Monday, December 31, 2007

And one more from Kuntsler...

...for 2007.

This year's annual prediction essay
by him has some potentially offensive language so readers be advised.

That said, he's likely to be much more right than wrong.

And, that's concerning.

Let's pray that 2008 at least brings about these Major Changes in the most peaceful ways possible.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Future of Development?

More thoughts on it from James Kuntsler.

Walking to School...

...Daily Sprawl regularly posts about the important issue of making new schools as "walkable" as possible. Meaning that, new schools should be placed in locations where many of the students can safely and legally walk to the school.

The benefits of small "walkable" schools are numerous: higher test scores, better health, lower dropout rates and many more.

Unfortunately, many school districts and states have ignored these results and continue to build schools in unwalkable locations. The argument for this is that the land is often cheaper there. Which, if you are considering just the land cost is probably true.

But, what about getting the students to that school located on cheaper land? Or, worse still, what if you build schools that--as the crow flies--are within walking distance but there is not a safe way to actually get there?

This story explains how the increase in energy costs is poking major holes in the logic of building schools that are essentially unwalkable to most, if not all, students:
chool-district officials say they simply are trying to enforce state
standards on who is entitled to ride school buses and who is not. The
state reimburses school districts about $400 for every student who lives
two miles or more from school.

"The only decision we can make is whether the kids are eligible or not
for bus transportation," said Ken Lewis, director of bus services for
Seminole schools.

But if a district argues that walking or biking to school is dangerous
because of traffic or some other hazard, the state might reimburse for
those kids, too.

Seminole has been more aggressive than other counties in pursuing such
exceptions -- including traffic-clogged Orange County. The state is
subsidizing bus rides for about 1,400 students who would not otherwise
be eligible because they live too close to school, compared with fewer
than 1,000 in Orange, according to state data for the 2005-06 school
year, the latest available.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

An AlreadyTenuous Situation...

...continues to get more tenuous:
"The central banks are rapidly losing control. By not cutting interest rates nearly far enough or fast enough, they are allowing the money markets to dictate policy. We are long past worrying about moral hazard," he says.

"They still have another couple of months before this starts imploding. Things are very unstable and can move incredibly fast. I don't think the central banks are going to make a major policy error, but if they do, this could make 1929 look like a walk in the park," he adds.
The biggest loser in all this will be the sprawl growth of the last couple decades. Unfortunately, real people live in those suburban sprawl houses. Meaning that, the true cost of our short-sighted sprawl will soon become more and more painful to the average suburban American.

But, wait, if all those financial numbers made little sense, then there's this problem too:
Americans are falling behind on their credit card payments at an alarming rate, sending delinquencies and defaults surging by double-digit percentages in the last year and prompting warnings of worse to come.

An Associated Press analysis of financial data from the country's largest card issuers also found that the greatest rise was among accounts more than 90 days in arrears.

Experts say these signs of the deterioration of finances of many households are partly a byproduct of the subprime mortgage crisis and could spell more trouble ahead for an already sputtering economy.
The financial crash of sprawl growth has shocked even people like me who follow all of this closely.

I used to think that strong regulatory changes were needed to stop sprawl. Now, it's pretty clear that the financial markets are correcting sprawl themselves.

Don't believe me?

Just try and find a new suburban, single-use subdivision on a planning commission agenda. You generally can't because they've been stopped cold in their tracks.

No buyers. Few lenders. Hesitant developers. The perfect storm to stop sprawl.

Unfortunately though, real people will end up realizing real big problems because of this. This is very unfortunate, but ultimately a necessary part of the process toward correcting our unsustainable mistakes.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

We linked to this article earlier this week but now you can listen to Andres Duany very interesting podcast interview on the left hand side of the article.

An excellent summary of the state of things.

Good Coverage...

...from Time Magazine on the efforts to counter sprawl:
Technology has gotten us into the climate change mess, and we assume that technology will get us out of it. Hybrid cars, wind turbines, algae biofuel — businesses and policymakers alike are searching for the technological fixes that will decarbonize our lives. But the deeper problem may be how — and where — we live our lives. The dominant pattern of development in America — large houses and sprawling, auto-dependent suburbs — requires a heavy input of fossil fuels and an output of carbon emissions. The adoption of cleaner technologies will take us part of the way, but what we really need to do is change our habitat, not just for the environmental benefits, but for our health, lifestyle and happiness.

Friday, December 21, 2007

More on Rebuilding New Orleans...

This article provides another interesting perspective:
New Orleans is sinking further below sea level every year, and the shoreline is rapidly approaching the city. The river is rising, and more hurricanes and floods are certain to strike the region in the next 100 years. The decision whether to rebuild or relocate an historic city is a difficult one. Moving the bulk of the city would be more costly, at least at this stage before sinking increases and another disaster strikes. The costs of either decision will be enormous, but relocating makes more sense and will eventually be inevitable. Whether we cut our losses now and move or wait until a super-hurricane makes a direct hit and kills hundreds of thousands of people must be carefully considered.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

If They Can Do the Fife Diet...

...could you shun all air freighted food and do the [Fill In Name of Your City] Diet?

Recklessly Rebuilding New Orleans...

...I've recently been involved in an email exchange regarding whether government funds should be used to rebuild the New Orleans area (and, for that matter, other areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita) back to the way these places existed before the storms.

My answer is an unequivocal, "No, government funds should not be used for such a purpose."

However, a complex issue like this lends itself to more than a short answer. So, allow me to explain why rebuilding New Orleans to its previous state would amount to a reckless endangerment of human life.

1. First, I believe almost everyone agrees that the pre-Katrina New Orleans--dysfunctional in many ways like public education and law enforcement--still represented some of this country's most interesting urban design and cultural activities. Indeed, the "Big Easy" was deservedly loved by many (including myself) for these reasons.

2. However, today's New Orleans is much different than how the city was first settled. For starters, it's a common misconception that all of the city is below sea level. Actually, there are parts--including much of the orignal settlement--that are located on higher ground. Unfortunately, as the city has grown, more and more of its development has expanded into flood zone areas below sea level.

3. Worse still, much of this area is populated by the poorer people of New Orleans. Indeed, a quick zip code or census search reveals that most of the higher ground in the area is inhabited by the city's wealthier citizens. Of course, this is hardly a surprise as the limited amount of high ground is more much valuable land and thus more prone to being owned by those who can afford more expensive land. Ultimately, the sad reality is that the most flood prone areas of New Orleans are also generally the poorest areas of the city (with a few exceptions).

Meaning that the least wealthy resident are located in the most dangerous harm's way.

4. That said, even the high ground of New Orleans is situated in a difficult place. Hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico have historically struck this general area. Flooding, even after just an inland band of thunderstorms, is common-place. All in all, the forces of mother nature have posed, currently pose, and will always pose great challenges to a city located as low as New Orleans.

5. To guard against these challenges, various levels of government (and occasionally private interests) have designed an extensive series of levees, dams, water pumps, and other anti-flood measures. All of these, to one degree or another, are based on human mechanical efforts--whether it is the large tractors used to move massive amounts of dirt and rock for the levees, the steel and concrete used for various pumps and flood gates, or the complex systems used to manage them all.

6. Unfortunately, in all aspects--their design, construction, or operation-- essentially each of these attempted safeguards consume large amounts of nonrenewable energy. Indeed, moving the huge piles of dirt for the massive levees or operating the floodgates and pumps would not be possible on the current scale without using large amounts of nonrenewable fuel sources like oil and electricity. This poses a major problem though since most persons who research the issue agree that the scarcity of these nonrenewable resources is rapidly peaking and will only get worse.

