Tag Archives: Suburban Sprawl

Planning Naked | December 2015

planning1215Planning Naked | December 2015
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

This issue of Planning Naked may be a little shorter than usual since my print edition of Planning Magazine hasn’t appeared in the mail in months (you might have noticed the gap in posts of Planning Naked). Is it an APA conspiracy to mute criticism of Planning Magazine by the Outlaw Urbanist? Probably not, I’m dealing with address change issues and APA is an organization that moves at a glacial pace when to comes to change. So I’m reading the digital edition of Planning Magazine, which is a pain in the a… my fingers and eyes, to say the least.

10 Strategies for Livable Communities (page 24) as part of the Livability for All article (page 21-24)
This article follows up on AARP’s creation of a Livability Index for senior citizens. You may recall from a previous edition of Planning Naked that I pointed out one of the worst ‘suburban sprawl hell’ areas of Jacksonville, Florida scored a 50 on AARP’s Livability Index, suggesting the criteria was suspect at best. What is really startling about these ’10 Strategies” is the utter lack of the word ‘design’ appearing anywhere in the list. More so, it’s difficult to find anything that could be even implied to mean design as an component of livability. Indeed, most of these strategies involve ‘consultation’ and ‘competitiveness’ (i.e. economic aka making money). Just as Carly Fiorina chides Hillary Clinton by saying “flying is a activity, not an accomplishment” so APA needs to be criticized in a similar manner. Consultation is an activity (a means to an end) and not an accomplishment in itself. Personally, I’m sick of APA members citing all manner of acronym-ed organizations they have consulted as if this was an accomplishment in itself. It is not. Poor Richard:  It isn’t the quantity of the acronyms that matter but the quality of their (letter) characters. APA members need to be careful about flying to something shiny (AARP’s Livability Index, e.g. Won’t someone please think of the old people?!?!) and applying it without thought before understanding its underlying assumptions. Count me suspicious. Based on experience, WalkScore, at the moment, seems like a more credible index than AARP’s Livability Index. Besides, AARP is composed of almost nothing but Baby Boomers these days and it’s the Baby Boomers who got us, for the most part, into this mess. Should we really trust the Baby Boomers’ interpretation of ‘livability’.

China’s Evolving Art Industry (page 35-40)
Has anyone else noticed that the most interesting and exciting developments in practice covered in Planning Magazine tend to occur in overseas countries? Does anyone think this is decidedly odd? Are Americans just not really trying when it comes to planning? Very interesting article on the emergence of creative districts in China over the last 30 years. However, the article betrays a fear of change (“commercial success prices out the pioneers”). Change is the very nature of the city. Get over it, already.

Yikes, There’s a Tourist in Town (page 41-42)
Short translation of this article for you: Planning would be so much easier if cities didn’t have people. We wouldn’t need any planning at all, or cities for that matter.

Best Practices: Using Planning Data Wisely (page 43-44)
This is a very good article by Terry Moore, Alexandra Reese and Ali Danko from ECON Northwest about the proper use of data in developing sound planning policy and regulations. The only thing that needs to be added to their list of bullet points is:

Transparency: Be clear and honest about data sources and your assumptions about that data and its collection.

I thoroughly recommend this article for everyone.

Research You Can Use: A physicist tries to solve the city by Reid Ewing (page 47-48)
I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read Reid Ewing’s “Research You Can Use” article in this month’s issue of Planning Magazine. In it, Ewing explains why he rejected a submitted paper for a referred journal attempting to build upon Luis Bettencourt and Geoffrey West’s Urban Scaling Theory. I can’t really comment with authority on the validity of Ewing’s arguments since I have not read the submitted paper in question. Of course, Ewing is correct that the larger the city, the more you have of everything including crime. The aggregated population v. crime correlation is interesting at an abstract level (and should be totally expected) but not very useful for planning policy. For that, you need the sensitive street-by-street and block-by-block modeling techniques of the urban network such as space syntax. In this way, you can demonstrate the usefulness of such correlations between population, crime, location/access, and spatial vulnerability and potential proposed design changes to address the problem. There’s a lot of good research on that front. However, what is refreshing about Ewing’s article is the transparency. It is an excellent attempt to ‘unveil’ the scientific process at work. In this sense, it is very valuable. In fact, Ewing’s article makes me wonder whether there is some inherent value in all referred publications printing short summaries by referees for all rejected papers so that the entire scientific, urban planning community can benefit from seeing the process at work. Something worth thinking about as this could be ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ type of strategy.

Planners Library
Sounds like there are several, new books worth reading:

John Nolen, Landscape Architect and City Planner by R. Bruce Stephenson. Available on Amazon here.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis Hardcover by Robert D. Putnam. Available on Amazon here.

