Urban Planning [part of The Reference Shel series] edited by Andrew I. Cavin (2003)
This book provides multiple points of view by many authors on various aspects of managing and visualizing what would be best for cities to implement to meet contemporary needs. I have lived all over the country and in all kinds of sizes of cities and geology and weather and with all kinds of transportation options or lack of options. I visited many more cities, here and I have been to multiple countries in Europe always using public transportation and once in a tour bus. I took the most terrifying taxi ride of my life in Boston during The Big Dig. Another Boston experience that didn’t work out like I thought it would involved taking the T with a roller suitcase and finding the streets piled with several feet of snow and still snowing while I tried to get from the T stop to the hotel. Roller suitcases do not slide on snow, they become snow shovels.
Now my hometown is undergoing “redevelopment” and New Urbanism is ideological philosophy they are following. New Urbanism is not actually new, it is old and dare I say, out-of-date, ill-conceived, and gloriously malfunctioning when the problem of congestion is addressed by DENSITY increases in a small downtown area.
A word of warning, the next 4,000 words are mostly stating my perspective on commentary I have read in this book and elsewhere, more than I expected to write. More details from the book articles follow. If I knew how to do an internal link, I would, but I don’t know how yet.
I dabble in a lot of areas, architecture, all aspects of art and design, landscape design. Because I have multiple sclerosis and have too many issues to ignore, I really must pay attention to what all the OVERPAID and uncreative types are shoving down an unhappy general population of 110,000 taxpayers. The local government, complicit with the State government, at the behest of the city’s major employer, have big plans that SOCIALIZE THE COSTS of development for FUTURE NEW RESIDENTS to have luxury “mixed use” (the new Urbanism mantra) housing downtown so they can walk to work and to the grocery store. Specialized “circulator” transit for the downtown dwellers will be installed at taxpayer expense, though we will, for all intents and purposes, not be allowed to drive downtown because of a constant lack of parking from about when cars were invested.
In addition to paying a higher sales tax to support the new businesses and new housing that is NOT affordable at minimum wage despite the pretense of calling it such, our property taxes are being used for some of this “economic development” and our property taxes have jumped up because of the hype about the “growth” potential. Growth means PROFITS for BUSINESS on the backs of workers as always. Other than the YUPPIES who are expected back again on the order of 20,00 to 30,000 new residents.
How nice for them! We are paying for their “walkability” to work and to stores and yet ALL THE NEW HOUSING DEVELOPMENTS HAVE PRIVATE PARKING. Hmm. So much for the downtown dwellers not needing cars at all, and if they did there is Uber and Lyft in addition to the $30 cab rides (pricing fixed by City Council, long story). And if these new carless professionals want to go somewhere else, simple! They just rent a car. They apparently will all be single people from somewhere else with no family living on the many nearby farms that they would ever want to visit. Likewise, all their friends will be living downtown or they can meet up after work on their walk home at one of the new restaurants catering to fine dining lifestyles of $100,000 a year professionals.
Meanwhile, there are food deserts all over town. The bus system is hub and spoke so you can get to the major employer downtown but not to your dentist. Likewise, as all things are, poor people only have TIME they can spend, not money. Or in the case even of subsidized transit, in addition to MAJOR TIME LOSS, they get to pay for the privilege at $2.00 a ride one way. To get from my home downtown to the library in a car, it takes 17 minutes. The bus (which I haven’t tried, just checked Google or something) would take 1 hour and 12 minutes, and I would still have to walk 3 block possibly, or wait for another bus with a transfer waiting 1/2 hour maybe to get the last 3 blocks.
This matters because with multiple sclerosis, 3 blocks may as well be a mile. And then walking with books, back and forth another 3 blocks return, waiting for the bus, plus the 1 hour and 12 minutes to get home. THIS IS UNTENABLE and yet the mindset of the city council, the economic development agency, and the profiteering businesses are going to FORCE TRANSIT on the rest of us to be able to fulfill their NEW URBANISM wet dream and the taxpayers are going to have to pay the bill whether we like it or not.
What, you ask, are they doing for the REST OF THE CITY? NOTHING. NOTHING. And then more NOTHING. In addition to the $21 MILLION of our local taxes they have paid “up front” [applause here from the developers and Chamber o Commerce] we have now (Arpil 2017) been told that WE WILL NOT SEE ANY OF THAT MONEY RETURNED.
TAXPAYER EATS SHIT and PRIVATE PROFIT companies do not even have to pay $15 minimum wage or hire union workers. Because that would be intrusive on their rights as property owners. WTF about OUR rights as property owners not to foot the bill for the GROWTH impacts on the rest of us?
