Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Economic impact of major sports events

This Sunday is the Super Bowl, and of course, local business groups claim that Greater Phoenix will garner hundreds of millions of dollars of economic benefit.  But it's more complicated.

While the stadium is in Glendale ("Albatross of Debt Weighs on Super Bowl City," New York Times), most of the pre-game events are in Phoenix, although there are also events in Scottsdale.

The same thing happened with last year's Super Bowl, where the main non-game events were in Manhattan, while the game was actually played in New Jersey.  Because most of the pregame action, and rented hotel rooms were in Manhattan, the benefit for New Jersey businesses were limited ("At Super Bowl, New York and New Jersey Will Be Top Rivals," New York Times).

Despite the efforts of local independent businesses to participate (e.g., "Phoenix hopes to score with its super food scene," AP), attendees for sporting events such as the Super Bowl tend to not be very interested in consuming anything local that is unrelated to the game.  So the spillover benefits are pretty limited.

That was proved by the last Super Bowl in Phoenix in 2008.  Local First Arizona produced a booklet promoting local businesses and districts ("Super Bowl visitors encouraged to spend at local businesses," Phoenix Business Journal).  While they have stuff online this year, I noticed they don't seem to have produced a booklet.

The likely sales and ticket admissions taxes reaped by Glendale from the game and related activities will be exceeded by their costs to provide police and emergency services to support the game.

It looks like the book International Handbook on the Economics of Mega Sporting Events is pretty definitive, and discounts the economic claims made by event boosters.

DC didn't get picked for the Olympics, but this book, Planning Olympic Legacies: Transport Dreams and Urban Realities, looks pretty interesting.

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Research on velocity of "new" DC residents in terms of moving out of the city

The Washington Post reports ("How fast are newcomers moving out of the District? Real fast") that more than 70% of "new" DC residents as of 2004 didn't file a 2012 tax return.

But the significant rise in DC's population has occurred over the past 3 or so years and so the cohort from 2004 precedes significantly newer cohorts represented in the recent rise in demand for urban living and significant growth in the city's population.

I don't know how interesting or important this information is.

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Woodridge, a hot neighborhood nationally?

snowy, icy, ickyAccording to the Redfin online and real estate brokerage, the 2015 list of the hottest national neighborhoods includes a surprise, a DC neighborhood, Woodridge (pictured at left, Flickr photo by Jaime Fearer).

Here's the list:

1) El Cerrito, San Diego
2) Dickinson Narrows, Philadelphia
3) East Atlanta, Atlanta
4) Little Neck, Queens, N.Y.
5) Bohemia, Long Island, N.Y.
6) Curtis Park, Sacramento
7) Andersonville, Chicago
8) Woodridge, Seattle
9) Crocker, San Francisco
10) Woodridge, Washington, D.C.

Woodridge Community gateway signIt's hard for me seeing Woodridge as one of the nation's hottest neighborhoods. I do understand the price appeal.   Here's Redfin's criteria according to the Los Angeles Times:
The website says it compiles the list based on the number of page views, favorites and Redfin “Hot Homes” in a neighborhood, after adjusting for size
which seem somewhat spurious.

From the standpoint of price vs. value, you get more house and more yard in Woodridge, and compared to living in Prince George's County, DC houses are more likely to hold their value.

According to the article Redfin claims that people are again seeking farther out locations
“Many homebuyers have recoiled from the dramatic increase in house prices in urban centers posted over the past three years,” Redfin Chief Economist Nela Richardson said in a statement. “They are now searching for more affordable places farther out.”
Woodridge has decent and eclectic housing stock, and it's in DC.

Using the Live Baltimore concept of a "one over neighborhood" and buying close to the neighborhood that you want, but is too expensive, Woodridge is "one over" from Brookland, which is definitely a hot neighborhood with escalating prices.

Most in city neighborhoods are attractive because of walkability and rail transit.  But from the standpoint of the kinds of characteristics that attract people to in-city neighborhoods, walkability, access to a Metrorail station in particular, and having a neighborhood commercial district including restaurants you can walk to.

Woodridge comes up short--it's not a walkable neighborhood, it's a driving neighborhood-- making it less likely to achieve the same level of hotness and long term value as its one over neighbor, Brookland, or closer in neighborhoods that are eminently walkable.

Woodridge is automobile-centric, although a number of bus lines serve the area, the schools are just ok, and it's roughly 1.0 to 2.0 miles to either the Brookland or Rhode Island Metro Stations.

Using Walkscore, 2100 Otis St. NE comes out at a 65, somewhat walkable, with lower scores for transit and bikeability.  By contrast much more of Brookland rates higher, and core neighborhoods have scores in the 90s.

Rhode Island Avenue NE, Washington, DCThere is commercial district of sorts on Rhode Island Avenue NE, with some decent buildings, but it's pretty disjoint, without many particularly noteworthy businesses, other than Rita's ice cream and the Art Enables Gallery.

The north side of the street has particularly wide sidewalks that would serve as great restaurant patios.

Zeke's, a Baltimore coffee outfit, recently opened up a DC shop at 2300 RI Avenue NE.

But there is a Main Street commercial district revitalization initiative for the corridor and maybe that can help turn things around for the commercial district.

Woodridge bannerBesides a coffee shop, a great "community restaurant" is a key necessity to help reposition the commercial district.

But it's tough in DC to maintain the success of a commercial district that relies on the automobile (see "“Dying” Georgia Avenue Block Bodes Ill for the Neighborhood," Washington City Paper) rather than pedestrians.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Is it cheaper when gas is cheaper or not to rely on a car to begin with?

Yesterday's New York Times has a piece, "Gas, Still Not as Cheap as It Used to Be," about how much of the income drop over the past decades has been associated with a rise in energy prices and makes the point that cutting gas prices will increase disposable income.  From the article:
One of the surest ways to end the great wage slowdown would be for the United States to make sure it’s entering a new era of cheap energy. “It’s the proverbial tax cut,” says Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of the research firm IHS and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of oil. If energy costs remain at current levels, it would put $180 billion into Americans’ pockets this year, according to Moody’s Analytics, equal to 1.2 percent of income and a higher share for lower-income households. 
That’s why taking virtually every step to push oil costs even lower — “drill, baby, drill,” as the phrase goes — would make a lot of sense, so long as oil use did not have harmful side effects. 
The most obvious way to hold down the price of oil is to increase its supply.
Of course, another obvious way to hold down the price of oil is to significantly reduce demand. In the US, approximately 70% of oil is used for transportation.

But obviously, for us city dwellers, not relying on a car for mobility eliminates $5,000 or more of total spending on transportation--while the average cost per year for a car is $8,876 in 2014 according to the American Automobile Association, we still have to pay for transit, our bikes, using car shares and car rentals, etc. (Note that the cost to operate a car will drop significantly in 2015, by $1,000 or more, depending on how long gasoline prices remain lower.)

And in DC especially, subway transportation is expensive compared to other jurisdictions (e.g., the cost of a monthly transit pass in NYC or San Francisco is less than half the cost of a subway pass here, which doesn't include bus as do the other passes).

