Currently viewing the tag: "Smart Growth"

Likely path of the oil for four months following the spill. The colors represent the concentration of the oil. 0.20 (dark red) means the oil is 20% as concentrated as it is directly over the spill site. (Source:cnn.com)

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill will most likely make its way to South Florida and directly affect South Floridians in one way or another. It’s easy to point the finger at BP, but the truth is that this oil company is simply providing a resource to satisfy a market demand. This is the essence of capitalism. Yes, they certainly share in the responsibility of the oil spill, but the biggest accomplice to the oil spill is the American lifestyle. I’m hoping this tragedy may be the long overdue wake up call for all Americans; we cannot have our cake and it eat too. We all share the blame for this oil spill.

As long as we have an economy and a lifestyle which is lubricated by cheap oil and a transportation system that depends on fossil fuels, we can only blame ourselves for this and future oil spills. Obama’s talking points on the oil spill generally focus on the need for alternative and renewable energy, yet he is mute on energy conservation, an increase of the gas tax, and the need to expand public transit. The administration is missing out on a golden opportunity here, particularly to increase the gas tax.

An increase of the gas tax and energy conservation work hand in hand. Let’s make gas more expensive and watch consumption plummet. Americans would then think twice about buying a house in the far exburbs or take that unnecessary trip by car just to pick up a gallon of milk at the store a mile away from their homes. Public transit would also look more appealing with higher gas prices.

I’d like to hear more rhetoric from Obama that focuses on allocating more dollars to public transit, particularly rail. The gulf oil spill dialogue should also encompass the development of more pedestrian and bike friendly communities with increased density. It’s so easy to point the finger at BP, but we all share culpability for this oil spill in one way or another. Conservation needs to be our focus, not alternative energy. We need a national strategy and policy that focuses on conservation. This, however, will require a sacrifice by all Americans.  The question is are we up for this challenge and are we willing to spend the money to build a national public transit system which is less dependent on oil?

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As City of Miami Commissioners consider final tweaks before implementation of Miami 21 this week, they should be proud that our own code is already influencing land use laws all around the country.  In our own backyard, the Lee County Board of Commissioners just recently approved a plan for the Southeast part of the county  which will be awarded a Charter Award at this year’s Congress for the New Urbanism. The project plans for 150 square miles of Lee County, Florida (east of Fort Myers) that hosts neighborhoods, limerock mines, farms, endangered species and public water supply wells (as a comparison, the City of Miami encompasses  55 square miles). This area is the main water supply for Lee County which is expected to have a million residents by 2030.

Using the same zoning designations as Miami 21, Lee county has created a series of pedestrian friendly, walkable communities.

The plan proposes a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program to create 11 compact, complete, transit-ready and sustainable communities in the midst of preserved farmland and habitat. All of the development rights in the 150 square mile can be utilized on a fraction of the area previously allowed for development. The project area has 3-unit per acre sprawl to the north and west, but has up to now been ‘‘protected’’ by a 1-unit-per-10-acre density requirement. As with our own UDB/agricultural area, this has led to over development by limerock mining and large-lot subdivisions.

By building more compactly, agricultural lands shall continue to produce local food; natural lands such as wetlands which contain public supply wells are preserved, and pathways for endangered species such as the Florida panther remain undisturbed.  Each community has been coded to allow the appropriate level of food production – from large community-supported farms to roof gardens – based on the Food Production Module of the SmartCode. The plan allows build-out of the traditional mining corridor in the northwest of the site hand-in-hand with flowway restoration. By mining compactly,  Lee County can satisfy the region’s need for limerock used in building materials and restore the flowways that purify surface water en route to the Estero Bay.

The project included a two-week charrette (including nine stakeholder meetings), 23 steering committee meetings, six approval meetings and was unanimously approved by the County Board.  The design of each plan involved input from property owners and neighbors. Each of the proposed new communities is designed in accordance with the LEED for Neighborhood Development criteria. The approval of the communities shall be ‘‘as-of-right’’ as the plans have been approved by local neighbors and neighborhood associations and endorsed by environmental groups such as 1,000 Friends of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.  Sites for schools and municipal buildings were embedded into each community within walking distance to homes at even the farthest periphery of the proposed neighborhoods.

This is a big win for smart growth and conservation advocates across the US. Our county commission should look to this plan to learn how other urbanized areas balance mining, development and conservation. Bravo Lee County!!

