Which way do we go?

25 01 2010

Christopher Hawthorne: “This movement in the direction of emptiness is profoundly difficult for contemporary culture — and particularly American culture — to grapple with. Occasional recessions and other setbacks aside, we assume that our national trajectory always moves toward fullness, that our cultural progress can be measured by how much new square footage we’ve created and occupied. But that process has completely reversed itself in many of cities hardest hit by economic crisis…The combination of overbuilding during the boom years, thanks to easy credit, and the sudden paralysis of the financial markets in the fall of 2008 has created an unprecedented supply of unwanted or under-occupied real estate around the world. At the same time, rising cultural worry about environmental disaster or some other end-of-days scenario has produced a recent stream of books, movies and photography imagining cities and pieces of architecture emptied of nearly all signs of human presence.”

Ken Belson: “Years after a wave of construction brought publicly financed stadiums costing billions of dollars to cities across the country, taxpayers are once again being asked to reach into their pockets. From New Jersey to Ohio to Arizona, the stadiums were sold as a key to redevelopment and as the only way to retain sports franchises. But the deals that were used to persuade taxpayers to finance their construction have in many cases backfired, the result of overly optimistic revenue assumptions and the recession… Nowhere is the problem more acute than in Cincinnati. In 1996, voters in Hamilton County approved an increase of half of one percent in the sales tax that promised to build and maintain stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds, pay Cincinnati’s public schools and give homeowners an annual property tax rebate. The stadiums were supposed to spur development of the city’s dilapidated riverfront. But sales tax receipts have fallen so fast in the last year that the county is now scrambling to bridge a $14 million deficit in its sales tax fund. The public schools, which deferred taking their share for years, want their money. The teams have not volunteered to rewrite their leases. So in the coming weeks, the county plans to cut basic services, lower its legal bills and drain a bond reserve fund with no plan for paying it back.”

Alec MacGillis: “In April 2006, the Richard Florida show arrived in the Southern Tier of Upstate New York. It was only one of the scores of appearances this decade by the economic-development guru, whose speaking fee soared to $35,000 not long after his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class made him a star on the lecture circuit. Cleveland, Toledo, Baltimore, Greensboro, Green Bay, Des Moines, Hartford, Roanoke, and Rochester were among the many cities that had already shelled out to hear from the good-looking urban-studies professor about how to get young professionals to move in. Of course, none of these burgs has yet completed the transformation from post-manufacturing ugly duckling to gay-friendly, hipster swan. But middling results elsewhere did not keep people in the greater Elmira area from getting excited about Florida’s visit…As Elmira and other cities on Florida’s circuit dutifully carry out his instructions, though, the guru has grown less confident in their prospects…Florida has been arguing that the recession has so decimated many cities and regions that it’s time for the country to cut its losses and instead encourage growth in places that are prospering, like Silicon Valley, Boulder, Austin, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle. And the rest?(:)…He delivered the harsh news: ‘We need to be clear that ultimately, we can’t stop the decline of some places, and that we would be foolish to try. … Different eras favor different places, along with the industries and lifestyles those places embody. … We need to let demand for the key products and lifestyles of the old order fall, and begin building a new economy, based on a new geography’…Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution…says: ‘The problem is that he omits a whole group of cities and parts of the country that would never be magnets for talent. Most of the places that really need economic development are cities that must grow skills and talent from within.”‘

Anatomy of Ruins

P.J. Huffstutter: “Cottonwood trees grow through the collapsed roofs of homes stripped clean for scrap metal. Wild grasses carpet the rusty shells of empty factories, now home to pheasants and wild turkeys. This green veil is proof of how far this city has fallen from its industrial heyday and, to a small group of investors, a clear sign. Detroit, they say, needs to get back to what it was before Henry Ford moved to town: farmland. ‘There’s so much land available and it’s begging to be used,’ said Michael Score, president of the Hantz Farms, which is buying up abandoned sections of the city’s 139-square-mile landscape and plans to transform them into a large-scale commercial farm enterprise. ‘Farming is how Detroit started…and farming is how Detroit can be saved.'”

Amy Hsuan: “In the past few years, a change has taken over the woods, unsettling residents and their relationship with the land. Here and throughout the Pacific Northwest, investors have been buying millions of acres of forestland, betting on big payouts for their clients — pension funds, university endowments and foundations. Today, timber investment management organizations and real estate investment trusts represent the largest private landowners in Oregon and across the country. Over the past decade, investor-owners have used one big advantage as they’ve quietly replaced traditional forest products companies: They don’t pay corporate taxes…With timber prices flatlining and real estate values rising, many private forestland owners are shifting their gaze to building homes rather than growing trees. Landowners elsewhere in the country, under pressure to maximize returns, have looked to convert forests into subdivisions and resorts as trees become less valuable than the land they occupy.”

Daniel Weintraub: “California’s battle against greenhouse gases is likely to come to the Bay Area soon — with rules designed to reduce the carbon footprint of new housing and commercial development. That is a concept you might expect to be welcome in a region known for its environmental advocacy and hostility to growth. But some environmentalists and city planners fear that the new set of guidelines being considered by the region’s air quality regulators could have an unintended consequence, making it more difficult and more expensive for developers to construct buildings within already urbanized areas. That would run counter to the notion that builders should be given incentives to shift future population growth from the car-dependent outer suburbs to places where public services are already available and public transit is a more viable option to get people out of their cars.”

