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, June 09, 2011

The conundrum of new development

(Proposed development in Chicago. Developer rendering.)

Christopher sends us a blog entry about a proposed project in Chicago--a three building residential skyscraper development close to Lake Michigan--that apparently will go forward only if residents of the impacted area vote in favor. See "Fate of big North Side development hanging in balance after Tuesday night vote" from the Chicago Tribune Cityscapes blog.

I think this is a no win situation, because for the most part, residents are always going to vote against new projects. And this kind of voting method fails to provide any means to also value "city-wide" priorities such as adding new residents, building property revenues, intensifying land use, etc.

I was shocked to see in today's Post ("Pr. George's senator seeks to delay Tanger outlet plans") that Prince George's County State Senator C. Anthony Muse has raised transportation concerns over the proposal by Peterson Companies to build an outlet mall at National Harbor." From the article:

Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) said Wednesday that a roadway near National Harbor, where the stores will be built, will not be able to handle increased traffic. “It will be absolute gridlock,” Muse said of Indian Head Highway. Muse said state and county officials need to address the project’s transportation needs before allowing it to move forward. “If they are going to put the development there, they need to put the roads there,” Muse said. “We want the stores, and, of course, we want the jobs. But if you are sitting in traffic for two hours, who does that help?”

Transportation issues seem to rarely cross the minds of people at the Washington DC Economic Partnership, when they bandy about ideas like attracting a Wegmans Supermarket (the stores go to about 150,000 square feet and generate thousands of daily trips) to locations with limited transportation infrastructure capacity. See the past blog entry, "DC is turning me into a nimby."

I know that new development is a delicate balance between old and new, property owners and the broader community, concerns about change, and legitimate and real concerns about the potential for adverse impacts.

There are at least three things that planning regimes need to do to at least broaden the discussion and improve the process concerning projects such as these:

1. Do a better job defining citywide ("global") priorities and neighborhood priorities, and have all stakeholders work to address both sets of priorities simultaneously.

Typically, planners are screwed because they are tasked with the global priorties and neighborhoods have no skin in that game.

2. One tool we all need is an economic impact analysis table of the different kinds of development, such as that illustrated by the graphic below, produced for Sarasota County, Florida.

3. We need to refine and integrate land use and transportation planning practices so that allowable land uses are tied to transportation capacity and the ability to meet the demand generated by various uses.

They do this in the Netherlands, but not here. All land is evaluated for its ability to satisfy various types of transportation demand. Uses are evaluated in terms of the transportation demand they generate. Uses are directed towards places where their expected traffic generation can be accommodated.

In a place like DC, it would probably mean that in the core of the city, a general merchandise store like a Walmart would only be allowed at a location within a block or two of a subway station.

See "Utrecht: 'ABC' Planning as a planning instrument in urban transport policy" for more.

4. There needs to be a better process to evaluate economic impact from potential development. This is required for example, in California land use planning processes, but not in DC. Having specific requirements in the large tract review process, or by creating a parallel "big box review process" would go a long way towards mitigating the potential problems from such projects.

Such a report would have to be balanced. E.g., in the ANC4B report we did wrt the proposed Walmart, earlier drafts were somewhat negative, but other committee members pointed out that the increased competition that Walmart would provide to area supermarkets such as Safeway and Giant--presuming that these companies will respond by improving their stores, customer service, and lowering their prices--will improve outcomes for even those residents who won't shop at a Walmart. So the report was revised to acknowledge this and other potential positives.

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