Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Carousels vs. Conservation in Brooklyn

In the small world department, at a wedding in December I met a student of Patricia Salkin's.   Andrew Stengel, a "non-traditional" second-year student at Albany Law School, is a member of the school’s Government Law Review.  Andrew has also served in a variety of positions in government and progressive advocacy organizations.  He worked as the political director for Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax Films, and he got his start in the administration of Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Andrew e-mailed me recently to let me know about his recent posts on the Government Law Review blog regarding a plan to put a carousel in an area of a park in Brooklyn that is meant to be protected in perpetuity as a natural and scenic area. Read his posts here and here.

Jamie Baker Roskie

UPDATE - on April 10, 2011 a federal judge in New York temporarily blocked the plan for a carousel. Stay tuned!

January 18, 2011 in Historic Preservation, New York, Water, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Robert Moses, The Musical

Not too long ago, Jamie posted about a musical based on Atlantic Yards.  It seems like the New York theater scene just can't resist land use topics (not that I blame them).  Now we have . . .

"Robert Moses Astride New York," a new show based on Robert Caro's Pulitzer-winning biography of the legendary New York figure, The Power Broker.  From the NY Times article by Robin Pogrebin:

So a reporter invited Mr. Caro to join her for a sneak peek at the budding musical, “Robert Moses Astride New York,” a work in progress that will have its world premiere in a one-night-only free performance at 7 p.m. on Saturday at the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan.

To be sure, the musical is considerably less comprehensive than Mr. Caro’s 1,286-page 1974 book, “The Power Broker,” which follows Moses’ career as city parks commissioner and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. “Robert Moses Astride New York” moves through major chapters of history in just a few stanzas, and the piece to be performed Saturday is only a sampling of what the composer, Gary Fagin, ultimately hopes will become a full-fledged production featuring additional characters like the neighborhood activist Jane Jacobs and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. Saturday’s concert will feature the Knickerbocker Chamber Orchestra (Mr. Fagin is its music director and conductor), which will also perform classics by American composers like Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein and Bob Dylan.

I'm about halfway through Caro's The Power Broker--it's a great read, but very long.  If you're in New York, you can get the abridged version (+ songs!) at tonight's free world premiere at the World Financial Center

Matt Festa

January 15, 2011 in History, Humorous, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Upcoming Conference at Pace - Call for Presentations

From Patricia Salkin at Albany:

Save The Date and Call for Presentations

May 5, 2011 at Pace Law School in White Plains, New York

Practically Grounded – Best Practices for Skill Building in Teaching Land Use, Environmental, and Sustainable Development Law

This conference – co-sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Law Teaching and the Government Law Center of Albany Law School and the Land Use Law Center of Pace Law School – offers professors an opportunity to showcase and learn about context-based learning strategies in these dynamic practice areas.  Due to the community-based nature of proposed land use projects and environmental disputes and the fast-paced development of litigation and policy formulation at all levels of government, opportunities abound to take students into public and private practice arenas and to bring practitioners and policy makers into the classroom.

You are invited to submit a proposal for making a presentation on skill building in law school courses on these subjects at this day-long conference.  Authors of selected proposals will present at this event and be given an opportunity to submit papers and essays that will be published by the Pace Environmental Law Review online.  Presentation and paper proposals should contain no more than 150 words and should be submitted by Tuesday, January 18th to:

Professor John R. Nolon, Counsel
Land Use Law Center
Pace Law School
78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY  10603
[email protected]

For more information, contact Professor John Nolon at Pace Law School (914) 422-4090 or Professor Patricia Salkin at Albany Law School ([email protected]).

I'm sure this will be a fantastic conference - I encourage you to submit a proposal and attend!

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 5, 2011 in Conferences, Environmental Law, New York, State Government, Sustainability, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rockefeller Center and Big Development Projects

I just saw a CNBC documentary on The Rockefellers.  It was well done (not sure when it was originally made).  One segment that I found very interesting from a land use perspective was the story of the development of Rockefeller Center in NYC-- you know, famous for the Christmas tree, the skating rink, Radio City, and the place where Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey hang out at 30 Rock (coincidentally, I thought that the middle-aged Nelson Rockefeller had an uncanny resemblance to Alec Baldwin).  