Martin Mittelstaedt: “Americans’ infatuation with their cars has endured through booms and busts, but last year something rare happened in the United States: The size of the U.S. car fleet dropped by a hefty four million vehicles to 246 million, the only large decline since the U.S. Department of Transportation began modern recordkeeping in 1960…And the overall drop in car ownership has prompted speculation that the long American love affair with the car is fading. Analysts cite such diverse factors as high gas prices, the expansion of many municipal transit systems, and the popularity of networking websites among teenagers replacing cars as a way of socializing…The institute is issuing an analysis Wednesday that contends the drop in 2009 isn’t a one-time fluke caused by the recession, and that U.S. car ownership is likely to be entering a longer-term decline that will see the fleet drop by another 25 million by 2020.”

Jenn Abelson: “For many young Americans, the automobile is less a love affair than a way to get there. Even before the recession, the younger generation of motorists had lost their lust for the latest and greatest cars on the market. Some analysts say automakers dropped the ball years ago on designing affordable and swanky cars for young motorists to flash their style. Between 2005 and 2008, sales of new vehicles declined consistently, and consumers between the ages of 20 and 34 accounted for the largest drop, about 30 percent, according to Maritz, a market research firm.”

Dennis DesRosiers: “The drop in ownership is arguably one of the absolute most serious downside threats to the North American auto industry. I call it the nightmare scenario for the industry.”

Sustained Long-Term US Gasoline Demand Growth Unlikely

Deron Lovaas: “Since U.S. gasoline demand may have already peaked…we come back to the elephant in the room for many of our discussions: With declining gasoline tax revenues, how will we pay for all of this?”

Peggy Fikac: “The Texas Transportation Commission has directed a fresh study of the (Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax) idea, and it is not alone. There are pilot projects in other states and nationally to gauge how such a tax would work. Texas transportation officials say the study is meant to help give lawmakers information on options ahead of their next regular session in 2011, when they confront a funding squeeze that is expected to drain the highway fund of money for new construction contracts by 2012. “We need to think differently about how we fund transportation,” Texas Transportation Commission Chairwoman Deirdre Delisi said at a Texas Taxpayers and Research Association forum in November. Delisi said the vehicle-miles-traveled tax idea is controversial, but should be discussed because revenue from the state’s main source of transportation funding, the motor fuels tax, is declining. The gasoline tax has not been raised since 1991.”





We Need New Growth Catalysts

7 01 2010

Jay Walljasper: “Public transportation use is at the highest level in decades. Buses and trains are overflowing, even after the steep fall of gasoline prices since last summer. Voters last November approved billions of dollars for new transit project across the country. This is all wonderful news for anyone who cares about curbing the global climate crisis, cleaning up the environment and revitalizing our communities. But, unfortunately, transit systems all over the country are cutting back service and raising fares. The New York Times reports that Denver is considering axing one of its light rail lines and several bus routes. St. Louis is planning to cut bus service in half. Even New York, a city where less than half the residents own cars, is looking at eliminating two subway lines and 24 bus routes as well as a whopping 23 percent fare increase. How can this be happening at a time when public transportation is more popular than ever? When it is proving to be a practical solution to pressing economic, ecological and energy problems?”

Zach Rosenberg: “Increasingly, infrastructure investment and mass transportation are framed by the liberal-conservative divide, turning relatively straightforward municipal issues into cultural and ideological battles. With our transportation infrastructure literally falling apart — the American Society of Civil Engineers puts the repair bill at $2.2 trillion — the United States faces an interesting dilemma. A thriving economy is desperately needed to increase wealth, decrease unemployment and wean people off federal entitlement programs fiscal conservatives hate. A dependable and indirect method of stimulating the economy is driving down the cost and energy required to move goods and services by investing in our roads, railways, bridges and other infrastructure. That by definition requires massive amounts of public money.”

Dave Demerjian: “You know the economy’s in great shape when our elected leaders start handing over our highways, airports, bridges and tunnels over to the highest bidder. That might be a bit simplistic, but on some level it’s accurate. States and cities, struggling with gargantuan budget deficits, are increasingly selling or leasing vital transportation infrastructure to private companies. Yes, it helps fill state coffers, but it’s a scary development nonetheless. One of the biggest proposed deals is a plan to lease the 537-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s oldest major toll road, to a private investment group that includes Citigroup and the Spanish firm Abertis. The legislature votes on the deal next month; if it goes through, Abertis will pay $12.8 billion to run the turnpike for 75 years. That’s a big chunk of change.”

Samuel Staley: “For the most part, property values increase around transit stations. Often, the range of the increases is between 25 to 30 percent higher than the growth non-transit neighborhoods. Unfortunately, these same studies about property values have not examined the underlying causes of these price increases. Despite that, many observers simply assume proximity to transit is the most important factor. Lots of factors influence private investment, including public safety, access to jobs, quality housing, tax rates, financing, and zoning. Access to transit is likely far down the list compared to these other factors. A closer look at the numbers suggests that actual transit ridership has little relationship to the private investment around transit stations.”

Jarrett Walker (international consultant in public transit network design and policy): “Different cities may have different patterns of density, so in your city the highest-ridership area may not be the historic core.  On the other hand, even substantially neglected cores trigger strong ridership because even if density is lower than it could be, it’s often still higher than in the suburbs…If you rank any transit agency’s services by productivity (passengers per unit of service cost), the high-frequency lines in the densest part of the city always come out on top…The principle is the same in any network: If your goal is ridership, follow patterns of dense development with intense service.”

Staley: “The rising property values around transit-oriented developments are likely less about providing access to transit than accommodating demand for higher-density and more urban lifestyles that local zoning codes and development regulations impede. To compete against low-density subdivisions, transit-oriented developments must offer significant non-transportation benefits—walkability, mixed uses, public safety, quality housing, urban parks, etc.—to offset the inherent mobility limits of transit. Pharmacies, grocery stores, hair salons, and other neighborhood residential services need to be provided within walking distance.”

