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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A missed opportunity to focus on the Republican urban agenda at the Republican National Convention

I didn't think about trying to be prepared well in advance of the Republican National Convention with a post on what would be a reasonable Republican approach to urban issues that is congruent with Republican Party principles.

A couple months ago Aaron Renn of Urbanophile wrote a piece, "A $63 million high school football stadium shows changing Republican values," about how (paraphrased) "Republicans aren't against investing in public/civic facilities so long as they improve quality of life," that there is a recognition that an overfocus on "low taxes" comes with costs.

I meant to write about it.  I'd probably distinguish between (sub)urban Republicans and exurban and rural Republicans. Granted the old Republicans of the Northeast had a civic-infused agenda, albeit with a different perspective on a lot of things.  But for example, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York's 2nd District located in Central Long Island has a pro-transit agenda, given the needs of his constituents, many of whom ride the LIRR.  In the DC metropolitan area, past Republican Congressmembers from Northern Virginia have been amongst the area's major leaders concerning transit matters.

But it's true that reasonable people can agree on some things and disagree on others, and can agree on investing in community.  Although what people think is appropriate to invest in can vary considerably.  Maybe it's high school football centers yes, and senior centers or social service clinics no.

The mayor of Oklahoma, Mick Cornett, is Republican and is currently the chairman of the US Conference of Mayors ("OKC Mayor Mick Cornett Speaks At RNC In Cleveland," News9/OKC).

The "Metropolitan Area Program" he created is a system of planning, funding, and building a wide range of community facilities ("Cornett, Couch Say MAPS 4 Could Be Used To Fix Oklahoma City Street," KGOU) that is a leading national urban best practice.

Utah has had a series of Republican governors doing great things on regional and statewide smart growth planning, the environment, and transit.  (Although the state still goes ape**** about federally-owned lands.)

2.  Republican agenda from Speaker Ryan.  Similarly, I haven't read the Republican Congress agenda document by Paul Ryan titled A Better Way.  Mostly I disagree with his dominant agenda of tax cuts for the rich and diminishment of resources for the less well off, but listening to him on NPR yesterday, his point about needing more nuanced and individualized approaches for social supports makes sense to me.

If that's a Republican agenda, well, I could support it, provided they stop focusing on tax cuts for the rich, see "Can We Find Our Way Back to Lincoln?," New York Times.

3.  The 2016 Republican Platform is bad on transportation.  I think the Republican Party, this year anyway, is disinclined to be pro-urban, seeing "urban" as tied very much to the Democrats and President Obama.

From The 2016 Republican Party Platform | GOP:
America on the Move
Our country’s investments in transportation and other public construction have traditionally been non-partisan. Everyone agrees on the need for clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports, and airports. President Eisenhower established a tradition of Republican leadership in this regard by championing the creation of the interstate highway system. In recent years, bipartisan cooperation led to major legislation improving the nation’s ports and waterways.

Our Republican majority ended the practice of earmarks, which often diverted transportation spending to politically favored projects. In the current Congress, Republicans have secured the longest reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund in a decade and are advancing a comprehensive reform of the Federal Aviation Administration to make flying easier and more secure.

The current Administration has a different approach. It subordinates civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. Its ill-named Livability Initiative is meant to “coerce people out of their cars.” This is the same mentality that once led Congress to impose by fiat a single maximum speed limit for the entire nation, from Manhattan to Montana. Our 1980 Republican Platform pledged to repeal that edict. After the election of Ronald Reagan, we did.

Now we make the same pledge regarding the current problems in transportation policy. We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government.

More than a quarter of the Fund’s spending is diverted from its original purpose. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities. Additional funds are used for bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, and historical renovations. Other beneficiaries of highway money are ferry boats, the federal lands access program, scenic byways, and education initiatives. These worthwhile enterprises should be funded through other sources.   
We propose to phase out the federal transit program and reform provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act which can delay and drive up costs for transportation projects. ... With most of the states increasing their own funding for transportation, we oppose a further increase in the federal gas tax.
The platform also calls Amtrak a boondoggle and isn't supportive of high speed rail generally, except as private initiatives.

There are many problems with these positions.  Foremost is their belief that transportation only equals roads, and that the "highway gas excise tax" should only support roads, and that "complete roads" only make provisions for motor vehicle traffic, not other users, be they pedestrians, bicyclists, or transit users, and that from an optimal throughput standpoint, investing "highway gas taxes" in transit helps to add capacity to roads in the most congested metropolitan areas, which are the linchpins of the US economy.

4.  According to the article, Mayor Cornett's speech at the Convention focused on how Republican mayors are handling urban matters.  It was scheduled at 2pm Monday, which clearly indicates that urban issues, at least for this presidential election, are a low priority.

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At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you ever thought they would have even considered focusing on an urban agenda you really expected way too much.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

It's a general point. Metropolitan areas drive the US economy. Center cities are home to many of the nation's major universities and research institutes, big centers for medical care, etc.

