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Planning Naked | April 2017

Planning Naked | April 2017
Special Issue on Transportation
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The previous issue of Planning Magazine (March 2017) gave me an excruciating, migraine headache and I definitely lost my temper while writing Planning Naked. I watched about one year’s worth of slow but steady progress in the editorial/word choices of the American Planning Association go out the window in a hysterical, reactionary response to the election of President Donald Trump; assuming these Planning Magazine articles are queued out a couple of months in advance. The fault is not Trump’s but the ‘establishment’ using any excuse (however, flimsy) to assert the dominant planning paradigm of the status quo for the last 70 years, which can be simply summarized as ‘Cars, Money, and Bureaucracy.’ I don’t have much hope for this April 2017 Special Issue on Transportation doing much to alleviate my professional concerns since the special issue on this very topic two years ago was an unmitigated disaster; especially the cover of vehicular road signs, which still irritates me. Let us see what this issue has in store for us…

A car is still a car. On the cover is the “front of a Waymo driverless car at a Google event last December in San Francisco (see pp. 5). So yeah, ‘transportation is cars’ is once again the front and center visual for APA’s Planning Magazine special issue on transportation. I can hear their objections to this observation, “But, but, but, but we have articles about bike-sharing and mention pedestrians and walking and rail and nature.” Yes, you do but the graphics and digging into the substance of the content only illustrates how APA ‘talks the talk’, ‘drives the drive’, and even ‘drives the talk’ but refuses to ever ‘walk the talk’ when the rubber meets the road. OK, there are a LOT of mixed metaphors about lip service in there but you know what I mean.

Ditch the word transportation. Maybe Planning Magazine could start with something simple like changing the title of this annual issue to “Special Issue on Mobility” or “…on Movement”? Just a thought…

Oh, chase the shiny object. “The Road Less Traveled” by James M. Drinan, JD (From the Desk of APA’s Executive Officer, pp. 7) sets the tone for APA as a professional organization chasing the ‘next shiny object’ that just so happens to pass across its field of vision. The advertisement photographs of planners playing in the exhibit’s area of national planning conference (prior on pp. 2-3) only reinforces the idea: Computers! Pinball machines! Free promotional pamphlets! Up, close, and personal with a drone! Virtual reality! Projector graphics and ice cream scoops?!? (Not sure about that last one) In any case, for this issue, it means new “disruptive transportation technologies” and “calls for infrastructure investment” (translation: there is “bipartisan support” to give us money), which can be linked to “economic development principles (jobs!).” Ahem, how about better understanding the road most travel by most people first? All of the evidence suggests APA is still clueless about that.

Cars, money, and bureaucracy. All-inclusive including the inside/outside of the front and back covers, this issue is 56 pages long. About 65% is really about cars, money, and protecting/promoting the bureaucracy/regulatory regime of planners. The issue pays lip service to other issues but…

Good News! You can be an Outlaw, too. The “New Hampshire Greenlights Granny Flats Statewide” article by Madeline Bodin (News Section, pp. 13) is great news! However, it is extremely disturbing that “the New Hampshire planning community was mixed on [the law].” Of course, the planners and municipalities initially opposing the law introduced a condition requiring that granny flats be ‘owner-occupied’, which is an insidious attempt to limit affordable, rental housing for lower income and young people. The Outlaw Urbanist would like to encourage all New Hampshire homeowners to violate this law immediately and continually since the ‘owner-occupied’ provision is essentially unenforceable. We are all outlaws now! “Lord I never drew first, But I drew first blood, I’m no one’s son, Call me young gun…”

So that happened… The “Zoning and ADA Compliance” article by Robin Paul Malloy (Legal Lessons on pp. 14) is an inoffensive reminder for people who might fall short in common sense, basic decency, and good manners.

I’ll pass, thanks. “Here Come the Robot Cars” by Tim Chapin, Lindsay Stevens, and Jeremy Crute (pp. 15-21). Full disclosure: I have known Lindsay Stevens since 2003. She is a friend. I have also met Tim Chapin, who invited me to guest lecture at Florida State University in Fall 2008. I don’t know Jeremy Crute. Out of respect for Lindsay, I am not going to comment on this article about autonomous vehicles (i.e. driverless vehicles) based on a study conducted on behalf of the Florida Department of Transportation.