Meaning that the cost to build and operate the flood defense systems of New Orleans will get exponentially higher--eventually reaching a point of succumbing to the realities of Peak Nonrenewable Energy.

7. So, here is the situation: we as humans have attempted to out-engineer the forces of mother nature to keep the expanses of New Orleans dry from floods. This act itself represents an arrogant folly as, no matter how hard we try, the forces of nature will ultimately prevail.

However, even if we can delay or mitigate these forces, our current plan for doing so is heavily dependent on a design, construction, maintenance, and operational network powered by nonrenewable fuel sources that are becoming more and more scarce--and soon cost-prohibitive.

8. Now, before going any further, allow me two quick side notes: a) this problem is not unique to New Orleans. Indeed, other U.S. cities like California's state capital in Sacramento--while not necessarily facing the same natural force challenges from a hurricane--are still located in areas that are regularly prone to anticipated natural disasters. To fight against this historical, they have developed a similar nonrenewable centered defense systems. As with N.O., government funds should also not be used to induce development/redevelopment in the unsustainable portions of these areas. In other words, this critique is not limited to New Orleans only but to all areas built within the path of known and predictable natural disasters.

And the second side note--b) forget about solar or wind power operating these anti-flood systems. Even cursory research reveals that neither of these renewable sources can even begin to generate the needed power to (re)construct, operate, and maintain these devices. Those who suggest that these anti-flood defense systems can still be built, maintained, and operated in the post-cheap oil/natural gas era are simply not dealing with the reality of the Long Emergency situation.

9. Okay, back to New Orleans specifically. The big question is obvioulsy: Why do efforts to rebuild in the flooded areas of New Orleans represent a reckless risk to human life?

The answer is quite simple.

We cannot out-engineer mother nature.

And, even if we can put up a decent fight, our efforts to mitigate these effects in N.O. are driven by a depleting power source. Meaning that, even if we really, really, really, really want to--its very unlikely we will be able to allocate the growing scarcity of nonrenewable resources needed to accomplish this effort. The pending scarcity of nonrenewable energy sources simply warrants against that possibility.

10. Unfortunately, by attempting to rebuild the flood prone areas of New Orleans--again, those areas most populated by the disenfranchised--we are essentially using government funds to induce people of lesser means to move back into harm's way. When you stop and think about this--it borders on the unconscionable. After all, there is no amount of great urban design or cultural activity worth trying to preserve or rebuild at the cost of giving people false hope and incentivizing their return to an inherently dangerous place to live in terms of the forces of mother nature.

This is why the government has a moral obligation not to fund such a reckless effort. Of course, if people want to expose themselves to known risks to their property and life, then that is their prerogative.

But, it is reckless and immoral for government funds to be used to induce this...and facilitate the false hope that we can ultimately out-engineer the forces of mother nature.

Again, this holds true to any part of this country where regularly and historically anticipated natural disasters are prone to causing massive and long-term destruction of life and property (yes, this means that if an earthquake destroys San Francisco, then the same analysis applies--we know it will happen and we know that no matter what we engineer, we cannot defeat a seismic fault line in the earth).

So, in closing, yes, New Orleans should certainly exist. But, not in such a deadly way. Rather, the just policy in this instance is to constrict the development of New Orleans to the high ground in order to enhance the life safety of its citizens.

Doing so would mean that we have the capacity learn our lessons from the wisdom of the city's original settlers.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A New Urban Christmas...


Last night, our neighborhood held its Christmas Party in the bungalow court. One of the attendees forwarded these pictures.

A great example of how good urbanism enhances opportunities for good community.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Good Summary...

...of the state of the housing market and the economic--real or otherwise--forces generating the problems.

Buyer Beware...

...I just noticed in this morning's Real Estate newspaper section that Watts Homes has reverted back to incorrectly calling its SomerHill project a "Smart Growth" development. I say "reverted" because--after complaints about its inaccuracy--the company previously changed their ads. Unfortunately (and hopefully just as a one time editorial accident), they are back to their inaccurate square one.

Again, their "Smart Growth" claim is completely incorrect and unwarranted under any definition of smart growth and, frankly, borders on being deceptive.

For anyone considering moving to SomerHill, be aware--you should not do so because its advertised as presenting a smart growth option because it absolutely does not.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Good Synopsis...

...of how the home market--with sprawl growth patterns as its driver--has placed the U.S. economy is quite a pickle: keep interest rates low so that these houses that couldn't be afforded in the first place aren't foreclosed vs. raise the rates to bring back much needed foreign investment.

Despite its somewhat dramatic title, this article from the Motley Fool does a good job explaining the predicament.

The basic fact is this: many houses will be foreclosed leading many people back to the rental market. Which, ironically, means that some folks may end up renting the very house they once "owned" (though, when you "buy" a house with no down payment and each monthly payment accounts for nearly 100%, well, that's hard to accurately classify as "ownership").

Follow-Up on the Charlotte Story....

"Charlotte City Council members say they're surprised to learn how far the city's starter-home suburbs have declined in just a few years.

They're calling for new efforts to revive dozens of subdivisions -- and at least one builder is pledging money and manpower to help.

"This hit everyone very quickly ...," Mayor Pat McCrory said Tuesday. "It's a serious problem with no magic pill, and it's going to take both the public and private sector to come up with solutions."
Read the whole story here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What's an NEV?

If you haven't heard of one before, definitely read this article.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Now This is a Concerning Article...

If you've never read a Daily Sprawl recommended article, read this one from Sunday's Charlotte paper.

By and large, Charlotte is considered one of the more desirable Southern cities. Progressive leadership. Plenty of industry (especially banking). A good location adjacent to major rail lines.

All in all, a city with better prospects than many others in the imminent energy crisis.

However, the article demonstrates that the effects of these converging forces are a) happening more swiftly and b) more severely than many anticipated:
While the crime rate citywide held steady, the rate in the heart of Charlotte's 10 highest-foreclosure areas rose 33 percent between 2003 and 2006, an Observer analysis found. All of them are suburban areas filled with starter-home subdivisions. They were built since 1997 with homes valued at $150,000 or less.

Windy Ridge is 5 years old, but already 81 of its 132 homes have lapsed into foreclosure. Dozens stand boarded up or vacant, with windows smashed and doors kicked in. Vandals have ripped copper wire from walls. Vagrants and drug users frequent the empty houses -- next door to families who thought they'd invested wisely in their northwest Charlotte suburb.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Geothermal Solution?

This article is certainly an interesting read:
At $100 a barrel there should be plenty of oil available. Such a high price is supposed to encourage production to fill the need and lower the price.

It hasn’t. It won’t. Oh the price will fluctuate, but it is going up. Someone reading trade journals such as World Oil might have noticed that world production of oil has been flat for some time. When price increases do not result in production increases of a commodity is the definition of a peak in production: Peak Oil. Usually when something starts to run out the price tends to run up. The price of oil has certainly done that, doubling in the last year or so. But what happens next?

In the case of luxury goods, high prices reduce demand or increase supply. That is the law of supply and demand. But is oil a luxury? Well now, try walking to work. Or the third world is perhaps a more meaningful example, try hauling water from a well without a pump. What is the line between oil as a “demand” and oil as a “need”? Maybe you can work closer to home, but do you have a well for water? If not then you are like the third world, access to oil is a matter of life and death. Does Peak Oil mean a peak in life or a peak in death?
Another interesting quote:
The interior geothermal energy of the earth is virtually inexhaustible since it is due to the radio active decay of elements within the crust. The interior of the earth only a few miles down is as hot as the surface of the sun 93 million miles away. Every place on earth, not a mountain, has access to geothermal energy by poking a hole in the earth.

