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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 an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Planning Naked | June 2015

PlanningJun15Observations on the June 2015 issue of Planning Magazine.

Cover: An indication arrow on the cover (see below)? Seriously? How can APA be trusted to design our communities when they don’t even know how to design a magazine cover?

Having said that, this is really one of the best Planning Magazine issues in a long time, for the most part.

1.    “Walking in Jacob’s Footsteps” (page 4): I wholeheartedly approve of the concept behind the Jane’s Walk organization (www.JanesWalk.org) and I’m pleased to see Planning Magazine feature a prominent news piece about it.

2.    “AARP Tool Quantifies Livability” (page 5): The goals of AARP’s Livability Index appear commendable (the devil is, of course, in the details of the data input) but the reliance on census blocks indicates an inherently insensitivity to urban block-to-block and street segment-to-segment variations commonplace in traditional urbanism. I’m also tied of this faux affordability debate (“At 2.5 times the U.S. median cost, the housing is not very affordable, but you can’t have it all”). At its core, this is a simple supply and demand question. After 60 years of suburban sprawl in the USA, there is an insufficient supply of walkable, traditional neighborhoods so demand is high, hence it costs more. And the U.S. median housing cost figure does not factor in associated costs of living in one particular type of area compared to others (owning multiple cars, gas and insurance costs, cost of time cost to commute, HOA costs, etc.).

3.    “Michigan Ups Investment with Crowdfunding” (page 6): “This investment strategy allows businesses to publicly recruit all investors, not just the several million or so defined as accredited investors by the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission.” Think about that sentence for a moment. If people are developing innovative investment solutions to get around Federal regulators, then there is something fundamentally wrong with those regulations as written and/or enforced. The potential of crowdfunding is exciting as long as our political leaders don’t poison the well.

4.    “Great Park Audit Exposes Problems” (page 7): So this is what a planning quagmire looks like! “The master plan was killed… by its own hubris.” That should be on the planning profession’s epithet.  It seems like the design and financing concept was flawed from the beginning; corruption thrives under such circumstances. I suspects there’s more to this story.

5.    Interesting series of articles on beach access/erosion issues (“A Line in the Sand” by Heather Boerner, page 8-15 including related articles). Highlights: “This fictional line (mean high- and low-tide lines) has only created trouble between private land owners and the public” (Jennifer Sullivan, FSU College of Law, now Florida House of Representatives member for the 31st District, perhaps someone to watch in the futre?). “The city, along with the stakeholders, will need to work to preserve the beach forever” (Linda Tucker, Isle of Palms, SC City Administrator)…. compared that impossible, static view of the world to a dynamic, realistic one… “or they retreat from the coastline” (i.e. the standard human solution to ecological changes for thousands of years)… “erosion can’t be avoided.”

6.    Excellent article by Rebecca Leonard of Design Workshop about Green Infrastructure and Tactical Urbanism (“Green Infrastructure Grows Up”, page 16-21). However, I am quickly getting tired of the practice of acronym listings in these Planning Magazine articles for public and non-profit agencies, organizations, and programs. Poor Richard: It isn’t the quantity of the acronyms that matter but the quality of their (letter) characters.

7.    Interesting how Chuck Ware of Design Workshop inserts a (admittedly striking) graphic on worldwide energy depletion into an article principally about affordable housing in Saudi Arabia to make the link between ecological challenges and development patterns (“Saudi Arabia’s Quest for Affordable Housing, page 22-27).

8.     Another excellent article on modeling the long-term costs of alternative planning strategies in Belize (“A ‘Blue Economy’ for Belize by Ilima Loomis, page 28-32). That these modeling techniques with a  “robust scientific basis” emerge from a consortium of environmental groups and academic departments – and not the planning profession or its academic departments – speaks volumes.

9.    “Out of the Box, into the Scenario” (page 33-35): Article on voodoo science (“decreasing ability of traditional modeling techniques to forecast future traffic accurately”). Maybe that’s because it never did accurately forecast to begin with? Just spit-balling here.

10.    “Senior-Friendly Transportation Options (page 36-37) kinda misses the larger point (“There’s also a focus on how to keep older drivers in their cars longer.”). We need to get everyone – regardless of age – out of their cars more frequently.

