly confused, actually contains an internal logic that reflects the ambiguous legacy of the Enlightenment in this country. There are three broad strands within the one person/one vote jurisprudence: the first, beginning with Avery v. Midland County, requires cities to apportion votes based on a 'one person/one vote' principle; the second, exemplified by Ball v. James, permits certain municipalities to apportion votes according to a 'one dollar/one vote' formula; and a third, captured in Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa, gives the state plenary power to allocate votes with regard to some local government matters. Although these three strands seem impossible to reconcile, they are all consistent with an Enlightenment jurisprudential project to consolidate the power of the central state by suppressing the ability of entities exercising authority over particular territories, such as local governments, to challenge the state’s hegemony. Each line of cases accomplishes this end by creating an idealized standard for political participation that conceptualizes voters as abstract, homogenous individuals who are divorced from their parochial territorial commitments and thus capable of being acted upon by the state without regard to such commitments.

The article further reveals, however, that the evisceration of territory in these cases is actually an illusion. Under the guise that territory has been rendered immaterial, the courts surreptitiously permit local governments to exercise a substantial degree of territorial control. For example, in the case of City of Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, the Court upheld a tiny suburban municipality’s parochial exercise of the zoning power (excluding an affordable housing complex) by invoking the municipality’s subjection to the one person/one vote rule. Because one person/one vote purports to remove territorial affiliations from the political realm, it had the power in Eastlake to transform a small fragment of a large metropolitan region into 'the people,' a despatialized abstraction that was entitled, by virtue of its ostensible remove from territorial particularity, to exercise the zoning power in its own interest.

I explain the ambiguous use of territory in the jurisprudence by drawing upon the Enlightenment obsession with 'the Jewish question,' or the problem of incorporating territorially-bound subgroups like the Jewish ghetto into a modern nation-state predicated on the idea of a uniform citizenry. The tension between the surface homogenization and the underlying fragmentation of territory in the one person/one vote cases reflects an uneasy compromise between the Enlightenment attempt to incorporate groups such as the Jews into the abstract 'rights of man' and a pragmatic realization that territorial sovereignty is a precondition to securing human rights. This compromise, I argue, has troubling consequences: it enables those with sufficient political or financial power to retreat into insulated enclaves under the aegis of state neutrality, while foreclosing recompense for those excluded from such enclaves by deploying the fiction that they still retain their abstract rights. The article concludes accordingly that the egalitarian promise of the one person/one vote jurisprudence rings hollow.

Ken Stahl 

March 8, 2012 in Local Government, Scholarship, Supreme Court, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Walmart in Athens: Now in Salon Magazine

The possibility of Walmart coming to Athens, GA has now made the mainstream (albiet on-line) media with this story in Salon:

The Athens, Ga., soul-food joint Weaver D’s has barely changed in the 20 years since its slogan, “Automatic for the People,” supplied the name of a groundbreaking R.E.M. album.

You could say the same about Athens itself. After businesses fled in the ’80s, downtown Athens rebounded as an alt-rock mecca that spawned the soundtrack of Generation X. R.E.M., the B-52s, Widespread Panic and thousands of other musicians and artists helped create what is, in many ways, today a dream city: a mixed-use, walkable urban core filled with small businesses, plenty of green space — and a music scene that rivals that of cities 10 times its size.

Cue “The End of the World as We Know It.” A multi-building mall-like shopping complex, likely to include the dreaded Walmart, has set its sights on downtown Athens. Renderings by the Atlanta-based developer Selig Enterprises show a bricked concourse surrounded by large-scale retail, including a 94,000-square-foot superstore, topped with apartments. It also includes three restaurants — two of which are over 10,000 square feet — and 1,150 parking spaces. This is new for downtown Athens, which unlike most college towns, has largely kept chains away.

“There’s an Athens style,” says Willow Meyer, a 37-year-old lawyer who moved here with her husband [UGA law prof Tim Meyer] two years ago, “and if you just import this kind of ‘Anywhere, USA’ development, the city loses something.”

Another group in metro Atlanta is also fighting a Walmart, proposed by the same company behind the Athens development.

My previous posts on this issue can be found here, here and here.

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 27, 2012 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, Georgia, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fast Walking = Health?

This new medical story has been zipping around the web recently.  From the BBC: Slow Walking Predicts Dementia?

A study, published in the British Medical Journal in 2009, said there was a "strong association" between slow walking speed and death from heart attacks and other heart problems. A Journal of the American Medical Association study suggested a link between walking faster over the age of 65 and a longer life.

Dr Erica Camargo, who conducted the latest study at the Boston Medical Centre, said: "While frailty and lower physical performance in elderly people have been associated with an increased risk of dementia, we weren't sure until now how it impacted people of middle age." . . .

The researchers said slower walking speeds were linked to a higher risk of dementia and stronger grip with a lower risk of stroke.

Interesting and potentially another data point toward favoring walkable pedestrian-oriented urbanism.  Thanks to Elizabeth Festa for the pointer.

Matt Festa

February 21, 2012 in Pedestrian, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

How the Occupy Movement Challenged The Existing Model of Local Governance

I hope Matt will forgive me for moonlighting, but The Atlantic Cities blog (a great resource I have blogged about before) invited me to write a guest blog post about how the Occupy protests challenged the predominant model of urban government.  You can check it out here.  My basic thesis is:

The Occupy movement challenged cities’ attachment to mobile capital by making place central to its worldview. In establishing flimsy tent-cities in actual urban spaces and refusing to leave, the Occupy protests mocked the idea of mobility peddled by urban officials. More than that, they implicitly advocated the notion that urban areas are places bound up with the identity of local communities, rather than disposable products in a global marketplace. 

Ken Stahl

February 11, 2012 in Downtown, Local Government, New York, Politics, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)