Small Cities

New Urbanism vs. Dispersionism

bigstock_Real_estate_background_17119544.jpg

The Florida real estate developer, unburdened of state regulatory agencies, may now focus his efforts on pleasing the investment community and the local market.  I recently played the role of real estate developer interviewing two consultant teams vying to help me create a new fictional community.  Fortified with readings in both the New Urbanist camp and the Dispersionist camp, each team of students pitched their method of community building to me.   read more »

How Libraries and Bookstores Became the New Community Centers

Tattered-Cover-Bookstore-Denver-CO-web.jpg

Bookstores and libraries have long played a central role in fostering a deeper appreciation of knowledge, and in lifelong learning. Increasingly, these places are also filling another critical need in our communities, by providing a haven for those seeking a communal connection in an ever-more isolated world.

Ray Oldenburg, author of The Great Good Place, coined the term “third place” to describe any environment outside of the home and the workplace (first and second places, respectively) where people gather for deeper interpersonal connection. Third places include, for example, places of worship, community centers, and even diners or pubs frequented by the “locals.”  read more »

Urban Development: Playing Twister With The California Environmental Quality Act

Ventura, CA-KMART standing empty.jpg

When it comes to environmental issues, emotions often trump reasoned argument or sensible reform, especially in California. In Sacramento at our state capitol, real world impacts are abstracted into barbed soundbites. It’s the dialogue of the deaf as environmental advocates rally around our landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) -- and economic interests decry it as “a job killer.” Perhaps the polarization can be put aside to ask about a specific example in the real world. Why does an old K-Mart sit vacant on Ventura’s busiest boulevard despite initial City approval for a Walmart store? All the thunder and lightning surrounding whether a Walmart belongs in Ventura is behind us. A vigorous and contentious debate (and a failed citizen initiative) have rendered the verdict that filling an empty discount retail space with a different discount retailer is a function of the market, not government regulation.  read more »

California's Deficit: The Jerry Brown and 'Think Long' Debate

Jerry Brown, April  2010.jpg

California has three major problems: persistent high unemployment, persistent deficits, and persistently volatile state revenues. Unfortunately, the only one of these that gets any attention is the persistent deficit. It is even more unfortunate that many of the proposals to reduce the deficits are likely to make all three of the problems worse over the long run.

Two major proposals to deal with the deficit will shape the coming debate. One is from the newly formed Think Long for California Committee; the other from the governor.  read more »

The Shifting Landscape of Diversity in Metro America

renn-racelq-inset.jpg

Census 2010 gave the detail behind what we’ve known for some time: America is becoming an increasingly diverse place.  Not only has the number of minorities simply grown nationally, but the distribution of them among America’s cities has changed. Not all of the growth was evenly spread or did it occur only in traditional ethnic hubs or large, historically diverse cities.  read more »

Public Pensions: Reform, Repair, Reboot

Jerry Brown.jpg

Ill-informed chatter continues to dominate the airwaves when it comes to California public pensions. It’s a big, complex and critical issue for government at all levels in the Golden State. What makes debate so distorted is that public pensions actually differ from agency to agency — and advocates on the issue often talk past each other. Pension critics often point to outrageous abuses as if they were typical. On the other hand, pension defenders often cite current averages that understate long-term costs. All this fuels the typical partisan gridlock that Californians lament yet seem powerless to change in our state.

Credit Governor Jerry Brown for trying to overcome the polarization.  read more »

California in 2011: Suburbs Up, Exurbs Down?

bigstock_Tract_Homes_In_San_Clemente_Ca_4657336.jpg

I had the fortune recently to stumble on the California Department of Finance’s estimates of population change in California during the period July 1, 2010 – July 1- 2011. This is distinct from the Federal census, which tried to establish the number of people in all localities as of April 1, 2010. These California statistics are for a short period of only one year; they are not as reliable, of course, as a real census.    read more »

Rethinking College Towns

new-paltz.jpg

As a practitioner in both consulting and local government, I have observed that in local communities nothing seems to prompt productive action better than a local crisis or strongly felt threat like a factory closure. 

Unfortunately, we are often inclined to take action to close the barn door only after the horse has escaped.  read more »

California: Codes, Corruption And Consensus

Two Tree Hill, Ventura, CA.jpg

We Californians like collaboration. Before we do things here, we consult all of the “stakeholders.” We have hearings, studies, reviews, conferences, charrettes, neighborhood meetings, town halls, and who knows what else. Development in some California cities has become such a maze that some people make a fine living guiding developers through the process, helping them through the minefields and identifying the rings that need kissing.

Here’s an example. This is a (partial?) list of the groups who will have a say on any proposed project in my city, Ventura:  read more »

Iowa: Not Just the Elderly Waiting to Die

bigstock_Des_Moins_skyline_6917078.jpg

Stephen Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa, created quite a stir in Iowa this week with a piece in The Atlantic describing his unique observations on rural Iowa as evidence that it doesn’t deserve its decidedly powerful hand in the vote for the president. After the article appeared last Friday both his colleagues and the massive student body of the state he so harshly criticizes are returning the favor.  read more »