Walker: “This is also an example where “design” comes in. If you press on the “follow patterns of dense development” rule, what’s under it is principle of a radius of demand. A transit stop’s market is the area that’s within a fixed walk distance radius. Since it’s a fixed radius, it’s a fixed area, so the number of people and jobs and activities there is determined by density. However, some people may be within the fixed radius but not able to walk to the stop because of barriers in the street network, and such barriers are much more common in newer suburbs than in old core cities. The fully connected grid street networks of old urban cores generally minimize walking distances and thus maximize the real radius of demand.”

Staley: “Understanding the proper role of transit in promoting urban development is important for public policy. Whether we build great urban places or emphasize higher transit use is not a “chicken and egg” choice. Great urban places come first because their benefits offset the individual and social costs of greater dependence on a less flexible, restricted mode of transportation. In the end, higher transit use is an outcome, not an input, in economic development and urban redevelopment. Federal and state policies should emphasize transit in the sense that it becomes a service that local residents and businesses demand. Planners and elected officials should not lose sight of the broader need to meet the demand for more dense and varied land uses.”

Amy Cortese: “In April, the Carrollton City Council approved a $38 million mixed-use development next to a commuter rail station being erected downtown…City officials hope the railway and new development…will breathe life into a city center that empties after dark…The project in Carrollton is among many nationwide to be planned around new and existing light rail lines. These so-called transit-oriented developments, along with downtown revitalization plans, tap into a move toward more pedestrian-friendly, urban-style living. While the credit crisis has halted many housing developments — notably subdivisions and stand-alone condominium buildings — some projects that are going forward are linked to broader revitalization or transit-related efforts.”

Yonah Freemark (The Transport Politic): “Detroit has a terrible history of transit investment – since the 1950s, it has repeatedly rejected efforts to spruce up its public transportation systems in favor of expanding highways, often to the detriment of the city’s core. There is no concrete evidence that the city’s lack of rapid transit has contributed directly to its giant population exodus – from 1.85 million in 1950 to around 900,000 today – but it is clear that the region’s steadfast devotion to the automobile hasn’t helped matters much either, especially considering the recent implosion of the Big Three. Now there’s news from the Detroit Free Press that the light rail program – now called M1-RAIL – has received $9 million from the city’s private Downtown Development Authority and $35 million from the Kresge Foundation. The Overhead Wire points out that this is probably the first-ever example of a foundation contributing to the construction of a transit line.”

Neal Pierce: “The World Bank is becoming more pro-city. The strategy seems a major departure for an institution that long leaned toward rural areas, many of its governing officials and affiliated governments subscribing to the view that aid to the countryside would somehow stem the massive tide of people moving to cities in search of jobs and opportunity. The new policy, officially announced by World Bank president Robert Zoellick at a November meeting in Singapore, boldly defines urbanization as the 21st century’s defining phenomenon. Manage the growth of developing world cities well, he said, and the challenges of climate change, jobs, poverty reduction and health can be dealt with proactively, and more effectively.”





Get dense – Conurbate!

30 12 2009

At Texas Christian University’s Tracks to the Future in Fort Worth, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (a conservative) had this to say: “Have a vision…Show them pictures of what it can look like once you start planning…Avoid the word density…Don’t talk like a planner and don’t use your lingo because politicians don’t understand it and the constituency gets real turned off by the word density. But if you show them a picture of a well-planned development…they’ll say you know what, that’s pretty nice.”

John Stillich: “North American cities and towns will face very serious issues that cannot be addressed using 20th century city-building traditions. A critical issue will be the cost and availability of energy resources for transportation and for indoor heating and cooling. Households, commerce, and the economy as a whole can expect to be hard hit, especially in energy-intensive suburban environments. Linked to the use of energy is its impact on the natural environment: energy production from oil, gas, and coal will produce more pollutants and greenhouse gases per unit of energy delivered as easily-extractable sources dry up, further destabilizing our climate. 20th century land-use practices are also eating away at the agricultural lands that feed us. Population growth, the risk of lower agricultural productivity from climate destabilization and rising energy costs make preserving agricultural lands around cities a key requirement for sustainability and well-being. High urban densities and an intensive mixing of uses are essential for environmental and economic sustainability of residents and local business. Unfortunately, no suburban municipality today is remotely close to achieving sustainability.”

Newburg: Embracing High Density at the Urban Fringe

asladirt: “In 1895, Vandergrift, a western Pennsylvanian town, was created by a steel magnate who wanted a place where his steel workers could ‘work, play and live.’ The steel company owner hired Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City’s central park and master landscape architect, to make this vision a reality and create a ‘livable community.’ Now, more than 110 years later, the residents of Vandergrift are returning to the original Olmsted plan in their efforts to create a sustainable community for the 21st century.”

Anthony Flint (director of public affairs at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy): “You can’t feel good about driving a Prius and be a NIMBY, proclaiming ‘not in my backyard’ anytime a proposal comes along for a little additional density in the neighborhood. Well-designed, walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented development is more important than all the hybrid taxis and green roofs the city could require. The urban fabric is a key weapon against climate change. Cities allow us to walk, ride a bike, and take transit. “Growing Cooler” showed that compact development – basically, being able to live, work, and shop within a 20-minute radius – can reduce vehicle miles traveled by as much as 30 percent…walking to the corner store for a gallon of milk is one of the greenest contributions any of us can make. Our cities provide that opportunity. But we need more city. That’s where infill redevelopment comes in…But building at these sites is much more difficult than starting from scratch in a cornfield outside the urban periphery. Outdated codes and requirements are among the barriers.”

