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Inequality and Rationality in Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 2008 Long Range Transportation Plan 2009/12/13

Posted by zadriaenssens3 in Transportation Planning.
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I would like to believe that planning has come a long way; that we – as a profession – have learned from the mistakes of our past, and have learned the drawbacks associated with didactic, rational planning techniques that rarely hear the needs of the public as well as they should. Yet, upon reading the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 2008 Long Range Transportation Plan, it seems all too clear that there is still far to go and much to learn. From strictly adhering to a rational planning process to undervaluing the needs of the urban poor, the 2008 Transportation Plan represents some of planning’s least admirable qualities.

As outlined in the document itself, the developmental process behind the plan followed eight sequential steps: 1) establishing performance criteria, 2) evaluating “no build” scenario, 3) honoring past commitments, 4) determining financial capacity, 5) evaluating potential new projects, 6) developing draft plan recommendations, 7) finalizing the plan, and 8) including the plan into the regional transportation plan. Rational planning – the “ends justify the means” planning model that rarely included equity as one of its goals – has long been discredited. However, the aforementioned 8-step program is a shining example of its lesser qualities; chief among them – the only opportunity for public input comes in the form of a “45 day review process” that takes place after step sex, long after much of the plan had already been finalized. The fact that the population of the area directed by the plan is nearly 10 million people, merely serves to highlight the absurdity of a “45 day review process”, which includes only six meetings at venues that are hardly accommodating to the large number of people that would be needed to make the process truly representative.

A second striking quality of the Plan is its treatment of L.A. Metro’s widely used and over-taxed bus system. Access to the system is essential to Los Angeles’s working-poor and immigrant populations, who often have limited car-access in a city where mobility is key to employment. In the Plan’s voiced support of increased implementation of Metro Rapid lines – regional bus lines with simple route layouts, fewer stops, and bus signal priority – it greatly harms the economic interests of the aforementioned groups. This is due to the fact that the more expensive Metro Rapid lines often necessitate cessation of local bus routes that often serve poorer and immigrant communities.

In many respects, planning today has found ways of incorporating diverse economic and ethnic viewpoints – bringing the field to a far more equitable place than it has been in the past. However, progress can still be made. The last vestiges of rational planning still remain – as made evident by the 2008 Long Range Transportation Plan of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority. Such plans exert enormous influence in how the urban landscape is shaped. Los Angeles – of all places – must learn to better incorporate more equitable planning practices into the development of its transportation plans, no matter the spatial or temporal scale.

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The RAND Corporation, The Horizon Initiative and an Economic Development Model for New Orleans 2009/12/10

Posted by Mike Cutno in Economic Development.
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The Horizon Initiative, a collection of more than 400 business leaders, was formed in 2006 in response to the bleak economic outlook caused by Hurricane Katrina. The group wanted to partner with the City of New Orleans to coordinate economic development through a public-private partnership (PPP). It was their view that New Orleans needed both a centralized economic development unit and that such a unit should be in the form of a private organization that partnered with city government. In this instance the organization would replace the economic development effort of the City, and partially funded by the City, but would not be a public agency.

The Horizon Initiative went to the RAND Corporation to get the ball rolling on creating the PPP. RAND is a policy research organization with high credentials, and various accolades and criticisms. Horizon requested that RAND conduct a study on the best practices for economic development and recommend a set of policy goals for New Orleans.

RAND conducted a study, “An Economic Development Architecture for New Orleans,” that indeed concluded that New Orleans should use a PPP as an economic development unit. The study used three research methods to come to this conclusion: 1) examination of seventeen cities’ economic development models to determine the best practices nationwide; 2) study of New Orleans economic infrastructure before and after Katrina; and 3) interviews with economic development professionals to get an understanding of the economic development operations and overall environment.

Their findings from other cities they studied showed what they considered to be best practices across organizations including:

  • A comprehensive design with an implementation plan executed by the; proper organization;
  • A vision for goals set forth by the development authority and community;
  • A set of industries targeted by a strategy;
  • A coordinated effort with a clear division of labor among economic development parties;
  • Setting priorities and goals; and
  • Having a system to measure if and how those goals are met.

The PPP that RAND proposed should be funded by public and private sectors and staffed according to appointments by private and public sector officials. It should also have a director that coordinates efforts and directs a resource group headed by industry experts. The director would keep an outlook on the strategy and project into the future.