I love the smell of sarcasm in the morning. Q&A section about “Disruption: Bike-Share” (pp. 24-25) in which Planning Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Meghan Stromberg interviews Jon Terbush of Zagster, a venture-funded startup company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts that designs, builds, and operates bike-sharing programs. I absolutely LOVE Terbush’s response to Stromberg’s question, “What are the minimum requirements for bike share?” Terbush responds, “Well, I’d still say the vision is the most important thing.” You can feel Terbush’s sarcasm dripping off the page after receiving such a backward ‘trapped-in-the-box’ type of question. Well done, Mr. Terbush. You smacked down APA and Planning Magazine even if they seemed blissfully unaware of it.

You can those things that are ‘generic to all cities.’ The Q&A section “Disruption: Ride Share” (pp. 26-27) is a straightforward discussion about profiteering on the share services associated with the automobile… as if ‘unlicensed taxi services’ haven’t been around for decades (such as in London). That is essentially what companies such as Uber and Lyft are, i.e. they are circumventing government regulations (nay, restrictions) on labor in the same way zoning out granny flats restricts affordable housing and owners’ ability to profit on their property without the blessings of government. In any case, Andrew Salzberg’s closing comment is great advice, namely to “focus on things that are eternally true.” Well said, sir.

Oh, parking, you’re so fine, parking’s so fine, it blows my mind! Oh, parking! Ahem, four pages about parking with all sorts of buzzwords designed to promulgate the status quo. “Parking is an asset for cities,” “It plays a vital role (in making money, I translated the ‘code’ for you here but the “Driven by Technology” insert makes it clear),” it is “an important planning resource,” and so on and so forth. I was especially amazed to read how parking is “helping to reduce roadway congestion.” Along the way, the editors implicitly promote the decades-long myth of every Main Street shop owner, namely ‘Main Street would survive if we only had more parking.’ Planning Magazine does not say that, of course, but instead tells us people “will avoid public parking” if you charge too much for it. They do not mean people might walk or use a bike. The little 1” x 3.5” insert for The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup within the context of this article is quaint. See: equal time (<sarcasm).

Insidiously lies the crown. At first glance, “Connecting the Dots” by Greg Griffin (pp. 32-39) seems like it is promoting the bike share concept. However, by tying bike sharing to the equity issues it is actually undercutting it. This is ironic considering the equity issues and standard of living impact of not owning a car are much, much worse and pervasive in American society. This article is insidious because the key underlying issue is American settlements have been building large rectangular blocks, expanded road widths, and consuming land for centuries, which the automobile has only accentuated over the last century or so. It is the spread-out physical nature of the American settlement itself, which generates many of these inequity issues. However, by ignoring the real issue (planning and land consumption), Planning Magazine can use the equity issue to undercut the bike share concept. Not overtly, you understand, but by throwing up ‘cautionary’ impediments along the way in the regulatory regime.

See: APA mentioned rail. Planning Magazine pauses in “Rail Relationship” by Raymond Besho (pp. 40-42) to remind us that freight rail traffic is worth a lot of money, too. They then prescribe solutions to promote the rail freight at the expense of livability for humans; all in the name of “safety.” Trains killed 265 people in 2016 (Source: Federal Railroad Administration). Wow, it is an epidemic! Automobiles kill more than 30,000 people each year. Perspective, people.

In closing. I want to close out this version of Planning Naked by repeating the opening line of the “Cultivating Stronger Connections with the Natural World” article by Timothy Beatley (pp. 49-50):

“Too often nature seems abstract and far away, difficult to know and touch in any visceral way.”

I would like you to think about that statement. I mean, I want you to think really hard about the opening line of this article in a national magazine of a national organization dedicated to the ‘art and science of designing cities.’ I hope you do not laugh too hard when you realize the statement is patently absurd. At least, this time I kept my temper and did not get a headache. This represents progress of a certain kind, I suppose.

Planning Naked is a series of observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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PAPER | A Fair Proposal

For Providing Affordable Choice in Our Most Prosperous Cities
From Housing Prices Being Less of a Burden to Their Citizens
For Making Greenfield Sites Beneficial to the Public Good

Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
The Outlaw Urbanist
Undisclosed Location, USA

(904) 404-6138
info@outlaw-urbanist.com
www.outlaw-urbanist.com

Every day brings another news article and/or more data about the affordable housing crisis in Western societies. The pungent perfume of Lotium Pour Homme drifts through the parks and streets of our most prosperous cities, which are crowded with men, women, and children in desperate need of human charity and/or physical shelter. These homeless and chronically poor, instead of being employed for their honest livelihood, are forced all the time to beg sustenance of family, friends, and strangers; or else queue long hours awaiting the welfare of the State; turn to thievery for want of work; re-enlist to fight for their dear, native country in Afghanistan and/or Iraq; or, egregiously sell their dignity to the Fourth Estate. All parties appear to agree about the deplorable conditions arising from the manifest lack of affordable choices in the housing markets of Western societies. Therefore, whoever could devise a fair, cheap, and easy method for readily available housing, thereby making more fair the socio-economic conditions of our greatest cities, would deserve nothing less than his or her statue erected as the savior of Democratic Capitalism. However, our intention is far more than merely providing a fair solution to the housing crisis. The goal of our proposal is nothing less than the salvation of urbanism itself and the city as a physical artifact of our collective, human nature.