In the interim, with falling gas prices, the cost advantage over the automobile-dependent that is enjoyed by city dwellers owning no or fewer cars (but paying more, generally, for housing) is dissipating a bit, at least in the short and intermediate run.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Prince George's County embarks on a zoning rewrite effort: Part 2

Rendering, transit oriented development scenario for Branch Avenue Station, Green Line Metrorail, Prince George's County.

First, I think Chad Williams makes a good case that the county planning department has been doing a lot in terms of creating a new master plan, the Envision Prince George's initiative, a great number of sector plan updates, transit oriented development initiatives in association with the Purple Line light rail planning and sector plans for Metrorail station areas, and other actions.

All potentially have contributed to the construction of a kind of consensus that the county has distinctly different areas with different spatial conditions and opportunities, which in order to thrive, need different zoning and development treatments that aren't present in or easily supported within the current code.

I have been critical of PG County efforts in the past and the zoning rewrite initiative offers another opportunity to reify necessary changes.

-- Go big or go home: Prince George's County needs to think big and consider better revitalization examples for New Carrollton
-- Another lesson that Prince George's County has a three to five year window to reposition based on visionary transportation planning

Thinking about the kinds of virulent opposition to development experienced in DC and Montgomery County, in Prince George's only a couple projects come to mind where that level of opposition has been expressed, including Riverdale Park Station, a mixed use project with retail including a Whole Foods supermarket and residential, in the Rte. 1 corridor, but in an area that is mostly low density residential.

Many people thought it was a good project in the wrong place, and there is some merit to that position.  (Although with land ownership, to sort of paraphrase Donald Rumsfield, "you do projects with the properties that developers put forward when they put them forward, not with properties and developers that you wish you had.")

But mostly, I think the situation in Prince George's County reminds me of the situation on H Street NE around 2000.

My line about it is that "there wasn't a consensus on what it should become, but there was a consensus that H Street needed to change--it wasn't serving any demographic particularly well--and we needed to work together to achieve progress."

While there are some issues in some quarters, especially with regard to the streetcar, there is no question that our expectations back in 2000 have already been wildly exceeded, and the most important developments, including the streetcar, are still to come.

Perhaps Prince George's County is in the same place?   Are Prince George's County residents are ready for change, if change means improving their neighborhoods, town centers, and the county as a whole?

There is an increasing recognition on the part of many residents that the county needs more development, and needs a greater variety of types of housing, more market rate housing in certain places, better commercial development, more density in the right places--this is definitely the case since 2008 and the real estate crash, which the other entries have already discussed.

The challenge is to get the right development in the right places.

This difference in attitude and need is evidenced by the difference between Montgomery County and Prince George's County residents when it comes to planning around the Purple Line.  In Chevy Chase, upper income residents don't want to lose their quiet linear park (the Capital Crescent Trail) nor accommodate "those people" who ride transit, while in the Takoma Crossroads area, people criticize see the light rail program as a tool for displacement and gentrification.

Rendering of the College Park light rail station.

By contrast, in Prince George's County, elected officials are spearheading support for the Purple Line, recognizing that the light rail line will be instead a tool for expanding the attractiveness and economic viability of Prince George's County.

No Prince George's County elected official has a substantive anti-development, slow growth position--even if they might not evince a well-developed position on smart growth and transit oriented development either, as demonstrated by the failure of Eric Olson, the person most associated with that kind of position on development, to be selected as President of the County Council in 2012 ("Environmentalist Eric Olson loses bid to head Prince George's County Council," Post).

Compared to zoning rewrite opponents in DC and Montgomery County, it appears as if PGC residents don't believe as vociferously that new development is incompatible with existing places and neighborhoods or that there is no benefit to existing residents from new development or the addition of (preferably) higher income residents.

By contrast, the most prevalent anti-development trope in DC and Montgomery County is that particular projects are merely bag jobs for developers to make money, with no benefits to the residents, neighborhood, or city.

National Harbor on the Potomac River is criticized as a greenfield development that is poorly connected to the transit system. 

Regardless, the development has hotels and a conference center, an increasing array of retail options, a wide ranging schedule of special events, a growing residential base, and construction is underway to build an MGM Grand Casino.  

Plus, according to my colleague, "there seems to be less organized grass roots civic activity over housing and specifically promoting single family detached housing as a fundamental symbol of their identity as households and as residents of a suburban county."  Prince George's has a greater range of housing types and support for that range continues.

It will be interesting to watch how the Prince George's County Zoning Rewrite proceeds.  Note that because of the weather, tonight's meeting for North County has been rescheduled to February 10th.

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Prince George's County embarks on a zoning rewrite: Part 1

When I got the email about PG County having a series of public meetings this week to launch their effort to do a zoning rewrite to translate the latest version of the County's master plan, Plan Prince George's County | 2035, which was influenced by the Envision Prince George's (planning document) vision plan into regulatory force, I couldn't help but think about similar efforts in DC and Montgomery County.

DC's zoning rewrite effort started in late 2007 after the passage of a new Comprehensive Plan in late 2006.  After seven years, so far there isn't much to show for it in terms of passed changes, although this year is the first year when many sections are likely to change.

Compared to DC, Montgomery County was faster and more successful as they started their effort in 2009--pushed by a change agent planning director, Rollin Stanley, who was brought in to shake things up and he did (he's now in Calgary)--which passed, mostly intact, and favorable to intensification, last year.
Transect
The New Urban transect is a good visual guide to thinking about "density" in the context of more urban and less urban settings.

Both processes have been marked by a great deal of contention, with similar antecedents:
  • in both places the most organized residents are older and are
  • committed to a "less urban" land use and transportation planning paradigm
  • they think things are fine the way they are
  • many feel that their values are under attack if you don't preference and prioritize single family housing and automobility (I wrote about DC in this context here, "Understanding why Upper Northwest DC residents don't buy into the sustainability mobility paradigm; "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city")
  • denigrate of transit (and biking and car sharing) because of purported inefficiency and/or because transit is ridden with others while people do not have to share cars that they own
  • see few many benefits from changes that allow greater density or reduced accommodation for automobiles
  • are uncomfortable acknowledging that different areas of their respective jurisdictions should be treated in a more nuanced fashion--as decidedly urban or sub-urban--with more appropriate zoning regulations depending on the respective spatial organization. 
Although I think that DC also made a bunch of mis-steps, and should have used the framework of the Nashville Community Character Manual as a better way forward to reorganize the city's approach to zoning in the "Sub-urban" (T4) and Urban (T5/T6) districts that typify much of the city ("Urbanism and smart growth as pejorative terms;" "Right sizing development").

So where is Prince George's given the examples of DC and Montgomery County?