So this is the first of what will surely be a lengthy theme read on urban planning which I hope will debunk the MASTER FREAKING PLAN and present other, BETTER, alternatives than putting 20,000 more people in a few square miles downtown. There is NO COMMON GOOD in what they are using our money for when we have desperately needy people living in MINNESOTA THROUGH THE WINTER homeless. None of the future $128 MILLION dollars will be spent to provide ACTUAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING because there is not enough PROFIT in it. And as for transporation, well, that will be an ongoing screaming fit of “you are trying to solve the wrong problem” combined with “you are not solving the right problem!”
The book is divided into categories of issues:
I. Urban Sprawl
II. Trends in Development (remember though copyright 2003)
III. Transportation Infrastructure
V. Revitalizing the Urban Environment
Appendices with statistics on populations and aspects of transportation
Bibliography with books and web sites and abstracts of other articles.
Starting with the Editor’s Introduction, he points out that “urban sprawl” does not have a precise definition. No mater how “urban sprawl” is used today, and he doesn’t directly address this point, it is a PEJORATIVE. He does say that some meaning depends on what you are measuring.
For environmentalists concerned about the loss of land and the damage to ecosystems, sprawl simply means growth. Others tend to associate it with a particular kind of growth, such as the endless suburban landscape of Los Angeles, or the proliferation of drab strip malls and office parks that line the nation’s highways. (p. 3)
Or in the case of my town, they tore down all the trees and all the landscape, and put up randomly multistory buildings like MORE bank branches, and peculiar doomed to fail I should think little businesses along our version of big city “ring roads” so you don’t have to DRIVE through the downtown to get across town diagonally. My half is vomit inducing 4 lanes with left turn and right turn cut outs and odd heights of buildings and land and ugly beyond belief. The SW half still has beautifully wooded land and hills. How long, I wonder can it withstand the assault of “growth.”
Another bold writer the editor mentions in this introduction represents the FALSE framing of CARS versus PEDESTRIANS as a HEALTH issue. This is the trope used by our “medical” centered community. They blame CARS for obesity, and push “walking” as the solution. Question the framing!!!! The car, with it’s unbeatable CONVENIENCE and FLEXIBILITY and no matter how someone tries to claim the cost of the car, maintenance, and gas, the fact is that bang for your buck the car wins hands down.
Instead of blaming cars, I would suggest that the medical employer who wants to encourage walking for health, instead provides each employee 1 paid hour per day to USE THE MULTIMILLION DOLLAR health club they built as an employee only perk.
Sedentary jobs cause health problems. Lack of personal time causes health problems. professionals that are expected to routinely put in over 40 hours a week, and then still have to buy groceries, and cook, and clean house, and take care of kids, and take care of parents, and get the car tuned up, and get to and from dental appointment, and buy school supplies or get the baby from day care, do not have TIME TO EXERCISE or shop organic, or frequently to avoid spoilage or spend an hour preparing a full dinner plate of balanced and nutritious and tasty food. And when I say all that, I am visualizing WOMEN mostly. Plus women have an impossible clothing standard to adhere to, and that requires more time shopping — except for the many people in our community who only have to buy scrubs!
WALKING IS NOT FOR EVERYONE
Again, since I have problems walking, every time I hear someone lauding the benefits of walking, I cringe. I am not an outlier, either. My county has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the nation. We are a heavily based medical community. The tourists that the redevelopment hopes to attract are going to be “medical tourists” so the goal is to provide all kinds of things for the DOWNTOWN for the tourists and the YUPPIES and NOTHING for the rest of us but parking ramp fees and 30-minute meters with no exceptions and chalk marking tires to make sure you don’t feed the meter PLUS the ordinance says you MUST move your vehicle at LEAST TWO BLOCKS AWAY. Meanwhile, they allow businesses to build without mandating employee parking be a part of the requirements.
LACK OF DEDICATED HANDICAPPED PARKING
In one case where I got a ticket (I got it excused) they had NO DEDICATED HANDICAPPED PARKING on the street. The building was a medical facility. The building was surrounded by EMPLOYEE ONLY RAMPS* and a paved lot employee only lot, and the residential neighborhood was all residential permit parking. The facility is built on a very steep hill. There is no door on the bottom of the hill. There is only about 5 parking places in front of the building on the street. The hill side of the street where I parked had a sign I did not process (MS brain) that said “no parking” basically during rush hour so that the medical employees in the parking lots could use the street parking lane for rush hour.
* There is a 10 year or more waiting list for the seniority-based parking privileges.
Please note: 9th District Court ruled that municipalities MUST PROVIDE DEDICATED HANDICAPPED PARKING ON CITY STREETS, particularly near medical facilities. The people in charge DO NOT KNOW THE LAW but basically I think they don’t have a problem walking up a steep hill so it never occurs to them that it might be a problem for many other people.