Many people have had different proposals – many discussed, some implemented, and others ignored – for solving this problem over the decades. Yet, the problem persists, even worsens to this day. This is because most solutions have been and are grossly mistaken in their approach to the problem. It is true, Keynesian economics does have some relevance to urban problems at the discrete scale; and what is Marxist economics but an extreme, all-encompassing version of Keynesian principles. However, our greatest cities, especially those in the United States such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Savannah, Chicago, and San Francisco, were the product of private industry, both individually and collectively, before the 20th century. What has the Keynesian-produced city become after the landmark period of 1926-1945 in Western societies? Milton Keynes, Orlando, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Phoenix to name but a few. These are not places but are the haphazard accumulation of mere locations. They are blasphemous to the goals of sustainable urbanism and synergy of place. Fairness in housing is choices. The most abundant housing supply offers the most diverse of affordable choices under normal market conditions. We must pursue normality in our housing markets, not their continual perversion under Keynesian principles. This means private industry aggressively increasing supply.

Developable ‘Greenfield’ Sites: (top) Central Park in New York, New York; and, (bottom) Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California.

At the same time, I have been assured by the publicist of a knowing Canadian of everyone’s acquaintance in New York, that thousands of acres of public parks and lands in our cities have enormous, untapped potential as ‘greenfield’ sites for private development to construct more housing supply in Western societies. The computations available to us strongly indicate the possibilities of ‘greenfield’ development might truly be without limit in resolving the affordable housing crisis by the provision of supply.

Detail-scale View: (left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Central Park area of New York.

Central Park lies in the heart of the most densely occupied, urban area of the United States: Manhattan Island in New York City. Central Park represents approximately 850 acres of raw land. It is readily available for the construction of affordable housing at the center of our greatest and most wealthy city, where there are an abundant quantity of enviable employment opportunities for our poorest citizens, while still leaving approximately 20% of that acreage (170 acres) untouched as ‘pocket parks’ in the newly created neighborhoods.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of housing units in the five boroughs of New York City was 798,144 in 2000 with an approximate average density of 54.3 dwelling units per acre (du/acre). Residential density in Manhattan appears slightly higher with about 72,033 people/square mile in Manhattan, which translates into approximately 112.6 people per acre. An average household size of 1.5 people indicates an approximate housing density of 75 du/acre. However, let us be conservative in our computations and proceed based on an average housing density of a mere 65 du/acre, approximately 15% above the average for the five boroughs but 15% below the greatest development potential for Central Park.

The City of New York could transfer 680 acres of Central Park into the ownership of private industry without cost, upon the condition that the construction of affordable housing within certain price point limits must commence within five years or else such lands will revert to public ownership in the future. This will represent a tremendous opportunity for private industry to profit on the land without having to bear the costs of its purchase. At an average housing density of 65 du/acre, this would provide for at least an additional 44,200 dwelling units in Manhattan.

With further implementation of this strategy on more ‘greenfield’ development sites of New York City, the number of additional, affordable housing units will, in fact, approach a doubling of the current housing stock of Manhattan. There are approximately 28,000 acres of municipal parks in the five boroughs of New York. There seems little doubt that some of this public land may already exist as ‘pocket parks.’ Let us proceed based on the idea that only 50% of this acreage (14,000 acres) truly constitutes potential ‘greenfield’ development sites to be turned over to private industry for the construction of affordable housing. At an average housing density of 54 du/acre, this would generate an additional 756,000 dwelling units in the bound of the City of New York, effectively doubling the capacity of existing housing stock associated with Manhattan and potentially reducing housing prices by a significant percentage across the entire metropolitan region.

Indeed, 130 square feet per person of recreation space for those living in the five boroughs seems redundant and excessive in a country where there are six acres of land for every single man, woman, and child. One might describe such space allocation as extravagant. It is akin to the false piety of persons who pray in public for the sake of demonstrating their piety for all to see and behold. Behold! We have so much space and money that we can willingly waste both in our cities and forsake affordable shelter for the most needy of fellow citizens!