I asked Chad Williams, the Prince George's County Planning Department staff member who's leading the zoning rewrite team and this is what he wrote:
Two things that I believe sets Prince George’s County down the right path are: 
1. We are starting with a great deal of momentum. 
a. Our Plan Prince George’s 2035 General Plan was approved last year and establishes a clear vision and path to the county’s future success by building on our Metro stations, proposed Purple Line stations, and other significant centers of current and future activity; prioritizes the implementation framework to emphasize three near-term “Downtowns” (New Carrollton, Largo Town Center, and Prince George’s Plaza) with two longer-term Downtowns (Suitland and Branch Avenue Metro), three other “Regional Transit Districts” (College Park/U of MD Metro, Greenbelt Metro, National Harbor), and our “Innovation Corridor” along US 1 and MD 193 as the focus of county implementation efforts; and recognizes the county contains urban, suburban, and rural places. 
b. The County Executive and the County Council have confirmed New Carrollton, Largo Town Center, Prince George’s Plaza, Suitland, and Branch Avenue Metro as the county’s priority places through legislation and implementation actions (Plan 2035, TIF districts established in late 2014, prioritization letters to the State of Maryland, etc.). 
c. Approximately 80 percent of the county has been subject to a new master or sector plan over the last decade; working with the public to develop these plans has strengthened the county’s understanding of the issues that affect our communities and our residents, workers, and visitors. 
d. All parties—from the highest level elected officials to individual property owners—recognize the county’s current Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Regulations as major impediments to economic development, revitalization, and transit-oriented development. 
We’ve known this for some years, and have unsuccessfully attempted rewrites several times in the past, but now the iron is hot and it is time to strike. ... 
We are in a position where we can learn not only from the experiences of our peer jurisdictions but also from national best practices and our own experiences with our prior efforts at revising our codes. 
Our path to success starts with community and stakeholder consensus building, education, and building on rather than re-doing or discounting a decade of outreach and public input.  
Understanding that we have priority places that should be very urban, transit-oriented neighborhoods while recognizing the county still has—and likely will always have—a sizable suburban segment and an historic rural and agricultural heritage helps us reconcile and balance the demands and expectations of a more traditionally suburban mindset with the emerging transit and connected street grid infrastructure needs of an increasing urban populace.  
Emphasizing the importance of “transitional” areas at the edge of an urban/TOD place where it meets existing residential communities is especially important in Prince George’s County given the location of our heavy rail transit stations. Identifying and eliminating zoning and subdivision barriers to new development, particularly mixed-use development, is one of our major goals. To get here it will be key to work with everyone to ensure both the regulations and process are predictable, appropriately detailed (not too many regulations, which is a common problem with our current overlay zones, and not so few regulations that overall quality suffers), and supportive of Plan 2035 and the county’s goals.

Finally, we do find many parallels to the Montgomery County experience that are relevant to Prince George’s County, which is not surprising since both counties include the M-NCPPC. A couple of examples include the reduction and consolidation of their zoning structure (we currently have 73 zones) and use tables (350 pages of use tables and footnotes alone in our current Zoning Ordinance; at least 9 Maryland counties have entire zoning ordinances that are shorter); consideration of form-based elements that influence Montgomery County’s CR zones; greatly simplified review procedures and streamlined timeframes; and potentially the addition of a corrective map amendment process, which Prince George’s County does not really have today.

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More Prince George's County: College Park's militant refusal to become a college town makes it impossible for the city(and maybe the County) to become a great place

... like Ann Arbor, Madison, Chapel Hill, Cambridge, Berkeley, Boulder, etc.

Most cities lack the pedestrian density to support exclusively pedestrian malls.  College towns such as Boulder (pictured at right), Burlington, Vermont, and Charlottesville are exceptions, because of how town centers leverage the adjacent university campuses.

Last night I was talking with a colleague in preparation for the follow up piece on Prince George's County embarking on a zoning rewrite, and we were talking about what I call the "NIH effect," in Montgomery County, where people with high levels of education and relatively high incomes cluster around NIH because they work there, and how this impacts the schools and other civic institutions in the area.

It might not be as pronounced as it once was, but for me there was signature impact, because I remember being astounded back in 1979 as a sophomore in college mingling with so many kids from Montgomery County--typically they went to high schools like Whitman--how smart they were and how most had NIH lineage.

He brought up the University of Maryland and the fact that it doesn't have nearly the same kind of impact in Prince George's County that NIH does in Montgomery County, or the kind of impact that a typical large state university has on its environs.  (A lot of UMD students commute too, which dissipates some of the critical mass effect that a major state university can have on the local economy.)

Anti-college town policies in "College" Park.  We discussed how virtually every decision that the City of College Park and its Council makes is designed to make it impossible for a traditional college town to develop there, why the "commercial district" around the campus is pretty much pathetic, etc.

While there is a dense cluster of university buildings at Ann Arbor's core-central campus, it is surrounded on three sides by neighborhoods and two campus-related commercial districts, and the city's old "downtown" is just a few blocks west.

Highly educated and paid UMD staff and faculty have few reasons to live in the city.  Because there isn't much of a center outside the campus, faculty and staff have no compelling reason to live in College Park, especially because PG's schools lag those of certain other jurisdictions.  

No network effect.   By not having much "there there," the City of College Park and Prince George's County lose a wide variety of potentially beneficial impacts, especially for the schools.

The kind of "network effect" doesn't exist around the University of Maryland in the same way that such benefits are derived from NIH or the impact of children of faculty attending local public schools in cities like Ann Arbor, Michigan (etc.), the participation of faculty and staff in local civic affairs in a concentrated fashion, a concentrated grouping of high income consumers able to support local retail, etc.

Note that a big part of the economic impact in Ann Arbor is the University of Michigan Hospital, which is the largest employer in the city.  By contrast, the University of Maryland Medical School is in Baltimore.  Plus, Washtenaw County offers fewer options for high quality living, unlike how DC and Montgomery County are so close to College Park (my neighborhood is 4.25 miles from the campus by bike).  So Ann Arbor has less competition for residents than College Park.

The attractiveness of college town living to alumni.  Another factor in college town success is the desire of students to remain living in cities like Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Cambridge, and Madison after graduation, which helps to drive development of the commercial sector and small business development.

Both Baltimore and Philadelphia have well-developed programs designed to keep students in the city after graduation. Such a recruitment program would be tough for College Park to pull off, the way it is now.

College towns aren't perfect.  Sure the fact that it's a college town has shaped the retail in ways that favor students and may be less attractive to non-students, but the core of the commercial areas around the central campus are distinctly better than anything in College Park.

And there are some negatives that can arise from the economic value of neighborhoods serving as high rent "student ghettoes," and the lack of social and economic diversity that results.

Part of the problem comes from when the universities experienced their primary periods of growth.  Note that "the density" and spatial organization issue mentioned in the previous post is a related issue, and in part it has to do with when the university and the neighborhoods around it developed.

Ann Arbor's core neighborhoods developed during the era of the walking and transit city, so they are denser, set up in a traditional block and grid fashion, and are eminently walkable and served by some neighborhood commercial districts.

A big difference between most of the older universities mentioned above and UMD College Park is that Maryland is more a distinct campus that is cloistered, apart and separate from the city.  That's because it grew fastest in the 1950s, when the automobile dominated city planning.