The gist of the narrative is that John Rockefeller Jr. bought the land--several blocks of midtown Manhattan--from Columbia intending to redevelop it as a new home for the Metropolitan Opera.  Then the Great Depression hit.  Unable get traditional investors and real estate financing, Junior took the bold move of deciding to go ahead and build.  He commissioned an ambitious plan for developing several blocks with buildings, theaters, the plaza, and the 70-story skyscraper.  Rockefeller paid for most of it himself up front, and put thousands to work.

You can read more about it in Daniel Okrent's book Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center.

One thing it made me think about is the feasibility of large-scale redevelopment projects.  The story seemed to be that Rockefeller Center was a big risk, but paid great rewards (both financially to its owners, and culturally to the city).  But the current political mood seems to disfavor large-scale redevelopment.  The high-profile failures of places like Poletown and even New London seem to caution ambitious planners away from undertaking too-ambitious plans for fear they might fail, and this is leading to some of the criticism of planned projects like Atlantic Yards.  

One way to look at it is that the history of real estate development (as well as business generally) is probably replete with more failures than successes, so perhaps it isn't fair to judge all future projects by anecdotal examples of recent failures.  There's also context: while one of the academics in the CNBC documentary described Rockefeller Center as "the biggest development project since the great pyramids," it was still just a few blocks of New York City, so as large as it was it probably wouldn't have singlehandedly sunk the fortunes of Gotham had it failed--where as a place like New London has much more at stake in a major economic development project.  There's also the issue government involvement.  While I don't know the full story of Rockefeller Center (I'll have to read Okrent's book!), it seems as though it was principally planned, organized, and paid for by private actors.  The modern trend toward more government involvement may be necessary to execute a massive project given the regulatory issues and the need for eminent domain for land assembly.  The question is whether governmental involvement comes with a price-- complicating the project politically, legally, and financially, and putting the public fisc at risk if the project tanks.  

I know there are a million variables that influence why some projects succeed and others fail, and I don't have a scientific theory on the matter.  It would be interesting, though, to compare modern and historical large-scale development projects and to account for historical failures as well as the successes that we can remember so much more easily.

Matt Festa

December 28, 2010 in Architecture, Books, Development, History, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Furman Center's NYC Quarterly Housing Report

NYU's Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has published its New York City Quarterly Housing Update for 3d Quarter 2010.  A taste from the press release:

NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy released, for the first time, a quarterly update on six key indicators of housing market performance, based on a variety of administrative data sources.

The Furman Center found that while the volume of home sales declined by 14% from the second to third quarter of 2010, it remains higher than it was in the third quarter of 2009. Citywide, prices have stabilized, increasing slightly between the second and third quarters of 2010, and changing little since the same period last year. Prices in the third quarter of 2010 were 22% lower than they were at the peak of the market.

There's lots of great data and analysis in the full report.

Matt Festa

December 3, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Financial Crisis, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, New York, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Atlantic Yards: The Musical ("It's Not")

From The New York Times:

An alternative theater company has created a work based on the controversial Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn.

“So there’s ULURP,” begins the second song in a new musical about Brooklyn. “ULURP is the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure/Which required community involvement and public review/Of all kinds of New York City land-use projects.”

If this seems like something you might read in the notes of a community board meeting, that’s because it is. The song goes on to define the Empire State Development Corporation and the New York State Urban Development Corporation (E.S.D.C. and U.D.C., for musicality) and describe how they function together. “And that’s how eminent domain works!” it concludes. Jaunty, no?

As far as I know, this is the first attempt to set a land use code to music, but I'd love to hear if anyone knows of another example!

For Steve Cosson, a founder of the inquisitive musical theater troupe the Civilians, dramatizing this wonky subject led to a fertile multiyear examination of politics, race, democracy, money and community, centered on the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn. Titled “In the Footprint,” the show mines the New Yorkiest of obsessions — real estate — to present a layered portrait of a city and a neighborhood changing, sometimes under duress. “Atlantic Yards: The Musical!” it’s not.