Andres Duany(What is the biggest impediment to smart growth?) Citizen participation in the planning process is probably the biggest roadblock. If you ask people what they want, they don’t want density. They don’t want mixed use. They don’t want transit. They don’t even want a bike path in their back yard. They don’t want a grid that connects, they want cul-de-sacs. They can’t see the long term benefits of walkable neighborhoods with a greater diversity of housing types…(The Smart Growth Manual) is a response to the empowerment of citizens in planning. The public process has become very broadly based—it’s expected now [that citizens will participate in charettes] and often the outcome is questionable. That has to do with expertise. So this manual is for elected officials and for citizens who participate in the [planning] process.”

Jay Walljasper: “The year 2010 may be remembered as a turning point in many American cities, towns and suburbs. It could be the moment when citizens say ‘enough is enough’ and rally to save essential public services from the chopping block, even if it means paying higher local taxes. Or it could be time when deep gashes in funding for parks, libraries, education, public safety, transit, health and other cornerstones of the commons good bring many communities to their knees, ushering in age of reckless privatization and steep decline in quality of life as local governments are unable to provide for the basic needs of their citizens.”

John Gurda: “The day may come when librarians have to leave a key under the doormat at each neighborhood branch, when homicides are reported to a call center in Bangalore, when every household is expected to bury its own garbage and to keep its own fire bucket at the front door.”

Luther Propst: “Ten years ago, a small group of citizens concerned about the growing impact of poorly planned growth created the Montana Smart Growth Coalition to help preserve the high quality of life in the state. The Coalition, now with over 40 member groups, advocates for laws and regulations that will lead to sustainable, affordable, and attractive community growth patterns while also protecting open spaces in a rapidly developing Montana. Their passion, commitment, and hard work have paid off (…when) the Montana Legislature enacted seven new smart growth statutes…The Act will improve the public notice process for development proposals and zoning changes, opening the door for more public participation. The Act also allows counties to use ‘interim zoning’ as an effective tool to give communities the time they need to plan for unexpected growth.”





Energy and water are the same thing

28 12 2009

The Placemaking Institute has gleaned that, according to a 2007 report from the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States uses 47% of all its water to produce energy; moving water through the nation’s extensive dam and canal system alone requires huge amounts of energy. For example, the Central Arizona Project, a 336-mile diversion canal that diverts Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson, 43% of the 2010 operating budget is expected to go towards buying energy. As such, our Most Senior Fellow ensues the following roundtable discussion:

Kevin Ferguson: “It has long been an axiom of infrastructure planning that it takes a lot of water to make electricity, and a lot of electricity to make water. Each day, for example, the nation’s thermoelectric power plants (90 percent of all power plants in the United States), draw 136 billion gallons of water from lakes, rivers and oceans to cool the steam used to drive turbines, according to the Department of Energy. In recent years, the energy department says, plans for new power plants had to be scrapped because water-use permits could not be obtained. For their part, water- and wastewater utilities consume at least 13 percent of the electricity drawn nationwide each day.”

Nate Berg: “With the one arm he had left after fighting for the Union during the Civil War, John Wesley Powell led a team of 10 men and four boats on what was likely the most extreme and adventurous fact-finding mission since Lewis and Clark stumbled upon the West Coast of North America. It was 1869, and…as the Homestead Act was pushing farmers westward and checkerboarding the uninhabited territories, Powell compiled his experiences exploring the rivers and lands of the western U.S. into a report and presented it to Congress in 1875. He advised an almost complete halt to the settlement of the West, suggesting that the western U.S. wouldn’t be able to support agriculture without extensive irrigation, and that without a more scientifically-based distribution of water rights, any further settlement would lead to devastation. Watersheds, he said, should define the location and extent of land settlement. Congress summarily dismissed his suggestions. Instead, the country was taken into a century-long binge of engineering projects to command and control the rivers of the Western United States – corralling and contorting wild rivers to meet the needs of the growing west and, in many cases, dictating how and where it would grow.”

Bradley Udall (director of the University of Colorado’s Western Water Assessment): “All water planning in the 20th Century was based on this idea of stationality – that you could use the water flow patterns of the past to predict the future. That’s not a solution we’re going to rely on in the 21st Century.”

Deanna Archuleta (U.S. Department of the Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary): “You will never see another federal dam.”

Michael Ogden (founding director of the design, engineering and management firm Natural Systems International): “It’s all water. You can’t separate them. Whenever you think about a project, you’ve got to think about all three – rain, potable water and wastewater.”

Shaun McKinnon: “Water users from the seven Colorado River states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) are expected to ratify a regional drought plan this week in Las Vegas, ending years of bickering over how to balance uncertain resources with growing demand. The heart of the plan is the heart of the river system, its two largest reservoirs along Arizona’s northern borders. Lake Powell and Lake Mead hold not only the water needed to survive long dry periods but also the key to a landmark deal meant to give the states a chance to find longer-lasting solutions…(They) had never written a drought plan because they never needed one. The region survived a severe dry stretch in the 1950s, before growth pushed up demand. And when a string of wet years followed, the states instead adopted rules to manage surplus water. Almost before those rules took effect, drought hit again. Faced with potential shortages and threats from the Interior secretary to impose a federal solution, water users started talking about what happens if the river can’t supply demands. Until now, separate rules governed the way water flowed from Lake Powell – which was built to benefit Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming – into Lake Mead, which stores water for Arizona, California and Nevada.”

