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, November 20, 2014

A point about the investment priorities of local governments, stadiums, etc.

Rendering of a possible soccer stadium in Sacramento.

With regard to DC's machinations about funding a soccer stadium ("Muriel Bowser says she will remove Reeves Center sale from DC United stadium deal," Post; "The Incredible Shrinking Stadium-Deal Benefits," Washington City Paper), it's interesting to keep up with and compare media coverage about similar ongoing negotiations now in other cities such as Boston ("Soccer stadium could create an urban opportunity, if done right," Globe), Sacramento ("Mayor: MLS meeting productive, no timeline for expansion decision," Sacramento Bee), and South Florida, where David Beckham will be an owner ("David Beckham's Miami soccer gamble: If they build the stadium will the fans come?," Miami Herald).

The same goes for the Olympics.  Other cities besides Washington ("USOC meets privately with Washington 2024 about Olympic bid," Washington Business Journal; "Washington's Olympic team: The A-list sports fans vying for the 2024 Games," Post) that are vying for the event in 2024 include San Francisco ("San Francisco puts in chips for 2024 Olympics" and "Bay Area’s Olympic dreams focused on landfill near Candlestick," SF Chronicle), Boston, and Los Angeles.

Aaron Renn of the Urbanophile also writes for Governing Magazine and his latest is an interesting story "(Lessons from Kokomo on How to Spend Responsibly") about this small town located north of Indianapolis known for large scale manufacturing that raised most of its revenue from property taxes on factories.  When Chrysler stopped paying property taxes when the company entered bankruptcy--eventually closing the plant entirely--the city was on the ropes.

According to Aaron, to recover, the city adopted innovative practices to save money, cut staff, and annexed adjoining lands from the county where there was significant development activity, making the city larger and increasing tax revenues.

He avers that this allowed the city to generate capital to do "pay as you go" capital investment (I am okay with debt financing myself...), including a parking garage + housing development, a new YMCA downtown, and two new fire stations.

He contrasts this with Los Angeles, which because of its high cost of personnel including escalating pensions, can't invest in much of anything.  Separately, the LA Times has an article, "Angelenos could tax themselves to fix roads under City Hall proposal," about the potential creation of neighborhood "beautification districts" that will allow neighborhoods to tax themselves additionally in order to fix damaged roads.  It's pretty incredible that cities are driven to such an action.  But that's what lack of funds will do.
Candlestick Park postcard
So on the perennial argument of is it better to "invest" in sports stadiums and arenas or other projects, I was struck by a brief article (Lennar, Macerich Team Up on Mall," Wall Street Journal) on the redevelopment of SF's Candlestick Park stadium and abutting parking lots.  The stadium, once used by the local baseball and football teams, so it had about 92 events/year, will be replaced by a mixed use development that will include:
  • 6,225 housing units
  • 500,000 s.f. shopping mall, done in conjunction with one of the nation's leading shopping center companies, Macerich
  • 100,000 s.f. of additional retail space
  • 220 room hotel.
Property taxes at the local level tend to be split between a city, county, and a school district, and sometimes other taxing entities--special services districts of various types--claim a portion as well.

(San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Baltimore are city-counties (technically, Baltimore County exists as a separate entity while the city is treated as a county for governance purposes).  Washington is a city-state, with even more taxing power compared to the typical city--although the city is forbidden from taxing nonresidents.)

In the lines of the economic impact studies of the revenue potential to localities from different types of development, I bet that the economic value of this development will be greater than from the stadium.  DC would benefit even more from a comparable development, because the city collects 100% of the "state" income tax, which no other city in America can do.Slide, Smart Growth: Making the Financial Case, County Tax Yield Per Acre, Sarasota presentation
Tax yield per acre, Sarasota County, Florida

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At 9:28 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

It would be interesting to build a SimCity competitor which uses the growth machine as as originating concept.

Far too much of the urban discussion at GGW is built on an understanding of the City as SimCity.

But I agree that the taxing power drives where the local government meets the growth machine, because the only increase in taxes can come from property.

(This, the DC income tax, and that the largest landlord/developer/employer in DC is not a market entity is why I think the Growth Machine model doesn't work so well here. And the second and third largest employers as well -- international institutions and embassies.)

It is also why you concept of a trade for density for a blue line bonds make sense. Although it is the concept -- trade density for transport somewhere else -- rather than density where the new transport will be.

But it also suggest the role of government, which is to have a much longer view. The discussion on GGW re: Arlington streetcar cancellation could use that.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt your last point, yeah, which is something that govt. typically doesn't articulate very well and is something that citizens, especially the well off, don't think about much at all.