Theoretically, the city should know how many dedicated handicapped parking places they have and where they are. I was reviewing such documents recently and could not find any references specifically for them though. It would be so very helpful to have the spots provided on a map online to be able to know in advance where such spots could be found before driving around searching for a parking place. And NO, FREE PARKING AT ANY METER is not the same thing as AVAILABLE parking. When most of the parking meters are “30-minutes NO EXCEPTIONS” this means you too handicapped person.
CARS VERSUS PEDESTRIANS
Death by car at intersections MUST BE STOPPED but once again the FRAMING of the problem is NOT and either or: cars or pedestrians only is not a solution. This is, however, the steaming ahead plans for our downtown. More “walking spaces” with some kind of yet to be determined “circulating” public transit $$$$ subsidized by taxpayers who are then not entitled to ride for free, assuming there are any places for we 110,000 to park downtown to be able to use the “circulator” to move about between one tourist attraction to another.
NO ONE CONSIDERS ANY KIND OF ALTERNATIVES to mediate the car killing pedestrian issue. For example, a major intersection in our town is being revised. The boys all got together and thunk and thunk, but just could not come up with an alternative to a left turn lane in the middle of 18th Avenue to cross onto the really big main street, 55th. They are planning bike lanes, but again, with the imagination of a toothpick and without RESEARCHING ANY VARIETY of contemporary solutions. They just presented what they have probably done before and our city council members just didn’t even question the clear failure to address significant issues, including the left turn lane, much less ask for any alternative to be presented. Ten minutes on Google and I had come up with 10 viable alternatives that (a) solved the left turn lane problem, and (b) assured pedestrian safety, and (c) combined everything more effectively to provide for 2 bike lanes separated from the traffic lanes with a meridian. There might be an issue of width for snow removal, but with the two lanes, one on each side of the road, that just doubles the clearing requirements.
Alas, though I pointed these options out, the council has decided that they have reached a “no turning back” point and do not want to become mired in “design paralysis” so are moving forward with the wretched conventional and ineffectual and problematic design even though they are now aware of multiple alternatives (I emailed them all my findings.) Sign. You can’t fix stupid, stubborn, or males who do not like being shown up by females. They will carry one, cutting their noses off to spite their faces rather than admit that they ARE WRONG to proceed with a multi-million dollar project that they know out the gate is inadequate.
The cool phrase of the day is “smart growth” and this is defined as “compact building design, mixed-use development, the preservation of open space, and development directed towards existing communities. . . .” (p. 4)
The narrow-mindedness of this attitude towards “sprawl” basically devotes to IGNORING THE EXISTING SPRAWL.
The redevelopments that are doing mixed-use often take abandoned buildings from derelict industrial districts or “deteriorated waterfronts for people to live, work, shop, and WALK — creating what is known as ‘mixed-use’ development.”
In my town, we have no abandoned industrial warehouses, no derelict waterfront. Al the new mixed-use building is being developed on local SPRAWLED residents’ dime for other people to benefit. Out town is not New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, or any other big city you can name. We don’t actually have what could be considered sprawl compared to, for example, Detroit that is discussed on page 20. It is about 5 miles from my home to downtown, and I live on the outskirts.
Building all this new housing and “growing” the downtown of 5 by 5 city blocks will not do a damn thing about SPRAWL but it will do a lot for PROFIT and downtown dwellers. The rest of us get to pay for the privilege of driving and parking downtown if we don’t choose to waste 2 plus hours of our lives each day. I have been told that paying for parking is NOT A TAX but is a USER FEE. When my tax dollars are paying for the meters, the maintenance, the monitoring, and the ticketing by law enforcement officers at a NET LOSS of revenue, then I have to say, I HAVE ALREADY PAID MY USER FEE in my TAXES.
This is a tale of another incorrectly framed problem that the city has chosen to “solve” with parking tickets as the stick. The reason we have to pay for parking, and for enforcement is “because employees would park at the meters all day otherwise.” When I said, now that is exactly my point. You are NOT EVEN SOLVING THE PROBLEM with parking fees and enforcements, especially at a net loss. The problem is that THERE IS NOT ENOUGH PARKING FOR EMPLOYEES DOWNTOWN.
“Convenience,” was the word used to describe why employees would ALWAYS continue to park at meters and needed to be punished (he denied this obvious effect of parking tickets). Another assumption as we chatted some more established that another assumption was made that the ONLY ALTERNATIVE TO PARKING FEES AND TICKETS at the meters would be another PARKING GARAGE. That isn’t necessarily the only alternative, but that’s what happens when people have too narrow a focus on options and start off with bad assumptions and even worse, don’t even recognize that they are not even framing the problem correctly.