Kirk Johnson: “Who owns the sky, anyway? In most of the country, that is a question for philosophy class or bad poetry. In the West, lawyers parse it with straight faces and serious intent. The result, especially stark here in the Four Corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, is a crazy quilt of rules and regulations. Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago. Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally.”

Elgin Courier: “According to a press release from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, drought losses for Texas crop and livestock producers has reached $3.6 billion and could exceed $4.1 billion by the end of the year. The service also reported that livestock losses have topped $974 million since November of 2008, an increase of more than $400 million since March, 2009. In one week’s time recently, 12,000 head of cattle were either sold or taken out of the county to sell or moved to another pasture from Bastrop, Lee, Caldwell and Williamson counties…If you take 12,000 head of cattle out of these counties, there is a big reduction in production and these were not cull cattle. Cattle were culled in April — these were pairs that were left…In 14 or 15 months, there can be a $50 million economic loss, which compares to losses in a flood.”

Ellen Goodman: “I am not the only one who looks at lawns — including my own — as a populist enemy. The low grassy surface has its roots in the English aristocracy, among folks who had so much food and land they didn’t have to farm it, they only had to display it. Today, lawns cover 40 million acres, making them the largest agricultural sector in America. They consume 270 billion gallons of water a week, or enough for 81 million acres of organic vegetables. They suck up $40 billion a year on seed, sod and chemicals, leading one historian to compare them to ‘a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs.'”

Fritz Haeg (creator of the Edible Estates project): “It’s actually devouring resources and polluting and happening in the most visible parts of our community — the vacant land between the house and the street.”

Walter Molony (a senior public affairs real estate specialist): “I think it’s safe to say that by far the lion’s share of new homes have lawns. It would be a small, single-digit percentage that do not.”

Ann Croissant (founder and president of the San Gabriel Mountains Regional Conservancy): “We need a hydrologist at every design table.”

SYNLawn!





What is “urbanity” anymore?

23 12 2009

(A roundtable discussion here at The Placemaking Institute)

Harry Moroz: “Today’s mayors enjoy the same access to President Obama as their predecessors did to FDR, but so far they’re seeing different results: deteriorating urban conditions and a stimulus package adapted to the needs of state governors…Last summer, when Obama was still on the campaign trail, he seemed eager to listen…These arguments won mayors a candid and bipartisan relationship with the White House…In the midst of this promising dialogue, however, the economic crisis has taken a firm hold…Now mayors are pointing out that the stimulus package was supposed to help cities avoid this nightmare scenario.”

Stamford, Connecticut, Mayor Dannel Malloy: “I think we were listened to…I just think we were then ignored. And I don’t think we were necessarily ignored by the president. I think we were ignored by the Congress.”

Vice President Biden: “Congress, in its wisdom, decided that the governors should have a bigger input.”

Thomas Mann: “Obama’s hands were all over this bill from start to finish. … The nitty-gritty legislative work identifying where and how these decisions could be implemented … was done in Congress with the direct participation of key Obama administration staff.”

Michael Cooper/Griff Palmer: “(The federal government left the details up to states, which) “have a long history of giving short shrift to major metropolitan areas..(After looking at approved transportation projects in all 50 states) it is clear that the stimulus program will continue that pattern of spending disproportionately on rural areas.”

Gold Collar: How State Job Subsidies in the Chicago Region Favor Affluent Suburbs

Craig Muckle, Safeway’s Eastern Division manager of public affairs/government relations for (via Robert Steuteville): “We are definitely focusing on stores in our urban core and will not be building stores in urban areas that are growth dependent.”

Seth Harry, an architect in Woodbine, Maryland, who has retail expertise (via Robert Steuteville): “(The housing meltdown has had a significant impact. Supermarket operators can no longer build in the distant suburbs in the expectation that thousands of housing units will soon spring up to support the store) (because) that model is more or less dead. Even the guys who built empires based on that model are recognizing that they are looking at a new paradigm.”

Philip Langdon: “New urbanist developers see food production as a vital feature of future residential and mixed use communities. In recent years, Americans have become increasingly concerned about where their food is grown, whether it’s free of contaminants, how far it’s transported, and how consumers can gain a more satisfying relationship to agriculture. These concerns are causing more and more farms and gardens to be planned, and planted, in new urbanist developments. Laurel, a traditional neighborhood development (TND) that was recently laid out in Yuma, Arizona will contain a 25-acre community farm. Serenbe, a TND in Palmetto, Georgia, southwest of Atlanta, is regionally renowned for high-quality food production.”

Sean Patrick Farrell: “The call to forge deeper connections with the food we eat has pulled thousands to the nation’s farmers’ markets, sprouted a million backyard seedlings and jump-started an interest in scratch baking, canning and other county-fair pursuits. Now add hunting to the list. Novice urban hunters are forming classes and clubs to learn skills that a few generations ago were often passed down from parent to child…Nationwide, the number of hunters has been in decline for decades. The country’s shift from rural to urban life is the main reason, said Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, a survey and research firm that specializes in natural resources and outdoor recreation issues.”

Amanda Harrell-Seyburn/Neal McNamara: “Lansing (Michigan) is in an excellent position to cast off the separate-use mentality of the last half-century. The city has piqued the interest of developers — some of whom helped build sprawl — to start looking at the city as a place to build up rather than abandon. Lansing is embarking on its first meaningful master plan revision since 1958 (coincidentally, around the time that cities started to be destroyed). And the City Council, spurred by a large group of committed citizens, recently passed a “complete streets” ordinance, which could help calm some of our more dangerous thoroughfares for walkers and bikers (and save room for the precious cars)…The development practices that have gutted our cities are destined to fail, so we must act now to ensure that future development is sustainable and healthy for our mental and physical environment.”





