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Posts from the "Smart Growth" Category

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How Hartford’s Bet on Cars Set the Stage for Population Loss and Segregation

Since the 1960s, most of the Hartford region's population growth has been in formerly rural towns beyond the inner-ring suburbs. Image: ##http://metrohartfordprogresspoints.org/##Metro Hartford Progress Points##

Since the 1960s, most of the Hartford region’s population growth has been in formerly rural towns beyond the inner-ring suburbs. Image: Metro Hartford Progress Points

Hartford, Connecticut, has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. The urban renaissance that has visited so many cities hasn’t arrived there. Housing is still cheaper in the city than in the suburbs, and although suburban poverty is growing alarmingly fast, it’s nowhere near the levels seen in the city.

There are multiple complex factors that have contributed to Hartford’s woes. But one of them, clearly, is the degree to which the city enabled car-centric infrastructure to proliferate.

As Payton reported last week, Hartford tripled its downtown parking capacity between 1960 and 2000 while squeezing everything else onto 13 percent less land. Avert your eyes if you have a weak stomach:

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Why Is America Falling Farther Behind Other Nations on Street Safety?

The United States has fallen behind peer nations in reducing traffic fatalities. Image: International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group

The United States continues to fall farther behind peer nations in reducing traffic fatalities. Image: International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group

Vox, the much-anticipated Ezra Klein/Matt Yglesias/Melissa Bell reporting venture, launched earlier this week to wide fanfare, and one of the first articles explained that “traffic deaths are way, way down” in the United States.

It was exciting to see Vox show an interest in street safety, but writer Susannah Locke missed the mark with her take on the issue.

Locke called a decades-long reduction in traffic deaths to 33,561 in 2012 “a major public health victory.” What we’re talking about here is that only 11 of every 100,000 Americans were killed in traffic that year, which, she rightly points out, is a dramatic improvement compared to the 1970s, when the fatality rate was 27 per 100,000 people.

But compared to our international peers, the United States is still doing a poor job of reducing traffic deaths. Rather than hailing the decline in traffic fatalities in America, we should be asking why we continue to fall behind other countries when it comes to keeping people safe on our streets.

Americans are killed by traffic at an appalling rate compared to residents of peer nations, as shown in a review of dozens of countries by the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group [PDF]. In Japan, the traffic fatality rate is much lower — 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011. In Germany, the rate is 4.9 per 100,000. In Sweden, 3.4 per 100,000. And in the United Kingdom, just 3.1. If the United States had a comparable street safety record, tens of thousands of lives would be saved each year.

What’s shocking is not only that those countries have much lower rates of traffic deaths — it’s that they’ve also reduced those rates at a much more effective clip than the United States. The streets of our peer countries are becoming safer, faster.

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Apple Transportation Program Stuck in the Past

Tom Fairchild is the director of Mobility Lab. This article was originally published by METRO Magazine.

Apple

Apple’s new Cupertino HQ will force its thousands of employees into long commutes, many of which will undoubtedly be made by driving alone. Photo: Chris/flickr

As an avid iPhone user, I have bought into the sense that Apple could literally peer into the future and deliver me technology that I never realized I would so desperately need.

For years, Steve Jobs and company seem to have been our reliable guides to a better tomorrow. For new technology, Apple’s vision towards the future seems nearly flawless. But for corporate responsibility? Well, that’s a different story.

Apple’s decision to build a mammoth new headquarters in Cupertino, California — miles from public transportation and adequate housing — amounts to a corporate denunciation of sustainability and a giant corporate shrug to Mother Earth.

Leadership for the tech giant maintains that the new campus will offer “a serene environment reflecting Apple’s values of innovation, ease of use, and beauty.” But the simple fact is that many of Apple’s 13,000 employees will now be commuting to an isolated location 45 miles south of San Francisco.

This reality seems a world apart from Apple’s corporate communications, which state:

Our commute programs reduce traffic, smog, and GHG emissions by providing incentives for biking, using public transportation, and reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles.

How exactly is this possible when the new headquarters is being built on a location without any existing public-transportation options?

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Smart Growth America: Sprawl Shaves Years Off Your Life

Want to live a long, healthy, prosperous life? Don’t live in sprawlsville.

These cul-de-sacs will kill you! Photo: ##http://indiemusicfilter.com/tag/sprawl-ii##Indie Music Filter##

These cul-de-sacs can kill you! Photo: Indie Music Filter

Atlanta, I’m looking at you. Nashville, you too. Southern California’s Inland Empire: ouch. Meanwhile, break out the bubbly if you live in Atlantic City, Urbana/Champaign, or Santa Cruz — which all rank close to giants like New York and San Francisco as some of the most compact and connected metro areas in the U.S. That compact development brings a bounty of benefits you might not associate with those places.

That’s the lesson from Smart Growth America’s new report, “Measuring Sprawl 2014,” an update of their 2002 report, “Measuring Sprawl and Its Impact.”