The real answer then is to figure out an alternative for employee parking downtown that provides CONVENIENCE of nearby parking meters, or even simply providing PARKING at all for employees in some fashion. I haven’t come up with a perfect solution yet, but I have only been thinking about it a short time.
Pity that NONE of the transportation planning consultants and such like that we have spent $21 MILLION on have taken any time whatsoever to solve this real problem.
Packing 20,000 more people into multifamily dwellings is not my idea of the solution either. Especially since, as I noted, they are ALL GETTING PRIVATE PARKING GARAGES and if you think they will take transit to get to Trader Joe’s, you would be a fool.
SPRAWL – WE HAVE IT SO DEAL WITH IT
Our town is spread out into 4 geographic sections, NW SW SE NE. There is the usual river winding its way around and through roughly the east and west sides of town.
You can get from NW to the center downtown by one bus, but you can’t get anywhere else without transferring which is limited (why????) to a 90 minute period, and only good to change to other routes, not for a return home. We have had no service on Sunday and limited evening service. Without a car at anytime, I could not visit my friends who live NE, SE, or SW because no single bus goes near their neighborhoods. THIS INESCAPABLE FACT OF “SPRAWL” is being COMPLETELY IGNORED by the people planning transit. There will never be a way for me to catch a bus at 1 a.m. at my friend’s in the SE outskirts of town. WE ARE NOT NEW YORK. I lived there for about 10 years and didn’t own a car and had very little trouble any time of day or night catching a train to Queens for example. I could visit anyone anywhere anytime in any borough without a car. Bodegas were everywhere so groceries were always available without much more than a long walk (when I could) or a short inexpensive bus ride that came frequently)
SPRAWL could be considered the opposite of CONGESTED which would make it a better thing or at least not something to be ignored or condemned. With 110,000 people living outside of the downtown area, and more in neighboring small towns, plus the many farmers that are all around us, ATTENTION MUST BE PAID TO US.
Our “sprawl” is minimal, geographically diffuse, and begs being treated with the same MIXED-USE development and grocery and retail GROWTH that the downtown area is getting with OUR MONEY.
POPULATION DENSITY is NOT a good thing! Remember all the tests with overcrowded rats back in the 50s, how vicious they were to each other, desperate for some quiet space to be alone just for a little while? Out of 10 people, how many do you know that, given a choice, would choose to live in a multifamily building of 150 units 6 STORIES HIGH with limited windows, sun lack of balconies, and neighbors above, below, and on each side of you. I would guess that 10 out of 10 would pick even a small single family dwelling, maybe even with a YARD, over any form of multifamily mixed-use congested area made more so by all their CARS they will be using NO MATTER WHAT DELUSIONS OUR CITY COUNCIL AND THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCY CLAIM. With 150 units, that is a minimum of 150 vehicles they must provide parking for no matter what. Some families may not be YUPPIES and need 2 cars because both parents might not work downtown, though with the monopolization and intensity of development focuses only on the downtown instead of perhaps building a tech center or some such on the outskirts that could support mixed-use very well, since the remit for GROWTH is LIMITED to the downtown, touch luck for the rest of us.
HAS ANYONE PUSHING DENSITY DWELLING EVER EVEN LIVED IN AN APARTMENT or COND COMPLEX? Do any of them plan to give up their single family dwellings for the lovely new density they are so committed to for the 20k-30k people they hope will come if they build it. I wonder. Because I have and it generally has not BEEN a GOOD experience.
There was the guy that came home from his construction job and clomped around in his big work boots at 1:00 a.m. after the bars closed. Then he would turn on heavy metal or other seriously cacophonous music loud and put it on REPEAT and fall asleep with it going on ALL NIGHT LONG. He was so drunk he could sleep through it. I had to go out to my living room to sleep on the sofa with pillows over my head and earplugs and play some soothing music to try to divert my brain from the noise, the anger, and the frustration. I moved.
There were the prostitutes above me with the annoying headboard banging. There was the guy who raped his girlfriend and I came home to police with weapons drawn. There was the family with a 2-year old boy that loved to run up and down the long hall at 2:00 a.m. on the floors redone so thoughtfully in fake wood instead of carpet on the second floor when I was on the first. His passion was for rolling a noisy truck back and forth on the linoleum floor in the kitchen at any and all hours. And then they had a baby.
Somewhere in the introduction or elsewhere in the book I saw the phrase, “cluster development.” Be sure to click the link in the header here; it contains an excellent pdf resource on cluster developments. This Wikipedia article lists pros and cons and other aspects. Of course, since ALL OUR TAX MONEY MUST GO TO THE DOWNTOWN, none of this possible cluster development including a common area with a small grocery store perhaps in the center of a group of clusters of some kind, like the center of a flower with petals.
