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... 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... 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.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Public Money for Transportation Sprawl...

...the Sprawled Out blog explains more about this problem.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Can tax increment financing regulations be used to foster sprawl?

Apparently, some groups in New Mexico believe so.

This is probably one of those instances where a regulatory tool can be used for both sustainable and unsustainable purposes. Indeed, several cities have used TIF regs to successfully promote urban revitalization.

Tough call on this one.

Laws Eliminating Road Signage?

According to this article, that might be a good idea to increase safety:
The Shared Space team believes that signs, signals, and the traffic rules they represent make the roads more dangerous because they lead us to believe we are safe. “Conventional highway engineering operates on the dumb molecule theory of human behavior,” says John Adams, emeritus professor of geography at University College London and a Shared Space advocate. “And the human molecule is responsive to what it sees about it.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More on the Costs of...

Americans are paying $84 million a day ($31 billion annually) to live in communities that are laid-out inefficiently, according to the 2005 book, Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development, the culmination of a 10-year research effort at Rutgers University and the Brookings Institution. "We are all paying a staggering price for sprawling development in this country, and that price will only go up as gas prices increase," writes coauthor Robert Burchell. "Sprawling communities need longer public roads, increase the cost of new water and sewer hookups by 20 percent to 40 percent, impose higher costs on police and fire departments and schools, and more. These costs are passed on to businesses and residents through higher taxes and fees and sometimes through fewer public services. And in most cases, sprawling developments do not generate enough property taxes to cover these added costs."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Here's a copy of an article on developing green-er projects that I wrote for the latest issue of Montgomery Future City Guide.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

More on the History of...

...Ancient Suburban Sprawl:
The detritus of human habitation—mostly yellow clay potsherds—reveal that Tell Brak, an ancient city in northeastern Syria, urbanized more than 7,000 years ago and boasted suburbs likely filled with immigrants as far back as 6,200 years ago. In fact, rather than an ancient ruler willing a city into existence, the potsherds of Brak tell a story of a metropolis that grew as people, for their own reasons, flocked to it.