Get Smart

21 12 2009

We here at The Placemaking Institute have been researching transit improvements that are happening in Rhode Island which, after Michigan and New York, has been most affected long-term by our recent recession. And yet they are still deeming it integral as part of their rebirth that they invest heavily in multi-modality. Their arguments for proceeding are quite compelling and could very well be applied to the rest of the country. Although Texas in general and Austin in particular have fared relatively well the past couplathree years, our Most Senior Fellow argues that it’s better to learn from past mistakes and act sooner rather than later when it comes to forestalling socio-economic illth.

David N. Cicillini (Mayor of Providence): “As this report details, future economic growth requires reversing the congestion that increasingly clogs our roads and highways. We have to go beyond short-term, stopgap measures like adding new lanes to highways. The real solution lies in creating a great transit system that attracts new passengers, including those who today choose to drive, while continuing to serve riders of the current system. The economic development imperative for transit is made more urgent today by the interrelated challenges of rising energy prices, risky dependence on foreign oil supplies, dwindling global fossil fuel reserves, and the environmental toll of oil consumption including poor air quality, loss of open space, and climate change. It is my hope this report helps to advance the goal of building a stronger transit system by increasing public understanding of the value and benefits of transit, and by identifying transit options deserving further study.”

Growing Smart with Transit: “Rhode Island needs to make an investment to develop and maintain a seamless, integrated, high quality transit service that builds on and complements the existing system. An investment in transit will yield numerous benefits: decreased congestion on our roadways; increased economic development potential Statewide; improved environmental quality, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions that threaten significant climate change; a better position for the City and State in competition with metropolitan areas making significant transit investments; preservation of the quality of life that distinguishes Rhode Island by supporting smart growth and preserving open spaces; an opportunity to meet the needs of the State’s changing demographics characterized by an aging population, growing urban communities, and new citizens who expect and rely on robust transit.”

Daniel Barbarisi: “While the study’s larger ideas may be far off, the report does address some quick-fix options for improving transit in Providence. It suggests “branding” bus routes, as Boston does with its red line or silver line designations, or labeling certain routes for their significant uses, like a “meds and eds” route for hospitals and colleges, or an “arts and entertainment” route… the system plans to roll out a number of high-tech improvements in the near future, including computerized signs providing real-time bus arrival estimates, electronic-fare buses, flexible passes, and new security features on its buses… (RIPTA) is looking at moving from its hub-and-spoke model to one of multiple bus “nodes” around the city…(The report) envisions streetcars running on rails on several corridors through the city (and) also mentions exploring light rail in and around Providence, but light rail is expensive — roughly $30 million for a mile of track, depending on conditions. But streetcars can accomplish much the same thing, for anywhere from $3 million to $10 million a mile..The report also recommends creating disincentives for the use of the automobile, advocating legislation that pressures large public companies to reduce their employees’ reliance on cars.”

R.I. Department of Transportation: “Gross economic impacts to the State of Rhode Island as a result of construction and on-going operations of the proposed project are significant. State-wide gross impacts due to in-state station construction and vehicle assembly expenditures would range from $36 to $51 million in total output or economic activity, generating anywhere from 450 to 610 person-year jobs with earnings from $11 to $16 million…The gross multiplied effects of expenditures on O&M result in $8 to $11 million in additional output or economic activity, generating from 75 to 100 person-year jobs with earnings in the range of $2.5 to $3.2 million…

“In order to help evaluate the project’s economic feasibility from a benefit-cost perspective, the user and related economic benefits of travel time savings, accident reduction benefits, vehicle operating cost savings and emissions reductions attributable to the SCCRS were quantified. These were then compared to capital and ongoing O&M costs to calculate benefit-cost ratios, net present values, and economic rates of return for each of the operating alternatives. These economic evaluation measures indicate that none of the proposed operating alternatives would be economically feasible strictly on the merits of those benefits which were quantified. However, the proposed project may offer many non-quantifiable benefits that are not easily captured by the analyses summarized above. These benefits include the provision of an additional transportation mode choice, support of regional land use goals, economic development opportunities, generation of positive economic activity, and more efficient utilization of existing transportation infrastructure.”

Elizabeth Warren: “Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street. Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out. In the boom of the 1960s, for example, median family income jumped by 33% (adjusted for inflation). But the boom of the 2000s resulted in an almost-imperceptible 1.6% increase for the typical family. While Wall Street executives and others who owned lots of stock celebrated how good the recovery was for them, middle class families were left empty-handed…The contrast with the big banks could not be sharper. While the middle class has been caught in an economic vise, the financial industry that was supposed to serve them has prospered at their expense. Consumer banking — selling debt to middle class families — has been a gold mine. Boring banking has given way to creative banking, and the industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts. And when various forms of this creative banking triggered economic crisis, the banks went to Washington for a handout.”





We have to make choices

14 12 2009

(A roundtable discussion here at The Placemaking Institute)

Jeffrey R. Brown/Gregory L. Thompson: “There is debate about the relative merits of investing in rail or express bus modes to improve regional transit performance. The debate largely assumes that both modes serve a single function of providing higherspeed service to the central business district (CBD) over relatively long travel distances. The debate generally overlooks other functions that might be served by express bus and rail transit modes and thus ignores that the two modes may perform differently depending on the service mission they are assigned. Performance of the two modes is examined in four metropolitan areas with different strategies for providing high-quality, regional transit service: a CBD-focused strategy, a hybrid strategy that serves the CBD and a few other destinations, and a multidestination strategy that serves a widely dispersed set of destinations…It was found that the combination of a rail transit backbone and a multidestination service strategy leads to better performance than any other marriage of mode and mission.”