I think we have been trained since the fifties to treat sprawl as undesirable, but if everyone could have their own home, even a tiny home, I am guessing that people would be a lot less stressed, less anxious, and happier to not have to be completely surrounded by 24×7 street activity, neighbors coming and going (late night shifts on hospital duty is a big one here). At least with a home of your own you can adhere to the maxim of good fences make good neighbors. No doubt someone will chide me for such a misanthropic attitude, but you all must surely have just wanted not to have to hear someone else’s TV louder than your own!
How fun, the lead article today on the American Planning Association features gentrification as an issue that causes social inequality just like what the massive taxpayer subsidized housing development policies for the downtown area are doing to my city. Unfortunately most of the articles are for members only when I did a search.
Here is a link to a pdf on 100 urban planning books recommend staring in 1909 and continuing until 2005. I see the Jane Jacobs I cited in another article listed, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Lewis Mumford’s The City in History just went on my library reserve list; it was a 1961 National Book Award winner. Ooops. I already checked it out, that is why it sounded so familiar! Ha ha ha. Well that’s the next book I read.
Damn, here’s a link to the flavor of the day pretense of HEALTH as an excuse to screw around with anti-car and pro-transit to try to justify transit emphasis because the economics are not good enough if you calculate opportunity costs, resulting in PLANNING HEALTHY COMMUNITIES. ONCE AGAIN, I REPEAT, PAY EMPLOYEES TO EXERCISE AN HOUR A DAY if you really care about their health. Build more recreational facilities! More swimming pools especially! Use our tax dollars to directly benefit our health by providing FREE access to scattered gyms and pools around the city. Their commitment to HEALTHY COMMUNITIES fails to address the many things about WORK that are not healthy. Too many days, too many hours, inflexible scheduling, lack of sick time, maternity leave, vacation days, comp time for dental appointments, the list goes on and on. Guarantee MEDICAL CARE with no copays and out-of-pocket costs and THAT will give you a much healthier community.
Once again the bright boys in theoretical academe and professional consulting throw their weight behind PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY and IGNORE SYSTEMIC health damaging realities.
The hubris and arrogance of planners to give us what they want us to have rather than what we want is a matter of economic inequality. the wealthy people will have their downtown dwelling with the walk to work and neighborhood grocery stores albeit in 6 story or higher packed buildings with all kinds of other things going on as well, parking garages and retail. Ah, New York they might say but they never have lived there. It is an idealized vision without merit to reproduce deliberately without fully considering the BEST way to fix the city’s problems.
GROWTH does not provide housing for the homeless, affordable housing, or even jobs with a living wage for everyone.
There sounds to me like a lot of possibilities in cluster development that would be worth spending $128 MILLION on and would serve the other 100,00 of us better by far. Better than FORCIBLY USED TRANSIT, with INFLEXIBLE and TIME SUCKING wastes of our lives. For the cost of one of those high density apartments, maybe you could build one tiny home in a cluster of tiny homes. Scale it up for people with several children and add a common playground. Maybe a dog park. Who wouldn’t want to live there? Maybe swinging singles (ha ha) want to be downtown with the bars and so on, but all of the expected 20k to 30k people are not going to all be single able-bodied young urban professionals. And even if they were, they are going to grow up and get married or similar traditional lives. They will need housing too. And two bedroom apartments at $3,000 a month are not going to be attractive then.
5 years x 12 months x $3,000 a month = $180,000
You could buy a lot of house for that amount of money. In fact, you could pay off a $100,000 home in 33 months for that kind of rent plus you would have equity (banksters may make the equity zero, but at least you would have a PAID OFF HOME to show for it).
MORE BOOK TIDBITS
I will now hit some highlights of some of the articles that touch upon the topics I have already disputed.
Poor Urban Planning Hinders the Pedestrian by Don Finley, San Antonio Express-News, December 10, 2002
This one of the HEALTHY justifications for denying people cars:
And now, faced with an epidemic of obesity, a growing coalition of health and policy officials [authoritarians], planners and advocates is looking at ways to reintroduce Americans to the lost art of WALKING down the street.
“I believe declines in physical activity reflect changes in the neighborhoods in which we live,” said Dr. William Dietz, director of nutrition and physical activity at the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
No sir, that is not the principle reason for obesity. The lack of time to exercise, overwork, and lack of time to shop and cook “healthy” meals causes obesity. Nothing an employer paid gym membership and salaried paid time off to use it and shop and cook wouldn’t fix.
One good point is that the design of streets and the rules crossing at the crosswalk and at lights, means people are not going to do that. People, animals, and everyone ALWAYS take the shortest possible path. This means that people will persist in mid block crossings. This problem is not discussed further.