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Smart Growth Manual

The newly released book titled The Smart Growth Manual is filled with best practice examples of good urbanism. Co-written by Transit Miami’s very own Mike Lydon with Andres Duany and Jeff Speck, The Smart Growth Manual is an indispensable guide on how to properly plan a modern city. The book is organized for speedy reference (much like a dictionary or encyclopedia) and is concise and to the point. Nonetheless it shows smart growth principles at each geographic scale (region, neighborhood, street, building).  Each concept is discussed, reviewed and explained in about a half page and usually there is a diagram, map or picture that helps explain each concept. If you are looking for how we should be laying the foundation for smart growth development then I suggest you pick up this book.

This week visitors from the EPA Smart Growth office joined the UDB/Hold the line fray as self described ‘outside observers’. They were invited by the County commission, and boy do they have their work cut out for them.

Thursday’s workshop was a mini battle royale, with the developer/attorney camp led by sprawl advocate Jeffrey Bercow pitted against the smart growth crowd. The speakers from the EPA began their talk by saying that they didn’t come with any preconceived notions, but the fact that they represent a ‘smart growth’ office means that they should begin by making it clear that they support smart growth policies, containing growth within a growth boundary and supporting infill. They made no such claims, only to ask us what we wanted from our UDB. For the record the UDB should: encourage infill, encourage agriculture, provide a buffer between development and the everglades, and discourage sprawl.

Several speakers made excellent points on the smart growth side, while only one speaker came out in favor of sprawl and for moving the line, Jeffrey Bercow (and friend Truly Burton who gave her time for his powerpoint presentation). His points were mostly about how we need sprawl. He cited economic reasons (without flexibility in moving the line housing prices will rise), while also saying that most people don’t want to live in dense, skyscrapers (his narrow definition of infill). I pointed out that that was a result of obsolete, auto-centric zoning codes that prohibit walkable, intermediate building types - not a lack of demand on the side of the market. (A point reiterated by this recent study by Todd Litman about the demand for smart growth housing.)

My biggest suggestion to our friends from the EPA deals with the amount of available land within the line. Available supply within the UDB should be calculated taking into account capacity along ALL corridors, not just within 1/4 mile of rail transit stops. This is the only way of taking into account the real infill capacity within the line, and would extend the horizon of available infill land within the UDB well past the time frame required by the Planning Department.

I could go into Bercow’s presentation, but without the visuals you won’t see how ridiculous it actually was. One point he made that I can’t let slip by was to make the case for sprawl by arguing that jobs centers were too far away, requiring further expansion of the line. Uhhh, what? Yeah, he actually said that. Wonders never cease. He (and Truly) also complained of NIMBY problems when trying to support infill development (definitely a problem), while failing to mention how they are both against the most important infill project in the country: Miami 21. Seems like the only thing they really believe in is whatever their clients pay them to believe in.

Transit Miami friend, and manager of urban planning for the DDA Javier Betancourt said it best in his June 2009 letter to the Miami Herald.

By focusing our collective efforts on revitalizing and expanding existing communities through infill development, we will make better use of our land supply, reduce congestion and preserve our region’s valuable natural resources. At the same time, we will realize a number of economic and urban planning benefits, including better connectivity between businesses and the labor force, more efficient use of our existing infrastructure and across-the-board increases in property values.

Miami City Commissioners take notice: Denver is moving toward approving its own form-based code later this year. The new code will replace  1950’s era Euclidean zoning categories (C1, R1, R2..etc) with transect based zoning categories (like Miami 21’s T-zones).  Denver’s code rewrite has been in the works for a couple of years (sound familiar?), but it enjoys the support of community residents and the Denver AIA, which had this to say:

“I think it will allow for more options for architects and their clients,” says Steven Carr, president of AIA Denver, which has endorsed the proposed code. “And it will make residents happier. They’ll have more choices about what they can do in their neighborhoods, but those choices will be based on specific contexts.”

At least the AIA in Denver is not as useless as the Miami AIA.  Lucky for us, local architect and professor at the Univeristy of Miami, Jose Gelabert-Navia, Principal of Perkins and Will (one of the largest architecture firms in the US) came out in support of Miami 21 in an editorial published in the Herald this morning.  He had this to say regarding the Miami AIA position on Miami 21:

The overwhelming majority of my profession had not endorsed the statement by the AIA board and many spoke that evening in support of the ordinance.

Makes you wonder who the Miami AIA represents?