Austin Business Journal: “Austin City Council members agreed Thursday to spend $1 million on a preliminary engineering study for the Austin urban rail plan. The city signed a deal with local firm Austin Urban Rail Partners to complete the study. Officials hope to have the results in time for an expected vote on the rail plan next November. The effort is part of the Austin mobility program, which aims to mitigate traffic. The project is separate from the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s rail line and does not involved Cap Metro.”

The NYC Department of Health announced the results of a citywide survey today assessing the health benefits of regular walking and biking. Based on telephone interviews with more than 10,000 New Yorkers, the health department reveals that people who incorporate walking and biking into their daily routine are significantly more likely to report good physical and mental health than those who don’t. The report concludes with recommendations to encourage walking and biking, including steps like building safer infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Transportation Reform is Health Reform

elliot: “The City of Austin held the first of three design and feedback open houses for Austin’s first bicycle boulevard proposed for Nueces Street from 3rd Street to MLK, Jr Boulevard. The Nueces Street Bike Boulevard was part of the Master Bicycle Plan unanimously adopted by the Austin City Council in June…Though cyclists made up a majority in attendance, the majority of comments came from property owners who were universally negative. Most owners moderated their comments by suggesting the proposed boulevard be moved to Rio Grande Street. While there appeared to be merits to either street being used, it wasn’t clear that the owners weren’t just trying to pass off the concept to other property owners on Rio Grande, many of whom were not in attendance.”

David Weiner: “In response to last week’s removal of bike lanes in the traditionally Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn, a group of local bike riders took it upon themselves to repaint the lane lines running down Bedford Avenue. The Hasids had asked the city to remove the bike lanes from the neighborhood, claiming the influx of bikers posed a “safety and religious hazard.” In an interesting twist, the group of guerrilla line painters reportedly included members of the Hasidic community who are not opposed to the lanes. Last year the religious group complained to the community board that many of the young, female cyclists who rode through the neighborhood were “hotties,” who “ride in shorts and skirts,” both of which are against their dress code.”

Ben Adler: “(Strasbourg, France’s) downtown is filled with department stores, teenagers of any ethnicity sporting a European style that takes a lot of inspiration from their American counterparts of five years ago, and shwarma shops competing with McDonald’s for their attention. But walk around Strasbourg’s charming medieval city center and you will see that one thing is virtually unchanged from its medieval origins: the absence of automobiles. This is not, however, an uninterrupted history. In fact, it is the direct result of actions recently taken by Strasbourg’s government — ones that should inspire comparably sized older American cities, from Buffalo to St. Louis. Just like most American cities, the car’s midcentury domination had largely forced public transportation out of Strasbourg. The once-extensive tram lines fell into disrepair, and the last one was taken out of service in 1960. But by 1989 traffic and parking had become major headaches for residents and for businesses in the dense warren of downtown streets. Rather than see retail flee to suburban malls, as it did in America, the city decided to take action…Some might attribute this phenomenon entirely to a cultural difference, arguing that the French will take advantage of bike paths and trains but Americans will not. But the Strasbourgers I interviewed, whether politicians, pedestrians or businesspeople, all told me that the French, like Americans, have an emotional attachment to their automobiles, and that it is ultimately a political choice to encourage or discourage driving. Absent the incentive structure set up by Strasbourg, the French will take the path of least resistance — a car, whenever possible — just like Americans.”

Alain Jund (a member of Parliament who works on transportation policy): “We had meetings around the city and three things came up: One, there are too many cars in public places. Two, ‘I don’t have a place to park my car.’ And three, we need public transportation. There was a contradiction. As politicians we had to make choices.”

Ethan Arpi: “Los Angeles’ Metro is doing something that no transit agency in the country has ever done: it’s marketing its products and services as if it were a private company bent on turning a profit. But for Metro marketing isn’t about increasing the bottom line. It’s about reducing traffic, cleaning the air and making people’s commutes in this auto-clogged city a bit less stressful.”





Dubai: Rand’s Roark Writ Right (i.e., Wrong)

10 12 2009

(a roundtable discussion here at The Placemaking Institute)

Howard Roark: “The egotist in the absolute sense is not the man who sacrifices others. He is the man who stands above the need of using others in any manner. He does not function through them. He is not concerned with them in any primary matter. Not in his aim, not in his motive, not in his thinking, not in his desires, not in the source of his energy. He does not exist for any other man — and he asks no other man to exist for him. This is the only form of brotherhood and mutual respect possible between men.”

Christopher Corbett: “With about 1.6 million residents, Dubai is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a confederation of seven emirates that extend along the coast at the southern end of the Arabian Gulf. Ninety miles down the coast from Dubai is Abu Dhabi, the federal capital and second-largest city in the country, with a population of about one million. It is also the largest city in Abu Dhabi Emirate, a West Virginia-sized expanse of sand that accounts for 86% of the total land area of the UAE. Along with reputedly the world’s largest sand dunes, it is also where most of the oil, both off-shore and on-shore, is found. The six remaining emirates, including Dubai itself, are essentially city states.”