OMG, I now have to question myself because it turns out someone at The Heritage Foundation agrees with me that the conflation of obesity and cars is false. The author quotes Robert Utt: “The whole effort to extend these sorts of development issues with [obesity and other health problems] is dishonest and dangerous.” He believes that Americans should focus on the junk they eat, rather than how cities and transportation influence physical activity.
“To the extent tat we focus on the real reasons, ” he said, “we induce the changes that we want — not by using this as an agenda item to advance some particular cause.”
Oh man, I do agree with a Heritage Foundation writer. Ick.
Gordon Hartman, a builder in San Antonio, makes the point that WE CANNOT GO BACK to a time of small business retailers with the economics of big box stores crushing them out of existence.
I think this is a problem vastly overlooked in the exctasy of the vision of New Urbanism. They want all these little shops and groceries (which have a hideous margin of about 2%) to populate and PAY higher property tax rates as commercial businesses, but our city is full of empty charming historic stores that are UNAFFORDABLE for any retail business. Maybe some lawyers could afford offices there, but I don’t think we have enough lawyers that could afford the EXCESSIVELY high costs of leasing a building downtown.
There is some kind of phrase for this I’m sure, but I don’t know it, when businesses are so greedy that they would refuse to have someone rent out their space for a small profit for a business to settle in and develop a clientele and let it sit empty until someone comes along to pay double or more that “reasonable” because, you know, THE GOD MARKET.
Like other cities, we have a incentive of SOCIALIZED COSTS to SUBSIDIZE FOR PROFIT developers to build on “unimproved” land called a TIF (Tax Increment Financing). The justification once again falsely framed as a method to help SMALL BUSINESSES build commercial property and give them a few years to get their business in the black before being hit with a full property tax bill on the “improved” property.
Sounds reasonable on the face of it, but it is not really. It’s another case like bankruptcy where the COMMERCIAL INTERESTS — for profit — catch all the breaks but actual people get nothing equivalent. Imagine what would happen if some young couple fresh out of grad school wanted to buy a house but the property tax on top of the mortgage and their combined STUDENT LOAN DEBT that is not dischargeable in a bankruptcy (contrast with the walk away with millions and billions of a certain corrupt real estate dealer) makes the payment too high. Toss in the completely foul PIM fees for less than 20% or more downpayment, and you eliminate their chance to buy the home. So they have to pay DOUBLE THE POTENTIAL MORTGAGE amount for RENT instead.
Boy, a 5 year break on the property taxes would make all the difference for them. They would have a chance to settle into their jobs, make some extra money to build up an emergency fund, and finally be able to pay the full amount of property tax. Sweet!
NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN FOR UNINCORPORATED PEOPLE.
The problem I have with the TIF sweeteners being given out here is that some of the developers DO NOT NEED A TAX BREAK. The city negotiates things like inclusion of “affordable housing” units or swap deals of some kind, and in one case in particular some billionaires are planning to build two towers in a prime spot by the river and they will be getting a TIF because, I deduce, they are going to include some housing for seniors in the building.
Once again, though the rationale is that it doesn’t directly or indirectly come out of taxpayers’ dollars, in fact it does. The negative revenue lost to billionaires who can well afford the full ride, is revenue that can’t be spent on public goods for the 110,000 of us paying the freight for anything the city does. For example, the city could use the lost revenue for the salary of a police officer perhaps. Or maybe a city staff member that is a disability expert on ADA in the planning office. Opportunity cost seems to be a concept unknown to our city planners and city council members.
It is a racket for the benefit of private profiteers. An invisible giveaway that most people are completely unaware are happening and we TAXPAYERS HAVE NO RECOURSE but voting out otherwise really good council members and the next one would probably just be badgered into complying with the gang remaining anyway. Some good points are made in the Wikipedia article on TIF:
Tax increment financing (TIF) is a public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement projects in many countries, including the United States. Similar or related value capture strategies are used around the world. Through the use of TIF, municipalities typically divert future property tax revenue increases from a defined area or district toward an economic development project or public improvement project in the community. The first TIF was used in California in 1952. By 2004, all 50 American States had authorized the use of TIF.:7 The first TIF in Canada was used in 2007. As the use of TIFs increases elsewhere, in California, where they were first conceived, in 2011 Governor Jerry Brown enacted legislation which led to elimination of California’s nearly 400 redevelopment agencies that implemented TIFs, in response to California’s Fiscal 2010 Emergency Proclamation thereby stopping the diversion of property tax revenues from public funding. The RDAs are appealing this decision. TIF subsidies are not appropriated directly from a city’s budget, but the city incurs loss through foregone tax revenue.