Higher temperatures come with higher depths. Homes can be heated or cooled with a heat pump using pipes buried in the lawn. The depth of common oil wells is sufficient to drive binary cycle power plants of modest size. To replace a coal fired power plant or a nuclear reactor requires greater depth perhaps related to superior locations. The technology for deep wells already exists.

Downtown Montgomery...


Before and after images of Dexter Avenue

A new building has been proposed for downtown Montgomery that would overwhelm the State Capitol both literally and figuratively. To follow the discussion on this important issue, check out this discussion board.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Fixing the Car-Dominant Suburbs...

...there's alot of debate whether suburbia can be fixed or if the time and energy required is better spent redeveloping those 193s0 and prior areas that were often planned before the Euclidean zoning virus struck in full force.

Well, suburban Atlanta is often a poster child for sprawl.

This story discusses how even some of those places are finding new life:
For more than two decades, Gwinnett County has been the quintessential bedroom community, home to far-flung cul-de-sac subdivisions full of starter home commuters who made their way downtown to Atlanta every day.

But the times, they are changing. Nowadays, going downtown may mean walking to the square in Lawrenceville or Norcross from a nearby townhome. Rather than boarded-up storefronts, those squares are now home to gourmet restaurants and a range of services homeowners once had to drive to a shopping mall for. As home buyers reconnect with the county's historic town centers, they join a trend happening all over metro Atlanta.

The "new urbanism" wave is remaking town centers all across the region. Norcross and Lawrenceville are good examples of how town squares now attract home buyers who want to be within walking distance of the restaurants they frequent, the dry cleaners they use, the grocery stores where they shop, even the places where they work. And they want to run into their neighbors in the process, get to know them, and join the fun of reclaiming small-town life.
Encouraging news, though to be fair, Norcross and Lawrenceville--while having their growth driven by sprawl--did have town centers prior to their car-enabled development explosion. The real tricky ones will be those 1960s and later places that were created without any discernible main street or town center.

I suspect that they are probably not worth using our limited quantities of oil and gas to fix.

The Importance of ERoEI...

Have you heard of the concept of Energy Returned on Energy Invested? If not, you should familiarize itself as it will play a key role in future development patterns.

Why?

The answer is really simple. With suggestions that tar sands or oil shale or biofuel or other sources may replace conventional petroleum to fuel our society, the problem is that none of them make any sense unless the energy invested in converting them to fuel is less than the energy achieved.

Here's a good primer.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Technology Solution...

Several commentators have suggested that "intelligent" technology may play a key role in the future as a way to efficiently develop solutions at a research scale humans cannot compete with.

Well, who knows. This might well end up being true.

However, there appears to be a few bugs to work out still in the prototype versions of such a system...

[Note: readers be advised that the newslink does continue some PG-13 language]

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Good Intentions, Bad Results...

When the Retirement Systems of Alabama announced that it intended to preserve the Old Judicial Building on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery as part of a redevelopment effort, many people were pleased.

Unfortunately, the resulting proposal pretty much eliminates any of that pleasure as the building is terribly out of place on Dexter Avenue.

Read this op-ed piece to learn more.

And, click here to see if you can find any proposed people that would be walking by this major pedestrian way...

UPDATE: click here to see more renderings of how this building doesn't fit into the surrounding capitol grounds...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Remember "Must See TV"?

The Huxtables, Family Ties, Cheers, and the like made Thursday evenings near mandatory viewing for many Americans.

Well, this well-produced documentary by the Australian equivalent of 20/20 or Dateline that covers the mortgage crisis deserves its own Must See TV status.

Take the time to watch this. It's free and will inform you well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Here's an interesting article on "big box" zoning from one of South Alabama's finest cities:
City planning officials denied a developer's request Monday that would have opened the way for a 46,000-square-foot, "big box" grocery store at the so-called Triangle property where Section Street meets U.S. 98.

The decision by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission followed nearly two hours of comments from city residents, a clear majority of whom opposed granting the developer's request for an exception to the city's present cap of 30,000 square feet for any grocery store or retailer.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Smaller Schools...

...are beginning to be considered more often. A good thing since they generally result in a better learning environment and a more sustainable placement and design.

This example (a 2.5 acre more urban situated elementary school in Austin) and this example discuss two recent ones.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Google's Efforts at Getting Greener...

...some good, some merely band-aids. But, if anything, Google's addressing the topic will help bring it further into a national conversation.

Can the Real Estate Downturn Present an Opportunity?

This article suggests just that:
For communities that have endured years of real estate speculation and development, like Atlanta, New York's Hudson Valley, parts of Florida, the Southwest and California, the slump is an opportunity. Unchecked sprawl in fast-growing regions has carved up farmland that might otherwise provide local food, leveled forests that might otherwise store atmospheric carbon and provide habitat for wildlife and created the need for new networks of roads where gas-guzzling SUVs roam.

Now, communities can step back and focus on planning for the next wave of population growth. So-called smartgrowth advocates say a wise alternative to sprawl involves building new homes where there are existing ones: in cities and villages, which already have schools, businesses, grocery stores and the like. That lets people stay on their feet more than in their cars, reduces pollution and can protect outlying farms and forests that might otherwise be paved over.

There's not a lot to like in the housing slump. Some communities, at least, can use the opportunity it presents to figuratively pave a better path to a more sustainable future.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Retrofitting Suburban Sprawl...

Below is a recent post from the Pro-Urb email list by Galina Tahchieva, Director of Town Planning for DPZ (reposted with permission from her).

We think its one of the more well-stated descriptions of the state of fixing existing sprawl:
There are two types of suburban retrofit: post-factum, retroactive retrofit
and visionary, pro-active retrofit. The former kind deals with the second
generation, post-war suburbs, of the Levittown's vintage that were organized
entirely around the car use, and have already been blighted by traffic,
obsolete and monotonous housing stock and inadequate amenities. At this
time, together with the scores of dieing malls, paling strip shopping
centers and outdated office parks, they are the urgent contenders for
retrofit, on account of their segregation of uses and building types, lack
of connectivity and public transportation and nondescript civic
environments. (from our firm's work an example of this type of retrofit is
Mashpee Commons)

The pro-active retrofit covers the third generation of suburbs, built as
Steve mentioned, in the '80s and '90s in the exurban edge, beyond the second
ring. These suburbs are highly competitive, very well-managed and in good
physical shape, and incorporate potent Homeowners Associations that enforce
special standards and bylaws as assurance of the quality of living within
these developments. They are gated, single-use residential enclaves or
commercial agglomerations of the latest fashion, reachable after long
commutes. The retrofit of these suburbs will be challenging and cannot
happen right away. Some time will pass before property values begin dropping
and Kunstler's "devaluation" starts. That is why we call this retrofit
"visionary." New Urbanists have to think ahead, to predict the "fall from
grace" and ultimate demise of these seemingly healthy developments.
(Downtown Kendall designed by Dover Kohl and DPZ is a good model of a
farsighted retrofit of a still successful mall and its surroundings; we also
just did a visionary retrofit of a recently built shopping center in
Dardenne Prairie, Missouri)

However challenging, many New Urbanists have been working in recent years on
a range of design and finance techniques for suburban retrofit. At the
regional level, they have master-planned suburbanized counties and
municipalities to rationalize a new system of urban growth patterns and
connected multi-modal transportation networks.

At the community scale, the New Urbanism has been repairing the worn
suburban fabric by introducing neighborhood structure and dense, mixed-use
land utilization. This will not necessarily transform suburbia into a denser
environment, but will initiate foci of urbanity that will serve the suburban
surroundings and balance the often dysfunctional nature of suburbia.