Current conditions in "Downtown" College Park are anti-pedestrian. See the Washington Post piece, "Maryland to lower speed limit, expand speed cameras on troubled stretch of Route 1."

By contrast the University of Michigan's central campus is much more compact and is enveloped by the city around it.  But the fact that the North Campus developed during the 1950s and 1960s and is typical of universities developed in that period is instructive.

North Campus too is disconnected from the community and cloistered.  As a result, students don't spend much time there and don't like living there.

Note that as Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore leaks out from its campus into Charles Village, that has provided a new source of revitalization energy to that neighborhood.  The university has also significantly expanded its community connection and outreach effort.

A spring day on State Street, Madison, WI, April 2013State Street in Madison, Wisconsin connects the campus and the State Capitol and is now closed to motor vehicle traffic.  Flickr photo by Richard Hurd.

The spatial organization of Madison and Berkeley are somewhat different in that the campuses are large and somewhat apart, but in both cases, the towns connect to the campus at particular edges in a manner that still knits the campus and town together in a manner that is mutually beneficial.

Conclusion.  It's probably too late, but making over College Park into a "true college town," using examples like Ann Arbor, Boulder, Chapel Hill and others would enable the city, county, and university to better reap a variety of positive development, community, social, and educational outcomes.

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Washington Post series on "Dashed Dreams: The Plight of the Black Middle Class"

The Post ran a series of articles ("The American Dream shatters in Prince George's County") concluding today on the impact of the decline of the housing market on the Black middle class, focusing on an 1,800 house subdivision, Fairwood, in Prince George's County, that was built in the early part of the last decade.  With the housing crash, 1/3 of the houses tumbled into foreclosure and housing values declined precipitously, with problems abetted by various personal circumstances.

I was prepared to think, "wow, what a great series" especially because the first story led with a great graphic illustrating  the vast differences between the average financial worth of white and black households.
Graphic on difference in wealth between white and black households
Graphic from the Washington Post.

But the examples featured in each of the articles are about people who made incredibly bad financial decisions.  Therefore, it is difficult to draw useful conclusions from the series, and they don't raise any of the issues I  would have mentioned:
  • Lousy financial terms make you more vulnerable financially (the articles sort of make this point, but indirectly) 
  • refinancing mortgages to take out cash because of higher values can go awry if housing values decline
  • buying way more house than you need is expensive and can be impossible to pay if your personal economic circumstances change
  • houses in what Christopher Leinberger calls "walkable urban places" tend to maintain their value more when macroeconomic circumstances change and the Fairlawn subdivision featured in the series is a conventional automobile-centric subdivision
  • when you have too much house, you can take in roomers to help generate money to pay the mortgage, but it can be hard to attract roomers to auto-dependent places
Building grand but automobile-dependent subdivisions in Prince George's County was the primary economic development strategy of former County Executive Wayne Curry and this continued under his successor.

But this ended up not being a resilient strategy and the county today is paying for it in terms of the crash in housing values and the high rate of foreclosures.

While you don't have the same level of price escalation in DC that you did at the height of the market before the 2008 crash, most DC neighborhoods (except East of the River) have recovered much of their pre-crash value (even if some households are still underwater mortgage-wise because of cashing out gains during the housing bubble).

These neighborhoods are mostly walkable, but not always, with increasingly vibrant neighborhood centers.

Prince George's County has some communities somewhat similar to DC in urban form although typically with significant less density, mostly along the Route 1 corridor in the western county, along the border of DC and Montgomery County.

Those neighborhoods too crashed in terms of housing values, and still are way off their peak pre-crash values, but they have recovered more compared to the conventional automobile-dependent suburbs further east.
Houses for sale in Eastern DC and western Prince George's County Maryland
This image shows houses for sale in eastern DC's Woodridge neighborhood, and across the city-county line, houses in Mount Rainer and Hyattsville.  The prices are higher in DC, even for smaller houses and lots.  Source:  Zillow.

We won't ever really know if Prince George's County had taken a different course towards development, and extended "urbanism" rather than conventional suburbanism, whether or not the county would today be in a different place economically.

Interesting, the biggest lesson may be that density builds value and resilience in many situations, rather than reducing it, which is the common but incorrect belief.

Yes, PG County has other issues.  Traditional decline of "inner ring suburbs," is an issue.  So is poverty in some areas.  Like DC, PG County shoulders a disproportionate number of the region's poorest.

-- Foreclosure data webpage, Prince George's County

But maybe the biggest issue is the way that they develop land isn't the best method for building and maintaining property values over long periods of time.

=======
Interestingly, in many of the examples featured in the Post, if the households hadn't refinanced in the lead up to the crash, also on adjustable mortgages to take money out, they wouldn't be in financial predicament.

For example, one household, instead of selling a house and taking out a $200,000+ profit, which they could have used to pay towards the even newer $600,000 they bought, kept both houses.  With the crash, both declined in value, the renter in the original house stopped paying rent, and their job circumstances changed, depressing their household income.

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Historic Preservation Tuesday: Demolition of church in Federal Hill Baltimore versus more interesting alternatives

Apparently a church was demolished last month in Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood.  It will be replaced by three rowhouses.

Obviously, the problem of how to re-use vacant urban churches continues.  And it isn't merely a problem in the US ("Europe's Empty Churches Go on Sale," Wall Street Journal).

Many churches were created to support specific demographic groups most often in tight geographical proximity and as those communities disperse, those churches typically begin a long slow decline as the congregation continues to shrink.

This is accentuated by changes in the nature of worship and new types of churches, not traditional mainline congregations, that people are choosing to join now, which I wrote about here, "Sunday morning: Churches, religion, community and change."

A couple years ago a Baltimore blog, bmoremedia, wrote about the issue of reuse, in "Developers find new uses for sacred spaces."
Although the examples are mostly of creating offices.   DC has similar examples, including the conversion of a church to housing on Capitol Hill.

An out of the box example is the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh where a church has been converted to a decent brew pub.

That example so concerned the Archdiocese of Milwaukee that when they closed a number of churches, they put restrictions in the deeds of sale to prevent such creations.

It happens that recently while on vacation, we stayed in a building, the Sanctuary Place Inn, that had once been a church.

It is now set up as three different vacation rental units. It's located a couple blocks from Forsyth Park in Savannah's Old Historic District and the space was pretty incredible.  An incomparable experience.

That kind of use is "unique" and helps to extend the variety of accommodations and service options in a place.

On the other hand, it's faster to build and sell and reap the profits of selling three rowhouses in a popular neighborhood experiencing rising property values. Especially when you don't have a bevy of experienced developers who are experienced and ready to take on such projects.

Church Brew Works, Pittsburgh.  Image source.

Portland is fortunate to have the McMenamins group, which doesn't have any church projects under their belt, but many examples of adaptive reuse of institutional facilities (schools, hospitals, etc.) and continued operation of theaters by adding food and beverage service and brew pubs.

