Thursday, October 6, 2016

Even the President is Paying Attention

The Whitehouse put out a report (Sept. 2016) that identifies a number of leverage points where local governments could take a good hard look at their regulations. Here's the list:

  • Establishing by-right development  
  • Taxing vacant land or donate it to non-profit developers  
  • Streamlining or shortening permitting processes and timelines  
  • Eliminate off-street parking requirements  
  • Allowing accessory dwelling units 
  • Establishing density bonuses  
  • Enacting high-density and multifamily zoning  
  • Employing inclusionary zoning  
  • Establishing development tax or value capture incentives  
  • Using property tax abatements
The list is pretty good. Although, it should come with a caveat: The message is targeting urban areas with at least one transit corridor and a healthy land value to match. These healthy land values tend to inspire strategic investments by the developers to capture the value that already exists and has a momentum of growth and social allure (think the most sought after parts of Seattle, Portland, San Fran, NYC, Washington DC, or San Diego). The difference in suburbia there is still the need to evolve (at least in identified opportunity areas), and therefore the suburbs need to partner with developers who are trying to build equity in the long run, being strategic with the roll-out of the investment, carefully staging the phasing of a development to adapt with the evolving landscape.


I'll break down the urban vs. suburban context and how these strategies need to take careful consideration of the context prior to implementing the toolkit. This will also serve as the start of the barriers to sustainable development, as there is a lot of overlap between that and the toolkit here. But, importantly, there are also important differences as I see them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Reset Button

Many new products that come to market can be purchased, tried, and then the purchaser can decide whether to keep it or put it on Craigslist. An entire newly designed and built community does not quite work like that. Once you build it, there's no listing it on Craigslist for another city to come and take it out of your city. You can redesign it, but that is no small task. There's no good RESET BUTTON for the massive abundance of suburbia U.S. cities have built over the years. But if there were a RESET BUTTON, apparently a growing majority of Americans would push it and give up their big suburban home IF they could live in a walkable urban neighborhood. I've seen statistics as high as 81% of Americans would do this!

I do not know if I believe 81%, but it is perfectly reasonable to believe that this applies to a majority. And demand for walkable neighborhoods is on the rise!

In a short series of blogs, I want to outline some of the obstacles to walkable urban development and the alternatives that promote great, wonderful, opportunity-rich neighborhoods, communities and cities.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

1980 - 2010, Low-Density Continues to Dominate the American Landscape

If you're like me...

you see that suburban America comes with a giant pile of problems we haven't even begun to really quantify, fully understand, or even remotely pay the cost of yet. And it is frustrating we really haven't shifted the growth model much in response to this growing call to action (well, at least those in the industry hear the call, I don't know about the general house hunter).

Suburban problems...What am I talking about? Here's a short list:

  • Air + water pollution from additional reliance on single-occupancy automotive transportation and the massive amounts of carbon fuel used to power the 1.2 billion cars (and growing) on the road
  • Expensive infrastructure that hasn't paid for its own growth + maintenance in the long-run
  • Suburbia is a tax burden to the urban economic engines of the country
  • Uses more energy, water, resources that, unless technology can save us, is not consumed at rates of sustainable yield
  • Suburban poverty is more difficult to manage and connect people to the social services they desperately need
  • Health impacts adding inches to our waists and numerous other disease-associated factors
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of natural habitats and ecosystem services
  • Loss of fertile farmland

A better alternative?

Urban environments are not without their own challenges of negative inflictions on our personal and ecological health, but they are measurably more sustainable from either a financial, environmental, and /or social perspective. Should they be forced upon everyone? No (and do yourself a favor and not listen to crazy talk that the Government is going to make you in accordance to the UN's Agenda 21).

And then there are those who do low-density responsibly. There are those who have a low-impact lifestyle in the countryside who garden, live locally, and make the most of their land in an ecologically responsible way. Bravo to them.

Most of us need a reality check. 

We at least owe it to the future generation to have a healthy, collaborative, sustainable lifestyle alternative to the human environment we seem to keep mass-producing for decades. The attached image demonstrates just how large of a tide we're up against. Even if you don't want to give up this suburban lifestyle (which is likely the only lifestyle you've ever really known), you owe it to your city to become a supporter of your downtown to grow into a densified, attractive, car-optional, pedestrian-oriented, bike-embracing, sufficient-minded, creative, compact, healthy, connected, energy- and water-efficient, tax-surplus oasis with a promising future.

Entry inspired by: Richard Florida's article in CityLab (9/14/16)...
The Difficulties of Density