RAND grouped New Orleans industries into three categories that should be the focus of a development strategy:

  • Core Industries: Maritime, Oil & Gas, Tourism.
  • Vital Industries: Biomedical, food-processing, small-business.
  • Growth-Potential Industries: arts & entertainment, IT, energy technology.

Their recommendation was to use a “retain and grow” strategy that focused on strengthening the core industries, reinvesting in the vital industries, and implementing policies, while investing little, into growing growth-potential industries. The rationale was that New Orleans needed to secure the economic base before endeavoring to expand in new sources of jobs and production.

The city, both the City of New Orleans and the wider business community, embraced the RAND report, at first. In January of 2009, Mayor Ray Nagin approved $2 million dollars to be allocated to the PPP from the City’s economic development fund. He did, however, request that the private sector provide $400,000 before the PPP would garner final approval. This delayed the founding of the PPP, but the Horizon Initiative started a campaign that was completed in April of 2009 to raise funds to meet the private sector requirement.

The process then moved forward to appoint members to the PPP. However, this proved to be more conundrum-ical than not. The City contacted the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) to recommend its own best practices apart from those recommended by RAND. The IEDC recommended that the appointments to the PPP have industry-specific experience and come from diverse backgrounds. The City consulted with IEDC after the appointments were submitted and the findings were that the appointees lacked both diversity and industry-specific experience –only four women were nominated for positions. The City issued a press release stating that the PPP would be put on hold because of the IEDC findings and political maneuvering on behalf of interested parties.

The PPP will have to wait for the election of a new mayor and city council if it is going to come to fruition. Mayor Nagin’s decision to put the process on hold was considered to be a purely political move by a lame duck mayor, but there was a large degree of validity to his decision especially when considering New Orleans’ past inability to get things done because of political inertia. The PPP was supposed to be as depoliticized as possible so that it would serve economic growth instead of concentrated business interests. In this regard, the IEDC recommendation of diversity and industry-specific experience served a functional role and not a ceremonial one. The interested parties failed to meet these criteria whether or not Nagin’s assertion that groups jockeyed for position is true. Hopefully, this will serve as a lesson for the next round and the future nominees will correspond to the IEDC recommendations. New Orleans could benefit from a coordinated economic development effort.

A Review of the I’On Village Master Plan 2009/12/09

Posted by erin in Land Use.
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New Urbanism is a contemporary movement in planning that promotes a vision of higher density, mixed-use development and transit- and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. This style of development is also called Traditional Neighborhood Development, or TND for short. The movement came about in reaction to the negative results of suburban sprawl. As focus and desire has shifted away from sprawl and towards urban centers, this style of development has increased in popularity. One of the earliest Traditional Neighborhood Developments is I’On Village, located in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The plan was conceived in the early 1990s by a family team of developers. Although their original intentions for the plan embraced the ideas of sustainability, environmental protection, civic enhancement, walkability, and affordable housing, the final result did not achieve all of those goals. In their fight against sprawl, the developers ultimately had to make compromises, but the neighborhood still stands in stark contrast to the conventional suburban development surrounding it.

Before the idea of I’On was even born, the town of Mt. Pleasant developed policies to favor more progressive styles of development. Both the Master Plan (1992) and Strategic Plan (1994) encouraged TND-style development. Old Village, the historic area of Mt. Pleasant was an example of development that they praised in these Plans. They even suggested the site that I’On would later occupy would be a great spot for TND development. Despite approving these plans, no change was made to the zoning.

The founders went into the process thinking everything was properly aligned for success- it seemed like the town was on board, the location of the site was an ideal spot, they’d hire the best of the best and come up with a great plan. Their team consisted of such notable firms as DPZ, Dover Kohl, Gladding Jackson, etc. They ran a week-long charrettes in May of 1995, and from it developed a plan for a mixed-residential and mixed-land use project which included 800 single family lots, 440 multifamily units, 90,000 feet of commercial space and several civic sites. However, problems arose because the zoning regulations had never been changed for the area to accommodate the desired style of development. It was necessary for the team to apply for a change to the zoning.