The songs in “In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards” (the creators call them blogosongs) serve not as emotional showstoppers but as commentary and explanation — the Greek chorus of the digital age. The show, which begins previews at the Irondale Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, on Friday, and opens on Nov. 22, is based on interviews with business owners, neighbors, politicians, bloggers and activists touched by Atlantic Yards, the developer Bruce Ratner’s divisive project to reconfigure 22 acres of urban landscape in Brooklyn, displacing scores of residents and small businesses in the process.

There are so few examples of artistic effort based on land use law.  If you're in New York during the run, take it in and send us a review!

Jamie Baker Roskie


November 11, 2010 in Development, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Humorous, New York, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Race, Redevelopment, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

National Preservation Conference in Austin . . . and Buffalo

We mentioned that last week the National Trust for Historic Preservation had its annual meeting in the Weird City, Austin TX.  There are reports from the conference available on the Trust's website.  There is a video available of the opening plenary session, featuring National Trust President Stephanie Meeks, Laura Bush, and New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger.  

Now the HP community can look forward to next year's National Preservation Conference in Buffalo!  If you're skeptical, check out this video, which correctly points out that Buffalo is a gem for architecture, late 19th/early 20th C. city planning and design, and a great site for discussing contemporary preservation issues with respect to older cities.  The video has gotten some local attention and has allegedly "gone viral" in Buffalo.

Matt Festa

November 4, 2010 in Architecture, Conferences, Economic Development, Historic Preservation, History, Lectures, New York, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween: Top 10 Haunted Homes in U.S.

From the Zillow Blog comes this entry: Top 10 Haunted Homes in U.S.  Here's the list:

1. Winchester House, San Jose CA

2. Lizzie Borden House (you know, the girl with the axe who gave her parents 40/41 whacks), Fall River MA.

3. LaLaurie Mansion, New Orleans LA

4. The White House, Washington DC

5. Franklin Castle, Cleveland OH

6. Sprague Mansion, Cranston RI

7. Chambers Mansion, San Fransisco CA

8. Mytrles Plantation, St. Francisville LA

9. Stranahan House, Ft. Lauderdale FL

10. Whaley House, San Diego CA

Go and read the blog post for the interesting stories behind each haunted house.  The post explains why it left the Amityville Horror house off the list, but that's not my beef, of course: where is the house from Stambovsky v. Ackley?  That's the property law casebook staple, where after a real estate transaction, the buyer learned that the house was reputedly possessed by a poltergeist.  The NY Appellate Division (1991) held that for purposes of rescinding the contract, the house was haunted as a matter of law.  And it's beyond dispute that Property casebooks have terrified generations of law students!

Happy Halloween everyone, and watch out for the Dead Hand.  

Matt Festa 

October 31, 2010 in California, Caselaw, Housing, Humorous, New York, Real Estate Transactions, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Four Year Old Bicyclist Found Potentially Liable in Woman's Death

Here's The New York Times version of a story that I know is getting lots of play.  Usually I'm one to give judges the benefit of the doubt but, in this case, my first reaction is, "Seriously?!"

The suit that Justice Wooten allowed to proceed claims that in April 2009, Juliet Breitman and Jacob Kohn, who were both 4, were racing their bicycles, under the supervision of their mothers, Dana Breitman and Rachel Kohn, on the sidewalk of a building on East 52nd Street. At some point in the race, they struck an 87-year-old woman named Claire Menagh, who was walking in front of the building and, according to the complaint, was “seriously and severely injured,” suffering a hip fracture that required surgery. She died three months later.

Her estate sued the children and their mothers, claiming they had acted negligently during the accident. In a response, Juliet’s lawyer, James P. Tyrie, argued that the girl was not “engaged in an adult activity” at the time of the accident — “She was riding her bicycle with training wheels under the supervision of her mother” — and was too young to be held liable for negligence...

[The child's lawyer] had also argued that Juliet should not be held liable because her mother was present; Justice Wooten disagreed.