This from the Herald today:

…a group of investors are developing a large chunk of Homestead’s Park of Commerce — 270 acres lying west of the Homestead-Miami Speedway and east of Florida’s Turnpike — into what they believe will become South Florida’s largest luxury business park.

Once complete, the aptly named ParkSouth will house 1.4 million square-feet of warehouse, light-commercial and office space. Maybe even a hotel.

Then later:

“I see Homestead like a new Doral, a new Weston, three years down the line,” said Albornoz (retail investor).

Jeez, I hope not.

Photo courtesy of the Miami Herald

This is really unfortunate - especially given our current economic problems. We can no longer approach land development with a business as usual mindset. This project typifies the type of bad, autocentric planning that pervades our suburbs and which should not only be avoided, but written  out of our land development regulations (ie. made illegal - in much the same way that compact/traditional planning has been illegal for the past 50 years).

Our friends at Eye on Miami have some great commentary about the proposed changes to the State growth management laws - part of the same  discussion.  Rolling back growth management laws is clearly a mistake - we need to beef up our land development regulations,  not water them down. Our future is in compact, pedestrian friendly development - incremental growth that uses resources efficiently, and results in the creation of real communities. Projects like the one shown above perpetuate an isolated, car-dependent way of life.

The advent of the car was a great thing - it allowed us the flexibility to travel long distances,  altering the landscape we inhabit. In our eagerness to use this new toy to its fullest - we separated the different aspects of our life - work, home, school, store - into neat little zones, but we never stopped to ask whether it was practical or useful to do so in the first place. Well  it isn’t - not for the people who inhabit these places, and not for the local government that needs to provide them services.

If we continue with these same patterns of development then our future is going to look like one mini-Doral after another, all connected by an arterial that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.

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Urbanist and well-known writer Neil Peirce almost always gets it right.  In his latest article, “Obama Open Government: The Stimulus Bill Test,” he asserts the importance of using stimulus funds for fixing existing roadway infrastructure, and directing funds to metropolitan areas, via MPOs, to get things like mass transit built.

With reports indicating state highway departments are ready to divert major portions of stimulus funds to new and broadened roads, national guidelines should put a premium on “fix it first” programs for decaying highways and bridges, plus transit and rail service. The new green mantra should be “No new lane miles!” And the law should require major allocation of funds to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), with rules leading them to repair first and focus significantly on transit, undergirding the 80 percent of the American economy their regions represent.

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Lennar corp., a well-known developer of suburban tract homes, has its sights on pushing the bounds of Miami-Dade’s controversial urban development Boundary (UDB). Today’s Miami Herald article explains the politics, players and issues at play. Perhaps the most notable comment is that the ignominiously named Parkland, a 900-acre UDB busting “sustainable” development in question, is nothing more than a political greenwash.

Transit Miami could not agree more.

These types of growth issues-UDB or not-are common across the country. Ultimately, as Rey Melendi, president for Lennar’s Miami-Dade division points out, suburban expansion is typically not about enforcing a planning tool, but about politics. Sadly, that may be the only issue we can agree upon.

Fortunately, politics these days also include a strong contingent of well-informed people who see through this type of development for what it really is-suburban sprawl, something Miami-Dade County already has in spades. Indeed, much of which is currently unable to be sold.

I have many a comment to make, but will restrain myself to three.

1. Melendi says, ”It will be like Coral Gables or Miami Lakes.” This could be true-I have not seen the physical design of the community and how it proposes to be “mixed use,” “walkable” and “bike-friendly”- but based on the developer’s past work I could at best imagine a horizontal mixture, i.e., not supportive of transit, urban intensity or even civic beauty. Not to mention that even if “Parkland” were another Coral Gables, it is a development intended to replace much needed farmland near the Everglades.

Dig?

My thought is the County should enforce its little known Transfer of Development Rights program (TDR) created during the agriculture land preservation planning effort of the late 1990s. This way the development rights for thousands of homes and business could be transferred to the more urban part of Miami-Dade where growth should occur. To make this feasible, the County should work with those cities that contain Metrorail stations and many vacant or underutilized parcels to upzone properties, especially along Metrorail and Tri-Rail sites. If done well, Lennar could stand to make a killing and our precious environmental resources would be none the worse. I admit, this is likely to be wishful thinking.