And the nation is become more urbanized, more population is centered in metropolitan areas.

So if you care about the future of the nation (and it is only within the last year that I have come to accept that politics is about "the now" at the expense of the future) you have to acknowledge the preeminent role of cities within the American polity and how the fact that the governance system is structured to favor suburban and rural interests is counterproductive.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

One of the other pieces I may not get to is a Cleveland interesting urbanism piece. Although my knowledge now is severely outdated.

- Public Square
- West Side Market
- CDCs
- Famikos Foundation
- Cleveland Restoration Society
- transit
- HealthLine
- universities and Cleveland Clinic
- the business cooperative initiative in the U City area
- Warehouse and Gateway districts
- Tower City (good at keeping a historic building together, bad at the suburban retail)
- Business Revitalization Zoning overlay
- the arts tax (but I think it's bad because of what it is assessed on)
- Van Swearingens
- Burnham
- that market that you mention that I haven't seen, Heinen
- Playhouse Square and the Dev. Corp.
- Gordon Square Arts Initiative
- stadium and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (good and bad)
- Krumholtz and advocacy planning
- the KSU urban design studio based in Cleveland

The Slavic Village thing isn't a lot different from what Cleveland Restoration Society was doing in the early part of the last decade, although they weren't buying properties so cheaply. They were restoring properties, curing nuisances, and selling them sometimes for a loss but there was no question that the re-habitated house contributed to community stabilization extranormally.

As you know better than I, the problem with "Cleveland" is that the metro hasn't added significant population in 50 years. Instead, people shifted where they lived, and this along with business consolidation, restructuring, etc. depopulated the city and reduced its economic salience.

The city has been successful in stabilizing some areas, especially downtown, but without adding population significantly, they are constrained in how much success they can reap.

I used to have an e-correspondent who lived in Cleveland (she grew up in Brookland) and it wasn't until our back and forth that I was clued into some fundamental elements of "weak markets." E.g., you can invest a lot of money in "restoring" a historic property, but it's almost impossible to get a proper payback on the extranormal expenses. By contrast, in DC, you can pretty much count on getting back a much greater than 1:1 return.

(It's also why I realized the national statistics on the value of various remodelings and the payback are too gross-grained to be useful. What depends more is the nature of the remodel, and the state of the residential submarket, and its place in the metropolitan landscape of desirable neighborhoods.)

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Singapore stuff interesting. Interesting point about the margins off ads and real estate. And about "diffuse returns" hard to monetize on the part of the private sector.

WRT "infrastructure," as we probably have discussed, there are investments that have extranormal benefit, others that are neutral at best, others that over time probably cost money.

Rebuilding roads is necessary but at this point probably doesn't result in a lot of extranormal ROI.

There was a piece by Richard Cohen about Obama and he said Obama failed on infrastructure. In one way I don't agree, because it wasn't Obama's fault that the Republicans responded the way they did.

But ARRA put people to work, but from a long term sense, probably hasn't had a great ROI.

The HSR failure comes at a big cost I think. The thing is that to build the base of support for such initiatives takes a long time.

E.g., in 1938, Congress charged the Bureau of Public Roads with creating a national highway plan. They did so and in 1939 turned it into Congress. In 1945, Congress approved the plan. In 1956, they appropriated money to do it. (I am tired of the urban myth about Eisenhower.)

Somewhere I have a copy of a Fortune Magazine from 1938 or 1939 outlining a modern highway system (great graphics, in my Flickr). I also found another magazine from just after WW2 featuring an interview with Robt. Moses.

Anyway, the process from authorization of planning to appropriating money took 18 years.

Obviously we need to move faster than that. But two years wasn't enough time for HSR especially in terms of how the Republicans in Congress emboldened the Republican Governors to be obstreperous (e.g., Scott in FL and Walker in WI -- speaking of which, interesting long piece in NYT about Fortress Investments, private equity, and the All About Florida HSR).

Similarly the same problem obtained with "Obamacare." It was necessary I think, but needed more time to develop a consensus. We don't have a consensus, hence the continued opposition.

2. WRT Clinton and Trump and infrastructure, I haven't thought it through. Trump's track record in Atlantic City of course is bad. I am not so potentially positive on Trump and infrastructure.

3. Also the HSR in Singapore-Malaysia that you sent the link on is an illustration of the long period of gestation required on big hairy infrastructure projects.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Kucinich and the business community would be interesting too, deindustrialization, etc.

At 10:47 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Infrastructure. Well I though the Singapore-KL link was interesting because of the contrast to the CA HSR plan -- again I'm not CA HSR really has a plan to get into LA and or the Bay area. All about the valley.

And that was baked in. As soon as Obama said "shovel ready" I I realized he never spent a day in his life thinking about how to leverage the government into making those 30 year investments.

(I've seen two tangle effects of the stimulus -- bikeshare and a new crossing at I70/i80 outside Washington PA.)

The cleveland plan is 100x more encouraging than the previous Cleveland foundation plan to tear up Slavic Village and salvage historic elements for sale.