The thing about the streetcar in ArCo is that as long as there is plenty of development capacity in Wilson Blvd. and Crystal City and redo in Rosslyn, it's not such a compelling argument for the people who won't really be impacted that much by whether or not that part of South Arlington is improved.

But I also think the point I made in the other entry, about the "right mode" for the "right problem" is an issue.

You and a couple other people made some great points in that GGW thread, about flaws in the routing, and opportunities to better it. And how to position/compromise/trade with VDOT.

this gets back to another argument I have with David and Cheryl Cort. They argue that they are pragmatists, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good".

But sometimes "the good" is really flawed and provides major ammunition to opponents, people not that engaged, people who don't want to pony up in taxes, etc.

And in the increasingly poisonous political atmosphere, change advocates have no business putting forward weak proposals, because they damage the ability to enact improvements-change more generally.

It's like what I used to say about CD revitalization. A lot of the problem in a weak market is that strong retailers-restauranteurs aren't interested. So the ones you get are weak, undercapitalized, with flawed business plans.

Then they fail. But people don't blame the flawed undercapitalized proprietors, they blame the commercial district. And that makes it harder to improve, harder to attract able entrepreneurs, etc.

That's why with the streetcar, I've always said it needs to be introduced where it will be wildly successful from the outset. I understand why it was proposed for Anacostia first, out of equity concerns. But that desirable social objective ran head first into f*ed up intra-community agita and social organization. Dooming it...

At least with H St. there is support. You don't see people in the neighborhood being against it, just people from outside.

But because the city has f*ed up a number of times while planning it, "it doesn't go anywhere." While that isn't true, it'd be better if it went further into Downtown now.

That would end up silencing most critics.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

with your point about SimCity, partly isn't just having a basic understanding of urban economics?

This is from Cy Paumier's book, _Creating a Vibrant City Center_, which is not about economics, but design, but it outlines the underlying economics of land development:

Concentration and Intensity of Use: "The intensity of development in the traditional central area was relatively high due to the value of the land. Maximizing site coverage meant building close to the street, which created a strong sense of spatial enclosure. Although city center development was dense, construction practices limited building height and preserved a human scale. The consistency in building height and massing reinforced the pedestrian scale of streets, as well as the city center's architectural harmony and visual coherence." (p. 11)

Organizing Structure: "A grid street system, involving the simplest approach to surveying, subdividing, and selling land, created a well-defined, organized, and understandable spatial structure for the cities' architecture and overall development. Because the street provided the main access to the consumer market, competition for street frontage was keen. Development parcels were normally much deeper than they were wide, creating a pattern of relatively narrow building fronts that provided variety and articulation in each block and continuous activity on the street." (p. 12)

Of course, today, other elements that shape land values are transportation infrastructure--roads and subways especially--and certain other civic assets and investments (parks, etc.).

ANd then, the point about the different municipal profitability from different types of land use, the cost of educating students, welfare, etc.

You're right. It would be an awesome game.

At 10:42 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

The Perfect/Enemy vs. Getting it Right is an eternal debate. When there is urgency, go with what works.

And I agree that the political conditions (McAullife pledging state money) did not the CP project more urgent. That said DA two editorials demonstrate a real lack of political tone and nuance.

After 10 years of this, urban redevelopment is moving from a social equality to an identity politics base. And the problem with that it overstates the position (young people have always loved living in cities since the 1950s, but it is harder/more expensive to do so once you have kids) and also misunderstands the opposition.

Opposing infrastructure projects on budget/competence reasons has a very old history -- going back to 1820. So yeah, getting it right (purple line?) really makes a difference.

W/R/T the DC plan, yes, the streetcar needs to go somewhere else for it to makes sense. Tearing up K st is no easy task. Hundreds of question on competence, corruption and credibility.

At 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That's why with the streetcar, I've always said it needs to be introduced where it will be wildly successful from the outset."

Arlington County could, I suppose, have just introduced it on CCPY. Deciding on any other part of the region was not in their power. However look at the critiques of street cars "a toy for yuppies" and the admitted incremental benefits to them - they are best where bus service is maxing out capacity, and where something is needed to stimulate development. Columbia Pike is the highest volume bus transit corridor in NoVa (if not the region) so the volume argument suggests it is in fact the place where mixed traffic streetcar makes the most sense. It is also a place the County wants to see more TOD style development (for plenty for reasons I need not rehash, I trust) which just needed something to push it along. In this case you had a hammer, and you had something that really was a nail. The problem was not that the wrong place was chosen - it was the wrong time. The combination of BRAC, which impacted county finances and hence soured taxpayers against the ACB - several well publicized expenditure bloopers - the loss of Zimmerman, who explained the urbanist vision better than Fisette - the problems with H Street - etc.