“A parent’s presence alone does not give a reasonable child carte blanche to engage in risky behavior such as running across a street,” the judge wrote. He added that any “reasonably prudent child,” who presumably has been told to look both ways before crossing a street, should know that dashing out without looking is dangerous, with or without a parent there. The crucial factor is whether the parent encourages the risky behavior; if so, the child should not be held accountable.

"Reasonably prudent child"?  I realize the judge is just quoting the standard here, but I can't believe a court ever that a "prudent" child could ever exist?  Obviously those judges never spent any time around small children.  Children this age require constant supervision due to their particular lack of prudence.

Okay, you may be asking, but what does this have to do with land use?  Well, my impulse to blog this came from some of the reader comments to the Times story, to the effect that the child shouldn't have been riding on the sidewalk but on the street or a trail.  Other commenters, rightly, point out that it's certainly not safe to encourage small children to ride their bikes on the street.

Also, although I know bicycle advocates say that cyclists are actually safer riding in the street than on a sidewalk, even some avid cyclists I know sometimes feel safer on the sidewalk.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has the following suggestions for cyclists:

Only small children learning to ride should use sidewalks for regular riding. They should have adult supervision even on sidewalks or in the family driveway. [Emphasis added - at least someone has some sanity about kids on bikes with training wheels.]

All other bicyclists should learn to ride on streets or marked bicycle lanes, except in rare circumstances, such as when a wide sidewalk is part of a designated bicycle route.

Studies have shown that the sidewalk is considerably less safe for bicyclists than the street. The bicyclist is never required to ride on paths or sidewalks. Local jurisdictions can pass ordinances allowing bicycling on sidewalks if they have unusual circumstances where the sidewalk is safer for certain bicyclists.

So, food for thought for parents and cyclists alike.

Ironically, while I'm promoting cycling safety with this post, I am blowing out my carbon footprint on a flight from Atlanta to San Francisco.  (Gotta love inflight wi-fi!)  I'm spending the weekend at The Mindful Lawyer conference in Berkeley.  Should be pretty groovy!

Jamie Baker Roskie

PS Here's an article from the San Francisco Chronicle's website about the Mindful Lawyer conference.


October 29, 2010 in New York, Pedestrian, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Designing Tomorrow Blog

I've previously blogged about the National Building Museum's exhibition Designing Tomorrow: America's World Fairs of the 1930s.  Now I've learned that the project has an official blog: the Designing Tomorrow Blog.  

Looks like a great way to learn more about the exhibition . . . at least until you get to DC to see it (such as during ALPS in March!).  So far there is a series of introductory posts to outline the exhibition, and an interview with Bob Rydell (Montana), which promises to be the first of a series of conversations.  I look forward to learning more about this fascinating exhibition.  

Matt Festa

October 28, 2010 in California, Chicago, Conferences, History, New York, Planning, Scholarship, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sheff on the Residential Landlord's Duty to Mitigate

Jeremy N. Sheff (St. John's) has posted A Tale of Two Cities: The Residential Landlord's Duty to Mitigate in New York, forthcoming in the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development, Vol. 25 (2011).  The abstract:

The 2008 decision of the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division for the Second Department in Rios v. Carrillo brought stability to a previously uncertain area of landlord-tenant law: the duty of residential landlords to attempt to mitigate damages in the event of tenant abandonment. This article argues that in the instability that largely reigned prior to Rios, courts used the debate over what legal rule to apply in tenant abandonment cases as a tool to decide such cases based on flexible equitable standards that took into account the relative economic position of the parties and their degree of good faith. Because the New York court system accords weight to appellate precedent in part based on amount in controversy, and because Rios involved what can only be described as a luxury property, the Second Department's ruling has the perverse effect of subjecting economically insecure parties to solutions developed for far wealthier litigants. This article demonstrates the extent of this effect by reference to census data on households and housing markets, and argues that Rios was wrongly decided not only as a matter of legal analysis, but as a matter of policy.