Lastly, at the scale of the block, street, and building, new typologies have
been introduced, and existing structures (such as malls, shopping centers,
suburban houses, townhouse and apartment enclaves, and office parks) have
been retrofitted or reused, and ultimately included into a coherent
neighborhood fabric.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Another Effort to Use Video to Document Sprawl

MTV's "Think" website has posted an interesting homemade video on the effects of sprawl in one Midwestern state. Definitely worth the time to view.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Interesting Quote...

Can you guess who offered this quote?
The age of leisure and abundance can destroy vigor and muscle tone as effortlessly as it can gain time. Today human activity, the labor of the human body, is rapidly being engineered out of working life. By the 1970’s, according to many economists, the man who works with his hands will be almost extinct.

Many of the routine physical activities which earlier Americans took for granted are no longer part of our daily life. A single look at the packed parking lot of the average high school will tell us what has happened to the traditional hike to school that helped to build young bodies. The television set, the movies and the myriad conveniences and distractions of modern life all lure our young people away from the strenuous physical activity that is the basis of fitness in youth and in later life.
For the possibly surprising answer to this quote that sounds like its directly out of a smart growth and schools manual, see the Comments section to this entry.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

This Thanksgiving...


This is what I'm thankful for...

Happy Thanksgiving to Daily Sprawl readers and your families!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

$200 Per Barrel of Oil?

The idea of $100 per barrel oil (and the attendent increase in energy costs) has represented a major psychological threshold.

Now, word out is that futures traders are selling $200 per barrel options for late '08.

That would equate to roughly $4.50 to $5.50 per gallon (depending on a variety of factors) as well as a 25% plus increase in many heating/cooling costs.

Electric golf carts for the masses, anyone?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Sustainable Solution to Business Travel?

Take a look at this advanced version of telepresence.

Can you imagine how this could be a fantastic tool as air travel becomes overly expensive because of energy costs?

Matt Simmons is an expert...

...worth listening to. Reasonable. Well-researched. And, in general, not prone to hyperbole, Simmons is a valuable resource for getting to the core of major issues.

For Our Local Readers...

The law school where I teach is developing quite an extensive book, video, and periodical collection related to smart growth issues--many focusing on regulatory topics but plenty of non-regulatory content, too (for instance, we just received Heinberg's "Peak Everything" book).

If you are in the Montgomery area, I personally invite you to stop by and browse our collection. We have a beautiful atrium in the front of the library with some comfortable chairs--perfect for grabbing a good book and spending a little while learning about these critical issues.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Very Informative Interview with...

Jim Kuntsler, author of The Long Emergency and other books on sustainability (Home from Nowhere and Geography of Nowhere, in particular) is now available here.

The following excerpt is one of many important points he makes:
Let me give you an example. There is one particular project that is just absolutely imperative right now in this country. And that is rebuilding the American passenger railroad system; because we’re going to face enormous problems with transportation between our cities, of both people and of goods. And the trucking industry is going to get in enormous trouble, the commercial airline industries are going to be in big, big trouble, if they survive at all. You know, people are going to need a way to get around.
Here's another excerpt to consider:
So what you’re seeing here is a trend in which we’re going to get into trouble much sooner than people thought, and not sheerly over depletion but over simply the market availability. Now the poster child for this, and this is very important, the poster boy for this is Mexico. Mexico’s oil production, 60 percent of it is composed of one single oil field, the second largest field ever discovered in the history of the oil industry, called the Cantarell Oil Field in the Gulf of Mexico. It was discovered in the last 25 years and produced with the latest and greatest technology, which had the effect of only draining it more efficiently. So when people say “Don’t worry, we have new technology coming along,” this is one of the problems with it.

The Cantarell Oil Field of Mexico is now depleting at a minimum rate of about 15 percent a year. Meaning within about five or six years, it’s out. And long before that, they’re going to stop sending oil to the United States. Now, Mexico is America’s third leading source of oil imports. And what this means is we’re going to lose our third leading import supplier of oil within the next two or three years. This is going to have not only a tremendous effect on our ability to get around and go through our daily activities, but it is also going to create a tremendous amount of turmoil and hardship in Mexico; because the Mexican national government depends for nearly half of its revenue from the Mexican national oil industry, which is now entering a state of collapse. So as that occurs, we’re going to see probably a great deal of disorder down in Mexico. And if you think we have problems now with immigration, and with managing the border, I think the probability is that they’re only going to get worse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Daily Sprawl is Back...

...after spending much of last week attending the annual IAAPA Attractions Expo (where I moderated two panels and participated in the industry egal/regulatory roundtable), Daily Sprawl is back to being, well, "Daily".

For starters, here's a Stupid Sprawl Image of the Week to get things started.

Can you guess where you'll find this vivid example of why land use decisions made in isolation can lead to ridiculous results?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Financing of Sprawl...


This column offers an ominous, yet entirely practical, prediction:
Even if ordinary mortgages do continue to be offered – and they are bound to be restricted – sub-prime mortgages will no longer be available for first-time buyers. Yet the housing market depends on people being able to sell their first houses when they trade up to their second. If all banks are anxious to protect their cash reserves, and to reduce their level-three assets, that will make ordinary borrowing difficult and level-three borrowing impossible. Probably the downturn will spread into stock markets, even though it did not originate in stock market speculation.
Okay, so here's what happened. In the U.S., those who could not afford a 10% or more down payment historically were very unlikely to get a mortgage loan.

But, this large, large segment of the population still needed a place to live. So, they rented--all the while, often saving up the money needed for a down payment.

Unfortunately, sprawl development twisted this very reasonable and practical system into knots.

It did so by allowing houses to be built--primarily on the suburban and exurban fringes--at unrealistically low prices. One of the main reasons for the low house prices were the low land prices--after all, farmland located 20+ miles from a city center typically does not have alot of inherent development value. Especially, when the farmers are looking to retire and the next generation is not interested in continuing to farm.

Unfortunately, like the buyers, the banks became seduced by this brand (and really large) new pool of potential loan clients (and, among other things, the closing costs and fees they paid on the front end).

So seduced that they wrote home loans for this large segment that historically had to rent. But, to do so, the banks came up with gimmicky loans that even an amateur could see made little sense in the long run: interest-only, balloon loans, gimmick interest rates, and the like. These were necessary because this pool would not qualify for a conventional loan.

Now, this ponzi-like scheme is beginning to crumble. Primarily because, these folks who could barely afford to buy a house with the gimmick loan in the first place certainly can't afford to keep it as whatever slim budgetary wiggle room they had is rapidly being gobbled up by increasing gas, food, and utility expenses.

Meaning that, unless the banks decide to start renting these houses, there's really no one left to buy--or continue to make mortgage payments--on them.

Which shouldn't be a surprise because, again, historically these loans would have rarely been written in the first place because they make very little fiscal sense.

In the end, the U.S. bought sprawl but didn't make plans on how to pay for it when the true costs were revealed.

Daily Sprawl senses a new generation of "Ghost Subdivisions" are in the offing sooner rather than later...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Group Photo from...


...the first ever SmartCode Retreat. A great time for discussing different SmartCode projects and their unique characteristics.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Intersection of Two Important Issues...

Peak Oil and Climate Change both present important sustainability challenges.

This story provides an interesting discussion on their relationship.

Friday, November 9, 2007

One Solution to Sprawl...

...a potential gas shortage:
Gasoline prices are temporarily lost in the angst of the credit crisis. But this too will end. Sometime in the next few months, some event is likely to set off a spike in gasoline prices. Be it a hurricane, terrorist attack, adverse geopolitical crisis or some credit crisis development, the realization will dawn that we are extremely short of gasoline and have little hope of remedying the situation over the short term. Then the troubles will begin.