It is true the property values of all existing homes in Manhattan and across the five boroughs would experience significant declines in price. As other municipalities pursue this strategy of ‘greenfield’ development for more affordable housing in Western societies, properties in such cities will similarly experience a significant decline in the face of a rapid and dramatic increase in the housing supply. It is likely such decreases in property values will prove only temporary as market forces slowly re-assert themselves over time in the absence of the previous restrictions on housing supply. Such a period might last two decades, and perhaps as little as one for our most attractive cities, e.g. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Toronto, and so on.

This very knowing Canadian of everyone’s acquaintance in New York argues our most prosperous cities are populated by the most educated, politically progressive, high-minded, and enlightened of our citizens. Surely, such estimable citizens would be willing to temporarily sacrifice some amount of personal worth in the value of their homes/properties for the sake of a fair solution to our affordable housing problem. I am assured by numerous public proclamations about their most charitable nature on this matter and many others issues of similar nature.

It is also true that these new dwelling units in the heart of our most prosperous cities would only be affordable, in relative terms to nearby existing housing process, during the initial offering in sales to the general public. Eventually, the dynamics of the real estate market would re-assert itself. This represents a tremendous wealth-generating opportunity for our most needy citizens through the mechanism of land appreciation. However, the initial injection of 44,200 additional dwelling units in Manhattan – and the potential increase of an additional 756,000 dwelling units in the five boroughs – would have a systematic effect across the housing market for the entire New York metropolitan region, effectively reducing the cost of housing in neighborhoods more peripheral to the five boroughs.

Nonetheless, the creation of affordable housing neighborhoods in the vacant lands of Central Park will perform a public good in another regard. It will finally end the suffering of the Upper East Side and Upper West Side residents in Manhattan, who have been long segregated from one another in social terms by physical barrier of Central Park itself. The new neighborhoods of the ‘Upper Central Side’ will forever bind residents of the Upper East and West Sides together in a new interconnectedness of brotherhood and charity.

It is also true that a ‘greenfield’ development strategy for some cities (e.g. unsuccessful ones such as St. Louis and Detroit) would be a fruitless gesture due to the quantity of public-owned lots arising from the wholesale demolition of historic housing stock over the previous seven decades. However, such municipalities may pursue a strategy founded on the same principles by the wholesale release of these public-owned lots to private industry with the same restriction imposed on the land in a ‘greenfield’ development strategy. Nonetheless, a ‘greenfield’ development strategy will also afford our most prosperous cities, especially those in North America, with an opportunity to farther densify their housing and neighborhoods, thereby making public transportation alternatives such as rail transit more economically viable options in such cities over the long term.

Large-scale View: ( left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Golden Gate Park area of San Francisco, California.

Other municipalities of our most prosperous and expensive cities could elect to pursue this supply-side strategy for more affordable housing. For example, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California represents another potential ‘greenfield’ site of 810 acres (less 20% retained for ‘pocket parks’ of the total 1,013 acres). At a mere 50 du/acre, this could represent another 40,500 dwelling units introduced in short order to the San Francisco housing market. According to the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, they manage approximately 3,400 acres of parkland in San Francisco alone. Again, using conservative computations, this potentially translates into an additional 85,000 dwelling units with approximately half of that situated in the former Golden Gate Park.

Detail-scale View: (left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Golden Gate Park area of San Francisco, California.

In central London, the potential of ‘greenfield’ development sites for more affordable housing is significant in such places as Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park, Lee Valley Park, Richmond Park, and Hampstead Health, which alone could conservatively account for an additional 350,000 dwelling units in the London housing market.

Potential ‘greenfield’ development sites for affordable housing neighborhoods include Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park, Lee Valley Park, Hampstead Health, and Richmond Park in London, United Kingdom.

Simultaneously, if every national bank and even all Federal, state, and local government agencies released all of the properties and housing units they owned onto the market, this would have an immediate effect of reducing cost by dramatically increasing the supply of housing and/or sites for housing. Indeed, for at least a decade now, perhaps even longer, our national banks, many headquartered in the Wall Street ‘heart’ of Manhattan, have desperately sought a means to make a more honest profit. Releasing all of the properties on their books will be an important step along their way to redemption in the eyes of our fellow citizens.

THE END
(With apologies to Jonathan Swift)

Download a printable PDF of this article here.
(Corrected PDF, 7:54 pm)

Bibliography and References
Population density and land area data compiled based on U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia, City of New York, City of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, and Greater London Authority.