2. The Herald article states “Parkland’s developers say it would be different from the suburban sprawl that has clogged roadways and produced isolated bedroom communities. The project is designed to be walkable and bike-friendly, a self-contained community with a mix of uses that would encourage less driving — and perhaps inspire reverse commutes to the 2,550 jobs developers hope to create within Parkland. Melendi said.”

Let me point out the inherent contradiction in this most favorable description. Any city, development, subdivision or what have you that is ‘self-contained’ most certainly does not plug into a framework of urbanism. That is to say, cul-de-sacs and strip malls are self-contained as well. Thus, I am not convinced by such a hollow sales pitch, as sustainable urbanism is complex, connected and vertically integrated, not closed off. Not to mention all completed studies state that current traffic capacity, water supply and environmental issues make this project a no-go.

3. This last one is fantastic.

“Pino, one of the largest home builders in the county, said he currently controls more than 700 acres on which he can build houses inside the UDB…” “…The developers challenge county calculations that it has an adequate supply of developable land within the UDB.”

”They are overstating their numbers,” said Melendi, who argues the county has largely reached its buildable limits within the UDB.

So, let me get this straight. Said developer has 700 acres within the UDB, but finds it essential to build on 941 acres outside of it first? I am sorry, but this is infuriating. All I see is greed here.

Finally, Melendi states “I don’t see a trend of people moving closer to urban centers.”

Does he have his head in the South Beach sand? Demographic research shows, time and time again, that urban centers continue to grow and revitalize, while new suburban areas, especially right now, are seeing the largest property devaluations.

To be sure, the timing of this vote is sneaky, as it is designed to slip by constituents a day before our national Presidential elections.

We at TM say no. Call or email your County Commissioners and tell them you support smart growth in the existing cities of Miami-Dade.

Miami-Dade Commission Charmain Bruno Barreiro woke up this morning and decided that he wanted to see a permanent development boundary somewhere west of the UDB (and east of Naples). Matthew Pinzur writes about Barreiro’s big idea in the Herald. He wants to rethink the boundary so that there is a buffer between the Everglades and the UDB. What?? He wants to hire a consultant to decide where that line should be. Pinzur points out though that “Barreiro’s idea of hiring experts has been tried and ended up stymied by politics. Most recently, the county spent six years and $3 million on the South Miami-Dade Watershed Study, an attempt to protect water supplies that evolved into a complex 40-year plan for growth management.” You go Pinzur!

I took a stab at studying the Watershed Study expecting bad planning policy and a series of platitudes about parks and birds and butterfly’s being important. I was surprised to find an intelligent, well thought out document. The report describes that Dade County’s “two major policy choices for the future can be characterized as either a Sprawl Scenario or a Smart Growth Scenario. The long-term consequences of a sprawl scenario are enormous. This is the path that the County is on today. The Smart Growth choice will require the County to take some bold, but achievable, policy steps. The benefits of choosing a Smart Growth policy are substantiated by the Study and supported by the literature.” Sounds good, right? It gets better. The study makes policy recommendations based on the current stock of housing, along with projected population growth:

Specific Watershed Policy Guidelines:

2007 through 2025: Allocation of 100 percent of the required 102,000 dwelling units inside the existing Urban Development Boundary (UDB) through 2025;

2026 through 2050: Allocation of a minimum of 60 percent (61,000) of the required 102,000 dwelling units inside the existing UDB between 2026 and 2050″


How much more clear does this issue have to be? If you have a chance read through the document. It has a lot of great graphics and data that support land use changes within the boundary that increase density along transit corridors (new and existing). We need another UDB like we need another 8 years of George Bush. Lets try implementing the policy recommendations that have already been made. The more these commissioners talk the more irrelevant they become.

In other UDB related news, the West Kendall Community Council delayed a meeting last week to discuss a project called ‘Parkland 2014′, a Lennar development that encompasses over nine hundred acres outside the UDB. “According to the completed plans filed with the county earlier this year, the developer is proposing 1,257 single-family homes, 2,436 townhomes, 3,248 condos, and about 200,000 square feet of retail space off Southwest 152nd Street and Southwest 162nd Avenue.” Oh Jeez.

