Tuesday, 23 of September of 2014

Category » Planning

Busting the Downtown Transit Myth

A lot of cities are spending a lot of money trying to revive their downtowns.  To the extent public officials should want all places in a city to experience economic prosperity, it’s good to root for downtown revivals.  For Smart Growthers and central planners, however, the primary motivation in revitalizing central business districts (CBDs) is to service transit.  Where once we viewed public transportation as a means to an end (mobility for those without private automobiles), we now see transit as the end itself.

A new report from Florida State University should help squash this myth of the importance of CBDs to transit ridership.  The study looked at all 82 U.S. metropolitan areas with at least half a million people” and found that there was “no relationship between the strength of the CBD and transit ridership.”  What matters more is 1) service frequency, 2) service coverage, 3) car ownership, and 4) unemployment.

Eric Jaffe, writing in Atlantic Cities, sees a bus half full: “some ridership factors will always fall outside a transit agency’s control, but the ones that fall squarely inside it are powerful too.”

Yes, it is within the ability to control for transit agencies to reallocate monies to improving service frequency headways and re-orienting routes to dispersed job centers.  But to get there, transit boosters will first need to challenge their assumptions that city cores are the key to success and expensive gaudy rail systems will “lure” commuters out of their cars.


The Disappearing Dwelling Unit

If Smart Growthers love compact development, which is their buzzword for small apartments in crowded environments, they will really love San Francisco where the city’s Board of Supervisors voted to approve an ordinance approving the development of 220 square foot apartments.  That’s right – 220 square foot apartments.

These tiny spaces are meant to address San Francisco’s housing crisis “where one bedroom apartments and studios can run up to $3,000 per month in rent.”  But the problem with housing in this region is not the absence of tiny homes but rather it’s excessive land use regulations that stifle development and impose huge costs on building homes.

Hey, to the extent there is a “market demand” for 220 square foot apartments, let them build.  But there is also a demand for 1000 square foot homes, and 1500 square foot homes, and 2000 square foot homes and 2500 square foot homes, etc., etc., etc.  Let builders build to meet the housing preferences of all!


Where Growth Management Is … and Is Not

According to the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, “Northern Virginia has been outperforming suburban Maryland in the generation of jobs.”

“On a population base they’re relatively equal, on a jobs base they’re very unequal,” says CRA director Stephen Fuller.

“Northern Virginia is just way out there. It has over 30,000 new jobs in the last year, where suburban Maryland is running about 1,500.”

Among the attributes for Virginia are a better transportation system, lower regulatory hurdles, and fewer coercive environmental regulations.  One notable distinction between these states is that Maryland is a growth management state and Virginia is not.  Maryland practices Smart Growth and Virginia does not (though some of its local governments have adopted elements of Smart Growth).  Maryland’s embrace of Smart Growth has depressed its job market.


Control Freaks Won’t Give Up

As I write this, the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association is meeting to discuss, among other things, … spprrraaaawwwwwwllllllllllllll.

Many are upset that Florida’s governor and legislature de-fanged the onerous Department of Community Affairs that oversaw growth management in the state.  The bright side to this conference, however, is that they have Samuel Staley as a featured speaker.  Staley is the managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University and also a member of the ADC and a fellow at the Reason Foundation.  He commands respect within the planning community, and our cities and places would be a lot better off if they would follow his advice more often.


Government Is the Problem … Still

The Tampa Times is reporting on a new survey of small businesses in Florida.  More than 800 business owners were interviewed, and the results suggest that there are five issues inhibiting recovery in the Sunshine State.

  • Economic uncertainty
  • An inability to get financing
  • Florida’s growth management process
  • Government regulations
  • Taxes

Of these five, only one is a private sector problem – what progressives might call a “market failure.”  But even that needs to be qualified, for as we know federal policy heavily influences banking decisions.  The other four are all government problems and particularly local government problems.

Ever since Governor Rick Scott de-fanged the Florida Department of Community Affairs that oversaw the state’s stringent growth management laws, the decision to have or not have comprehensive plans rests with city and county governments.  Most of them kept things just as onerous as before.  As for taxes and regulations, Florida tends to score well relative to other states.  Again, it comes down to individual county and city taxes and regulations that create the uncertainty small business owners are worried about.

In order to jump start the economy, local governments need to lighten the load.


