- A report from the Brookings Institution: restrictive (read, â€śexclusionaryâ€ť) zoning may lead to lower test scores for kids.
â€śAs the nation grapples with the growing gap between rich and poor and an economy increasingly reliant on formal education, public policies should address housing market regulations that prohibit all but the very affluent from enrolling their children in high-scoring public schools in order to promote individual social mobility and broader economic security.â€ť
- An analysis by US Today shows the recession accelerated trends towards urbanization.
â€śThe shift to more urban housing development has been growing slowly during the past couple of decades and thanks to the recession and housing crash, this trend has accelerated. It is probable that the trends that the USA Today analysis points to are the precursors to a long-term shift in suburban development resulting in more in-fill, close-in development and far less growth on the outer edges of metropolitan areas.â€ť
- Downtown Cleveland is growing while suburban/exurban growth slows or reverses course.
â€śTake the latest population figures in the 5 county metropolitan area [around Cleveland]. From 1990 to 2010, the City of Cleveland shrank, as did many of the suburban areas of Cuyahoga County. The growth mostly occurred in the increasingly exurban fringes of the metro, as well as on the edges of Cuyahoga County. Except there is one outlier: downtown Cleveland. Over the last two decades, the neighborhood’s population grew 96%, with residential totals increasing from 4,651 to 9,098. It was the single largest spike of any neighborhood, suburb, or county measured for the two decades under study.â€ť
Defining Neighborhoods through Data Tracking
â€śâ€¦a research project called Livehoods, from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, aims to shed some light on how people really inhabit their citiesâ€”and how this changes over timeâ€”by mapping data collected from 18 million Foursquare check-ins that have been sent out via Twitter.â€ť
ITDP Mexico Takes on Traffic
Rethinking the National Mall
â€śMany of the worldâ€™s top landscape architects and architects presented their designs for three grand projects on the National Mall: Constitution Gardens, Union Square, and the Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theatre. The competition is fierce because all the design proposals offer elegant, exciting, innovative ideas for solving sticky ecological, security, and public space design challenges.â€ť
Creativity & Cities
Jonah Lehrer’s ambitious new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, takes a fascinating dive into the world of creativity and how it all works, not to mention devoting a chapter entirely to cities.
Lehrer recently took some time to chat with Atlantic Cities and expand on his ideas concerning the nexus of creativity and cities.
Urban agriculture has a number of advantages for communities, including:
- improving the quality of the urban environment through the introduction of green space and, thus, a reduction in pollution and global warming;
- supporting the reduction of energy use through local production of food, including savings in transportation costs and food storage. Purchasing produce from farmers within a 100-mile (160-km) radius reduces automobile emissions and eliminates packaging waste;
- helping close the urban loop system characterized by importation of food from rural zones and exportation of waste to regions outside the city or town;
- incorporating use of wastewater for irrigation and organic solid waste for fertilizer;
- promoting alternative development options, such as cultivation of vacant urban land for agricultural production;
- helping build equitable responses to food needs by providing local food sources for low-income communities to improve access to fresh foods;
- invigorating the community by incorporating local ideas and engagement; and
- incorporating a cross-sector approach to look at long-term, systemic solutions to problems in cities with the goal of improved health and wellness.
Guess whoâ€™s ahead of Portland? And whoâ€™s right behind?!
Excerpts from David Korten’s “Living Buildings, Living Economies, and a Living Future” from Yes! online, May 18, 2011:
“Integrating multi-purpose buildings into a larger multi-building neighborhood or district system adds opportunities to develop public green spaces, community gardens, edible landscaping, and small-scale poultry and livestock production, as well as natural wetlands and living machine water purification to continuously recycle nutrients, water, and energy.
Integrative projects also create opportunities to balance the utility loads of businesses, which generally have greater energy needs during the day, and residences, which have greater needs during nonbusiness hours. Bringing residences, employment, shopping, and recreation together in close proximity minimizes transportation requirements and facilitates the sharing of autos, bicycles, appliances, and tools, and community connections to mass transit, bike trails, and other transportation alternatives.
