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, February 02, 2012


The work of Myron Orfield, author of Metropolitics, has shaped some of my thinking about metropolitan government. Orfield focuses in part on tax harmonization--that property tax resources are shared across a metropolitan area, that center cities aren't pushed to the edge financially as a result of outmigration and sprawl.

One way to do this practically is the center city-county merger, which has occurred in places like Indianapolis and Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky. And Toronto.

Note that while Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have not merged, there is a report on the subject and it is still discussed. In the interim, one of the initiatives that was created was the "Allegheny Regional Asset District," which is a taxing district for the city and county that supports cultural institutions. This is important because center cities usually provide the bulk of a metropolitan area's cultural infrastructure (museums, zoo, auditoriums, etc.) but typically, only the city itself provides financial support for those facilities. Cleveland has a similar tax for the arts (ironically, funded by a tax on cigarettes, which is somewhat regressive and seemingly misdirected, but that's another issue).

But I never thought through all the consequences, and mostly I focused on the ability to be more efficient in government operations and services, as well as a unitary stream of property tax revenue.

An example of one of the potential downsides of this kind of merger comes from Toronto, where suburban councillor Rob Ford was elected as Mayor by the greater "suburban" population, while the urban population of the true "center city" was not favorable to his candidacy.

Since the election, Mayor Ford has pushed through many anti-center city initiatives and not unlike the "economic development agenda" of the Mayor Gray transition team in DC, is much more focused on promoting automobility and speeding traffic for suburbanites, rather than being focused on a center city urban design and transportation agenda.
2010 Election Results, Toronto Mayoral race
Image from "How Toronto Voted For Mayor" from the Torontoist.

And I wonder about this idea from the San Diego Chargers to have a county-wide vote, rather than just a vote of the City of San Diego, to support a tax for a new stadium. Certainly it seems that in many metropolitan areas, support for certain kinds of sports teams comes more from the suburbs than from the city itself. Would a metropolitan area of multiple jurisdictions pass a vote like this, calling for taxes from suburban jurisdictions to support a sports stadium in the center city? Would such a vote pass with suburban support--not unlike how Rob Ford got elected in Toronto--and center city opposition?

See "Fabiani: Chargers want countywide stadium vote" from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

From the article:

Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani told a roomful of regional leaders Wednesday that a new football stadium is more likely to get built with political and financial support from around the county, and that a public vote on the venue would almost certainly slip to 2013 — when a fresh crop of politicians would be joining the debate.

“We think we would do better on a countywide vote than we would in just a citywide vote,” Fabiani said. “So our lawyers have already advised us, and will continue to, about the kinds of things that would justify a countywide vote.” ...

Wednesday, Fabiani touted a stadium’s economic value beyond the city of San Diego. He said the Chargers and the National Football League could together contribute $400 million toward a project that could reach $1 billion. He suggested the rest might come from taxpayer support, naming rights and the potential lease or sale of city-owned land at the Qualcomm site in Mission Valley and the Sports Arena site in the Midway area.

Moving the team is always a possibility, especially because Los Angeles is itching for a team of its own, and Philip Anshutz' Anshutz Entertainment Group, the firm behind the Staples Center redevelopment district, is working to make it happen. See "The Man Who Owns L.A.: A secretive mogul’s entertainment kingdom" from the January 16th, 2012 issue of New Yorker Magazine.

(Note that Philip Anshutz owns the Washington Examiner, so I frequently point out in blog entries the hypocrisy of the paper's screeds against taxpayer financing of private endeavors when in Los Angeles, AEG has taken hundreds of millions of dollars of tax increment financing for similar projects, and aims for much more for the NFL stadium and team.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home