Don’t overlook the possibility that someday soon there will be a run on the gas stations. A tank of gas is so important in America today that at the first reports of an impending gasoline shortage many of us will rush to fill our tanks. If we all did this at once, the national reserve would be drained by something on the order of 50 million barrels. A lot of us are sure to be disappointed because there simply is not enough gasoline in the system for this to happen.
Read the entire story, here.

United Airlines Discusses the Possibility of...

...grounding 100 of its planes:
In what may prove to be the first of many such announcements from major US airlines, an executive with United Airlines said Wednesday the carrier could be forced to ground up to 100 planes, if customer demand falls off due to soaring fuel prices.

Speaking before a conference of Goldman Sachs investors, United CFO Jake Brace said there's no evidence so far passengers are buying fewer tickets in the wake of recent fare increases to offset higher prices for Jet-A.

Faced with the imminent cresting of the $100 mark for a barrel of crude oil, however, he does believe a day of reckoning may be in the offing.

"Either the industry passes on the higher fuel prices or we're going to have to lower capacity, but you have to make the equation work," Brace told the conference, reports The Associated Press.
A sign of the coming times? If so, the likelihood of more video-conferencing and train travel may well be in the offing.

Good Transit News...


Thanks to reader John Acken for sending us this interesting update:
Charlotte "voters offered an unexpectedly strong endorsement of the half-cent transit tax Tuesday, with 70 percent of the votes cast against a repeal of the tax. . . .. Polls during the past six months by various groups never showed support for repeal climbing above 40 percent. . . . Next up for CATS: planning and securing funding for a light-rail line from uptown to University City as well as a commuter line running through Huntersville and perhaps as far as Iredell County. "

Another Great Depression?

This article suggests just that.

Worth considering, at the very least.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

One piece of the sprawl solution...

...continues to develop in the D.C. area:
Metrorail ridership grew faster among District residents in the past five years than among residents of any other jurisdiction in the transit agency's service area, according to a rail passenger survey.

Residents of the District -- where 40 of 86 stations are located -- took an estimated 192,503 trips on a typical weekday last spring, up 17 percent from five years before. By comparison, riders living in Montgomery and Prince George's counties took 249,856 trips, up 8 percent, and residents of Metro's five Virginia jurisdictions logged 190,740 trips, a 4 percent increase.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Other Recommended Sites...

While researching items for Daily Sprawl, I recently ran across this blog and this site. Both have some very interesting content.

Especially this.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Important New Oil Crisis Simulation...


...sounds like something pretty scary, eh?

Well, the Oil Shockwave simulation conducted by the non-profit Securing America's Future Energy group is a very interesting program to consider.

Daily Sprawl doesn't necessarily endorse everything about the effort but it does demonstrate the importance of this looming issue.

Where We Live...


The Daily Sprawl family lives at The Waters--a traditional neighborhood development in the Town of Pike Road at the eastern edge of Montgomery County.

The neighborhood has a new website up and its full of real residents giving their thoughts on living there. In other words, no actors or actresses just real people.

Now, one question I often get is "isn't this type of greenfield just a smarter form of sprawl?" I think its based on the fact that the project was built from scratch in the countryside.

Granted, infill redevelopment is generally more sustainable than new construction. But, unlike most other greenfield developments, the master plan for The Waters calls for it to be essentially a small town by the time it is completed. An important point as almost all of today's most cherished communities actually themselves started out as "suburban" to a larger city (think: Old Town Alexandria, Virginia).

Plus, from our house, we can safely, legally, and conveniently walk to get a loaf of bread, gallon of milk, transact business at a bank, visit a dentist, and work out at a YMCA.

All of that without turning a single car key. Nice.

Anyhow, check the new website out at: www.TheWatersAL.com.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Yet Another Reason Why...


...school districts need to embrace smart growth more than ever:
The costs of busing children to school in Maryland have more than doubled in the past 15 years, according to an anti-sprawl group, which says the escalation is a "hidden cost" of poorly planned development in the state.

In a report released today, 1000 Friends of Maryland says taxpayers spent $438 million last year on busing children to public schools, compared with $215 million in 1992.

Citing data from the state Department of Education, the group says that nine of Maryland's 23 counties -- including Baltimore, Howard and Frederick -- saw busing costs more than double. Costs increased even in five counties where the number of students riding the bus declined, the report says.

'We must change development patterns to build more walkable communities closer to schools," Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends said in releasing the report. "That's better for kids and families, and better for Maryland taxpayers."

Cost increases for fuel, insurance and new buses undoubtedly contributed to the overall played a role in the increased spending of public school systems on busing, Schmidt-Perkins acknowledged. While those factors may be largely beyond local and state control, she maintained that government officials can curb transportation costs by requiring more compact development and siting schools within walking distance of the neighborhoods they serve.

"There's other places that money could go," Schmidt-Perkins said. "These dollars are urgently needed in school maintenance, in teacher salaries, in arts programs, gym programs. And they're being poured into school buses in order to get kids to school."

Part of the increase in busing and busing costs stems from a nationwide decline in walking to schools, federal data suggest. In 1969, 87 percent of students who lived within a mile of school walked or biked to school, according to surveys by the U.S. Department of Transportation. By 2001, the rate had dropped to 63 percent.

One reason for the decline in walking has been the construction of larger, regional schools, replacing smaller neighborhood facilities, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But even in counties like Baltimore where development is largely concentrated around and within the Beltway, busing costs have gone up, Schmidt-Perkins pointed out. That's partly because even there the schools themselves are not built close enough to neighborhoods or in ways that encourage walking, she contended.

"We're saying we need to be thinking much more strategically about the location of schools and development patterns, because it does have bottom-line consequences," Schmidt-Perkins said.

One county that appears to be doing that, she said, is Kent, where the report shows that bus mileage declined by 16 percent, while the number of students riding buses dropped less than 1 percent. Costs per student still went up there by 38 percent.

Total miles traveled by the public school bus fleets of the 23 counties rose 25 percent since 1992, the report says, now logging more than 117.2 million miles a year.

Baltimore City was not included in the report, Schmidt-Perkins said, because the city schools offer only limited school bus service, relying instead on Maryland Transit Administration buses to transport many students.
Photo credit: http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/photos/2006/05/school-bus_black-limo.jpg

Thursday, November 1, 2007

This makes sense:
But I will suggest that encouraging carpooling probably isn’t the best way to get Americans to stop driving alone. I suggest that dollars spent on carpool lanes would be better spent on expanding bus-only lanes in congested routes, along with a heavy investment in big parking garages at residential bus hubs. Perhaps a better way to get Americans out of their individual cars is to allow them to drive a part of the way towards work

Monday, October 29, 2007

Tough, but Accurate, Advice...

...from the LA Times:
The dollar toll and the disruption and devastation that marked this last week will rise even more dramatically if municipalities continue to approve dense development in remote reaches and inaccessible, fire-prone canyons and forests. Therein lies the most conspicuous failure of regional preparedness: the zoning and development decisions that have allowed growth in these areas.

Southern California is stoking a cycle of fire destruction. Cities cheering for new revenue support housing projects on untouched open space without taking into account whether the region has enough water and power for them. The residents of these tracts commute farther, increasing carbon emissions, contributing to global warming and worsening drought.

Zoning changes must reflect present realities and must serve to protect, not exploit. The state cannot sustain new housing projects where there is no additional water, power or fire protection for them. We're already stuck with the many tracts that never should have been built, but it's wrong for taxpayers statewide to shoulder the costs of these mistakes. People who opt for the delights of living on the edge must be required to accept the price. And Southern California cities and counties should move quickly to zone out sprawl.