The approval process was a long, drawn out roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. The plan had support from citizens and the Planning Board. However, the Town Council rejected the plan even after the development team re-structured the plan to be slightly less dense. After several rounds of changes, the Council finally approved the plan in March of 1997, and ground broke on the first house in 1998. However, a small group of disgruntled people gathered a petition, went to Town Council and asked them to overturn the approval or hold a referendum enabling citizens to vote on the zoning. The local court denied their case. They appealed all the way up to South Carolina Supreme Court.  Another year was wasted dealing with this, when finally in January of 2000 the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court’s ruling was appropriate- that a municipality couldn’t hold a referendum on zoning issues. Finally, things could proceed unhindered.

Although the final product of the plan was a watered-down version of the original vision, the neighborhood is wildly popular. The movement that the team pursued has helped to break down the socially constructed view that density is a danger to society. More and more projects are trying to mirror styles of new urbanist and TND design. These projects will be met with success if they stick to the basic tenants of urbanism: a mix of diverse land uses, housing types, and civic uses which all serve to enhance a sense of community and place.

Review of the Miami-Dade County Parks and Open Space System Master Plan 2009/12/09

Posted by dbarg in Environmental Planning.
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By Dave Barg

The Miami-Dade County Parks and Open Space System Master Plan was completed by Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin, a multi-disciplinary planning firm, in 2008. This effort was the result of a much-needed update to the current plan which was enacted back in 1969. Building the plan entailed an intensive 18-month process of thorough analyses and charrettes, involving a variety of municipalities and agencies. I feel the plan is highly effective in addressing a multitude of issues encountered in the urban setting. The theme of livability is a critical aspect of the plan, as Miami-Dade County’s population is expected to exceed 3 million by 2025. The intent of the plan is to guide the growth of the county while addressing key themes of unification, connectivity, and sustainability, among others.

The unification theme focuses on a physical vision that will be carried throughout the parks, creating comprehensiveness and minimizing fragmentation among varying spaces. The comprehensive nature of the plan is vital toward addressing the objective to improve quality of life for the entire county through the parks and open space system. Connectivity aims to create seamless linkages between spaces while promoting accessibility to all residents, regardless of racial or social status. This brings about the equity component, providing an equal opportunity to enjoy these spaces for all segments of society. By sustainability, the planners are referring to environmental, social, and economic sustainability. The plan makes provisions for environmental sustainability through the use of sustainable materials, energy efficient facilities, and operational procedures, while also emphasizing the importance of conservation efforts to protect areas from over-use and degradation. Social and economic sustainability are encouraged through collaboration with businesses and social groups.

The multi-disciplinary nature of the Miami-Dade County Parks and Open Space System Master Plan is a key component to the comprehensiveness of the document. The range of issues addressed by the parks and open spaces plan afforded the planners a competitive advantage over competing planning firms. The comprehensiveness allows for widespread, pervasive benefits as opposed to isolated benefits. One integral aspect of the plan that I feel separates it from other similar plans is the educational component. Commonly, education is not of critical concern in plans of this size and nature. The planners ensured that plan elements could be understood by all members of society. For example, the sustainability aspects are not only intended to implement environmentally-sensitive solutions, but to provide a model to communities for the ways in which they can contribute to a more sustainable culture.

The comprehensive and regional themes of the plan result in a system that is identifiable all throughout the county. In addition, the parks and open spaces are intended to be aesthetically-pleasing while complementing the surrounding environment. These elements build community pride and help to unify members of the county, promoting community stewardship of the parks and open spaces. Other important elements of the plan include local art, redeveloped streetscapes, walking and biking trails. Overall, the Miami-Dade County Parks and Open Space System Master Plan is extremely well-rounded, while contributing to a high level of social integration, recreation, and sustainability culture.

In terms of the structure of the plan, I found the plan to be very well organized and effective at providing a context for each issue addressed. Explanations are accurate and succinct, supported by a plethora of visual diagrams throughout the document. The graphical representations in the plan are clearly displayed, informative, and aesthetically-appealing. They catch the attention of readers and are appropriate in subject nature to the context at hand. Another significant element of the plan is that it does more than simply provide a list of themes, but instead includes methodologies that decision-makers can utilize to achieve objectives in the plan. The implementation component is imperative in creating effective plans.