The living economies movement seeks to displace this failed economic system with a planetary system of resilient, self-reliant local economies comprised of human-scale, locally-owned enterprises that use local resources to meet local needs in cooperative alignment with the structure and dynamics of local ecosystems.”
Quick thoughts on Korten’s essay as it relates to our County:
The question we are facing locally is what parameters to establish allowing these kinds of systems to flourish (if anything like this is our goal).Â It would seem that many objectives need to be balanced against each other for the benefit of the larger community. Â For example, density in some areas versus growth limits in others; height on some sites if solar access is maintained for vegetated cover and open space on others; compact development with a flexible integration of uses to allow greater net permeable area within and around development.
More abstractly, we need to think about the general framework before applying untenable parameters on the specific; performance measures versus inflexible standards that are typically derived from acceptable lowest common denominators.Â Less process for projects that hit performance measures.Â More process as a trade-off for bending the rules to fit a site, community, or program better.Â Yes? No?
Adaptive reuse of existing buildings for agriculture: Plant Chicago – vertical farming and industrial reuse.
Take a quick look at their philosophy in 2 minutes.
Don’t think we’d have any 40-story buildings, but what if we used less and converted … i don’t know … some of our numerous self-storage facilities to vertical farms?
Based on a lecture presenting ICMAâ€™s recent report, â€śPutting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communitiesâ€ť, the first part of this synopsis summarized the general goals, scope, challenges, and policy principles for a â€śsmart growthâ€ť approach to rural community development. Numerous links to various resources are provided therein. The second part of this synopsis will outline more detailed strategies for rural communities based on smart growth principles.
Strategies to Accomplish Goal 1: Economic Support of Working Lands and Conservation Areas
Ensure viability of a resource economy:
- Assess taxes based on current use, rather than at its highest market value;
- Provide tax credits for conservation;
- Enact right-to-farm policies;
- Advocate renewable energy development;
- Allow value-added farm and forest product processing; and
- Explore ecosystem services markets (buy and sell habitat/carbon/water quality credits).
Cultivate economic development reliant on rural landscape conservation:
- Purchase development rights;
- Create effective conservation easement program;
- Encourage fee simple acquisition of conservation areas for development elsewhere; and
- Develop agritourism and ecotourism models.
Promote rural products and urban-rural links:
- Develop direct marketing campaigns;
- Encourage local product purchasing by governmental agencies; and
- Promote â€śbuy-localâ€ť campaigns.
Link preservation strategies to neighborhoods:
- Encourage the transfer of development rights;
- Create priority funding areas;
- Zone for agricultural uses; and
- Encourage rural home clustering.
Strategies to Accomplish Goal 2: Investing in Assets to Make Rural Towns Thrive
Invest funds in existing places:
- Enact a fix-it-first policy;
- Encourage historic preservation and main street development approach;
- Market parks and natural resources as destinations;
- Target investment in streets and streetscapes; and
- Focus new development to compact, defined areas.
Encourage private sector investment:
- Provide infill development incentives;
- Establish rules that do not impede infill;
- Create a â€średevelopment readinessâ€ť certification for targeted infill areas; and
- Split tax rates by building value and land value.
Build on existing investments:
- Encourage (and allow) adaptive reuse; and
- Rehabilitate public buildings for new uses as growth occurs.
Foster economic development in downtown areas:
- Assess strengths and weaknesses of existing business environment in each community; and
- Create a local business-recognition program.
Strategies to Accomplish Goal 3: Creating New Stable, Sustainable Neighborhoods and Communities
Update strategic policies to accommodate new growth through compact and contiguous development:
- Create place-specific visions for each area;
- Define the places worth preserving;
- Designate growth areas;
- Plan and invest in infrastructure grid and multi-modal transportation systems; and
- Ensure distinctive local character.