At 4:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"change advocates have no business putting forward weak proposals, because they damage the ability to enact improvements-change more generally."

It sounds like you think DA was the advocate who got PikeRail started. IIUC its been under discussion for 15 years, when I think DA was not an influence in this region at all. It was Arlington County, with a problem to solve - Columbia Pike - and Fairfax - with Baileys Crossroads - who attempted to address the problem.

The people involved were not professional change advocates, but elected officials with counties to run.

At 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And how to position/compromise/trade with VDOT."

You mean for dedicated lane? You assume a dedicated lane would be politically viable in Arlington. I think the mass of street car opponents would oppose that - because it would take away space for cars - and even some people who believe street car breakdowns would be rare also would not want to lose a lane (50% of the auto capacity if its in both directions)

At 4:23 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

CBF makes a good point point that it is a timing problem (BRAC) rather than location.

And the immense lags time (15+ years) means you pick a location that made sense in 1992 but no longer makes sense.

In terms of dedicated lane, there is room from the pentagon to Glebe. As I suggested elsewhere, a better routing would be CC to Glebe then up to Ballston.

In any case.

RE: SimCity; it seems ultimately based on the old concentric circle model, where the most valubale land turns into bank skyscrapers in the middle. I'm not sure modeling the Growth Machine is easy.

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

anoon -- I was talking about change more generally. FWIW, I was invited by Victor Dover to attend the first charrettes for CP revitalization back in 2001, but I was unable to attend.

I've been to some CP meetings over the years, and I participated in the DC side of "streetcar planning" starting in 2003 when Arlington was doing the same thing.

and change agents, theoretically, are planners. And they report to elected officials. Who screw things up too. Or don't take advice. And sometimes planners don't give good advice or are afraid to (e.g., some elected officials, the bosses of govt. workers, fire the messenger, so that leads to "self-censorship" by many).

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

CBF -- well, mostly, I was commenting about DC, and I have many dozens of entries over the years on streetcar planning in DC, e.g.,

I agree of course with your points that the best place to start is where transit ridership is already high (that's the source of the argument for streetcar service on Clark Street in Chicago).

But I think that needs to be considered alongside the politics of getting something done.

And CCPY has the most economic value to Arlington and probably the least amount of potential opposition, compared to CP.

Yes, I know all about the TOD plans for Columbia Pike, I've followed the process from close to the beginning although not in every detail, and I am pretty familiar with urban-commercial district-neighborhood revitalization processes and practices.

and yes, I think that taking a lane would be really hard. I was also writing about how I think streetcars make sense vs. the proposed lines in ArCo. I think streetcars as intra-district lines make sense, and don't as trunkline service (e.g., charlie's point of a 30 minute or more streetcar ride to Pentagon plus then another 30 minute ride to the station of your final destination plus another 15 minutes to get out of the station and to your final destination).

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Frankly a streetcar from Potomac Yard especially connecting around Crystal City or from Alexandria to Crystal City would function more like how it does in Portland, and would get the developers to sign on etc.

e.g., in the current GGW entry, Kallie mentions how Vornado isn't offering very good tenant packages to attract new tenants and their buildings are old.

That's comparable, different specifics obviously, to why Portland built a streetcar to enable the development of a former railyard area, why Paul Allen wanted a streetcar to accelerate redevelopment of SoDo, why SF is adding a streetcar line to accelerate redevelopment of the SoMA area.

Charles C. Smith/Vornado should have pushed this hard, from both directions, Columbia Pike and Route One...

It was the developers who pushed the Portland streetcar forward, not "the people."

And that's another hard lesson. It's difficult to do build out acceleration and infrastructure innovation and transformation in the #3 area of Arlington (R-B and Crystal City being #1 and #2) when the development of the #1 and #2 areas are not maxed out, and when the #1 and #2 areas have competitive problems of their own.

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The DC phasing has seemed byzantine to me. I cannot speak to it.

As for the time to from Col Pike, as I have already said on GGW, that is the nature of ANY two seat ride from NoVa. That is what many 16 bus riders (not everyone has a DC destination the 16Y) do now. Its what the mobs of people who go from the 7 buses, the 29 buses, the 18 buses, etc do at Pentagon station.

NoVa has long commutes. Not everyone in the region can afford to live in WOTR DC, or next to a metro station. And yet they still take transit. Its not short but they make it work. Including people from outer Col Pike and Baileys.

Plugging for a line to Ballston is without point - the bus routes that way are not capacity constrained AFAIK, and there is less development potential on Glebe than on outer Col Pike and at Baileys (why does everyone forget about Fairfax?)