Sprawl and Water Use...

Apparently, sprawl is a thirsty mistress.

Indeed, this story discusses how sprawl development patterns are exacerbating water use problems:
The government projects that at least 36 states will face water shortages within five years because of a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.
With all the discussion of Peak Oil, maybe the discussion of Peak Water needs to become more prevalent in some regions.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Smart Growth and Schools

What a great idea coming out of Pasadena:
The leaders of the private Waverly School in Pasadena set out to build a new high school campus. Instead, they created what looks like a well-groomed rural hamlet, with seven wood-frame houses and bungalows wrapped around a grassy quadrangle.

These newly renovated homes-turned-classrooms reflect the personality of Waverly, a kindergarten through 12th grade school rooted in a progressive philosophy of hands-on learning and a strong sense of community...

...While most people tackle one building at a time, Waverly School officials decided to renovate a collection of dilapidated homes. The high school program was outgrowing its quarters in an office building on Pasadena Avenue just as six old houses went on sale on nearby Waverly Drive.

What Happens When a City Sprawls Too Much?

Apparently, finding the revenue needed to upkeep all those sprawling roads can become a major problem:
Tulsa is about as large geographically as Boston, Pittsburgh, Pa., Minneapolis and San Francisco -- combined.

But the city doesn't have nearly the population needed to help pay for the growing street system in all that space, a new City Council analysis shows.

Forty years ago, Tulsa conducted a massive land grab that continues to stretch the city's infrastructure dollars beyond the limit, with streets now averaging the grade equivalent of a "D."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Could You Live Car-Free?

What would happen if you could no longer afford or otherwise were unable to operate a personal motor vehicle?

Could you live Car-Free in Your City?

This article examines the prospects of doing so in Los Angeles--home to much sprawl and a variety of mass transit types.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More Destructive Results of Auto-Centric Development

Why can't the students of one Texas high school walk to school, even though they live close enough to do so?

Because the city has developed so poorly that walking would be considered a "hazard":
Students close to high school to get bus rides

A “hazardous traffic condition” designation for the two-mile area around San Marcos High School will soon make bus transportation available to students who live within its boundaries.

District trustees said this week that students who live near the new San Marcos High School might be in danger if they walk to school.

With the district’s designation of the area as hazardous, students living in that vicinity will be provided with bus transportation to and from school.

“We feel that those kids in that radius will be walking to school and we’d rather them not,” said Rene Barajas, assistant superintendent.

The school is located at the intersection of McCarty Lane and Highway 123, neither of which have sidewalks.

School officials said no injuries or problems have been reported to date, but by declaring the area as hazardous, the district will receive some state funding to help provide transportation for those students.
Sad.

Good Ideas Being Studied...

...in Memphis:
With Smart Growth as a guide for redeveloping its central business district, Germantown wants an urban core that's walkable.

There are major plans for changing streets and parking areas that eventually will affect anyone who drives.

But one topic that has received little notice so far is one that gets much more attention in many other cities: public transit.

It's one key to following the Smart Growth principle of providing a variety of transportation choices.

Light-rail systems, in particular, have emerged as fertile ground for Smart Growth developments, said Thomas D. Fox, assistant general manager of planning and capital projects for the Memphis Area Transit Authority.

The Smart Growth way -- pedestrian-friendly areas, denser populations and a mix of homes, offices, stores and other uses in multi-level buildings -- has become a winning formula for development and redevelopment around light-rail stations.

Charlotte, N.C., for example, will open that city's first light-rail line next month, Fox said.

"They are claiming billions of dollars of development already around station locations, before they even open," he said.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sprawl as a Campaign Issue...

It's good to see that more and more political campaigns are recognizing--and addressing--the issue of curbing sprawl. Here's just one example.

Would this have even been an issue 5 or 10 years ago? Probably not in most instances.

Which means that the importance of sustainable growth regulations is becoming a more mainstream issue.

A hopeful sign.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stopping "Campus Sprawl"...

This article discusses the issue of sustainable college campus development and cites to an interesting new report on the issue:
There has been a whole lot of building on campuses in recent years: more than $14-billion in construction last year, according to the magazine College Planning and Management. It’s unclear whether that growth, on the whole, has been smart or dumb.

The National Association of College and University Business Officers and the architecture and planning firm Ayers Saint Gross recently released a report, “Communities of Opportunity: Smart Growth Strategies for Colleges and Universities.” The report lays out some of the basic principles of smart growth and their benefits to institutions that stick to those principles: Colleges and universities can build more sustainably and can foster better relationships with surrounding communities.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another trend evidencing the End of the Great American Suburban Experiment.

Now, we certainly suspect that some may simply call this one phase of a cyclical event. Even call Daily Sprawl an alarmist. Yet, a cycle--by its very nature--operates in a circular pattern. And, quite frankly, there is very little evidence suggesting that these housing events are merely a correction or phase.

In fact, geopolitical and geological events suggest the exact opposite. Indeed, as we have discussed before, the inherent "Oil Cost" of home construction is the ultimate driving factor here.

And, $88 is not an end number by any means.
$88 and counting...

There are alot of smart growth conferences...

but, this is one that Daily Sprawl highly recommends.

And, of course, this one, too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Another Interesting Article...

I don't agree with Barack Obama on many issues that are important to me. However, I do respect him in many ways.

This is one of them:
Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama said Sunday that his religious beliefs influence his plans for how to protect the environment.
Speaking before religious leaders and others at what he called an "interfaith forum on climate change," the Illinois senator said God has entrusted humans with the responsibility of caring for the earth, and "we are not acting as good stewards of God's earth when our bottom line puts the size of our profits before the future of our planet."

"It is our responsibility to ensure that this planet remains clean and safe and livable for our children and for all of God's children," he told about 200 people gathered at the downtown public library. "But in recent years, science has made it undeniably clear that our generation is not living up to this responsibility. Global warming is not a someday problem, it is now."
Ironically, I've found that many conservatives strongly agree with this very position. That's not to say that Obama is using this as a cross-over political move.

Only that the issue is a powerful uniter for many with otherwise diverging ideologies.

An Article to Think About...

When you get a chance, read this article and then take some time to think about it.

No knee-jerk reactions.

No assumptions because of who wrote it, where it was published, or even its title and introduction paragraph (which I often find-in an effort to attract a reader's attention--does an entire article a disservice by being overly-dramatic).

If you do this, I think you'll find that it is quite interesting as it is chock full of the following:

Fact and fiction.
Good ideas and lousy ones.
Creative analysis and lazy stereotyping.
Open-mindedness and dogmatic labelling.


All in all, it is worth reading and considering because, while you may not agree with the whole, there are individual nuggets of likelihood embedded all throughout.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Drought Effects in the Southeast U.S.


Travel around the Western U.S. and you'll see why water restrictions exist in many places: it is beautiful but often arid region with low amounts of rainfall in many places.

What's interesting though is that a realization of this problem seems to be taking hold on many different levels.

Case in point: head to the luxuriously-appointed Wynn Las Vegas and, rather than finely-coifed grass, you'll find (upon very close inspection) essentially astro-turf that looks very much like a brilliant green yard. The resort's developer opted for this approach because "[c]oncerned with water conservation in the drought conditions of Nevada and anting plush green grass throughout the landscape, Steve Wynn was convinced he needed an alternative to natural grass."

Well, it now appears that these types of water problems--and responses--will become increasingly relevant to the Southern U.S. too.

In particular, this article discusses the growing water crisis in the Atlanta metro area--something which is a stark example of a region-wide problem:
The commissioner of Atlanta's Department of Watershed Management made a plea for conservation today because of the severe drought that has forced restrictions on 61 counties in north Georgia.