Follow the Money

Smart Growthers want you to believe their doctrine is a bottoms-up effort led by locals to “preserve their unique sense of place.”  Instead, it’s a highly coordinated McFormula for densification.

This is just a few days worth of review of Smart Growth grants … to promote the uniqueness of sameness all across America!


More Smart Growth Claims Refuted

The indispensable Wendell Cox is out with another excellent piece questioning the messianic conception of Smart Growth.  Cox details a new study in the Journal of the American Planning Association that either refutes or diminishes the most significant assumptions of Smart Growth.  A major conclusion of the study found that “Smart growth principles should not unquestioningly promote increasing levels of compaction on the basis of reducing energy consumption without also considering its potential negative consequences. In many cases, the potential socioeconomic consequences of less housing choice, crowding, and congestion may outweigh its very modest CO2 reduction benefits.”

In Wendell’s review of the study, he uses loaded words like “messianic” and “sacred foundations” when referring to the key assumptions of Smart Growth.  For those of us who follow closely this urban planning doctrine, we recognize that Wendell is a lot closer to being literal instead of figurative.  Smart Growth acolytes have elevated this planning doctrine to the status of a clique religion.  Smart Growth principles were cast in stone and are articles of faith that simply need not be challenged, so any effort to challenge them must be derived from ill motives.  Contrarians – even outstanding researchers like Wendell – are heretics.  Evidence (to the contrary) is ignored because evidence is unnecessary.

Smart Growth is a faith … a pretty pathetic faith.


Progs Heart China

This time it’s Vice President Joe Biden.

Every so often, one of our “progressive” leaders (I call them progs) laments about how the United States is letting her people down because we’re not as advanced as communist China.  Speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Biden said:

“If I blindfolded Americans and took them into some of the airports or ports in China, and then took one of them to any of your cities in the middle of the night just so that they could see it.  If I said, ‘which one is in America and which one is in China,’ most Americans would say, ‘That great one is in America.’ It’s not.”

Although China has liberalized greatly since the days of Mao, it is still a country where the basic rights of individuals are not recognized by the government.  It’s a country with a command economy that occasionally gives an overture to markets … unlike the U.S. that is a market economy (albeit not a pure one).

Progs don’t like the messiness of markets and prefer the command-and-control nature of unfree countries like China.  Another genius prog is New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.  In 2009, Friedman wrote admiringly of China:

“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.”

Never forget that when American progs look at the way the vast majority of us choose to live our lives, they’re deeply disappointed.  And they seek power and influence to change that.  Smart Growth is an effort to institute command-and-control economics over our cities and communities.  Smart Growth politicians are not seeking office because they want to represent us but because they want to change and control us.


“I do not support high density development …

as that would destroy our wonderful way of life in Fayette County.”

A refreshingly honest and accurate assessment by a county commissioner in Georgia rejecting the “vision” of Smart Growth.  Commissioner Lee Hearn continues:

“I do support smart growth. Smart growth is growth that conforms to our current land use plan. Smart growth wouldn’t overload our road network, water system or our school system.”

That’s common sense ‘smart’ growth.  But elite-thinking Smart Growth doesn’t want policies to conform to patterns but rather to transform the community into something else entirely.  No matter what part of the country you are in, it’s the same tired formula: higher densities, mixed uses, and transit-orientation.  But most people do not want Smart Growth.  So Smart Growthers use catchy rhetoric to push past popular will.

The people of Lafayette County, Georgia, are lucky to have someone in office like Lee Hearn.


Coercion for Compact Development

Progs react with condescension whenever grassroots activists warn that the one of the goals of Smart Growth is to force people into smaller living areas.  They say Smart Growth/New Urbanism/Livability/Sustainable Development simply promotes “housing choice” and that densification efforts will only be modest.

According to Bloomberg, “Detroit, whose 139 square miles contain 60 percent fewer residents than in 1950, will try to nudge them into a smaller living space by eliminating almost half its streetlights.”  Says the city’s chief operating officer: “You have to identify those neighborhoods where you want to concentrate your population. We’re not going to light distressed areas like we light other areas.”

What’s behind this?  On the surface, it’s a fiscal crisis.  Detroit cannot afford to fix it’s 88,000 streetlights, so in an effort to save $10 million the city is going to only fix and light 46,000.  An urban area without streetlights will see plummeting property values and people will flee to safer areas.  This is the city’s way to retrofit itself into a smaller, more compact city.

What was it Rahm Emanuel said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”