Their re-do of the Kennedy School into a bed and breakfast and pub was one of their earlier and best known examples.  They riff quite a bit on the former use.  From their website:
Remember when the worst thing you could imagine was being kept after class? My, how things have changed! At Kennedy School, you'll never want to leave. Here you can have a pint in a classroom, enjoy an aged whiskey and a cigar in detention, enjoy a movie in the old auditorium.... The possibilities here are endless.
Historic Preservation Protections help save buildings, but don't usually support broader uses.

In a historic district like in Savannah or Washington, DC, because of the local preservation laws, it would be very difficult to demolish buildings of any sort, including churches, even if the church use is no longer active.

But because most "residential" historic districts are zoned for residential uses exclusively, it becomes very difficult to adaptively reuse a building for non-residential uses. That is the case in DC, where boutique inns are not considered a matter of right use in residential zones.

V&J Duncan Antique Maps is located on Monterey Square in Savannah, and has been written up in the New York Times.  The Duncans live in the grand house above the store.

Savannah is different. I don't know all the ins and outs, but they have liberal commercial use approval built into the code for the historic district so that commercial uses like renting out units, for traditional rental, or vacation rentals, having commercial uses in your "home" such as a bookstore, is legal, provided people meet the various building and other relevant regulations regarding the use.

For example, vacation rentals are legal, but the accommodations must be licensed, pay local hotel taxes, etc.

"Home-based business" regulations need to be considered in the context of the "new economy" where single use buildings become increasingly difficult to pay for as income declines.


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Monday, January 26, 2015

Community garden grant promotion from Scotts Miracle Gro

Scotts grant recipient marker, Tallahassee, Florida.

Leading up to and in honor of the company's 150th anniversary in 2018, Scott Miracle Gro launched a multi-year program to promote the development of community gardens and green spaces across the country, with the goal of fostering the development of 1000 new gardens and spaces.

This year's program offers up to $1,500 to community groups to support their efforts to create "edible gardens, flower gardens and public green spaces" in their neighborhoods.

Eligibility: US organizations must be 501(c)3 nonprofits.
Grants are also made to Canadian and European organizations through separate programs.
Deadline: 2/13/2015
Webpage with more information


Median green space beautified and maintained by the Quesada Gardens Initiative
on 3rd St. in San Francisco.  Photo by Chris Carlsson.

Granted the grants are small, but can help. One past grant recipient is the Quesada Gardens Initiative in San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood.

See "From Gangs to Gardens: How Community Agriculture Transformed Quesada Avenue" from Yes Magazine. and "Quesada Gardens wins national award," from the 5800 3rd St. blog.

Another grant recipient is the Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone in Cleveland (ICIC story; case study from Sustainable Cleveland)

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

The missed opportunity of Restaurant Week promotions, or maybe there's a third option

Restaurant Week started in New York City in the early 1990s, and since then cities across the country have adopted the event as their own.

Many restaurant week promotions have a winter and summer edition, to boost restaurant patronage during periods when business normally wanes. In theory, the event isn't just supposed to be a price promotion, but designed to encourage restaurant goers to sample new places.

While restaurants might not make "more profit" during the week, even with up to a 40% increase in business, it keeps people working during slow times, and if properly leveraged is a way to develop one-time visitors into long term customers.

This week is DC's winter edition of Restaurant Week, sponsored by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington to boost restaurant business during traditional slow times in the city.  While originally focused on restaurants in Washington, DC only, it has been extended to include suburban locations.

One night we thought to go out and try some place new and while looking found that the website isn't particularly sharp and once you click through, many of the "neighborhoods" listed in the pull down menu don't even have participating restaurants.

Crane and Turtle in Petworth, features French and Japanese fusion cuisine.  Photo:  Matt Roth, New York Times.

Add a third week to Restaurant Week, focusing on neighborhoods.  Maybe since the event was originally created to promote restaurants in the city's bigger destinations (Downtown, Georgetown, etc.) it's not a surprise that neighborhood-side of Restaurant Week is under-developed.

Now that many of DC's neighborhood commercial districts (Shaw, Petworth, Bloomingdale, Capitol Hill, etc.) are developing into decent restaurant destinations, a trend even recognized by the New York Times in "Washington has more on its plate: Restaurants in D.C. are moving into residential neighborhoods."

In response, why not develop a third leg to Restaurant Week, a separate week focused on promoting neighborhood districts and their restaurants, helping smaller restaurants to develop and bringing attention to this next phase of restaurant and commercial revitalization in the city.

Barracks Row Main Street's Taste of 8th is held in May.

Note that some commercial district revitalization organizations sponsor "Taste of" events which do something similar.  But a broader promotion such as this would bring much more attention to what otherwise are very local events.

Other ways to be creative with restaurants and eating out as potential elements for different "Restaurant Week" connected promotions.

A form of pop ups or tactical urbanism, Helsinki’s Restaurant Day, a  municipally-sanctioned challenge to government regulation, is a day  (now four weekends annually) where anyone can set up a “restaurant” and  sell food to the public.  Restaurants can be set up on a park bench, run out of a car, located in a house or apartment, or be more more traditional.  Restaurant Day started in Helsinki, but now takes place in more than 30 countries.

Supermarkets.  In Chicago, the upscale grocer Mariano's is participating in Restaurant Week, according to Supermarket News,offering lunch for two for $22.  Mariano's focuses on prepared foods and organizes part of their stores into restaurant-like subsections like an Oyster Bar, barbecue joint, or Sushi bar.

Now I suppose traditional restaurants don't like the fact that supermarkets are increasingly competing with them for prepared meal sales.  A number of supermarkets are developing eat-in areas.  Whole Foods and Wegman's, a Rochester NY company that is opening stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic, have eat-in areas in most of the stores.

Wegman's coffee and tea bar in a Rochester, New York location.  

Wegman's is developing branded restaurants as part of their opening of new stores.  So far they have four different concepts (Italian, tavern, burgers, American).  Certain Whole Foods stores have similar, albeit more counter-oriented, set ups, from pizza to Mexican.

Also see "Thinking Like a Restaurant" in Progressive Grocer  and "At Long Last, a Bar at the Supermarket – With $1 Bottles During Happy Hour!" from Time Magazine.

Many supermarkets are doing more of this type of development as they begin to recognize that are need to competing for the total amount of spending on food, especially when more people are cooking less and eating out more.

Note that for many years I've argued that urban supermarkets should re-orient their stores and set up produce and prepared food areas, along with eat-in cafe type options along the front of the store, open-air. See "(Urban) Grocery Shopping."

Locally, Harris-Teeter is known for their prepared food areas.  The new Safeway in Petworth has upgraded their prepared food section and has a nice eat-in area with booths and wi-fi.  The new Giant stores in Shaw and Cathedral Heights have similar sections that are bigger and nicer.

Participating in Restaurant Week would be a way for these establishments to showcase changes and give opportunities to their staff to do new things.