A team of researchers gave a development index score to each of 221 metropolitan areas and 994 counties in the United States based on four main factors: residential and employment density; neighborhood mix of homes, jobs, and services; strength of activity centers and downtowns; and accessibility of the street network. These are the essential buildings blocks of smart growth.

Based on those factors, the most compact and connected metro areas are:

Most compact, connected metro areas, nationally. Image: SGA

Most compact, connected metro areas, nationally. Image: SGA

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State Farm Opts for Atlanta Transit Over Sprawl

Massive new development in Atlanta will be walkable and convenient to transit. Image: Business Chronicle

State Farm’s massive new office and retail development in Atlanta will be right next to the train. Image: Business Chronicle

It was a major coup for the Atlanta region when State Farm announced yesterday locate one of its three national hubs there, a move that will bring 3,000 new jobs over the next 10 years. But what really makes this news interesting is that State Farm chose to put its new campus right next to a transit station.

The insurance giant will eventually house a total of 8,000 employees at a truly massive mixed-use development connected to a MARTA rail station. Developer KDC is planning a 2.2 million square-foot project at a 17-acre site by the Dunwoody MARTA station near Perimeter Mall. The development will include 585,000 square feet of office space for the initial lease to State Farm, which plans to expand, as well as 100,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space and a 200-room hotel, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

State Farm and KDC touted the transit connection in announcing the arrangement. “KDC is excited to continue our relationship with State Farm through the creation of a transit-oriented development in Dunwoody,” KDC’s Larry Wilson said in the press release. “This project will provide State Farm’s work force a continued platform for success with direct access to a true live-work-play environment and a MARTA station.”

Charlie Harper at Georgia politics blog Peach Pundit said the announcement gives Atlanta something to celebrate at a time when concerns about the regional economy have been growing:

State Farm is bringing the state 3,000 jobs. By choosing to develop a campus adjacent to an existing MARTA station, they’re likely bringing less than 3,000 new commuters for the region’s roads. Sounds like a win-win.

State Farm examined sites along major highways to the north of the city before settling on the Dunwoody location, according to the Business Chronicle. The company also houses its Dallas hub in an enormous mixed-use development.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Bikes of Ill Repute

Jeff Wood and I are back with episode 8 of the Talking Headways podcast. We talk about Los Angeles Metro’s decision not to extend light rail all the way to LAX (and what they’re doing instead), plus some analysis of what rail can really do in a city as spread-out as LA. Then we head east to Princeton, New Jersey, where we debunk the thesis that low sales of luxury condos somehow equates to a rejection of walkability. And finally, back west to Seattle, which finds itself with a similar problem to LA: how to bring more density to settled single-family areas?

You can subscribe to our RSS feed or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes — and please give us a listener review while you’re at it.

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Warning Signs From Columbus About America’s Big Suburban Housing Glut

The Columbus, Ohio region could support the construction of more than 1 billion square feet of commercial development on existing parking lots alone, a recent study found. Image: Richard Webner via Streetsblog

The Columbus, Ohio, region could support the construction of more than a billion square feet of mixed-use development on existing parking lots and commercial sites — but only if planners get their act together, says researcher Arthur C. Nelson. Photo: Richard Webner

Columbus, Ohio, is a convenient microcosm of the United States as a whole.

Demographically, Columbus closely resembles America. That’s one reason the city ends up being a battleground for presidential candidates every four years, and why fast food chains like to test new menu items there.

Because Columbus is so, well, typical, the city also has a lot to teach us about where the average American city is headed. Esteemed urban affairs researcher Arthur C. Nelson recently took a look at Columbus as part of a report for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and he found that the city is on course for “sweeping demographic changes” that could transform the local housing market.

The demand for single-family housing on large lots is expected to plummet, leaving the region with an oversupply. Image: NRDC

The demand for single-family housing on large lots is expected to plummet in the Columbus region, while demand for more compact dwellings is expected to swell. Image: NRDC

Columbus is growing at nearly the same rate as America as a whole. By 2040, the region will have added roughly half a million people, bringing its population to about 2.2 million.

But those new households will look a lot different than today’s, and that will have huge implications for the local housing market. New households will be older and much more likely to be childless than current households.

Between 1990 and 2012, for example, about 78 percent of population growth in the Columbus area was among households headed by people between 35 and 64 years old. That stage of life is the period of “peak housing demand,” when homeowners favor detached houses on large lots. But by 2030, that age group will make up just 22 percent of population growth — while homeowners over 65 will make up 56 percent of new households. Many of these older homeowners will want multi-family housing or single-family homes on small lots, according to Nelson.

It turns out that Columbus’s current housing stock is woefully mismatched to future needs. By 2040, as much as 40 percent of the demand for housing could be for attached, multi-family units, and another 30 percent will be for single-family homes on small lots, Nelson estimates.

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Military Rules on Smart Growth Are About to Become Law

The U.S. military probably may not be the first institution that comes to mind when you think smart growth and sustainable planning, but it has embraced these practices wholeheartedly. Last year, the military adopted a whole new rulebook on master planning. And now, those rules are about to become law.