Robert J. Hunter called it a drought "of historic magnitude." He said everyone must come together to protect and conserve limited water resources.

The storage for Atlanta's water supply is Lake Lanier, located north of the city. Hunter said it provides water for one-third of the residents of Georgia.

He said that now there is enough water in Lanier to serve the area for 121 days.
Why is this a Daily Sprawl issue? Because sprawl development not only uses more water than compact development (as in McMansion yards require more water than others) but also requires the installation of more infrastructure (think water pipes and such) than re-using existing infrastructure or designing compact communities that require less new infrastructure.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sprawl is bad, but...


...window-less, bunker-inspired sprawl warrants its own private level of design purgatory.

Sadly, you can find this drudgery less than 20 miles as the crow flies from our little slice of T4 nirvana...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Last Call Addendum...

One subspecies to The End of the Great American Suburban Experiment is The End of the Wal-Mart Era.

Thanks to the Daily Sprawl reader who forwarded this interesting article on that very topic:
The Wal-Mart era, the retailer's time of overwhelming business and social influence in America, is drawing to a close.

Using a combination of low prices and relentless expansion, Wal-Mart Stores (WMT, news, msgs) emerged from rural Arkansas in the 1970s to reshape the world's largest economy. Its co-founder, Sam Walton, taught Americans to demand ever-lower prices and instructed businesses on running a lean company. His company helped boost America's overall productivity, lowered the inflation rate and strengthened the buying power for millions of people.

Over time, it also accelerated the drive to manufacture products in Asia, drove countless small shops out of business and sped the decline of Main Street. Those changes are permanent.

Today, though, Wal-Mart's influence over the retail universe is slipping. In fact, the industry's titan is scrambling to keep up with swifter rivals that are redefining the business all around it. It can still disrupt prices, as it did last year by cutting some generic prescriptions in the United States to $4. But success is no longer guaranteed.

Clean-up on aisle 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11....

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Last Call?


For some reason, this evening, reality evolved into near perfect clarity:

Suburbia is just inches away from being finished.

Of course, the idea that suburban sprawl would go bankrupt is hardly new. But, quite starkly, it just became crystal clear to me that the combination of increasing oil prices and defaulting mortgages has actually accelerated this a bit more than anticipated. Indeed, only recently, I was thinking sprawl might still have another solid decade left in the tanks.

But, then it hit me: the cost of building a house (and, even more so, an entire new development) is directly tied to the cost of oil. Primarily because almost every piece of the house has an "oil cost"--that is to say, the price of each piece increases with the cost of oil because each piece is either transported by oil or created using oil.

Suddenly, the synapses started wildly firing and I realized. Dooh! This could get very interesting very quickly.

What if the housing downturn is permanent? As in, things will never return to the levels of just years ago.

Questions started pinballing in my head while I sat on my front porch sipping a sweet iced tea: How will this affect the job market? The manufacturing industry? How we get places? Where we work?

Ping. Ping. Pong. Pong. Et cetera. And so on.

Now, let's be clear: the answers shouldn't be overstated as too gloomy and doomy. The colonizing Martians aren't just days away. But, it does give (or at least should give) one pause: Am I prepared?

Do we have a game plan when The Long Emergency ends up being more than just an interesting book? After all, that epilogue is, quite likely, presently upon us.

In other words, we all better start putting our "thinkin' caps" on because methinks that a permanent worldwide economic roller coaster ride is in the immediate offing. Much earlier than anticipated. All because we leveraged a crude oil buyout with the very same stuff that required the black gold.

What a stupid strategy.

Better use those Skymiles soon.

Oil is such an unforgiving mistress.

The major bummer downside is that the ease of life that most of us have always known will likely get harder. Conversely, the upside is that alot of ugly architecture and congested roads will begin clearing up.

The sum game is really quite simple: strange things are afoot--sooner than expected.

So, tonight, while we wait, take a moment and raise a glass to toast The End of the Great American Suburban Experiment. It wasn't completely its fault. Only mostly so.

Game Over. RIP.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Outrageous Monday...

...introducing a new, semi-regular feature:

The Daily Sprawl Outrageous Monday Award.

In this space, we'll highlight examples of "good growth gone bad". The idea that, even the best laid plans of men often...end up in screw-ball messes.

Case in point.

Mass transit = Good

Mass transit provider that wastes massive amounts of energy = Bad.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Books That Seem to Matter...

Following up on our apparently-popular "Movies That Seem to Matter" entry (it had more hits than any Daily Sprawl post ever), comes the much-anticipated...Books That Seem to Matter.

Right now, I'm re-reading this one but this one will likely be finding its way toward the top of my list soon...

The Loss of Locally-Grown Food


Locally-grown food makes sense for many reasons...it keeps money in the local economy...requires less gas to transport...is more accountable to local health and safety oversight...to name just a few.

Well, let's be very clear that sprawl growth presents a major threat to the viability of locally-grown food:
Much of Canada's rich farm land is more valuable for housing developments these days than it is for supporting crops.

Whereas land for growing vegetables or raising cattle might fetch $2,000 an acre, developers are ready to offer farmers $40,000 an acre, knowing they can flip it for twice that when the property becomes part of a new subdivision.

It's that loss of land that's concerning advocates about the long-term viability and supply of locally grown food.

Defeat for Another Measure 37 Copycat Law

Measure 37 certainly sounds like a benign--if not downright boring--piece of legislation. But, this 2004 Oregon ballot measure ended up posing one of the most significant challenges to sustainable land planning in many years.

That's why its passage by Oregonian voters was so problematic--especially considering that Portland's Urban Growth Boundary was often hailed as the epitome of strong planning.

Not surprisingly, the success of Oregon's Measure 37 led other short-sighted interest groups to propose copycat versions elsewhere.

Fortunately, The Law of the Land blog notes that the people of Alaska recognized a bad idea when they saw one:
Another Measure 37 look-alike, Proposition 1 in Matanuska-Susitna Borough (Mat-Su), Alaska entitled the Private Property Protection Act, was soundly defeated by residents on October 3, 2007. With 10,846 ballots cast, about 70% of voters voted no. This is good news for planners and community activities in other states who continue to battle similar measures.

Alabama Gulf Coast Update...

...on Smart Growth and SmartCode happenings in Spanish Fort, Magnolia Springs, and the Greater Mobile area.

Of all these interesting places, Spanish Fort is probably the best-positioned to make a major Smart Growth step.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

An Interesting Editorial...

...out of Tallahassee:
land-use policies, in which local decision makers have a direct hand, affect local climates, as decades of filling in Florida's wetlands has proved. And policies that promote sprawl and discourage alternative transportation options result in increased carbon emissions.

University of Florida botanist Stephen Mulkey, former science adviser to the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, said in his final report that with Florida's population expected to grow by 50 percent over the next 25 years, "Urban development, suburban sprawl, transportation pressures, coastal human population densities, habitat fragmentation, and reduced agricultural and forest lands will be the inevitable result of this population increase unless growth is managed wisely with attention to enhancing sustainability."

Citizens have an important role to play - for instance, by considering other ways to get around besides driving alone, insisting on more responsible land-use legislation, and recycling more at home and in the workplace.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Weekly Sprawl Image...

Are parking garages doomed to a life of terrible urbanism?
No. They are not.

Here's proof from Atlantic Station in Atlanta.

p.s. Those condos are actually selling quite well and generating much more revenue than the 50 or so parking spaces they replaced.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Movies That Seem to Matter...

...as my dear wife will note, I've been on a Documentary Fix these days. Meaning that, the arrival of the red Netflix envelope rarely offers the latest and greatest fictional new release.

