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:

Friday, November 2, 2007

Yet Another Reason Why... 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:

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