Public markets.  I'd say places like Eastern Market could participate in Restaurant Week by organizing a pop up restaurant for the night time and serving special dinners, not unlike what Seasonal Pantry does, as a way to draw new audiences.

Image of meal at Seasonal Pantry from Washingtonian Magazine.

Now that Seasonal Pantry is shutting down and moving to Little Washington, Virginia, there will be a "hole in the market" that some other erstwhile entrepreneur can step in and fill.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Economic impact study on the Colorado River

Rivers and transportation.  Historically, rivers were major transportation corridors for passengers and freight, although as railroads and the national road network were created, their role in passenger travel diminished, but certain rivers still have important freight functions (such as the Mississippi River and barges).

Rivers were a source of industrial power before electricity (look up mill towns) and today some rivers play a role in hydroelectricity production.

In cities, riverfronts served port functions, warehousing, and industry.  As those functions declined or moved to other locations, these waterfronts have often been central to urban revitalization effort,s, keeping marinas in place, but shifting to tourist-related activities.  Some even serve as ports for cruise travel.

Water drawn from rivers is the primary source of drinking water in the United States.

I don't think I've ever seen an economic impact study for a river in its entirety, although I have seen studies of the economic impact of lake-based recreation and for marinas.

The Colorado River flows through six states--Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming and part of Mexico.  The Colorado River Basin also includes New Mexico.

In the context of drought and reductions in available water, Arizona State University conducted an economic impact study, which found that the river is vital to the economies of the states in the Colorado River basin, generating $1.4 trillion of economic activity and supporting 16 million jobs.

-- The Economic Importance of the Colorado River to the Basin Region, Carey School of Business, Arizona State University
-- Protect the Flows is a business advocacy group focused on Colorado River matters. The website has additional resources and reports on various River-related matters
-- Mission 2012 Clean Water webpage on the Colorado River
-- "Sucking the River Dry," Denver Post, 2012

Obviously the Colorado River is a significant source of water for local consumption and agriculture in all of the states it flows through.   "Rights" to draw water from the river are contentious, because the rules are based on consumption in earlier times.

As metropolitan areas have grown in states like Arizona and Nevada, there is more competition between urban and agricultural interests for access.

Demand is greater than supply, and that doesn't even take into account the current drought. As the Southwest continues to add population, questions about access to water in general, and to the Colorado River in particular will become even more contentious.

Water-related advocacy groups believe that the Colorado River is in great crisis, one of the nation's most endangered, and American Rivers called in the nation's the most endangered river of 2013.

Then, there is the issue of water for conservation and wildlife and ecosystem issues other than related to consumption by humans.

Image from High County News.

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Tomorrow: DCPS museum and archives open house

Image of the Sumner School by Matthew Gilmore, moderator of H-DC.

From the H-DC e-list:


Open House: Charles Sumner School Museum & Archives - Saturday, January 24, 2015

Washington, DC’s Official Museum And Repository For Documents And Artifacts Related To The DC Public Education System

Students from various local Public Schools will make presentations and serve as hosts and facilitators while our guests tour wonderful exhibits about the DC Public School system in our beautiful historic building.

OPEN HOUSE

*Tour Exciting Exhibits
*Fun, Family-Friendly Activities
*Presentations and Artwork by DCPS students and community

Join Us!

Saturday, January 24, 2015
10am-3pm
1201 Seventeenth St. NW (Corner of 17th and M Streets) [Across from National Geographic]
Washington, DC 20036

For More Information: Call: 202-730-0478
E-mail: info.sumnerschool@dc.gov
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Charles-Sumner-School-Museum-Archives/154676540978

VW-BMW initiative to install fast charging for electric cars as an example of the need to build out support infrastructure for biking

The typical range for an electric car charge is 80-120 miles, which makes driving hundreds of miles in a single trip in an electric car pretty inefficient.

The New York Times has a piece, "BMW and Volkswagen Team Up to Expand Network of High-Speed Charging Stations," about a new VW-BMW initiative to install fast charging stations along the I-95 corridor, to support the sales and use of electric cars.

This diagram is from GE and shows the level of integrated infrastructure necessary to support widespread use of electric cars.

In an old presentation about biking, I make the point it took about 60 years to build a complete infrastructure to support automobility: roads; gas stations; repair facilities; maps and signage; parking; motels and hotels to support travelers; restaurants; not to mention car dealerships; financing for car purchases; insurance.

Supporting long distance travel by car was pretty complicated at first.

And at that time, gasoline wasn't seen so much as a commodity, gas station companies developed their brands by providing maps, service, touring information, the promise of clean restrooms, etc.  These days gasoline sales have shifted to independent convenience store companies, and the importance of brand for the national companies and gasoline sales has diminished considerably.

This diagram, from an old German National Bike Plan, shows the level of integrated infrastructure necessary to support widespread use of bicycles as transportation.
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012

It's a good illustration of what is necessary to provide to get bicycling as a serious transportation mode up to the usage levels that are possible.

Bicyclists need high quality parking, access to air for tires, safe routes for biking, restrooms, in the summer misting stations would be nice, etc.

Sadly, most bike plans don't take this perspective in outlining a way forward.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Next Week: Prince George's County Zoning Rewrite Countywide Listening Sessions (Part One)

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Part One just reprints as is the email notice from the Prince George's County Planning Department concerning meetings next week, which will kick off the update process for the County's Zoning Code with the aim of rewriting those sections that need changing in the context of the County's economic, land use, transportation, equity, and social concerns and planning for the future.

On Monday, a second entry will discuss the PG process in the context of "lessons learned" from Montgomery County, Maryland's zoning rewrite process--which started in 2009 and culminated in passage in 2014, after hearings throughout 2013 and 2014, and DC's rewrite process, which has been underway since late 2007, with very few sections passed, amid a great deal of contention between the inner and outer city.

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Prince George's County Maryland Zoning_Logo_Header_big1

21st Century Zoning Ordinance for Prince George's County
Countywide Planning Division
Prince George's County Planning Department
The Maryland-National Capital Park & Planning Commission

During the week of January 26, the Prince George’s County Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision Regulations team will hold three listening sessions in North, Central, and South county. The primary focus of these meetings is to solicit public input on the Evaluation and Recommendation Report that was released by Clarion Associates in December 2014.

Community input is crucial to creating a 21st century Zoning Ordinance for Prince George’s County. The project team and the Prince George’s County Planning Board value your participation throughout this process and we encourage you to get involved. Here is how you can participate:

1. Sign up to receive email updates
2. Check our website regularly and read our updates
3. Visit the Zoning Academy webpage to learn more about zoning
4. Review and provide feedback on draft project documents
5. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter
6. Participate in project meetings and events
7. Share project information with your friends and community members

January Countywide Listening Sessions
North County
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Parks & Recreation  Administration Building
6600 Kenilworth Avenue, Riverdale, MD 20737
6:00 - 8.00p.m.