Rather, its usually something that I think is extremely important to learn more about. And, usually in a sustainability context.

So, here's what Daily Sprawl considers to be the most important recent Movies That Seem to Matter:

1. Who Killed the Electric Car?

2. Maxxed Out

3. Crude Awakening

4. The End of Suburbia

5. The High Cost of Low Price

Watch'em early. And watch'em often.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Just back from Vegas...


Okay. I'll admit it. The Las Vegas Strip fascinates me, though I can't pinpoint exactly why. Maybe its the visual spectacle of flashing lights, outrageous theming, or--in the case of the Wynn Las Vegas--very elegant architecture.

I mean, really. Where else does Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Rome, Egypt, Paris, Tropical, and King Arthur theming live next to each other on roughly a single, long block?

Whatever the case, the Las Vegas strip is one of the most walked streets in the United States of America. Moreover, large chunks of it can be experienced by monorails or other mass transportation options. In fact, many people go to Las Vegas and never rent a car (though cabs are certainly everywhere).

Yeah, I know. This sounds like a blatant attempt to rationalize an entirely unsustainable development model (after all, Vegas not only has to worry about Peak Oil but also Peak Water).

Still though, it presents a fascinating case study on walkability since something about the strip induces millions of people to walk on it each year.

A curious oddity that warrants thinking about as there may be some nuggets of walkable strategy buried beneath all that neon...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Yet another reason to stop building new interstates...

...that bank account is empty:
The Highway Trust Fund could fall short more than $4.29 billion in fiscal year 2009, a Treasury Department economist told a gathering of transportation experts Sept. 25, but said the "most likely" outcome would be a shortfall of $110 million.
Richard Prisinzano, economist at the department's Office of Tax Analysis, said increased fuel efficiency and rising gas prices have caused a slowing of growth in highway-related excise taxes since 2003.

"The trust fund has a bleak outlook," Prisinzano said during the annual gathering of the American Highway Users Alliance. "People are doing less driving."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

School sprawl...


...one of the leading drivers of sprawl are laws that require large acreage for school sites. The good news is that, recently, efforts have begun to repeal those unsustainable laws.

However, simply repealing them are not enough. Instead, the law should mandate specific maximum acreages. And, these maximums should be as low as feasible in order to reduce the sprawling effects of large school campuses--often located on the suburban fringes where land is cheapest.

Case in point: this story where a school site of over 95 acres is being considered. As a colleague pointed out, the entire Magic Kingdom is approximately 100 acres large.

Do we really need theme park-sized school sites?

Not if we want to educate in a sustainable way.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Increased Rail Funding?


As gas prices go up, one of the realities is that fewer people will be able to afford individual vehicular travel. Meaning that, we should not continue to build extensive new highways because congestion will take care of itself as we near Peak Oil.

But, we will still need to travel between cities for business and personal reasons. That's why this legislation could be a good sign for inter-city rail travel. According to the article:
"The rail provision would be the first dedicated, multiyear federal financing assistance for intercity passenger rail investment by states," said Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. "It covers calendar years 2008, 2009 and 2010 and lets states issue bonds where bondholders are entitled to an annual credit towards the federal tax liability, in lieu of interest payments from bond issue."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An Encouraging Sign...

A regional transportation agency voted Monday to kill a proposed toll-road through eastern Leon and Wakulla counties.

The Red Hills-Coastal Parkway faced opposition from state and federal environmental agencies that said the project wasn't needed and would harm wildlife habitat and waterways in the region.

The Capital Region Transportation Planning Agency, which proposed the project in 2005 as part of a 25-year projects list, unanimously voted to remove it from the plan Monday.

"To invest in a project that would encourage more sprawl and increase energy use seems to fly in the face of the reality that we have in this country," Commissioner Bob Rackleff said.
Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Vacation Sprawl...


...at least one on-line columnist is reporting that peak oil could lead to a very interesting problem: some of today's most popular vacation spots might become much less viable.

Indeed, like many things, under this scenario, vacationing might end up as a much more regional and local activity.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007

Success Stories...


...when you hear the word Milwaukee, you might not automatically think of progressive urban revitalization. Maybe its because its nearby neighbor to the south, Chicago, casts such a large urban shadow (the ghost of Daniel Burnham ensures that). Maybe its another reason.

Whatever the case, this article and interview with John Norquist (former Milwaukee mayor/current CNU head) explains how Milwaukee has made a great comeback.

Definitely worth a read:
Shepherd: Why is Milwaukee beginning to see a revitalization?

Norquist: There is a lot of talk about the real estate market in downtown, how it's doing well and why it's doing well. There are all kinds of non-city-financed developments going on—big, small, infill and rehab—and it's spreading to the lower East Side. One of the reasons it's happening is because the city of Milwaukee regulatory system is fairly easy to use. There is an urban code now. So if you want to build an urban building, you do not need to get variances. It's a simplified process, unlike places like Cleveland, which has a pretty strong downtown, but neighborhood and housing development is weak.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Green Sprawl?

We've posted before on the importance of incorporating environmentally-sustainable building techniques into projects.

However, this article correctly points out that "green" buildings alone don't equal sustainability:
Several traditional big box retailers, such as Best Buy, have recently announced their intention of building green stores. A number of banks, such as PNC Bank, have also announced the development of green bank branches. In all likelihood, if these buildings achieve a sufficient number of LEED points, they will be certified "green" and may receive significant tax incentives for their efforts.

Most Best Buys and bank branches, however, are located in strip malls with seas of impervious parking lots that are accessible only by car. This phenomenon - where green buildings are located in unsustainable contexts - can be called "green sprawl."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Heartening News...

Writing a law review article takes alot of work. Formulating the idea. Researching it. Organizing the research. Writing. And, of course, getting it out there for the general public to read--hoping that it helps our national conversation, even if in just some small way.

That's why when I received the following email this morning, it helped me realize that the work is worth it--again, even if just to a small degree:
Dear Chad D. Emerson:

Your paper entitled, "All Sprawled Out: How the Federal Regulatory System Has Driven Unsustainable Growth" was recently listed on SSRN's Top Ten download list for Housing & Community Development Law. To view the top ten list for the journal click on its name Housing & Community Development Law Top Ten and to view all the papers in the journals click on these links link(s) Housing & Community Development Law All Papers.
Click here to access the paper.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Images of Anti-Sprawl

It's always nice to find compact, walkable towns in the midst of tourist-dominated areas. That's certainly the case at Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island where we spent a week this summer.



Friday, September 7, 2007

Illinois Passes Green-Friendly State Law...

Read the details over at Law of the Land.

A very interesting feature is the 1.5% project reimbursement grants. A great idea though the caveat is that they are "subject to appropriation".

Impact Fee Regulations and Sprawl

This article suggests that impact fees cause higher home prices and, thus, reduce housing affordability:
The issue of whether these impact fees are putting affordable housing out of the reach of a growing number of Americans is also the subject of intense debate. The housing industry maintains that [they are], and a study in 2006 by the Center for Housing at Harvard concurred with that observation.

"At the local level, land-use regulations often make it difficult for builders to develop affordable housing," according to the Harvard study. "Large minimum-lot sizes, restrictions on land available for residential development, impact fees that place the marginal cost of infrastructure and public services on new-home buyers, and approval processes that add risk and delays all play a hand in rising house prices."
The problem with this argument is that it creates a false scenario in that it ties the affordability of housing into only newly constructed homes.

What about the millions of existing houses that could be renovated or rehabilitated?

They are generally not subject to impact fees because the often utilize existing infrastructure. Indeed, yet another example of the terrible fallacy that new construction can ever really address affordable housing in a comprehensive way.