I do not know if ACB considered moving ahead with CCPY on its own - I guess since Alex is not ready to look at rail there till the infill station is done, the ArlCo piece would be too short to justify fixed costs of the mtnce facility, etc. Maybe when the Alexandria Metro station is done, and when the CCPY bus line is going gangbusters it will be time to revisit the streetcar issue.


At 4:57 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

so wrt this in DC, DC is doing more what I am calling intra-district service

but they aren't positioning it that way.

The problem in DC, with the exception of a couple corridors like H St. and Georgia Ave., many of the places where streetcars are being promoted don't have a lot of redevelopment capacity. (But hundreds of millions of dollars of investment is occurring on H St. and much of it--anything east of 5th street probably wouldn't be happening without the streetcar.)


Joe was the chair of ANC6A during the time of the transpo study (2003-2004) and the simultaneous DC Alternatives Analysis which included H St. as a streetcar corridor.

Joe figured out that if the street were going to be torn up for a streetscape improvement, why not include streetcar rails at the same time. Not only would it reduce by 1 the number of times the street would get torn up, it would increase the likelihood of H Street getting streetcar service.

So he coordinated a lobbying campaign with other ANCs, and eventually DDOT agreed. (Too bad they didn't do the planning for electrification at the same time. Then the deployment would have been accelerated by a couple years.)

The only reason DC is ahead of Arlington on streetcars is because of Joe's farsightedness.

And if those rails weren't in the ground, we'd be nowhere too.

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RL Again, I dont think railing the ArlCo CCPY section is feasible absent the Pike line. And Alexandria is not ready to finance rail on their section, and wont be for several years.

As for maxed out, again we need to seperate the stagnant office market from the residential market. CC has no significant residential vacancies I am aware of and IS close to maxed out on residential (other than office conversions) meanwhile residential moves ahead in Pentagon City. The whole area should reach residential build out within a few years, about which time RB corridor will be close to it. Even if there is still vacant office space.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

CBF -- I don't know if you read the blog generally... but I have a piece a couple days ago that mentioned the ArCo decision.

It talks about "right mode" and "right place". E.g., I wrote about how BRT in South America is used to justify BRT in the US, but here, it's usually single line, and not part of a network, and with few of the conditions that make it successful in SA (including poverty and transit dependence, which allows for crush loads double that of the US, which means it's cheaper to move a lot of people).

Streetcars are very contentious, I don't know why (well, I guess I do, because of fear of change and the pre-eminence of the automobility culture and "lobby"). So when you try to do it, it makes sense to do so where there is less potential for opposition.

ANd I think in the modern times, it makes sense to do streetcars as intra-district service, like in Portland, like in Seattle.

SF Market Street line is half tourist, half not. I am not familiar with the new line that is less tourist oriented, the E line, but I guess looking into it, it's more entertainment focused, but will also serve the South of Market district, where lots of tech firms are going.

So I don't know if the CP line makes sense from that standpoint.

Anyway, I'm just saying that in the face of opposition, it's nice to have the big real estate owners in your corner. They had that in Portland and Seattle, and I know that on the SW Waterfront, developers are supportive. H st. doesn't have a big single developer, but clearly, developers are moving forward, because of the streetcar.

At least I argue it's because of the streetcar because along Georgia Ave. you are not experiencing similar kind of development although the spatial conditions are similar. The only difference is one will have streetcar service soon, and one might have streetcar service in 10-15 years.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

good point about difference between office and residential markets.

.,.. i am the first to say I don't know the ins and outs of the ArCo commercial market. I wrote a piece a couple years ago about the way that the Silver Line was gonna be deleterious to ArCo.

... so streetcar service helps reposition "declining" areas.

I am not saying that I would have thought about this stuff before, necessarily, had I been asked to think about it, hindsight being 20/20 and all.

and yes, I write about the vagaries of the commercial market in DC too. which is why I am one of the city's strongest advocates for a separated blue line, to maintain the relevance and mobility efficiency of the central business district.

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Did Aaron Renn just compare the difficulty of running LA to a 57k person town? Not a useful comparison imo.

At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

No and I can't say you're not right. But this morning, I was thinking again of this post, and Aaron's point, in the context of Judith Rodin's new book on building resilience, and so it's relevant.

I mean, think of having the area of ANC6A come together to vote in a special services district to raise money for fixing the roads. 1. it wouldn't raise much money vis a vis the need. 2. but more importantly, it shows how little money there is for the city to spend on the basics of repair. That's where LA is.

But yes, LA is so damn big, that you can't compare it to Kokomo.


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