I have only one criticism of this plan which I feel would improve the fluidity when reading the document. While reading the plan, I encountered a certain level of redundancy in the restatement of key themes. Although, it is understood that the multiple references to key themes highlight the importance of these themes, the redundancy was somewhat excessive, in my view. This did not take away from the effectiveness of the plan, but was noticeable and could be distracting for some individuals. Aside from that one criticism, I am truly impressed with the key themes and comprehensiveness of the plan. If implemented pursuant to the specifications outlined in the plan, I believe Miami-Dade County will have one of the premier parks and open space systems in the world.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded Review – Marshall Willis 2009/12/09

Posted by marshallwillis in Uncategorized.
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In typical Friedman fashion, Hot, Flat, and Crowded is an informative critique on society while remaining entertaining and colloquial in style.  Friedman intertwines fact with personal experience from his travels abroad as a writer for the New York Times.  He incorporates conversations with world leaders, heads of State, influential businessmen, and even a personal experience he had with his daughter.  These conversations make the reading experience more personal than academic articles on international affairs or any lectures I’ve attended at local universities.  His level of engagement makes his argument more persuasive, making the reader feel involved and able to picture Friedman’s experiences.  Below is a summary.

Friedman sets the tone, opening, “We are the flood.  We are the asteroid.  We had better learn how to be the ark.”  The book’s premise is of man’s impact on the environment and how the evolution of our world society led to the need for a “green revolution.”  What changed?  Flat met crowded.  The flattening of the earth happened through the introduction of the computer and explosive growth and use of the internet.  People can now write and exchange their thoughts with virtually anyone in the world.  Market economies became the norm across the world and putting these together Friedman shows the advent of a “seamless, unobstructed global marketplace.”

This flattening co-occurred with an explosive growth in world population.  This doesn’t mean all people have access to these technological tools, and those without access are what Friedman calls “energy poor.”  Lacking access to technology prevents crucial integration to global commerce and education.  Friedman writes of the need to “educate yourself out of poverty” to fully realize one’s potential contributions to the world economy. Those not lucky enough to do this move out of their villages into overcrowded slums like Mumbai, holding onto the dream of living the American middle class lifestyle.

Through development nations become energy-dependent and consume more natural resources.  They need petroleum to fuel their cars and equipment to transform their land into Western-style communities.  In doing so, they pump carbon emissions into the environment.  The rest of the world wants their chance at becoming industrialized and “who are we to tell them they can’t?”  America’s impact in becoming green is more fashionable than impactful: “You can replace tens of thousands of cars with Priuses and the new coal plants constructed in China [to meet increasing energy needs] will eat their emissions savings for lunch.”  The problem is not the number of people per say, but the “number of Americans on the planet.”

America needs to set an example for the world.  Exploiting natural resources, driving our SUVs, and generating our energy by burning coal needs to change.  The more carbon we emit is the “Hot” component of the book’s title.  He challenges us to invest in green technologies both for environmental impact and for America to re-emerge as the world’s leading economy.  David O’Reilly, CEO of Chevron, puts America’s seriousness for becoming green into perspective: “In 2007 there was $5 Billion invested in green venture capital.  That doesn’t even buy a sophisticated oil refinery.”  Friedman calls for America’s investment in green technology in a failing economy because it is the one area where we have a chance to be the profitable manufacturing powerhouse we once were.  “We need to get 10,000 inventors working in 10,000 companies and 10,000 garages and 10,000 laboratories to drive transformational breakthroughs.”

GE Transportation, for example, is one of the few industries in America with a trade surplus with China, Mexico, and Brazil.  They’ve created an efficient locomotive engine that burns less fuel with lower carbon emissions; efficiency puts them in high demand in industrialized countries.  The economic effects are great.  The plant employs 5,200 people making roughly double the average hourly wage in their respective cities.  This injects more capital in the government via taxes and brings in more jobs by needing suppliers for their manufacturing facilities—the economic multiplier effect.

Being green lessens our reliance on petroleum from the Middle East.  Friedman creates a model, petropolitics, the first law of which is “as the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down; and as the price of oil goes gown, the pace of freedom goes up.”  Through examples he argues petrodictators spread hatred, strip citizens of freedoms, hoard profits, and stunt economic growth.  In the 1990s the price of oil went down and “competition, transparency, political participation, and accountability of those in office all tended to go up—as measured by free elections held, newspapers opened, reformers elected, economic reform projects started, and companies privatized.”  Conversely, since 2000 prices of oil soared and “free speech, free press, fair elections and freedom to form political parties and NGOs tended to erode.”  September 11th is only one example of the effects of suppression and the fueling of hatred in the Middle East.

