Small Cities

Smart Growth: The Maryland Example

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This is Part Two of a two-part series.

Evidence that people just don’t like Smart Growth is revealed in findings from organizations set up to promote Smart Growth. In 2009, the Washington Post reported, “Scholars at the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education found that over a decade, smart growth has not made a dent in Maryland's war on sprawl.”  read more »

Don’t Bet Against The (Single-Family) House

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Nothing more characterizes the current conventional wisdom than the demise of the single-family house. From pundits like Richard Florida to Wall Street investors, the thinking is that the future of America will be characterized increasingly by renters huddling together in small apartments, living the lifestyle of the hip and cool — just like they do in New York, San Francisco and other enlightened places.  read more »

Unintended Consequences of the Neo-Traditional City Planning Model

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Since the early 20th century, the almost universal adoption of the automobile by US residents has had a profound impact on how we plan and design communities. The widespread use of the auto not only spurred development outside of traditional urban centers, it minimized the need to blend multiple land uses into compact areas.  read more »

Local Chambers of Commerce: Not Born for Ourselves Alone

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Most people are more interested in organized crime than in organized business. Chambers of commerce do not often attract headlines except for the occasional, inevitable dustup with a public authority.  For that reason, this April’s 100 year anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may pass without much public attention.  This would be a shame, as groups of companies have left their fingerprints all over the American civic landscape, and were busy even at the birth of Tom Donohue’s organization in 1912.  read more »

New Urbanism vs. Dispersionism

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 »