South County
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Southern Technology & Recreation Complex
7007 Bock Road, Fort Washington, MD 20744
6:00 - 8.00p.m

Central County
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Wayne K. Curry Sports & Learning Complex
8001 Sheriff Road, Landover, MD 20785
6:00 - 8.00p.m.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Proposal to eliminate nonprofit property tax exclusion in Maine

Maine's Governor is proposing to eliminate annual revenue sharing with local governments, suggesting that local governments could make up the loss in revenue by charging property taxes on nonprofits--schools, universities, hospitals, land trusts--holding more than $500,000 in property.

Typically, nonprofits are exempt from property taxes, in the expectation that they are providing other services to localities, thereby reducing the overall burden on local government.

The Maine Medical Center in Portland is a nonprofit hospital.

This is in response to his desire to reduce income tax rates and to eliminate the estate tax.  Some of the revenues would be made up by higher sales taxes.  The rest would come from eliminating state aid to local governments and slashing social and human services.

- "Tax reform plan rattles Maine towns, nonprofits," Portland Press-Herald
- "Plan to tax nonprofits could be costly to Maine's land-conservation trusts," Portland Press-Herald
-"LePage’s budget aims to make big changes in the state’s tax code," Portland Press-Herald

From the second article:
LePage’s massive tax overhaul plan is intended to reduce Maine’s income tax rate through a series of changes in the tax code. Part of the plan eliminates state aid to municipalities and attempts to replace those revenues by opening the door to municipal property taxes on nonprofit organizations. The budget language makes specific mention of exempting churches and houses of worship from the tax, but no other nonprofit types are highlighted in documents provided by the administration or in the actual legislation.
Tax the river?  Land preserved by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.

Nonprofits aren't replete with extra cash.  The problem with the proposal is that most nonprofits don't generate significant budget windfalls on an annual basis--universities tend to be an exception, but that is because some have very large endowments--so it's unlikely that most nonprofits have available funding to start paying property taxes.

Payments in lieu of property taxes.  Property taxes provide the bulk of local revenues and can be supplemented with payments from the state and federal governments for certain types of programs.

On the other hand, the major cost borne by local property taxes is K-12 education, and these nonprofit properties don't generate much in the way of demand for local schooling.

For decades, cities with large clusters of nonprofits, such as universities or health care facilities, have complained about how much of their land ends up being non-taxable.

That's why the method called PILOT, payment in lieu of taxes, was developed, which allows for nonprofits to provide payments to localities, without having to accede to or authorize the taxation of property owned by nonprofits.

Taxing college students.  A few years back, Providence and Pittsburgh put forth proposals for a capitation tax on college students, as each city has many colleges and universities, and they aren't paying property taxes ("Pittsburgh Sets Vote on Adding Tax on Tuition," New York Times).

(Note that "eds and meds" are said to be the primary economic drivers for center cities and the prominence of central business districts declines and cities are no longer central to the manufacturing economy.)

Bowdoin College map, Brunswick, Maine. Under the proposal, government institutions and churches would be exempt from property taxes.  

Therefore, private colleges and universities would be responsible for property taxes, but not public colleges and universities.

And interestingly, the University City Business Improvement District in Philadelphia is paid for, not by an assessment on property, but by voluntary payments by the major nonprofits based there (the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Hospitals, Amtrak, and now maybe Drexel University, I'm not sure about them).

Will a decrease in state income taxes be absorbed by local property tax increases?  In Maine, rather than an increase of revenues from PILOT type programs, what's more likely to happen is that if state income taxes decrease, sales taxes increase, and the state cuts aid to localities and social welfare, localities will be forced to increase overall property tax rates, while continuing to maintain property tax breaks for nonprofits.

It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

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Canadians are different than "Americans" when it comes to weighing choices about where to live

Well, at least residents of Greater Toronto are different.  The Toronto Star reports in "Buying a cheaper home outside Toronto may not pay off: Homebuyers should consider the high cost of commuting in the GTA when deciding where to live, says a study by Pembina-RBC," on a study published by the Pembina Institute, 2014 Home Location Preference Survey: Understanding where GTA residents prefer to live and commute, which looks at neighborhood preferences in terms of the cost of housing and cost of transportation.

From the article:
In the study, the likely selling price and carrying costs of each of those potential homes is calculated along with the lifestyle and financial implications of the different locations. The case studies showed that the most lifestyle friendly home choices in terms of walkable neighbourhood, amenities and shorter commute times aren’t always in downtown Toronto. They are also found in 905-area hubs such as Oakville, Port Credit and Markham Village.

Sometimes the difference in price, once commuting costs are factored in, is eye-popping. In one case, the report found that a house in Mississauga’s walkable Port Credit neighbourhood would have cost $1,000 a month less than a Milton house priced at $180,000 less.

But that difference depended on giving up one of the family cars in favour of a transit — a radical notion for many homebuyers.
Compared to the US, the results are startling because 81% of respondents prefer "location efficient living" that isn't automobile-centric and dependent, and this preference is true across all age groups.

The report is worth reading page-by-page because they drill down deeper into people's preferences, which is good in terms of dealing with the often "yes, but..." discussions that people have when discussing urban-town-city vs. "suburban" housing choices.

Separately the study provides four interactive case studies showing the economic costs of various housing and transportation combinations.

Key Findings:

1. GTA homebuyers prefer walkable, transit-friendly neighbourhoods to car-dependent locations

- When housing costs are not a factor, 81% of respondents would choose to live in an urban or suburban neighbourhood where they can walk to stores, restaurants and other amenities, and where they can access frequent rapid transit. They would choose these neighbourhoods even if it meant trading a large house and yard for a modest house, townhouse or condo.

2. Most homebuyers choose a location based on price rather than preferences

- Affordability is a primary consideration; over 80% of respondents choose a neighbourhood because that is where they can afford a home.

3. Walkable, transit-friendly suburbs are becoming more popular

- When the cost of housing is not a factor, only 19% of respondents would choose a suburban location with a large home and yard, but where a car is required and commuting takes more than 30 minutes.

- By contrast, 42% of respondents would choose a modest house, townhouse or condo in an urban or
suburban location that is walkable, and where it is possible to commute by rapid transit.

4. All age groups and family types prefer location-efficient living

- If cost were not an issue, all age groups would prefer to live in a location-efficient city or suburb, with 82% of respondents over 60 and 84% under 35 exhibiting that preference.

5. Understanding transportation costs makes homebuyers more likely to choose a walkable,
transit-friendly neighbourhood

- Homebuyer preferences shift when they are told that they can save a minimum of $200,000 over
a 25-year period by giving up one household car and walking, biking or taking transit.

- When informed of these savings, 60% of respondents would choose to live in an area with easy access to rapid transit, even if they could only afford a smaller home.

- Only 36% of respondents would choose a larger home in an area without access to rapid transit

Island Press - Option of Urbanism Investing in a New American Dream - Christopher LeinbergerThese results are in line, but more pronounced, compared to the findings by Christopher Leinberger as discussed in the book Options of Urbanism, where he writes that 30% of people prefer city-town living, 40% prefer traditional suburbs, and 30% are happy to choose either, depending on what is available at the time.