In conclusion, I believe Friedman makes a convincing call to action for America to invest in green technologies in order to lead the world’s energy consumption patterns.  People in the world, he claims, strive to be clones of the American middle class.  If we can change our own patterns and make the environment of central concern we may be able to make it out of this recession, emerge once again as the largest international economic influence, and prevent global warming from reaching levels that will drastically change the face of the earth.

Review of “People and the Competitive Advantage of Place” by Shari Garmise 2009/12/09

Posted by brisell in Economic Development.
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Shari Garmise has written an intriguing book for planning professionals called People and the Competitive Advantage of Place: Building a Workforce for the 21st Century which introduces the concept of a people centered approach to economic development planning.

Garmise believes that equity is the essential component of a successful economic development strategy because without talented, creative people, the United States would not have the skills to compete globally. Garmise states that people “create, innovate, invent, repair, maintain, nurture, apply and transfer knowledge and then find economic and social uses for knowledge.” These are all things that people can do that technology cannot. This is why Garmise believes that creating a strong workforce of knowledgeable people should be the main objectives of an economic development planner. We need entrepreneurs who will merge resources and implement and advocate new approaches and tools that enhance labor force mobility and transparency. We need to implement strategies that will focus specifically on expanding and widening the talent pool

Garmise sees place as not a set of physical attributes but a complex set of physical, human, social and economic attributes. Place is centered on the livability and the creativity of the human environment. What makes a city dynamic, sustainable, exciting and just place is the people who live there, not the buildings there.

Garmise believes that we need to become a community that puts equity alongside the pursuit of wealth. We also need to be a society that enhances the talents of all, not just a few. A city should be able to adapt the character, culture and amenities of place to serve a diverse range of people

She lists many strategies we can use to accomplish this goal of a more people centered approach to planning: 1. Develop and strengthen intermediaries as system entrepreneurs, because they broker information across the labor market and create new opportunities. 2. Enhance labor market mobility by increasing skill standards and providing a common language in training options to align workers expectations with business needs. 3. Implement workforce talent expansion strategies by increasing college access and attracting and retaining skilled workers. 4. Engage the business community in system design and train consumers. We need to appoint the business community to shape the talent pool employers are looking for because without including employers, your plans for workforce development will fail. 5. Create a linked workforce by using economic and social services to support labor market mobility, advancement and lifetime learning. Workforce strategies need to service all skill levels and ages because talent development is continually in motion and requires a range of adaptable skills.

With a people centered approach to planning there are several roles for planners to take on. They should use land development to increase regional knowledge assets. They should build research parks to encourage commercialization of new ideas and inventions. Planners need to revitalize downtowns to increase their attractiveness to young professionals. They should also plan competitive places that will have to include the infrastructure to support people’s development. For planners getting into the field of economic development, they should realize that making deals to increase physical assets should no longer be the core need. Planners’ main goals should be to find new ways to build knowledge, influence human behavior, and develop human assets.

In the past, location strategies have aimed to minimize place differences to make some places more attractive to investors. In this innovative book by Shari Garmise she has brought in the wonderful idea that now strategies should try to differentiate place by creating specializations that shape local markets and brand their unique characteristics. This is a must read for any planning professionals, especially those getting into the field of economic development planning.

Portland and Multnomah County Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness 2009/12/09

Posted by kiaball in Land and Community Development.
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In recent years Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon has increasingly been recognized for its efforts in addressing the issue of homelessness in its community. In 2004, the region embarked upon an ambitious goal of, not reducing, but ending homelessness by 2015. Culminating into Home Again: A 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the plan is built on three principles: (1) focus on the most chronically homeless populations, (2) streamline access to existing services to prevent and reduce other types of homelessness, and (3) concentrate its resources on programs that offer measurable results. In the five years since its adoption, the plan has made some important strides. For example, the 2009 Mid-Year Report, Portland and Multnomah County reported that 1,913 previously homeless families were housed, 2,191 chronically homeless individuals were able to move into housing, and 1,388 permanent supportive housing units have opened or are being developed (see www.portlandonline.com, 10 Year Plan 2009 Mid-Year Report for more details).