Matt Festa

October 22, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Caselaw, Conferences, Judicial Review, Landlord-Tenant, New York, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s

The National Building Museum has announced a new exhibition: Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s, from Oct. 2 (Saturday!) thru July 10, 2011.  It sounds absolutely fascinating:

Between 1933 and 1940 tens of millions of Americans visited world's fairs in cities across the nation.Designing Tomorrow will explore the modernist spectacles of architecture and design they witnessed -- visions of a brighter future during the worst economic crisis the United States had known. The fairs popularized modern design for the American public and promoted the idea of science and consumerism as salvation from the Great Depression. . . . 

A first-of-its-kind exhibition, Designing Tomorrow will feature nearly 200 never-before-assembled artifacts including building models, architectural remnants, drawings, paintings, prints, furniture, an original RCA TRK-12 television, Elektro the Moto-Man robot, and period film footage. The artifacts are drawn from the featured expositions: Chicago, IL—A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933–34); San Diego, CA—California Pacific International Exposition (1935-36); Dallas, TX—Texas Centennial Exposition (1936); Cleveland, OH—Great Lakes Exposition (1936-37); San Francisco, CA—Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-40); and New York, NY—New York World's Fair (1939-40).

These world's fairs had a profound influence on American culture and ideals for land use.  I've blogged about the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition before and its impact on the origins of land use planning.  This group from the 1930s also had a profound impact on Americans' notions of modernism, suburbia, and even on the inspiration for Disney World (hey Chad!).  Can't wait to see this next time I'm in DC.  If you're going to ALPS in March, the National Building Museum is only a couple of blocks away from Georgetown Law, so definitely plan to check it out!

Matt Festa

September 28, 2010 in Architecture, California, Chicago, Conferences, Development, History, New York, Planning, Suburbs, Texas, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

America's Ten Dead Cities

From time to time here on the land use prof blog we post a link to one of the ubiquitous "top" lists that various media outlets like to publish about America's top cities for business, living, etc.  I see a lot of these because a trend in recent years has been for Texas cities to dominate these lists, at least when they are based on economics.  Here's a related, but more depressing list: America's Ten Dead Citiesfrom the site 24/7 Wall Street.  The cities:  

(1) Buffalo; (2) Flint; (3) Hartford; (4) Cleveland; (5) New Orleans; (6) Detroit; (7) Albany; (8) Atlantic City; (9) Allentown; (10) Galveston.

Read the story to get a sense of the narrative arcs of these once-prosperous cities fallen on harder times. Mostly, it won't surpise you.  Other than the two Gulf Coast cities on the list (both of which (#5 & 10) I still visit regularly), they are mostly post-industrial Northeast or Great Lakes cities (including my birthplace (#8), my hometown (#7), and another place I lived as an adult (#4)).  Of course, Billy Joel was already lamenting the decline of #9 back in 1982 (come to think of it, Bruce Springsteen told a pretty dark tale about #8 before that).  It's interesting for us not only because of how much city economies have driven land use planning, but also because we need to consider the historical trajectory of these cities when considering policies to shape cities going forward.  

Matt Festa

August 26, 2010 in Detroit, Downtown, Economic Development, History, Local Government, New York, Texas | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Leinberger (vs. Kotkin): Walking--Not Just for Cities Anymore

On The New Republic's excellent "The Avenue" blog, Christopher Leinberger (author of The Option of Urbanism) discusses a recent Brookings debate with Joel Kotkin (author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050).  From Walking--Not Just for Cities Anymore, Leinberger notes:

I just had a debate with Joel Kotkin, whom many consider to be an apologist for sprawl. Surprisingly, there is a convergence between his view of the next generation of real estate and infrastructure development and mine: a constellation of pedestrian-friendly urban development spread throughout metropolitan areas, redeveloping parts of the central city and transforming the inner, and some outer, suburbs. There are certainly differences between the two of us: I happen to see significant pent-up demand for walkable urban development and massive over-building of fringe car-oriented suburban housing and commercial development.

In fact, I see compelling evidence that the collapse of fringe drivable suburban markets was the catalyst for the Great Recession, and the lack of walkable urban development due to inadequate infrastructure and zoning is a major reason for the recovery’s sluggishness. Joel feels the demand for walkable urban development is a fraction of the future growth in households. I think rail transit, biking and walking infrastructure are crucial to make this walkable urban future happen; Joel thinks bus rapid transit is as far as we have to go in the transit world… making cars more technologically efficient is his main answer.