Florida, Richard. 2016. “Mapping How America’s Metro Areas Voted.” CityLab, December 1, 2016, retrievable at http://www.citylab.com/politics/2016/12/mapping-how-americas-metro-areas-voted/508313/.

Major, M.D. 2017. The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids. New York: Routledge Books/Taylor & Francis Group, forthcoming in Fall 2017.

Swift, Jonathan. 1729. A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick.

Illustrations
Central Park, Manhattan: Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, retrievable here.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco: Photograph by Rich Prillinger, retrievable here.
New York, New York with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.
San Francisco, California with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.
London, United Kingdom with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.

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Pruitt-Igoe | A Photographic Essay

Today, we set a very specific task to promote our forthcoming, new course on The Outlaw Urbanist online learning platform: A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe (2.0 hour). Namely, create a photographic essay telling the story, in part, of the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex in St. Louis, Missouri using only ten photographs with shortish captions, i.e. no plans, maps, statistics, or computer models. Quite frankly, it is a near impossible task. Nonetheless, the photos are fascinating and there are plenty of informative links to related materials available in the captions so you can discover more about this (in)famous housing project.

Pruitt-Igoe is one of the most commonly cited examples for the failures of Modernism in the world. The televised demolition of Pruitt-Igoe residential towers in 1972 is one of the most iconic images of 20th century architecture and planning (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth Press Materials).

Opening circa 1954, Pruitt-Igoe was Federally-funded social housing constructed with 2,870 apartments for 13,000 people (228 people/acre) in thirty-three 11-story buildings on 57 acres with a housing density of 50 dwelling units per acre in north St. Louis (Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis via The Guardian).

Pruitt-Igoe was a ‘hybrid design’ for a high-profile, strategic site. It incorporated Modernist principles (i.e. high-rises towers, separation of uses and building siting, stripped down aesthetics where ‘form follows function, etc.) utilizing a regular grid layout in the urban pattern of St. Louis, which was commonly planned on offsetting ‘smallish’ regular grids in a process of deformation, i.e. small for American cities, big for European ones (Photograph: U.S. Geological Survey via Wikipedia Commons).

Pruitt-Igoe replaced 19th century tenement housing, which was typical of the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood and many areas of St. Louis at the time. Survey of a 1938 Sanborn map indicates there were a minimum of 730 street-oriented dwelling entrances with minimal street setbacks on the site before Pruitt-Igoe, i.e. exclusive of buildings with deep setbacks, large (non-residential) footprints, alleyway-access, and vacant lots (Photograph: State Historical Society and Missouri/University of Missouri-St. Louis Archives).

The pilotis design feature partially ‘liberated’ the ground level for circulation routes, which crucially mediated inside to outside and vice versa, i.e. formal access to the elevator/stairwells in each tower and spatial distribution in the exterior spaces of the layout. The residential towers elevated dwelling entrances in section to internal corridors, effectively representing a complete elimination of front doors in the site (Photograph: Affordable Housing Institute).

The cost-cutting inclusion of ‘skip-stop’ elevators only stopping at the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th floors forced most residents to use dark stairwells – principally designed as fire exits – to access the floors of their apartment. They were publicly accessible due to the uncontrolled pilotis design feature, which also provided access to multiple routes at ground level in an ‘easy to read and use’ layout. Collectively, this facilitated opportunity and escape for criminal activities, initially focused on the stairwells but later spreading to other spaces (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth).

People must have quickly realized the opportunities inherent in the design and planning of the pilotis feature because intensive patrols of the buildings and grounds began shortly after Pruitt-Igoe opened, even before any welfare recipients were allowed to live there. Former residents indicate these stairwells/elevators were problematic spaces from the very beginning (Photograph: St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

The number of unsupervised children in archival footage of Pruitt-Igoe is startling. ‘Baked-in’ problems of racism accentuated by many regulatory failures skewed Pruitt-Igoe’s demographics  towards female-led households with children. Declining occupancy led to a ‘broken interface’ between adults and children. There were too few adults (especially males who belonged there) and too many children for too much space. Unsupervised children (especially teenagers) participated in petty vandalism, which worsened the perception of social malaise at Pruitt-Igoe (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth).

There was an asymmetrical relationship (i.e. unequal) between the Vaughan (foreground) and Pruitt-Igoe (background) social housing in terms of formal access, horizontal and vertical scale, and spatial distribution. Nine strategic diagonal/gridline routes passing through, within or to the edge of Vaughan provided direct/adjacent access to every Pruitt-Igoe residential tower, suggesting the opening of Vaugahn circa 1957-58 might have been complicit in Pruitt-Igoe’s social malaise (Photograph: U.S. Geological Survey).