The Portland and Multnomah County Citizens Commission on Homelessness engaged in what appears to have been an organized, cohesive, and successful process for developing the plan. It seems that genuine public involvement was a defining characteristic of the planning process. First, the Citizen’s Commission conducted regular meetings with community members, agency and local government representatives, and current and formerly homeless individuals. The fact that the process involved members of the homeless community was most striking to me. While it does make sense that those living under the conditions that the region seeks to eradicate would offer significant insight to the success of the program, this seems like a very unique characteristic of the process. The Plan to End Homelessness Coordinating Committee was then formed to organize efforts between non-profit agencies and interested members of the community. The Homeless Work Group, Sponsored Southeast Uplift, a Portland-based neighborhood revitalization organization, then put together a series of comprehensive forums to discuss the neighborhood involvement aspect of the plan.

The Ten-Year Plan operates on nine strategies. These include: (1) moving people and families into “Housing First” (to be discussed further), (2) stop discharging people into homelessness (including jails and hospitals), (3) improve homeless outreach, (4) promote permanent housing options, (5) increase number of permanent supportive housing units, (6) seek innovative partnerships, (7) increase the effectiveness of the current rental assistance system, (8) increase economic opportunities available to homeless people, and (9) implementing their new Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a new web-based data collection and research system.

What seems to be their top priority is the Housing First strategy. Promoted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Housing First focuses on placing homeless individuals and families first and ensuring that supportive services are provided in addition to their housing. The Portland Housing Bureau partners with the Bridges to Housing organization to provide permanent supportive and affordable housing. Services that are provided include case management, access to mental and physical health care, and substance abuse treatment (for further information see http://www.bridgestohousing.org). One example of the Housing First approach is the newly developed apartment complex, The Morrison. This is a subsidized housing development located near downtown Portland. Ninety-five of the 140 units are below market, and forty-five of the units are offered at even lower rents for the chronically homeless. The apartment complex is also located near upscale condos, and appeals to low-income earners, such as recent college graduates, who may not have been the target renters. Such a development has proven quite controversial in Portland as some are concerned that their tax dollars are not going to the targeted population, and others concerned that property values may decrease because of the type of housing the Morrison represents (see Peter Korn article The Morrison Mix on http://www.portlandtribune.com, March 21, 2008).

It could be argued that the plan is thus far successful in its goal of placing the chronically homeless into permanent housing because a more progressive approach has been taking to tackling homelessness. But, it does not come without controversy. Because the plan is only in its fifth year, it may be somewhat difficult to predict the long term effects of Portland and Multnomah County’s approach. However, it does represent a dedicated and strategic effort by local government which could possibly serve as a model to other local government entities seeking solutions.

For further information:

www.portlandonline.com

Citizens Commission on Homelessness. (December 2004). Home Again: A 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. City of Portland , Portland Housing Bureau, Portland.

Korn, P. (2008, March 21). The Morrison Mix: City’s Housing Experiment Puts Low Earners Next to Ex-Homeless, Upscale Condos. Retrieved December 9, 2009, from Portland Tribune: http://www.portlandtribune.com

Overlooked America 2009/12/09

Posted by aespagnuolo in Land and Community Development.
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Overlooked America examines the groups most often neglected in planning activities to date.  Written in response to Hurricane Katrina and the lack of response towards the victims, the American Planning Association began a series in Planning magazine to discuss and address the needs of five most often overlooked groups in our society: the homeless, the special needs, the jobless, poor communities, and Katrina victims. Overlooked America defines being overlooked as being de-valued in the within formal labor markets and being underserved or ignored by the government. Each section of the book identifies an overlooked community and each article within the section delves into a specific issue and identifies planning and community efforts that are occurring around the country to address these concerns. The book provides a general overview of emerging community issues, the role of planning, and efforts being taken to meet the needs of these various groups.