Governor Jerry Brown had it right. TIFs are a diversion of revenues from public funding for private profit. Theoretically the projects that would and should benefit from a TIF would be a PUBLIC improvement project in the community. Only by the most Republican mind can giving COMMERCIAL FOR PROFIT businesses tax breaks a PUBLIC IMPROVEMENT PROJECT be considered a win-win for taxpayers. In our case, unfortunately, the silly fellows giving away these tax breaks THAT ARE NOT MEANS TESTED LIKE A WELFARE RECIPIENT WOULD BE before they are gifted. Some kind of loose guidelines may exit, and I have been told that they don’t always give TIF breaks. But hey, precedent; someone is going to sue someday. These people are well-intentioned, no doubt about that. They are still wrong. Making someone with billions of dollars provide senior housing as part of their project is not a PUBLIC IMPROVEMENT because only private people benefit (assuming they are rich enough to be able to afford prime living space in a tower building).
Here is a link to a pdf on the Minnesota legislation about TIFs. The issue I have with the TIF is the principle of having to “entice” a developer to do something. Like the proverbial sports stadiums that a majority of residents can’t afford family tickets to, and another majority doesn’t care for sports at all, but the false promises of JOBS JOBS JOBS that come do not generate permanent living wage jobs. Do the math!!! They are a debacle. If a sports team wants to build something, they are billionaires and the athletes are millionaires LET THEM PAY FOR IT and add a surcharge to cover the extra infrastructure, costs for traffic management on game days, and more police to handle the domestic abuse calls when some guy’s team doesn’t win.
If a business is not willing to build for their FREE MARKET PROFIT then the TAXPAYERS damn well shouldn’t have to pay for them to build. If they don’t want to build AND PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE, THEN WE DON’T WANT THEM! If they need TIFs to “make it” then WE DON’T WANT THEM. We taxpayers never see a return on the money. I will be dead before this 20 year boondoggle theoretically pays off. That’s a ridiculously overly optimistic possibly now that we have have a self-destructive federal government and a bunch of conservatives in the state legislative and the odds of a cascading effect of fools voting for a Republican governor next year to ruin our state and endangering the entire democracy by having one more state dominated by politicians who hate government for the people to be able to call a Constitutional Convention and destroy all progress and our basic functions forever by changing the rules with no one mathematically able to stop them.
PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS have to be FOR THE FREAKING PUBLIC. A park that anyone can use would be an example. While providing affordable housing could be stretched to be a public good (though not really), first of all, they are building the affordable housing units MORE CHEAPLY. Wall unit air conditioners in stead of central air. And it will only help a handful of people. If the same amount of money was taken and put in a TRUST FUND for something like housing for homeless people, that would benefit everyone because it would help the most suffering of us, give them a chance to know where they can sleep each night, have a shower, and a door with a lock would benefit the public because then there wouldn’t be HOMELESS people.
We just spent MILLIONS to provide, essentially, housing for a few dozen long term homeless people with no deadline to get jobs and move out. MILLIONS!!! There is some oversight and such, principally for people with addiction issues. But really, my TAX DOLLARS are going to provide permanent cheap 2 or more bedroom homes for people with addiction problems and the working poor GET NOTHING? Sure there are limited funds, but I am certain that divergent housing options could be built for reasonable prices and offer the opportunity for staff to be given a unit as partial compensation for providing other services. Instead of subsidizing multifamily high density for profit rental units for individuals and small families via TIFs or al the other money they are spending, we could build something like dorms with wings for women, men and families. People don’t have to have private bathrooms in all cases, there could be MULTIUSER SHOWERS like college dorms have and gyms have and spas have and even hotels have done it after a fashion — San Diego hotel I stayed at was a tiny room with a twin bed and little else, and a group of showers was down the hall in a series of private cubicles. Hostels often do this, and apparently places in Europe and elsewhere do similar efficient private/public facilities. There could be a “mixed-use” subsidized school lunch style kitchen as well that anyone could eat at and so homeless people could have easy access to decent food. If there were transit nearby, they might more easily be able to get to a job. They would have an address and maybe be able to have a group landline for use to give potential employers a phone number. But even if they JUST COULD LIVE out of the weather, being able to stay clean, and get some food for nominal amounts, this would truly be a PUBLIC IMPROVEMENT.
INSTEAD OF WORRYING ABOUT CARS CAUSING OBESITY pay a little attention and put a little money towards the people who CANNOT AFFORD TO EAT and have no where to live.
On page 25 there is an article by Dennis Hevesi from October 6, 2002 in The New York Times: Antidotes to Sprawl Taking Many Forms.