Social malaise accelerated at Pruitt-Igoe during the 1960s even as residents maintained some apartment interiors until a cataclysmic mechanical failure in 1968 (watch a 5-minute KMOX news report on YouTube here) led to a St. Louis Public Housing Authority order for phrased vacating of the premises in preparation for demolition. According to news reports/resident testimony, the worst, most violent criminal activities at Pruitt-Igoe occurred during this 5-year period from 1968-1972 (Photograph: Zuma Press/Alamy via The Guardian).

This photographic essay only begins to scratch the surface of the issues surrounding this housing project. There is a LOT MORE to the story of Pruitt-Igoe. Learn more by participating in our forthcoming, new course – A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe – when it becomes available!

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Planning Naked | July 2016

July2016Planning Naked | July 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Your (hopefully) hilarious guide to everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

 

Note: In all likelihood,  one of the better issues of Planning Magazine in the last 15 years from the point of view of objective reporting and displays of good old-fashioned, common sense… or, at least, the first half of the issue. Things start to spectacularly fall apart beginning on page 27.

In the words of Marvin Gaye, what’s going on? Is there a new editor at Planning Magazine? Has Planning Magazine adopted new editorial guidelines? There’s little objectionable content about the first 12 pages of the July 2016 issue (From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director and News sections). It’s almost reading bliss.

I come not to bury Planning Magazine but to (in part) praise it. “It’s Time to Rethink Temporary Use” by David S. Silverman in the Legal Lessons section (pp. 13) is praiseworthy. “Traditional zoning is often a clumsy tool to address the regulatory land-use issues raised by” alternative, often temporary uses. If this sanity continues, I may have to retire the “Planning Naked” column on The Outlaw Urbanist.

Leave it to Rio. “Rio Gets Ready by Michael Kavalar (pp. 14-18) reports on Brazil’s preparations for the 2016 Olympics next month and pacification; “an official government policy of structured military occupation of informal communities with the intent of fully incorporating them into the formal city.” This is a well-written, informative piece that balances the positives of legacy projects associated due to the Olympics with local tensions arising from a pacification policy that predates these legacy projects. The article successfully touches on these topics, giving them some context, without losing sight of their complexities (for good and ill) in terms of politics and planning.

Taking the long view. “Winning at Their Own Games” by Kristen Pope (pp. 19) takes a brief look at adaptive reuse of facilities in Lake Placid, New York and Park City, Utah after the Olympics left town. “London’s Olympic Legacy” by Ben Plowden (pp. 20-21) follows the same story in a little more detail after the London Olympics with particular focus on London Transport. Both are interesting, informative pieces lacking the soapbox of Planning Magazine’s usually hidden agenda in the past. Again, what’s going on?

To Shop or Not to Shop, that is the Question. “From Bricks to Clicks” by Daniel G. Haake, Jeffrey M. Wojtowicz, and Johanna Amaya” (pp. 22-24) provides the ‘meat’ of this issue about the effects of e-commerce on neighborhoods, which was touched on by James Drinan in the From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director section. The piece is a thoughtful consideration of the issues surrounding increased freight deliveries of e-commerce without resorting to the standard ‘default’ answer of larger road widths and bigger floor plates in the post-war period. The creeping evidence of planning sanity is a blessed relief to this long-time victim. This article is well worth the read for planners.

It’s the business model, business model, business model. “Big Box Bust?” by Andrew Starr covers Wal-Mart’s announced closure of 154 locations nationwide, 102 of which are Wal-Mart Express stores experimenting with smaller floor plates and pared down merchandising serving a smaller (usually poorer) customer base. Starr correctly points out that ‘mindless’ application of Wal-Mart’s long-term business model for its big box stores (‘but that’s the way we’ve always done it’) on the site selection process was a likely culprit for the retailing giant incorrectly siting its Express stores; not that a ‘big box’ floor plate is necessary to survive and thrive in retail in today’s world. He points to the success of the Dollar General and Dollar Tree brands in fighting off competition from Wal-Mart Express stores as a counter example. Again, another good article; concise, objective, and spot-on.