Ft. Belvoir has integrated many elements of smart growth and compact urban design into its planning. Photo: Tanya Snyder

Ft. Belvoir has integrated many elements of smart growth and compact urban design into its planning. Photo: Tanya Snyder

Over the summer, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) inserted an amendment [PDF] into the National Defense Authorization Act requiring bases to consider compact, infill development that preserves land and considers life-cycle costs in their master planning. The plans should also consider growth boundaries, expand transit options, and create connections to off-base transit systems.

The House passed the bill on Thursday with the amendment included.

Last month, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced an almost-identical amendment [PDF] into the Senate version of the NDAA. Schatz’s amendment removes Blumenauer’s language about “healthy communities with a focus on walking, running and biking infrastructure, pedestrian and cycling plans, and community green and garden space” — strange, because Schatz is also a solid advocate for walking and biking. It also removes Blumenauer’s language about vertical building and energy and water conservation.

Perhaps those changes are what it took to get Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia to co-sponsor the measure. The core requirements to build in a more compact way, with transit, are preserved.

“My amendment will provide smarter and more sustainable development at our military bases that will reduce long-term costs and help to preserve Hawai’i’s unique ecosystems,” Sen. Schatz said in a statement. “Smart, sustainable development can help the Department of Defense achieve long-term cost-savings while promoting military readiness.”

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Analysts: Suburb-to-City Migration Driving Real Estate Markets in Canada

Image: PricewaterhouseCoopers

In Canada, city properties are a better investment than suburban ones, according to an analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Click to enlarge. Image: PricewaterhouseCoopers

Urban real estate is a hot commodity in Canada. Suburban real estate, not so much. PricewaterhouseCoopers, in coordination with the Urban Land Institute, analyzed urban and suburban properties and found a lot more office space in the central city worth buying or holding than in the burbs [PDF].

In Canada, the smart real estate money is in cities, analysts say. Image: ##http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/new-house-prices-fall-but-real-estate-sector-still-strong-1.2426879## CBC##

In Canada, the smart real estate money is in cities, analysts say. Photo: CBC

For its 2014 Emerging Trends report, one of the “most highly regarded and widely read forecast reports in the real estate industry,” PwC interviewed more than 1,000 real estate professionals. Those experts were bullish on urban office and residential development and bearish on suburban development of all types.

The authors say the growing preference for urban space is unmistakable:

Reverse migration from the suburbs to downtown areas is one of the most forceful and rapidly emerging secular trends in corporate office and residential retail. Older space and less favorable suburban locations will need to transform to meet the needs of the market.

One major factor influencing the trend, PwC says, is that many Canadians have grown tired of long commutes. Government policies, like those that drive Toronto development toward transit-accessible locations and away from the urban fringes, also play a role. Mixed-use developments in urban areas where residents can “live, work and play,” are considered hot.

“Suburban office is a declining commodity that has no staying power,” one interviewee reported.

PwC reports that while the “return to cities” trend has driven a lot of new urban housing development, retail has been slower to make its way back to the center. But in 2014, analysts predict, retailers will follow customers back to the city.

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In Cleveland, An Old-School Planning Agency Sees the Light

Cleveland’s metropolitan planning organization was one of those transportation agencies that had never quite gotten over the Eisenhower era. Sure, it threw some money at the transit agency every year. But for the most part, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) treated its mission as a simple matter of expanding roads to reduce congestion.

Note the emptiness of the street in the background. Grace Gallucci, director of Cleveland's metropolitan planning agency, NOACA, has her work cut out for her. Photo: Cleveland.com

This is a common attitude on the part of regional and state transportation agencies, and not without some encouragement by the federal government. But this “business as usual” approach was especially damaging in a shrinking region like Cleveland, where the road network was expanded into ever-more-distant suburbs while the city and inner-ring suburbs hollowed out.

Despite the dynamic of suburban sprawl and urban abandonment that prevailed for decades, NOACA refused to consider how its decisions affected land use. Its erstwhile director, Howard Maier, simply said that the agency wasn’t empowered to do land use planning, which was technically correct, but not especially helpful.

NOACA was so notoriously averse to change and ineffectual that it acquired the nickname NO ACTION. Agency employees once even fielded a company softball team by that name. (Full disclosure: I interned there in grad school.)

But as impossible as it seemed even a year ago, things are changing at NOACA. They’re changing fast, and for the better. Last year the agency hired a new director, Grace Gallucci, who had been the head of finance for the Chicago Transit Authority. Since the Cleveland native assumed her role at the head of the NOACA, the region agency has adopted a completely different tenor.

“We’re shifting because the times are shifting,” Gallucci recently told local website Freshwater Cleveland. “We’re about thinking about transportation holistically — not auto, bike, pedestrian or transit, but all of them. How do you give people more choices to get from A to B?”

NOACA is working on a new strategic plan that appears to be premised on the concept of “fix-it-first.” The agency’s annual summit a few weeks ago was focused on the theme of “multi-modal innovation.” Gallucci told attendees that the region needs to shift toward supporting transit, walking, and biking — and not so much on expanding the road network.

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