Reform policies to encourage compact, walkable, mixed-use places:
- Align policy with vision;
- Focus rules on pedestrian access and circulation;
- Plan park and open space networks;
- Create traditional neighborhood development patterns;
- Explore form-based code options;
- Encourage context-sensitive design;
- Develop green street design parameters; and
- Encourage low-impact development.
Reward developments that use smart growth and green building approaches:
- Create recognition programs; and
- Require/incentivize green building techniques.
While this list is very comprehensive, our County already actively employs and promotes many of these strategies (rural zoning, conservation easements, transfer of development rights, building lot terminations). A major stumbling block, however, is typically encountered when we look at the other side of the rural preservation coin: where and how to focus growth to preserve our rural open spaces. There are many trade-offs that we must make, but unless we simply allow the tax base to erode and our infrastructure to crumble, growth must be accommodated somewhere. And it can be done sensitively and appropriately. Continuing policies that appease some, by keeping growth to the edges â€“ further spreading our suburban footprint – with inefficient, unsustainable greenfield development, will only cause greater infrastructure and environmental burdens on later generations. These strategies need to be applied throughout our zoning, building, environmental, transportation, tax, and associated regulations.
Post Script: A great set of resources on policy integration for sustainable communities can be found at the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
Representatives from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the Environmental Protection Agency recently presented the results of a study, â€śPutting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communitiesâ€ť, at the National Building Museum. As we look towards modifications to our zoning laws, it may be useful to summarize some of their findings.
Smart Growth Goals
- Economic support of working lands and conservation areas;
- Investing in assets to make rural towns thrive; and
- Creating new stable, sustainable neighborhoods and communities.
Simply put, USDA defines rural by what it isnâ€™t â€“ rural areas are not â€śmetropolitan countiesâ€ť. This course-grain approach, of course, doesnâ€™t help define the differences between and within Montgomery Countyâ€™s more urban corridors and nodes, its residential suburbs, and itâ€™s Agricultural Reserve.
A better way to think about the nature of rural areas is based on economic, geographic, and design characteristics:
- Gateway communities â€“ areas adjacent to â€śhigh-amenityâ€ť recreational areas (coastlines, national parks, etc.);
- Resource-dependent communities â€“ areas dependent on industries such as farming, mining, timbering, etc.;
- Edge communities â€“ areas at the fringes of metropolitan areas;
- Traditional Main Street communities â€“ small towns and villages with identifiable, often historic, centers; and
- Second home and retirement communities â€“ areas the provide housing and services for people looking for rest, relaxation, and recreation/service amenities.
Different areas of Montgomery County display many of the qualities of each these rural typologies. Being next to the nationâ€™s capital, with its numerous museums, memorials, and parks, the County acts as a gateway community for many tourists. With an active farming and horse community, the Agricultural Reserve and other rural-zoned areas share characteristics of resource-dependent communities. Scattered around the major road networks and throughout the rural areas of the County, aspects of the edge, main street, and second home/retirement communities are prevalent.
Issues Facing Rural Communities
Since we share many of the aspects of different types of rural communities, it is important to note the trends facing these areas:
- Decreasing numbers of farmers and farms;
- Decreasing natural and working lands;
- Increasing growth at metropolitan edges;
- Decreasing population;
- Decreasing access to jobs and services;
- Few transportation options; and
- Little planning staff/resource capacity.
The rural areas of Montgomery County are affected by all of these trends to greater or lesser degrees.
Smart Growth Opportunities/Benefits
To address these issues, the ICMA report lays out 10 principles from the Smart Growth Network that any policy should promote:
- Mix land uses;
- Take advantage of compact design;
- Create a range of housing opportunities and choices;
- Create walkable communities;
- Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place;
- Preserve open space farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas;
- Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities;
- Provide a variety of transportation options;
- Make development decision predictable, fair, and cost-effective;
- Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.
The second part of this synopsis will summarize how these principles can be used to support the three smart growth goals.