Sigh, and there it is… mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money. The highlight box for “The Road to Quito” by Greg Scruggs (pp. 27-33) states “Habitat III is a ‘clarion call for planning’ that planners will pay more dividends for the profession” (our emphasis), which sounds so self-serving as to be repulsive. I don’t even want to read this article but, for anyone who might enjoy reading Planning Naked, I will. “In 1976, a bunch of Hippies…” Oh. My. God. Not a good start. Now the name-dropping, legitimacy by association. Sheesh. Now a list of pleasant sounding, meaningless bullet points using ‘synergy words.’ I can’t… go… on. This article has everything that is wrong with planning masturb… excuse me, the planning profession. The July 2016 issue of Planning Magazine was going so well until this stink bomb was dropped into the middle of the issue. Guess I don’t have to worry about retiring this column yet.

Hard core issues through a soft core lens. “One Size Does Not Fit All” by Katy Tomasulo (pp. 32-36) does have some interesting information about the housing recovery and statistical trends in the housing market. However, the author is too lackadaisical about filtering through the developer/homebuilder ‘post-war’ paradigm (e.g. suburbanization) to get at the real core of the issue. For example, NHB states they know Millennials want to become homeowners eventually (true) but that does not necessarily translate into big suburban homes (implied but false). The ‘smaller’ lot sizes discussed are still too big and don’t capitalize on the small house movement to increase affordability, etc. There’s some informative stuff in this article but the reader needs deploy critical thought to really dig for the takeaways. Good intentions but soft focus… and we all know the preferred pavement material for the road to hell.

With apologies. “Whatever Happened to HAMP and HARP?” by Jake Blumgart (pp. 36-37) is informative about the failure of the Federal programs, HAMP and HARP, established in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis to assist homeowners, but blatant in excusing the Obama Administration, Democratic Congress, and the banks for the failure of these programs by laying the blame at the feet of those very same homeowners (“If a financial institution was promising you something too good to be true, most families—after having been through what they had been through—said, ‘I’m not touching this…”). Right about the symptoms, wrong about the cause, so the conclusions are counter-productive.

More softer core. “Ever Green: Connecting to Nature in a Digital Age” by Tim Beatley (pp. 38-39) is interesting but harmless news fluff. Of course, most extinctions these days are due to the unprecedented growth of the world’s population in the post-war period. Extraterrestrial colonization and/or a massive, human depopulation event are the only substantive answers to the problem. It’s very scary that the second seems far more likely than the first.

In defense of fast food. I’m not sure about the purpose of Bobby Boone’s Viewpoint article “Fast Food’s Bad Rap” (pp. 44). Is ‘persecution of fast food’ even a thing? Sounds like a ‘first-world’ problem.

Planning Naked is a new series of observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Planning Naked | June 2016

June2016_coverPlanning Naked | June 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Your (hopefully) hilarious guide to everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

The Rise of the Aqua Planner. “Water Everywhere” in From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director section by James M. Drinan (pp. 3) discusses the intense focus on water issues during sessions of the recent APA National Conference. While the subject of water management and resources is, of course, important, especially in light of rapid urbanization and population growth around the world, I can’t figure out if the APA was being intentionally ironic, cleverly subversive, or just plain clueless by setting this conversation in Phoenix, Arizona. A city on the edge of an arid desert that gets a lot of its water from the Colorado River and probably should not exist at all based the precepts of generic function. It suspiciously sounds like APA is more interested in creating another specialized planning silo – the Aqua Planner.

June. 2016. A date. Which will live. In infamy. APA is finally forced to publish the obituary of Robert Moses’ ideas in “Farewell, Robert Moses Parkway North” by Tara Nurin (pp. 6). More like ‘good riddance’ since the real infamy is it took a quarter of a century for this project to get off the ground.

The Advance of Shared Space. “Chicago Neighborhood Puts Pedestrians First” by Allen Zeyher (pp. 7) details the shared space conversion of a three-block stretch of Argyle Street in Chicago. Pedestrians First? Isn’t that slogan some sort of right-wing synthesis of vehophobia (“fear of driving”) and xenophobia (“fear of outsiders”)? Brad McCauley at Site Design Group, Ltd. offers the absolutely priceless quote of the article: “in pedestrian-heavy corridors, it’s a no-brainer to reclaim space that was formerly given over to cars,” which implicitly confirms our suspicion that the overwhelming majority of urban planners do not possess a brain. Perhaps a trip to Emerald City to see the Wizard is in order?

States lead. Federal hampers. Oh wait, State hampers, too. At first glance, there is more evidence in the News Brief section (pp. 7) that there isn’t any problem the Federal government won’t try to regulate its way out of (e.g. more EPA requirements) whereas it is the States that are really leading (e.g. Colorado Supreme Courts overturns local fracking ban)… except for the last news item about the Texas Department of Transportation adding ‘informal’ lanes by using inside shoulders during rush hour for motorists to double average speeds and produce “smooth sailing.” That’s called medicating the symptoms, not curing the disease. At least, TexDOT have their ‘evidence’ for another costly lane widening project. Let’s be honest, motorists were probably already using the inside shoulders and TexDOT merely acknowledged the fait accompli.