Mike Davis: “As your jet starts its descent, you are glued to your window. The scene below is astonishing: a 24-square-mile archipelago of coral-coloured islands in the shape of an almost-finished puzzle of the world. In the shallow green waters between continents, the sunken shapes of the Pyramids of Giza and the Roman Colosseum are clearly visible. In the distance, three other large island groups are configured as palms within crescents and planted with high-rise resorts, amusement parks and a thousand mansions built on stilts over the water. The ‘Palms’ are connected by causeways to a Miami-like beachfront crammed with mega-hotels, apartment skyscrapers and yachting marinas. As the plane slowly banks toward the desert mainland, you gasp at the even more improbable vision ahead. Out of a chrome forest of skyscrapers soars a new Tower of Babel. It is an impossible half-mile high: taller than the Empire State Building stacked on top of itself.”

Dubai’s Age of Excess

Davis: “The lodestone of Dubai, of course, is ‘peak oil’ and each time you spend $50 to fill your tank, you are helping to irrigate al-Maktoum’s oasis. Fuel prices are currently inflated by industrial China’s soaring demand as well as growing fears of war and terrorism in the global oil patch. According to the Wall Street Journal, ‘consumers will [have paid] $1.2 trillion more in 2004 and 2005 together for oil products than they did in 2003’. As in the 1970s, a huge and disruptive transfer of wealth is taking place between oil-consuming and oil-producing nations. Already visible on the horizon, moreover, is Hubbert’s Peak, the tipping point when new petroleum reserves will no longer offset global demand, and thereafter oil prices will become truly stratospheric. In some utopian economic model, perhaps, this windfall would become an investment fund for shifting the global economy to renewable energy while reducing greenhouse gas output and raising the environmental efficiency of urban systems. In the real world of capitalism, however, it has become a subsidy for the apocalyptic luxuries that Dubai is coming to epitomize.”

Eric Ellis: “Dubai’s economy expanded by 35 percent in 2006, and about 20 percent last year. It’s not oil ‑ that ran out decades ago. Dubai’s rags-to-riches miracle relies on an age-old business plan: slave labor in the form of millions of poor Sri Lankans, Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos and Africans working up to 80 hour-plus weeks. They have built this gleaming oasis. With their passports seized as insurance, these bonded workers toil in near year-round 45-50 degree heat for about $US8 a day.”

Dubai’s Dirty Little Secret

Roark: “The creator lives for his work. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself. The parasite lives second-hand. He needs others. Others become his prime motive…To a creator, all relations with men are secondary…The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.”

Davis: “If the current mega-project blitzkrieg, exemplified by Dubailand, succeeds as planned, Dubai will derive all of its gdp from non-oil activities like tourism and finance by 2010…Will Dubai someday fall from the sky when this real-estate balloon bursts, or will peak oil keep this desert Laputa floating above the contradictions of the world economy?”

Al-Maktoum: “I would like to tell capitalists that Dubai does not need investors; investors need Dubai. And I tell you that the risk lies not in using your money, but in letting it pile up.”

Corbett: “I’m a senior planner at the Dubai office of a large international consultant. When I arrived early last year, things were jumping. My company couldn’t hire enough staff for all the active projects we had. Hundred-story skyscrapers and mega malls seemed to sprouting from the sand all around us. But I knew that I was late to the party and already by early Fall 2008 there were signs that the boom was coming to an end. Then the layoffs started. The first “unpaid leave” notices were passed out in our office on December 31st. I’m one of the lucky ones, still here after what had become a monthly ritual of ever more staff cuts. There’s a hopeful feeling now that the worst may be over. Meantime, some say that it was good for the boom came to an end, at least so Dubai’s infrastructure development could catch up.”

Barbara Surk: “Just a year after the global downturn derailed Dubai’s explosive growth, the city is now so swamped in debt that it’s asking for a six-month reprieve on paying its bills – causing a drop on world markets Thursday and raising questions about Dubai’s reputation as a magnet for international investment…In total, the state-backed networks nicknamed Dubai Inc. are $80 billion in the red and the emirate needed a bailout earlier this year from its oil-rich neighbor Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.”

Eurasia Group: “Dubai’s standstill announcement…was vague and it remains difficult to discern whether the call for a standstill will be voluntary…If it is not, Dubai World will be going into default and that will have more serious negative repercussions for Dubai’s sovereign debt, Dubai World and market confidence in the UAE in general.”

Edward L. Glaeser: “Dubai World has more in common with ambitious American real estate developers than with the sovereign wealth fund of neighboring Abu Dhabi, which takes that emirate’s vast oil earnings and invests them worldwide. Dubai has few petrodollars and Dubai World is borrowing billions to build a glittering commercial metropolis on the edge of sand and sea. The glint of hubris has long shone off the glass walls of Dubai’s soaring skyscrapers, but overreaching ambition always lies behind the creation of great cities…While Dubai’s good infrastructure, pro-business government and consumer amenities may enable the city to eventually succeed as a connector between the West, the Middle East and India, Dubai has now massively overbuilt relative to the level of current demand. Dubai now has the tallest building in the world, and 11 skyscrapers that are taller than any European building. Fifty-story buildings are an efficient way to deliver plenty of space, but extreme height is far more expensive and a bellwether of irrational exuberance.”

Corbett: “Since this was written, Dubai’s financial situation has become front-page news around the world. For those us working in Dubai, especially in the development sector (that would include planners), we have known about this for some time. Difficulties related to the payment of impending installments on debt by several large property developers in Dubai (notably US $3.5 billion Islamic bond coming due on December 14th owed by developer Nakheel) have been openly reported in the local press over the last several months, which makes me surprised that the financial markets around the word reacted as if they didn’t know.”

Glaeser: “Even if Dubai’s real estate prices continue to drop, which is certainly quite possible, there will remain a strong incentive to fill its buildings. If the structures remain occupied, then Dubai, and its sheik’s dream of a great metropolis, will survive.”








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