Although the book provides only a brief and superficial glance at these issues, it does however highlight successful programs that have been implemented around the United States to help address the concerns of these overlooked members of society.  For example, when discussing the issue of homelessness it describes four types of homeless in America: the urban poor, the rural poor, migrant workers, and teen homeless.  The articles reveal the differing causes of homelessness between the groups, but also examine the successes of the “housing-first” approach towards this issue.  This movement towards establishing immediate supportive housing provides a much greater opportunity to remain off the streets and maintain employment than previous emergency shelter programs.  When discussing each section, the authors provide interesting and innovative case studies for how communities are addressing these concerns.  In San Diego for example, Villa Harvey Mandel is a six-story affordable housing development with 90 units catering to the hardest hit members of the community.  These units provide not only housing for the extremely low-income, formerly homeless, physically disabled, those with substance abuse problems, and mental illnesses, but also provides a wide-range of services that include medical and dental treatment, job training and placement, and legal assistance.

Overlooked America and the articles within were a direct response to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the articles dealing with these issues seem to be the least solution-oriented.  The articles call for the increased need for emergency evacuation plans for the carless nationally, but does very little else in terms of solutions or suggestion for helping the Katrina victims today or suggesting alternate recovery solutions.  The articles simple rehash the lack of emergency preparedness and response.  The article addressing the children victims of Katrina also lacks the detail and innovation the other sections highlighted.  It also simply explained the situation but did very little to help find a solution.  It appears that despite the use of Hurricane Katrina as an inspiration and justification for the book, it is extremely disjointed and hollow.  The authors should have explored more pertinent solutions to the situation beyond adding procedures for the carless into evacuation plans and to support funding for the renovation of libraries, schools, parks and youth programs.

While Overlooked America provides a good introduction to the issues and concerns facing these underrepresented groups in society, greater detail and understanding of the issues could be found elsewhere.  Planners can use this book to provide a brief introduction to the issues facing underrepresented groups, but would not find it helpful or essential in providing data or new and interesting innovations for the planning field.  While the programs highlighted in the book are interesting they are only responses to the lack of consideration for these groups.  They do not aim to address the source of the problems, but merely treat the symptoms.  Overlooked America also lacks in providing insight in the methods that can be utilized to include these overlooked communities in the planning process.

Review of Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream 2009/12/09

Posted by lmartinez8 in Land Use.
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Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream

by Andreds Duaney, ELizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck

Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream takes a look at one of the most common problems facing U.S. cities today: sprawl. Sprawl is a problem that has become inevitable in most cities, and especially those that have experienced most of their growth in the post-World War II era. The book opens with a scenario illustrating the many frustrations citizens face on a daily basis because of continuing sprawl, including traffic congestion among many other issues that the reader can relate to.This brief introduction then explains to the reader that the major problem with sprawl is the loss of the neighborhood due to policy and the demand of the automobile. Citizens have lost the power to add character and identity to their communities. It then poses the reader with a challenge of either allowing things to continue the way they are in a homogeneous setting or to diversify communities and better strengthen relationships between towns, cities and regions.

The overarching theme of the book argues that design can help to prevent and undo some of the mistakes that have contributed to sprawl and the decline of American cities. The book opens with a chapter that describes the main concept of growth. There are two ways cities can grow: a traditional neighborhood and suburban sprawl.  Sprawl is a direct result of policy that encouraged people to leave the city and move out to the periphery. This combined with the convenience of the personal automobile, allowed more and more families to live outside the city and thus the problem began to only grow larger and larger. There are five major components of sprawl: Housing Subdivisions,Shopping Centers, Office Parks, Civic Institutions, and Roadways and how these components all stand isolated from each in homogenous zones. The traditional neighborhood, unlike the sprawling suburbs, has a clear defined city center, mixed use, walkable streets, and special sites that reflect the community’s social identity and values. The book explores not only how, but why things continue to be the way they are when people are not content with the sprawling pattern. It discusses how zoning policy sometimes demands for homogenous development that creates isolation of the different uses.

Design is the main component of how many of the suburban characteristics can be improved. The book is divided into short chapters that highlight the different components of cities and neighborhoods, and offers case studies that illustrate both positive and negative examples. It also briefly touches on the negative side-effects of suburban sprawl and how it can affect children in feeling isolated since they do not have mobility until they can drive which also creates a dependency on their parents. Finally, the book concludes with chapters that make recommendations on how to build a town that can function like a traditional neighborhood as well as other solutions to the sprawl problem. Policy, design, and management are the three tools that can be used to help fix sprawl. The authors present the idea of New Urbanism as a viable solution. This is partly due to the fact that two of the authors, Andreds Duaney and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, are two of the founders of the Congress for New Urbanism which is a movement that aims to restructure neighborhoods into more walkable, affordable, and sustainable communities by combining design and policy to achieve more livable communities.

