Monthly Archives: November 2007

Subways Going Down the Tubes

Rail advocates sometimes claim that we can ignore the high cost of building rail lines, because “once they are built, they are there forever.” Yes, forever, or about 30 to 40 years, whichever comes first.

Which is why the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), Washington Metro, and Chicago Transit authority are all looking at roughly $10 billion each in rehabilitation expenses in the next few years, little of which is funded. Of the three, BART is in the best shape, saying it needs $11 billion for rehab, slightly less than half of which is funded. The remaining $5.8 billion is still a lot of money just to keep the system going.

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The Planning Solution Is Wrong, As Usual

Speaking of housing (as the Antiplanner was doing yesterday), San Jose State University economist Edward Stringham gave a great lecture at the Preserving the American Dream conference in San Jose a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Stringham’s presentation (3.7MB PowerPoint file) focused on inclusionary zoning, which is the traditional urban planning solution to high housing prices.

Keep in mind that urban planning is usually the reason why prices are high in the first place (though there are a few exceptions, such as Las Vegas, where land shortages are the result of the government owning most of the land in Nevada). But the planners try to deflect the blame to greedy developers. Their solution is to require those developers to sell or rent a fixed share — usually 15 percent — of new homes at below-market prices to low- or moderate-income families.

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The Atlantic Makes War on the Dream

Homeowners do a better job of maintaining their homes, are more likely to vote and participate in civic life, and work harder to improve their neighborhoods, admits Clive Crook in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly. But he still believes that homeownership is “bad for America.”

Homeownership: Good or bad for America?

What is his case against homeownership? He really has just two points. First, a study in Britain “found that homeownership makes workers less mobile, which brakes economic growth and worsens unemployment.” What Crook doesn’t say is that British housing has that problem because anti-sprawl planners made housing so unaffordable that no one who already owns a home can afford to move.

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No Density for Boulder

A Boulder citizens’ group managed to gather more than 9,000 signatures in just 18 days to stop the rezoning of some land to allow high-density mixed-use development. Under the law, the Boulder city council must either reverse the rezoning or allow the entire city to vote on it.

Boulder residents march together to present their petition to city hall.

The land at issue is a former elementary school, which was closed due to the declining number of school children in Boulder — no doubt because most families with children can’t afford to live there. According to this news story (written before all the signatures were gathered), the rezoning moved the boundary between an existing high-density zone and a low-density zone by 48 feet, so that more of the former school site is zoned for high densities. The city also reduced parking requirements, leading residents to fear that people will park in their neighborhood.

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How to Protect Your Scenic View

Boulder, Colorado residents often describe their city as “twelve square miles surrounded by reality.” A couple of recent stories illustrate just what they mean.

Suppose you have a house with a nice view. However, someone owns the lot in front of you, and if they ever build on it, they could block your view.

You could buy it from them. But Richard McLean, former slow-growth mayor of Boulder, Colorado, had a better idea. He simply trespassed — or claimed that he trespassed — on a part of his neighbor’s land for twenty years. Under the common law of adverse possession — also known as squatter’s rights — McLean could claim the land as his own. Under Boulder’s zoning codes, the lot that remains in his neighbor’s hands is too small to build on.

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Cities Are Trading Places

“Public policy that reinforces autarky only makes matters worse,” economist William Bogart told the Preserving the American Dream conference. Which, naturally, provoked the question, “What is autarky?”

The answer is that autarky means self-sufficiency, as in an economy that does not participate in international trade. So what did Dr. Bogart mean by this statement in his presentation (which can also be found on p. 182 of his book, Don’t Call It Sprawl, which the Antiplanner reviewed here last July)?

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Sustainability, Climate Change, and Urban Planning

In addition to talking about sprawl and urban-growth boundaries, Owen McShane raised a few other issues at the Preserving the American Dream conference: namely, the role sustainability and climate change play in the anti-sprawl movement.

The most sustainable city?

Many planning advocates take it for granted that sprawl and auto driving are inherently unsustainable. McShane shows just how this attitude can go when he describes Halle Neustadt, which some Swedish urban planners once described as “the most sustainable city in the world.”

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Land-Use Alternatives from Down Under

Smart growth isn’t the solution to sprawl, says Owen McShane of the Centre for Resource Management Studies; it is merely just one more form of “carpet sprawl,” i.e., “urban expansion across the countryside in an endlessly and seamless repeated pattern.” McShane thinks that ordinary sprawl can be better because it creates a more diverse landscape.

Which has more biodiversity: this . . .

At the Preserving the American Dream conference, Owen extolled the virtues of low-density exurban development, which in the U.S. is often called “rural residential.” The area in which Owen lives, north of Auckland, is made up of 5 to 10 acre lots. Since the climate is similar to that of southern California, many of the residents grow olives and other Mediterranean crops.

. . . this . . .

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A New Vision for American Transportation

From 1956 to about 1986, observes Alan Pisarski, federal transportation was centered around the vision and goal of building the Interstate Highway System. But once that system was created, no new vision emerged to replace it and federal transport funding lost its focus.

Alan Pisarski (right) with Frank Turner, one of the creators of the Interstate Highway System.

(Or, it might be more accurate to say, the new vision that emerged aimed at impeding transportation in an effort to get people to stop driving.)

Yet the money keeps pouring in: each penny of federal gasoline tax produces about $1.7 billion in annual revenues. With no grand vision, the result has been a politicization of transportation, with earmarks and diversions of funds to non-highway and non-transportation projects. ISTEA, TEA-21, and SAFTEA-LU have increasingly turned transportation into a porkfest.

Pisarski offered his new vision (2.7MB PowerPoint) at the Preserving the American Dream conference last week. You can also order a DVD of his presentation by emailing the American Dream Coalition.

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