I have been hoping that Leinberger will prove correct about his belief in the untapped market demand for walkable urbanism, which has not persuaded Kotkin and other critics.  Leinberger concludes:

We need move away from 20th century concepts that confuse the conversation. If I am right, 70 to 80 percent of new development should be in walkable urban places, and my research leads me to think the majority of that development will be in the suburbs.

Matt Festa

July 13, 2010 in Density, Development, Downtown, Exurbs, Financial Crisis, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, New Urbanism, New York, Pedestrian, Planning, Sprawl, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

NYC Charter Review Commission staff Preliminary Report

The other day we mentioned the New York City Charter Revision Commission.  Yesterday the Commission staff issued its Preliminary Report, available here.  The Commission has noticed a public meeting for Monday, July 12 (viewable by live streaming at the Commission webpage).  

So will the Charter revision include big, sweeping changes in New York's land use law?  It doesn't seem likely, according to the NYC Streetsblog's analysis in Charter Revision Report: Land Use Process Should Stay Untouched, For Now.

. . . . The land use process, which was the subject of an entire commission forum last month, will likely remain unchanged for the time being. . . . 

While a series of major revisions were floated at last month's land use forum -- like requiring comprehensive planning in addition to targeted rezonings, increasing the power of borough presidents and community boards in the land use process, and reforming the weak 197-a community planning process -- today's report recommends any proposals that "significantly implicate important structural issues... should be reserved for future consideration."

With regards to land use, the report makes only two small recommendations, each based on practices adopted by two borough presidents. . . .

Adam Friedman, the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, said that holding off on reforming the land use process is understandable, but that the need for change shouldn't be forgotten. "It's appropriate to take this lead time," said Friedman, "but you do have to begin the process."  

Matt Festa

July 10, 2010 in Development, Downtown, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, Redevelopment, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Newly Minted Lawyer Fights Controversial Infill in the Hamptons

From The New York Times, an interesting article about a woman who went to law school as a retirement activity, and is now fighting teardowns and McMansions in her modest subdivision in the Hamptons:

Ms. Konrad has achieved a level of unpleasant notoriety for her relentless and unapologetic campaign against a sacred cow in these parts: luxury real estate.

She has been called irritating, meddlesome, even crazy. To Ms. Konrad, though, the McMansions built by Wall Street’s titans are destroying life as she has known it for the half-century she has been coming here.

She is perfectly at ease in her role as the village nag.

“I seem like a very good target, a little old lady in white tennis sneakers, but they’re making a very grim mistake if that’s who they think I am,” Ms. Konrad, who is 81, said on a recent afternoon, savoring an ice cream cone and wearing a miniskirt over a brown bathing suit. “I’m contentious. I’m obstinate. I’m not going to give this up.”

Wagging her sharp tongue and applying the law degree she earned just five years ago, Ms. Konrad has accused village officials, builders and home buyers of corruption, profiteering and bad taste in court papers and in letters to The Southampton Press. (A sample of her acerbic style: She has described some homes here as “multimillion-dollar penis extensions” that will make a buyer feel as if “he has never left northern New Jersey.”)

Recently Chad Emerson blogged about the dangers of planning new development in areas where there are lots of lawyers.  Now the neighbors are making themselves lawyers!  Things get weirder and weirder...

Jamie Baker Roskie

July 9, 2010 in Development, Humorous, Local Government, New York, Politics, Redevelopment, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Enough with Jane Jacobs Already?

Check out this really interesting piece from the Wall Street Journal: Enough With Jane Jacobs Already, by Andrew Manshel.  Manshel is with the nonprofit Greater Jamaica Development Corp.  He argues that while Jane Jacobs was right about many things, the enshrinement of her views in planning circles should be reassessed.  He says that now is the time, due to Mayor Bloomberg's Charter Revision Commission process.  Lots of interesting thoughts in this opinion piece, so it's hard to know what parts to highlight.    

