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.

Good Ideas Being Studied... 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 keeps money in the local economy...requires less gas to more accountable to local health and safety 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... 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...