With election season now in full swing, the time has come to decide which candidate we think will best lead us for the next four years. Here on Transit Miami, we’ll be taking a close look at the presidential hopefuls to determine which candidate is the strongest on smart growth and livable cities issues.
Without further ado, let’s break down the remaining presidential frontrunners:

The Republicans: Now while Transit Miami is a non-partisan blog, Republicans and Libertarians generally do not have a strong record for supporting smart growth or transit-oriented urban policy. The Republican candidates for this year’s election are no exception. All of the front-runners are soft on climate change, using the typical rhetoric of voluntary reductions on greenhouse gas emissions. Fred Thompson, who has fortunately dropped out of the race already, at one point even mentioned considering opening up the Everglades for oil exploration.

The Democrats: Though far from meeting our high standards, the leading Democratic front-runners are unquestionably more dedicated to livable cities issues than Republicans. Here’s a breakdown of where the top three candidates, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards stand on planning-related issues:

Hillary Clinton:
From “Powering America’s Future: Hillary Clinton’s Plan to Address the Energy and Climate Crisis”:

“Hillary’s big three goals: “Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 – the level necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Cut foreign oil imports by two-thirds from projected levels by 2030. Transform our carbon-based economy into an efficient green economy, creating at least 5 million jobs from clean energy over the next decade.”

“Creating a market-based cap and trade program, and auctioning 100% of greenhouse gas permits. Hillary would raise fleet-wide fuel economy standards from the current level of 25 miles per gallon (mpg) to 40 mpg in 2020 and 55 mpg in 2030.

“Increased public transit usage is one of the best strategies for addressing the energy and environmental costs of transportation…As President, Hillary will increase federal funding for public transit, including buses, light rail and subways, by $1.5 billion per year. She will also link federal public transit funds to local land use policies that encourage residential developments that maximize public transit usage and discourage sprawl. She will also invest an additional $1 billion in intercity passenger rail systems. Intercity passenger rail is an environmentally efficient alternative to highway driving and short flights; it elieves congestion on roads and airports; reduces the emission of automotive pollutants; and it timulates economic growth by linking metropolitan areas.”

Barack Obama: From Obama’s “Plan to Make America a Global Energy Leader”:

“Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Over the longer term, we know that the amount of fuel we will use is directly related to our land use decisions and development patterns, much of which have been organized around the principle of cheap gasoline. Barack Obama believes that we must move beyond our simple fixation of investing so many of our transportation dollars in serving drivers and that we must make more investments that make it easier for us to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives.”

“Reform Federal Transportation Funding: As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks, and he will also re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Building more livable and sustainable communities will not only reduce the amount of time individuals spent commuting, but will also have significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Level Employer Incentives for Driving and Public Transit: The federal tax code rewards driving to work by allowing employers to provide parking benefits of $205 per month tax free to their employees. The tax code provides employers with commuting benefits for transit, carpooling or vanpooling capped at $105 per month. This gives drivers a nearly 2:1 advantage over transit users. Obama will reform the tax code to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal.”

John Edwards: From Edward’s “Achieving Independence and Stopping Global Warming Through a New Energy Economy”:

“Transform the Auto Industry to Lead the World in Cars of the Future: Edwards believes that everyone should be able to drive the car, truck or SUV of their choice and still enjoy high fuel economy. American automakers have the ingenuity to lead the world in building the clean, safe, economical cars of the future.”

“Raise Fuel Economy Standards: American cars and trucks are less efficient than they were two decades ago, despite the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Standards in China, Japan, and the European Union are between 40 and 100 percent higher. Edwards will raise standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2016, a step that could single-handedly reduce oil demand by 4 million barrels per day. [Pew Center on Global Climate Change, 2004; Reicher, 2007]”

“Reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled: Edwards will create incentives for states and regions to plan smart growth and transit-oriented development with benchmarks for reductions in vehicle miles traveled. He supports more resources to encourage workers to use public transportation and will encourage more affordable, low-carbon and low-ambient pollution transportation options.”

Transit Miami will not take the position to endorse any particular candidate at this point in time but we will however attempt to portray how the candidates stack up on the key issues. We believe Hilary Clinton has the best climate change policy and has the strongest ties to the type of people who will bring about positive environmental changes over the next four years. Barak Obama has the clearest development policy of the three democratic candidates and his platform specifically addresses the benefits of smart growth. Obama is endorsed by many bicycling groups and has even stated that he will push for better pedestrian and cycling oriented policy as president. John Edwards presents the most conservative approach, concentrating much of his policy of fuel efficiency and alternative fuels. We’re concerned about all of the candidates’ positions and emphasis on coal energy and alternative fuels and are disappointed to see that none adequately address better growth principles.

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