Jacobs's book is generally regarded as a jeremiad in opposition to the large-scale planning of the '50s and '60s. She is celebrated as the individual who did the most to end that era's Robert Moses and Le Corbusier-inspired, automobile-centric view of urban life. In Jacobs's opinion, the ideal of city living was the West Village of Manhattan, with its short blocks, narrow streets and little shops. She praised the human-scale aspects of city life; the "eyes on the street" of the shopkeeper and the social cohesion promoted by "street corner mayors." In her view, large-scale planning was prone to failure.

Are you with Jacobs, or are you with Bob Moses and Le Corbusier??

Her views have now been broadly adopted and it is conventional wisdom in planning circles that participatory neighborhood planning is best, that preservation of old buildings is essential, and that in cities the car is bad. But Jacobs had a tendency toward sweeping conclusions based on anecdotal information, and some of them were overblown and/or oblivious to the facts. Perhaps most graphically, Jacobs predicted that the grand arts center planned for the Upper West Side of Manhattan would fail. But Lincoln Center turned out to be a great success—igniting the revitalization of the entire neighborhood.

More revealingly, the Greenwich Village she held out as a model for city life has become some of the highest-priced real estate in New York City—it's no longer the diverse, yeasty enclave she treasured. Ultimately, many of the policies she advocated blocked real-estate development—causing prices of existing housing stock to rise and pricing out all but the wealthiest residents.

Manshel calls for more attention to the ideas of William H. Whyte, who inspired Bryant Park and Houston's Discovery Green, among other projects.  Manshel isn't the first to challenge Jacobs' legacy recently: see Benjamin Schwarz's recent Atlantic piece.  What do you think about Manshel's critique of the citizen-participation focus?  Again, it's a quick and thought-provoking read, so check it out.  


Matt Festa

July 7, 2010 in Density, Development, Historic Preservation, Houston, Local Government, New York, Pedestrian, Planning, Politics, Redevelopment, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

NY Court of Appeals decides Columbia U. Eminent Domain case

The New York Court of Appeals today handed down its decision in Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corp., the challenge to the government's use of eminent domain in conjunction with a Columbia University development project.  To almost no one's surprise, the NY high court reversed the Appellate Division'sruling that the taking was unconstitutional.  Especially since the Goldstien case (i.e., Atlantic Yards) came out last fall, solidifying the New York approach of Kelo-style deference to governmental assertions of economic development as consonant with the Public Use Clause.  

And just yesterday I was blogging about how the incidence of economic development takings might be down due in part to the Kelo backlash!  But this is New York, of course--one of just a handful of states that has not even passed any sort of anti-Kelo measure at all.  I just read the Kaur decision; I expected the standard Kelo-style deference to legislative and executive officials to determine what things are in the public benefit (although I thought the Court rather passively accepted the argument that Columbia = education (nonprofit!) and education = good = constitutionally sufficient public benefit).  But I was still a little surprised at the extent to which the Court seems to bend over backwards to disclaim any competence at all to evaluate the sufficiency of a "blight" determination by the government (which also gets to decide to use eminent domain).  That's the rational basis test taken to its logical extreme.  

Keith Hirokawa (Albany) and Patricia Salkin (Albany) recently posted their article Can Urban University Expansion and Sustainable Development Co-Exist? A Case Study in Progress on Columbia UniversityFordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 37 (2010).   Their article provides a great overview of the background of the project and many of the land use issues involved.  Ilya Somin has a good early analysis of the decision here, with some further analysis of the blight issue in the case.  I do hope that the Columbia project succeeds in enhancing the neighborhood with walkable mixed-use and economically successful community development, where other high-profile comprehensive economic development takings have failed.   

Matt Festa

June 24, 2010 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Judicial Review, New York, Property Rights, Redevelopment, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Brescia on Progressive Lawyering & Affordable Housing

Ray Brescia (Albany) has posted Line in the Sand: Progressive Lawyering, 'Master Communities', and a Battle for Affordable Housing in New York CityAlbany Law Review, Vol. 73, No. 3, p. 715, 2010.  The abstract:

In the fall of 2006, a real estate group led by the father and son team of Jerry and Rob Speyer completed the largest residential real estate deal in U.S. history. For $5.4 billion, this team purchased the twin housing developments of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, located on the East Side of Manhattan. As part of their business plan, the new landlords sought to displace thousands of rent-regulated tenants so that market rents could be charged in the units vacated by outgoing tenants. Led by a crusading elected official, who just happened to be a resident of the complexes, the members of the complexes’ tenant association, supported by a host of lawyers from different sectors of the bar, pursued a range of legal avenues to resist the landlords’ efforts to convert thousands of units from affordable housing into luxury, market-rate housing.