Similarly, they remind me of Kyle Ezell's thesis in the out-of-print book Get Urban, where he argues that you don't have to live in Manhattan to be able to live an urban experience.  And note that increased demand to live  in the center of cities is being experienced across the US, in cities like Nashville, Memphis, Detroit, etc., even if other parts of center cities languish.

And as the study makes clear, in Greater Toronto anyway, people don't have a hard time figuring out that walkable urban places, what Leinberger calls "WalkUPs" in other writings, aren't exclusive to center cities.

Note that in the US, while recommended housing costs tends to be around 30% of household income, transportation costs are 20% of household income.   According to the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index from the Center for Neighborhood Technology:
The traditional measure of affordability recommends that housing cost no more than 30% of income. Under this view, three out of four (76%) US neighborhoods are considered “affordable” to the typical household. However, that benchmark ignores transportation costs, which are typically a household’s second largest expenditure. The H+T Index offers an expanded view of affordability, one that combines housing and transportation costs and sets the benchmark at no more than 45% of household income.
And while it doesn't seem to have gathered a lot of traction, the Location Efficient Mortgage concept, developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology at least 10 years before they developed the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index is designed to allow households to buy "more expensive houses" because it takes into account a lowered cost of transportation.

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DC Ward 5 Industrial Land Transformation Study identifies zoning issues (that I raised 6 years ago...)

I was not prepared to be impressed about this study because the impetus for the planning process was a desire by the Ward 5 Councilmember, Kenyan McDuffie, to reduce the amount of industrially zoned land in DC's Ward 5.  DC has a limited inventory of industrial land and mostly it is located adjacent to CSX and Amtrak railroad tracks, which are mostly located in Ward 5.

-- "Can Ward 5 go from 'dumping ground' to industrial area that works," Washington Post
-- "McDuffie resolute on helping his ward shed image of a dumping ground," Washington Post

(Another large swath of industrially zoned land used to exist on the Southeast DC Waterfront but have been rezoned for the creation of the Washington Nationals baseball stadium and various mixed use developments that exclude industry.)

But the planners successfully repositioned the study around the economic development value of industrial land and its essentiality to creative economy endeavors and the related employment that is generated, and the Councilmember became convinced that it would be worthwhile to preserve industrially zoned land rather than get rid of it, provided that the nuisance elements can be better managed, as well as to support various municipal and transit uses that can only be accommodated within such zones.

Warehouses on Reed Street at Channing Street NE
The building on the right was demolished a few months ago and this warehouse site will be redeveloped as housing.  

Granted, this Ward 5 site is just north of the Rhode Island Metrorail Station and the city has conflicting policies--one is to preserve industrial land (although without substantive protections in zoning) and another is to build multiunit housing by transit stations.

Unfortunately, these days DC is late to the table.  It happens I saw a great presentation on such issues by San Francisco at the 2004 American Planning Association conference, and in 2005 at the National Trust conference in Portland, one of the field tours I attended was of the Central Eastside Industrial Area.

-- Industrial Land in San Francisco: Understanding Production, Distribution, and Repair, San Francisco (December 2002)
-- Central Eastside Portland Urban Renewal District, Portland
-- Central Eastside Industrial Council
-- Central Eastside Industrial Zoning Study (December 2003)
-- Industrial Land Reports from Cities and Regions throughout the US and Canada, UC Berkeley Center for Community Innovation

Back then I was interested in industrial zoning issues because of the Florida Market and the redevelopment threat--now coming true--it faced, and opportunities present within Ivy City for creating streetcar manufacturing and a preservation building trades training program. Note that DC did do a study around 2005, but I guess nothing much happened with it, other than the recognition that a lot of municipal-related uses need to be located on industrially zoned land.

-- Industrial Land in a Post-Industrial City: District of Columbia Industrial Land Use Study (2006)

Now, in a reasonably strong real estate market with a limited inventory of large sites across the city, it is almost impossible to preserve industrially zoned land, unless it is already owned by industrially-related firms--and for the right price, who is to say that they won't be willing to decamp too?

Vodka, Gin, and Whiskey are manufactured in DC at the OneEight Distillery in Ivy City.  It was the second distillery to open in DC in the past few years.  Small breweries are also located on industrial properties in Wards 5 and 4.

As the study pointed out, DC's industrial (both manufacturing and commercial-manufacturing) zoning categories have extremely permissive zoning, and because of the value of the proximity of the land in a strong real estate market, increasing amounts of this land are being converted to non-industrial uses--big box retail, schools, housing, etc.  (This was also discussed in the previous entry on New York Avenue.)

One of the study's recommendations is "to do more study of the zoning issues."  It's too late, the zoning needs to be changed now.  And how much more study is even necessary?

Ironically, I submitted an amendment to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan on this verysame issue in 2009, the first year that amendments were solicited by the Office of Planning. I recommended that matter of right use for schools and churches be removed from both CM and M zoning categories.

This large building is now the Imagine Hope Public Charter School.  It was once an industrial building, and abuts various industrial properties along 8th Street NE.  Image from Google Street View.

I also suggested that there could be a requirement that the zoning should require that first floor use of industrially zoned properties be from 50% to 100% industrially related--which would make conversion much more difficult.

This was the justification I provided:
According to page 3-6, 1% of the city's land is zoned for industrial use. Land use by industrial users is guided strictly by business considerations. Industrial businesses cannot efficaciously use noneconomic considerations to make decisions about buying and leasing property and managing their business. This is not the case for nonindustrial users, who have different criteria. But nonindustrial users allowed to locate their businesses-establishments in industrial zones are not guided by the same economic and business model constraints which must be exercised by industrial users. Schools and churches in particular continue to convert CM land into non industrial use, displacing industrial
businesses to the suburbs, adding to the traffic burden, and making it harder to serve DC residents and businesses. By extending land use protections to CM zones, this conflict can be reduced and avoided.
I failed to mention specifically that nonprofit users (schools and churches) don't pay property taxes, which further aids their ability to outbid for profit users.

This amendment WAS REJECTED because they said the zoning code was adequate and already restricts non-industrial uses.  They said:
The amendment is not a substantive change in policy, nor does it correct an error. The CM zone already limits non-industrial uses. This issue is also being addressed through the ongoing Zoning Review process.
First, it is not true that the CM zone matter of right uses limit non-industrial uses in any significant way, other than housing.

Second, almost nothing has been passed as part of the Zoning Rewrite Process in 8 years. Third, we continue to lose industrially zoned land to nonindustrial uses.  Fourth, the 2014 Ward 5 Industrial Land Transformation Study says that this is a serious and significant issue that continues to be something that must be addressed in zoning.

It's no wonder the city continually fails to be behind the curve when it comes to best practice.

I guess this happens in part because there are never substantive repercussions for when staff make bad decisions that have significant and negative consequences.

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Note that one other problem with the study is that it was limited to "Ward 5," when Ward 4 also possesses a swath of industrially zoned land with the same land use and market conditions, yet there are no such recommendations for dealing with it, because it wasn't part of the study.

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