11.    “Simplify That Code!” by Randall Arendt (page 38-41) on pared-down Form-Based Codes is another excellent article, adapted from Rural by Design (2015) by the same author.

I’m going to cut off this article here because this is a really good issue of Planning Magazine with a dense amount of useful material. I could easily list another 10 observations. As always, read with a critical eye to understand the underlying assumptions of the author(s) but this month’s issue somewhat helps to make up for disaster of the Special Issue on Transportation last month. Do we dare hope this represents progress?

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

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Planning Naked | May 2015

Planning_May2015Observations on the May 2015 issue of Planning Magazine.

1.  I cannot believe the cover of this Special Issue on Transportation from Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association. The message could not be any clearer:

Transportation=Road Building=Moving Cars=Money $$$

At first, I thought – finally – APA has developed a satirical perspective on its own profession. Yeah, that was wishful thinking. The cover is insidious, especially given the contrary content of this month’s issue on road design, reduced parking requirements, etc. Let’s ‘fix’ this cover.

Planning_May2015 revise

2.  “The Mathematics of Urban Productivity” (pp. 9) has an exciting and really important finding buried in the text. “Human settlements are, first and foremost, social networks embedded in space (our emphasis),” wrote Scott Ortman, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado-Boulder in a paper published in Science Advances about a study of productivity in the Aztec city Teōtīhuacān (modern day Mexico City), “the productivity of cities depends… on their role as containers for social interaction.”

3.  Despite (seemingly) editorial efforts to change the emphasis to police enforcement from road design, the message of “The Safest Streets: Vision Zero aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities” by Jay Walljasper (pp. 14) still comes through loud and clear. “Research shows that lowering a speed limit without other improvements like road design changes or improved police enforcement doesn’t work to slow traffc – it’s the roadway design (our emphasis) that affects the speed” (Charlie Zegger, UNC Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center). It’s not an enforcement problem, it’s a design problem. This provides an especially galling contrast compared to the “pro-car, make money” message of this month’s Planning Magazine cover. Two steps forward, one step back.

4.  Another good article “Releasing the Parking Brake on Economic Development” by Brian Canepa and Joshua Karlin-Resnick (pp. 22). “A recent study by the Transportation Research Board found that parking was oversupplied in mixed use district by an average of 65 percent.” It’s not only in mixed use districts and you don’t really need a study to see the obvious, just open your eyes and look. Accommodating parking for 2-3 days of the year (shopping days before Christmas) is just stupid. The example cited in Sacramento makes a clearcut case of how the real problem is created and perpetuated by the regulatory regime itself.

5.  The logical conclusion of the above article and Donald Shoup’s excellent “Putting the Cap on Parking Requirements” article is the Buffalo model: complete eradication of minimum parking requirements in regulatory codes and allowing the market to determine what is needed on a case-by-case basis. The planning profession is not ready to adopt such a radical approach but they better start getting ready.

6.  “Road (Funding) Rage” by Jon Davis – in combination with the insidious cover – reveals the real agenda of the American Planning Association and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which is organizations greedily sucking at the teat of the government (preferably Federal but State and local will do as well). Approximately one-third on the content (excluding advertisements) in this special issue is dedicated to funding, taxes, and cars.

In my dreams I have a plan
If I got me a wealthy Man
I wouldn’t have to work at all, I’d fool around and have a ball…
Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
– ABBA

7.  “Towards a grounded theory of sustainable zoning” by Reid Ewing from the University of Utah in the Research You Can Use section advocates the concept of grounded or qualitative theory, which is really just normative theory because it is not testable or refutable, meaning it’s not theory at all in the scientific sense of the word. For normative theory, see Modernism planning.

8.  It’s hard to know where to begin with Elizabeth Wood’s Viewpoint Article, “Celebrity Culture Meets Planning Culture”. I am guessing People Magazine passed on this article. According to Wood, Idina Menzel (the “the one and only, Adele Dazeem”, per John Travolta) plays a planner in the Broadway musical If/Then, she sang on Disney’s Frozen and has “millions of young Frozen fans”, ergo we can expect a “bumper crop of new planners” in the next generation. I guess I can see her point. I mean Madonna did play Eva Peron in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita in 1996, Madonna had millions of young fans at the time, and now we are inundated with a bumper crop of ambitious young women who want to be the second wife of South American oligarchs… And that is how you do satire, APA *mic drop*.

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

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