In many ways, the purchase of the properties at the height of the real estate market, and the subsequent campaign to pursue a high rate of return on the investment to satisfy the debt burden on the properties, is another example of the distortions created by the era of easy credit. Much of the attention on the financial crisis focuses on the impact of the rise and collapse of an overheated home mortgage market on the broader financial system. What occurred in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village is a symptom of that broader phenomenon, but one that occurred in the rental market, not the home mortgage market. It is a tale of irrational exuberance and aggressive speculation. The ultimate demise of the landlords’ efforts also tells another story: one of a tenant association; an elected official; and a loose network of attorneys who, together, fought back the attempts of the landlords to displace thousands of rent regulated tenants, not with bulldozers, but trumped up legal claims and an aggressive business plan.

The landlords’ efforts were ultimately halted by a recent decision of New York’s Court of Appeals in successful impact litigation filed by a class of tenants in the complexes, Roberts v. Tishman Speyer Properties, L.P., which is highlighted in detail in this article. But this legal victory, as important as it is for those tenants affected by it, tells only one part of the story. Progressive lawyers, in support of grassroots efforts, waged a campaign of hand-to-hand combat to preserve the affordability of the complexes for the tenants who live there. A review of these efforts helps to place the work of these attorneys within an emerging body of scholarship that highlights the positive and transformative power of legal advocacy to promote progressive social change. Within this body of scholarship there is a renewed yet sober appreciation for the value and ability of the law and legal advocacy to promote progressive social change. This appreciation emphasizes tactical flexibility, but also responsiveness and accountability to community interests and needs. This article analyzes the work of the attorneys who helped to orchestrate the legal campaign to preserve the affordability of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village to determine whether their actions were consistent with this approach to progressive lawyer and to gain what insights about progressive lawyering their efforts might reveal.

Matt Festa

June 11, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Caselaw, Landlord-Tenant, New York, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hirokawa and Salkin on Urban University Expansion, Sustainable Development, and Columbia

Many of you might be familiar with the controversy over Columbia University's plans for expansion; the plans, however, raise numerous land use issues besides eminent domain.  Keith Hirokawa (Albany) and Patricia Salkin (Albany) have posted an article that situates Columbia's plans within the broader context of university expansion in the urban environment: Can Urban University Expansion and Sustainable Development Co-Exist? A Case Study in Progress on Columbia University, Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 37 (2010).  The abstract:

This Article employs sustainability as a framework to analyze the recent proposed physical expansion plans of Columbia University for the purpose of illustrating the complexities that arise in urban development and higher education practices, as well as the problems of trying to simultaneously implement both. Governments and courts traditionally provide a high level of deference and leniency in the application of land-use laws and regulations when it comes to siting and expansion issues for educational institutions, yet institutions of higher education, particularly those located in urban areas, create unique dilemmas for sustainability. For example, available land for expansion is often a physical and political challenge, and the institutional business model behind expansion plans can overshadow the educational purposes that the expansion is intended to serve. Further, the acquisition of new land needed for expansion can result in a “university creep” into neighborhoods where the scale of the proposed development may not be in keeping with past and present community character. Part I of this article offers a framework for defining and evaluating sustainability in the higher education context. Part II further explores the roles of higher education in sustainability, and Part III applies these concepts in the context of the Columbia University expansion by exploring public participation and community engagement issues, including the controversial use of eminent domain in this case. The community benefits agreement developed as part of the expansion plan is examined, as are the impacts of displacement and gentrification resulting from the expansion.

Matt Festa

May 24, 2010 in Community Design, Development, Eminent Domain, New York, Politics, Scholarship, Sustainability, Takings, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)