(Big picture: The entire US is a "Weak market" right now, no real growth, a lot of readjusting internally. Partially explains the politics, because yes, a gain for DC or NYC means Chicago or Cleveland has to suffer. zero sum.)

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yes about ARRA. I remember being very frustrated while working at Balt. County at the time that because the DPW focused on roads and had plenty of unfunded road projects fully designed, but no engineering was in place for bike projects therefore we were unable to do anything even though new monies were purportedly available.

For the most part, ARRA was about jobs in the here and now, not about reaping long term ROI.

2. HSR in California good point. The problem with California is the lack of ROW, cost of land, and earthquakes as far as getting into LA is concerned.

E.g., in a non earthquake prone area, I'd advocate for creating cut and cover tunnel for HSR in some of the Interstates.

The Alameda train corridor serving the Port of Long Beach does this but it is more of a trench, not a tunnel. (And not in an interstate.)

Anyway, because of lack of ROW, it's really hard to thread HSR into LA and Orange Counties, and of course, those are primary destinations and origin points for ridership. Without that, how can it succeed?

Plus, too, maybe it seems a bit misdirected, but I've come to believe in doing such projects that it's better to start off with reounding success, rather than if not failure, middling results.

So I'd maybe have done a private-public project with HSR to Las Vegas as a key first in project. It has demand, it'd involve the private sector which a lot of Republicans want, etc.

Then you could build from success that way. Even if other segments would be less appealing to a public-private "partnership."

E.g., (the private sector) HSR initiatives in Florida and Texas make a lot of sense because they will link high value destinations with high ridership. (cf. the abysmal ridership numbers from the Orlando area commuter rail.)

I guess I don't care whether they are public or private sector initiatives, but it would be nice to have an integrated transportation system, regardless of who owns and operates what.

3. wrt your point about the US as a weak market, yes. We are going through a long period of restructuring based on how the country integrates into a global economy. The coasts are better positioned. Chicago and Texas cities like Dallas.

I am not smart enough to forecast with any certainty what will happen with oil prices, but there will always be demand for it, so over time oil producing states should bounce back as the firms improve their operations for a new cost structure.

But many places are SOL if they are not part of the top 50 to 100 metropolitan areas.

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous charlie said...


Again, in Palma I noticed the garbage trucks all had prominently put "Funded by the EU" on each side.

Not saying that the EU is pro-urban (if anything, pro-farm) but having a central government allocate money rather than sending it to the state to be divided up does have better urban applications.

I guess that is the TIGER mechanism, however imperfect.

RE: Leading from success, yep.

In one of the articles on the Singapore-KL link they mentioned the 14 entities that are providing bids...basically the rogues line up of trains. Given our one remaining export is airplanes, I can see why powers that be are not enthusiastic .

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Putting EU notices on things didn't seem to help much in the vote in UK areas getting scads of structural adjustment monies from the EU... but wrt your point, it's why I like scoring mechanisms, although even they can be manipulated, to guide appropriations decisions. It's big now with transportation/transit. Obviously, the EU has a formula to guide how structural adjustment monies are delivered.

I guess, because cities are still so primary and important in most EU countries, that the EU knowledge capture and sharing mechanisms have urban issues as a top priority.

The various programs the EU sponsors are quite incredible.

It's not that we don't have federal agencies and universities and research institutes etc. in the US, but the systems for connecting and communicating appear to be superior there.

WRT trains and exports, Alex B. made a brilliant (as usual, you both have great insight) point on this issue in a thread in GGW, about how because US passenger train regulations aren't compliant with international standards, it's not possible for US-based companies to be relevant in the international railroad passenger vehicle manufacturing market.

p.s. what other great examples of pro-urban policy and practice in Cleveland did I miss?

At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

also mentions the mayor of Fort Worth, TX.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Cleveland, that is a pretty detailed list. Tremont/Ohio City/West Side Market I'd throw in there -- there is a huge chance and tying that all together that isn't being done.. Detroit ave as well.

Jane Campbell (former mayor) husband is/was a professor of urban planning at Youngstown state. I saw something about Youngstown accepting being small or something. He is an idiot.

Her big contribution was to plan the lakefront area into a giant Chicago style waterfront park (Now Burke airport and freeway). Didn't got anywhere. Also the BRT to U circle.

Mayor Jackson (current guy) has been more successful I think. Better politician. Big articles on Public Square and how he would love to ban cars downtown. I think there is a movement to remove West Side Shoreway as well.

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Offopic, also this:

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I never managed to get to Tremont, although back then it was an example of an early urban Main St. program. The guy, Hunter something, spoke at the 2002 conference, he was then working on the Youngstown 20110 program, which was/is about accepting shrinkage and rightsizing legacy communities.

He gave a great talk. It made me realize how vacuous was the 2015 NTHP conference in DC, because that kind of overview presentation about the city wasn't provided at the opening session.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yep, Hunter Morrison was Jane Campbell's husband -- a planner at YSU.


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