The End of Automobile Dependence: How Cities are Moving Beyond Car-Based Planning by Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy. Available on Amazon here.

I want all three books for Christmas, please. Thank you!

Viewpoint: Planning’s Role in Social Justice by Grant Prior (page 56)
Have you ever noticed how often commentaries about ‘social justice’ are really nothing more than passionate calls for navel gazing? Justice is supposed to be blind so the concept of social justice is, in itself, an oxymoron. 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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Planning Naked | July 2015

planning0715Observations on the July 2015 issue of Planning Magazine.

1. Some will be disappointed this month’s issue (“Pot Report”) did not come with any free samples; maybe for only APA-CA or APA-CO chapter members, perhaps.

2. APA appears to have suddenly realized (or, maybe, finally remembered) the importance of water in community planning (“From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director”, pp. 3). Well, that partially explains the existence of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, etc. in their current conglomeration. I hope APA appreciates the irony that the next APA national conference is being held in Phoenix… but hey, I hear it’s a dry heat.

3. The biggest news gets a brief mention (“News Briefs”, pp. 7) about the halting of a highway project in Wisconsin because travel forecasts failed to show the road widening was actually needed, and projects in other states are stalled for the same reason. You mean agencies are actually building highways only for the sake of building highways?!?! Eureka! Alleluia! Hosanna! However, APA’s anti-fracking agenda (what a lot of us view as “energy independence”) gets eight times the number of words on the exact, same page. Ahem.

4. Lots of scare-mongering about the Koontz decision in this month’s “Legal Lessons” (pp. 9). However, the sidebar about “climate exactions” is interesting. I would like to see this tested out in the courts to see if any such ‘climate exaction’ could really bear the burden of legal scrutiny.

5. “New-Age Central Parks” (pp. 14-23) is interesting but I’m beginning to think a lot of planners are afraid of buildings. Kyle Warren Park in Dallas is OK but is a park really needed across the street from another park? And nobody walks in a curve like the way the paths are laid out in this park. At least, not by choice… are park designers practicing some insidious form of architectural determinism?

6. The “Pot Report” (pp.24-29) is oddly disappointing, lots of questions, no answers, very little really added to the debate or issue.

7. Excellent article on Tactical Urbanism “(We Own This City”, pp. 30-34).

8. “Research You Can Use” discusses the AARP’s new Livability Index. Handle with caution. I inputted the address of one of the worst suburban sprawl areas in Jacksonville, Florida and AARP’s site gave the neighborhood an ‘average’ score of 50. No way! So, either the site is wrong or we have officially crossed the threshold into way, way too much suburban sprawl in this country so it’s skewing the percentages. It’s probably both, now that I think about it.

9. I mention planners are afraid of buildings in #5 above and Peter Gisolfi, AIA addresses this very issue in the Viewpoint editorial on the back page (“A Plea for Buildings that Fit In”). I suspect most planners will discount what he has to say because he does not have an AICP credential. A shame.

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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FROM THE VAULT | Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit

wanderlustREVIEW: Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

When I first heard about Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit, I was really excited to read it. While Soinit certainly deserves some credit for daring to tackle a subject that is a fundamental reality of human existence while also extremely difficult to discuss, the result is profoundly disappointing. Simply put, this is a very uneven book with not enough high points (e.g. socio-cultural implications of automobile-dependent suburban sprawl in America, walking as described in 18th and 19th European literature, concepts of artists incorporating walking into their contemporary work) to compensate for the many low points. These include regular regurgitation of common misconceptions about walking and associated (often tangential) subjects, a brief swim in the treacherous waters of ‘rape culture’ with its troubling connotations of Orwellian thought crime, and even outright historical revisions. It is a type of historical revisionism (or post-rationalization by way of apologia) that occurs all too often in popular culture today, preying on historical ignorance in the hopes that if a lie is told frequently enough it will eventually become the truth. Herein lies the fatal flaw of the book. Soinit chooses to focus her history of walking on extraordinary events rather than ordinary, everyday occurrences (and their observation): this where the real richness about walking as a subject truly lies. It is unfortunate because, while Soinit’s focus is not always objective, she does, on occasion, provide keen observations about some subjects (a brief section on gyms near the end of the book is particular interesting). This unevenness makes Wanderlust: A History of Walking a real endurance test for the reader. There are some gems buried within the text but it is hard work along the path to find them. It will try and defeat most readers’ patience. I endured but I am unsure it was worth the effort.

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Soinit
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books (June 1, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0140286012
ISBN-13: 978-0140286014

Available for purchase from Amazon here.

From the Vault is a series from the Outlaw Urbanist in which we review art, architectural and urban design texts, with an emphasis on the obscure and forgotten, found in second-hand bookstores.

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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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