The way the material is presented and divided into short, easy to understand chapters allows the reader to understand the content that is discussed whether they have a background in planning or not. The tone the authors use makes it interesting to read yet informative without too many facts or statistics. The use of  real-life examples to illustrate concepts makes it easier to visualize what is being discussed and what it implies. The book does not just discuss sprawl, but it indeed offers solutions which makes its points more valid.

Overall, Suburban Nation offers valid points and should be read by planners and citizens alike. It promotes many positive notions to enhance livability in neighborhoods. It not only informs the casual reader, but also provides many tools and useful case studies for planners, architects and urban designers to study. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream provides valuable information to citizens and decision makers alike, thus making it a excellent book to read.

A review of Zoned Out 2009/12/09

Posted by colleenlallen in Land Use, Uncategorized.
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Zoned Out is a book written by Jonathan Levine.  Jonathan is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Urban and Regional Planning Program in the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.  Throughout his career he has focused much of his research on the relationship between transportation systems and how they relate to and effect relationships within metropolitan regions.  Mainly, his focus has been on the efficiency of public transportation.  The arguments he has presented in this book are no different.  The research he completed for the book Zoned Out was done in collaboration with Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Mineta Transportation Institiue, the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C., and with information from planning publications.  The book was published fairly recently in 2006.

The clear goal of the book is to control or eliminate sprawl.  Levine recognizes that there are many societal ills associated with sprawl.  This list includes greenhouse emissions, land consumption, traffic, and increased automobile dependency.  In an attempt to determine what drives sprawl, several cases with their oppositions and support of sprawl are presented.  The basic reasons why people are uncertain that sprawl has a simple solution revolve around three key concepts.

  • The first of the three concepts is defining the free market.  What is the free market?  Do people want to live in suburbs?  Or is it just more convenient because suburbs support the types of lives they want themselves to have?  How can you clearly separate whether things are the way people want them to be or whether people accept things the way they are?
  • The second of the three concepts is an attempt to define what land-use regulations are.  In many cases zoning is blamed for sprawl.  Arguments claim that if developers were allowed to build more densely people would live in denser environments.  There is a constant question surrounding whether of not zoning codes and ordinances set maximum or minimum densities.  How easily can they be changed?  It is a matter of citizens and developers becoming more aggressive in getting regulations changed?  Or are zoning ordinances really to blame for urban sprawl?
  • And the third and final key concept is how to measure the perceived benefits of travel behavior.  The ability to “measure” perceived benefits has always proved to be an interesting challenge.  There are simple questions that are asked – does increased density improve quality of life because it keeps people from spending too much time in their car?  To very extreme, far-fetched questions, is decreased density a cause of increased obesity?  Are people spending too little time out and about, not relying on their vehicles?  Any of the arguments for this case appear to be highly controversial simply because there are no universally accepted, tangible ways to measure the impacts on density and travel behavior to quality of life.

Each of the concepts mentioned above is used throughout the book at an attempt to create a consensus about what needs to happen in order to reduce sprawl.  The chapters all present different arguments that center around the basic key concepts.  The chapters range from topics of who is responsible for zoning regulations, State or Local Governments?  To Developers, Planners, and Neighborhood supply, who is most responsible for being proactive in eliminating sprawl and decreased density?  To the demand for transportation and land-use innovation, is it possible to rebuild and recondition residents to expect denser development?  Regardless of the information, each chapter presents a very thorough explanation and idea of what can happen in any scenario.

I enjoyed reading this book and found that it did a great job of highlighting ongoing arguments and giving background to possible culprits of urban sprawl; however, I found the book to lack any real solutions or ideas for moving forward.  The research and case studies were immensely helpful in comparing how things have worked differently in different areas, but short of completely wiping everyone’s slate clean and reconditioning them to favor a certain type of development, there didn’t seem to be too many solutions for preventing any further sprawl and moving back towards a denser development plan.