Speaking of fait accompli. “Tactical Urbanism Goes Mainstream” by Jake Blumgart in the News and Legal Lessons section (pp. 8) seems to stamp tactical urbanism with APA’s approval because the brand has now been proven capable of securing money for things that don’t, in fact, have anything to do with tactical urbanism. The Philadelphia example cited in the article is for pool amenity improvements, not tactical urbanism. The $184,080 granted in Detroit isn’t for tactical urbanism, it’s nominally ‘planning for tactical urbanism’ but the first project discussed is – yes, you guessed it – pool amenity improvements. It’s disturbing how concepts get twisted to mean almost anything you want when the money gets involved in the United States.

Real Reporting. In “Scalia’s Land-Use Legacy,” William Fulton briefly reviews the legacy of the recently deceased Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia on land use law for the Legal Lessons section (pp. 9). It is a well-written, objective piece about, primarily, the Nollan and Lucas decisions. Fulton discusses their legal importance and Scalia’s intellectual role in crafting the majority decisions. The article is informative while blessedly free of ‘hidden’ agendas or positions. Ah, real reporting!

Tsk-tsk. Aaaaaarrrrrrrggggggghhhhhh. “Mixed Income, Mixed Results” by Craig Guillot (pp. 10-17) discusses the combination, for good or ill, of market rate and targeted affordable housing in developments. Housing policies in the United States from the Federal level to State and local government has been completely ass-backwards ever since the 1949 Housing Act and APA has been – and continues to be – complicit in perpetuating this ass-backwardness. All of the evidence you need is this quote, “Brennan says funding has been a barrier,” which again boils everything down to ‘give us more money.’ Giullot’s article therefore ably covers all of the problems this ass-backwards approach entails and reaps without ever addressing the core problem that everyone is basically talking out of their ass when it comes to housing. The short answer is found in the scale of developments, build-out times, land appreciation, and recognizing that a city does not ever, ever, ever remain statically frozen in time or character. The purposeful convolution of this issue is frustrating beyond belief and a direct consequence of early 20th century Euclidean zoning and suburban land tenure theories. But, by all means, continue to fiddle with market and affordable housing percentages and waste the next 50 years as well.

Here’s Your Consolidation Prize. “Separated City” by Lee R. Epstein (pp. 18-23) about Capetown in South Africa is actually a really interesting, informative article. Epstein seems to skip over the fact (or maybe, I missed it) that cities like Capetown actually represent traditional urban patterns in most of the world where lower income people live at the edges (e.g. suburbs) and higher income people live in the center. In contrast, the American urban model became inverted due to suburbanization during the post-war period. However, what’s really suspicious is how this story on Capetown immediately follows Guillot’s article about mixed income neighborhood planning efforts in US cities. Am I being paranoid that this article represents a consolidation prize to make American urban planners feel better about themselves (“See, it could be worse. Just look at Capetown, South Africa”)? Maybe, maybe not.

My God! Real Science in Planning Magazine! The use of biometrics to track human eye movement in the built environment is not new (perhaps it’s new to the APA and/or Americans). It’s been around for a while now – being worked on at University College London using virtual reality 20 years ago – in one form or another. It’s a fascinating area of research about the built environment but we need to be careful to fully appreciate the implications and not assume it’s an issue of quantity [“No wonder visitors from around the world like walking through Venice or Copenhagen — there’s so much (our emphasis) there to stimulate our sensory system, no matter one’s native language, culture, or personal history”]. There is a LOT of meat in this subject, too much to go into here but you can look at some of the work of Dr. Ruth Conroy Dalton at the Northumbria University and Dr. Beatrix Emo, Cahir of Cognitive Science at ETH Zurich. The key takeaway from the article for architects and planners right now is this quote: “I realized how people are really attracted to people.”

My God! Housing Sanity in Planning Magazine! Finally, someone articulates a reasonable perspective about the issues of housing in the Viewpoint section, “The New Home Ownership Reality” by Professor Anthony Nelson (pp. 48) of the University of Arizona. Professor Nelson does not implicitly tackle the house size part of the equation (e.g. tiny houses/small house movement) but any discussion about affordability has to begin with rental housing and ownership of affordably sized homes. Professor Nelson’s Viewpoint article is a good place to start.

Planning Naked is a new series of observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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