In essence, smart growth calls for the creation of higher-density communities within walking distance of transportation, shopping, schools and, where possible, jobs; or the redevelopment of UNDERUTILIZED and sometimes ENVIRONMENTALLY TAINTED sites, often in an urban core. All of which is intended to reduce AUTOMOBILE CONGESTION — both to and from the suburbs, as well as within a city — promote walking, save open space and lower TAX BURDENS by reducing the need for NEW INFRASTRUCTURE.
The problem with redevelopment in our downtown is that it does not actually need redevelopment. In fact, the redevelopment is costing MILLIONS AND MILLIONS and will only serve to enhance a very small core downtown that was doing just fine.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t even really have SUBURBS. Our city is the whole city. Small towns outlay our city, not classic burbs, but many people live outside the city and travel in to work. This is because there is not enough affordable housing in the city. So rather than building high density units right downtown (with PARKING GARAGES), perhaps a better use of the MILLIONS would be light rail to the surrounding towns.
FIRST MILE, LAST MILE
Shocking by its absence the entire crucial problem of regional mass transit has not appeared in any discussions. For example, if you wanted to take light rail between two cities, the problem is two-fold: how do you get to the train from your home, and how do you get around your destination without a car? This might work well enough for small town COMMUTERS who can become familiar with a FREQUENT and RELIABLE and ECONOMICALLY PRICED transit at the bigger city, if you used light rail went to a bigger city like Chicago, to try to get around as a TOURIST by public transit would be very difficult.
Understanding the geography can be significant.Even though I was familiar with San Francisco, for some stupid reason I hopped on a bus that would get me to the end of the street of my destination. I could have and should have taken the cable car as my friend advised. I bought a pass for the week so the cost was irrelevant. So in addition to being on a very crowded bus with a suitcase that stopped every block or so, when I arrived at the street I realized the severity of my mistake. The online form I had used to plan my route alternative did not have TOPOGRAPHY as a consideration.
Anyone who has been to San Francisco knows that there are severely steep freaking hills there. The bus landed me at the BOTTOM of the Nob Hill. The cable car would have dropped me at the TOP of the hill. Because of my multiple sclerosis this presented a serious problem. I got part way up the hill and had to call my friend to come down to meet me and pull my suitcase up the hill.
When I lived in New York, it was always amusing to see the difference between the tourists and the commuters. Everyone who knew the routes stood on the platform nearest the front or back or middle based on the knowledge of where the gates or stairs or escalators would be that would be closets to your destination when you got up from underground. We even could predict the times where the longer trains would run and avoid the clumping in the middle of the train. At nights, some gates would be locked, so in that case you knew to stay at the back of the train when the front gate would be locked.
WHO DO ARE TAXPAYERS PAYING TO SERVE WITH TRANSIT?
Tourists that come to a medical center are probably going to take a cab or Uber or Lyft because THEY WILL NOT KNOW THE TOPOGRAPHY, they will want to get someone to take them who knows where they are going. Hotels could step up and provide rides to guests as a perk instead of TAXPAYERS paying for infrastructure that tourists may not use anyway. I have not seen any analysis that establishes a need for public transportation for planned tourism increase and the stated goal of having the downtown dwellers walk argues against both transit and PRIVATE PARKING GARAGES for the downtown dwellers and tourists.
The economic development funds will not pay for any transportation anywhere else in the city but their few downtown blocks and a related “campus” a few miles away. They will still have to drive for their commute, so that eliminates an entire swathe of people from the transit system and still requires parking for them.
TRENDS IN DEVELOPMENT SECTION
The editor’s introduction to this on page 35 describes where the New Urbanism came from:
. . . a movement pioneered by a husband-and-wife architectural team of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. In 1980, Duany and Plater-Zyberk created Seaside, a resort development in Florida that offered a new type of community, specifically built to resemble the old-fashioned small town of America’s past, with historical architectural styles and houses with porches lining narrow streets within walkable distance of downtown shopping areas parks and public squares.
NOTE: “New Urbanism” began in the 1980s — an entirely different world from 2017! There were no cell phones for example. It was 1982 that the first music cd was produced. DOS for personal computers just came out in 1981. TCP/IP had just be implemented in the still named ARPANET not yet public. “Commercial Internet service providers began to emerge in the very late 1980s.” (Wikipedia)
Actual quaint 1800s small town architecture remains charming, and AutoCad 101 is certainly the most ghastly architectural “style” to develop since the software was first invented. But what does that say about us as a country that we value FALSE STYLE over creative ACCESSIBLE and GREEN building qualities?
Keeping a death grip on “small town charm” even if it has to be REPRODUCED contemporaneously does NOT provide value any more than reverting to sod homes would. Remember small town America that holds such a lingering nostalgia for too many designers and urban planners WAS NOT THAT GREAT.