Currently viewing the tag: "Suburbia"

Some bad economic news was reported yesterday. According to the New York Times article new home sales dropped by 33% in May:

The new housing market has never been this bad, at least not since the government started tracking such things in 1963.”

New homes declined by a record amount in May to a new low.”

In a separate report, New Urban News reviewed William Lucy’s new book, Foreclosing the Dream: How America’s Housing Crisis Is Reshaping Our Cities and Suburbs. Mr. Lucy is a professor of urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia.

According to New Urban News, Lucy’s analysis of data he collected suggests:

• “As the percentage of households with children declines, and that of singles, empty-nesters, and elderly increases, housing demand will increase in cities and inner suburbs, and demand in outer suburbs and exurbs will level off or decline nationally.”

• “Suburban decline will accelerate in middle-aged housing, but that won’t be uniform; demand for housing in some inner suburbs will rise.”

• “Demand will increase for transit serving more areas more frequently.”

• “Demand for more mixed use and walkable neighborhoods will increase, and prices in these areas will escalate as supply lags behind demand.”

He (Lucy) rejects the idea that rapid, continuing, outward development is inevitable because of the nation’s growing population and a scarcity of room for development in cities. If we choose to make it happen, he says, “a tremendously high proportion of our future growth as a nation could easily occur within already developed areas: in, or on the edges of, big-city downtowns; on busy corners of city streets away from downtown; and in new urban villages close to high-speed transit stations in suburbs.”

How each region responds to the challenges of transit and development will vary, producing contrasting results. Greater Atlanta and greater Washington, DC, illustrate the two extremes, in Lucy’s view. “Washington, DC, and some suburban cities and counties planned for transit-oriented development, and use of transit rose to the second-highest level in the United States,” he notes. “Atlanta’s transit use lagged, which may be one reason why Atlanta has the most declining suburbs in the country.”

The gap between city and suburban growth has narrowed dramatically. From Foreclosing the American Dream: How America’s Housing Crisis is Reshaping Our Cities and Suburbs

I don’t think the decline in new-home sales is a total anomaly. New home builders, particularly those that build single family homes in new suburban and exurban communities are going to have a difficult time going forward. Real estate developers that focus on infill and mixed use development as well as TOD should perform better. We are reaching the tipping point; people are leaving the suburbs and returning to the cities.

I had to post the complete text of this great editorial by DDA Urban Planning Manager Javier Betancourt:

Last month’s court ruling halting the planned development of a Lowes superstore outside Miami-Dade County’s Urban Development Boundary was an important victory in the ongoing battle against westward sprawl in our community. But the more pressing issue going forward is whether residential development outside the boundary should proceed.

The answer to this question is a resounding “No.”

Now that new commercial development on the fringe of the Everglades has been rejected, urban planners along with developers and business and civic leaders should turn their attention to the chief challenge facing Miami-Dade: how to create a sustainable community without expanding our geographic footprint.

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 was planned and developed after the advent of the automobile, so sprawl became a way of life in South Florida. Only now we are witnessing a reversal of this trend, as residents and businesses inject new life into urban centers that were long overlooked.

Some of the most desirable neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County — Downtown Miami, Coral Gables, South Miami, Miami Lakes and Downtown Dadeland, to name a few — have been home to condensed growth that combines residential, commercial and retail development. Each of these communities offers opportunities for continued investment, and each is taking shape within the confines of the UDB.

Nowhere have the benefits of infill development been more evident than in Downtown Miami, home to our state’s largest employment center, an existing public transit system and commercial base, and a population that has grown by more than 50 percent since 2000.

The mixed-use development that has taken shape in our urban core has accelerated Downtown Miami’s evolution as a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly district. New businesses are opening, people are moving in, cultural and entertainment institutions are thriving, and street activity is picking up after hours. These trends speak to a growing demand for the convenience and lifestyle offered by urban communities and to a dramatic shift away from sprawl.

The court’s decision in May supported the need for sustainable growth. Now the business and civic communities need to act by advocating against expanding the UDB and evaluating how to maximize our investments in the emerging urban centers within the boundary.

PS. This was posted in the business section.

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If Senators Clinton and McCain have their way, this summer Americans might be duped into thinking that a “gas-tax holiday” will help alleviate the financial strains of filling up. The gas tax holiday undermines the principles of supply and demand and is little more than a cheap political gimmick. If imposed, the holiday would only save the average American consumer $30 throughout the course of the summer.

The gas-tax holiday continues the flawed mentality that the rise in oil prices is a temporary matter. FYI- oil prices nudged past $125 a barrel today, the fourth day this week of record highs. America needs to realize that there isn’t going to be a “quick fix” to this critical problem. The era of whizzing around carefree in gas powered vehicles is coming to a close and we must now turn our focus to more sustainable forms of making the most out of our available land. This shift will not be easy. It’s not that simple to turn back 6 decades of automotive mindset and policy in a country whose infrastructure largely revolves around oil.

As James Howard Kunstler put it in this week’s Businessweek:

It’s not that we’re driving the wrong cars. It’s that we’re driving cars of any size, incessantly.

To view the Gas Tax petition, visit Gas Tax Scam

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For the next few weeks, Metro Monday will take a new, commercial direction discussing some of the subtle daily reminders of auto-centric life.

In this Farmers Insurance ad, we witness a businesswoman hitch a ride to work on a garbage truck, on the roof of other vehicles, and with a mounted policeman. Aside from the absurd creativity behind this ad, there is the underlying notion that without a vehicle, mobility is impossible. Farmers isn’t that far off though, they’re promoting the likely scenario of a solitary option of transportation in her suburban neighborhood. Notice the absence of sidewalks. Public Transit doesn’t work in these settings…

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We received this editorial recently from Alan Farago and after receiving his expressed written consent decided to republish it here for you to read. The original article appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on January 14, 2008

If there is a silver lining in the sharp contraction of housing markets across the nation, it is the impetus to reform a model for economic growth — suburban sprawl — that is fundamentally flawed.

The state investment pool — repository for taxpayer funds of municipalities in the state of Florida — sunk billions of dollars into leveraged financial products tied to suburban sprawl.

In other words, whether we like it or not — whether we are Democrat or Republican, environmentalists or developers — Florida invested in the dream, others profited from it, and now all taxpayers are at risk on the sprawl side of the ledger.

It’s time for some plain speaking: The financial system that underpins low-density, scattered development in Florida, most often viewed as platted subdivisions in wetlands or farmland, is bankrupt.

That is a problem because the sprawl model has been a big, if not the biggest, driver of Florida‘s economy.

When policies about growth for construction and development are discussed by government, they are organized around rules and regulations for zoning and permitting.

But the true parameters for suburban sprawl aren’t set by rules or regulations or even by public choices on land use and development: They are established by banks and what banks can finance.

Most consumers hear about it in terms of “subprime mortgages.” The reality is different. Those who benefited most from the “ownership society” don’t live on Main Street; they work on Wall Street and made huge fees and commissions on speculative leverage, the underpinning of suburban sprawl.

There are many intermediaries — praetorian guards to the field generals of sprawl, each reaping a host of legal, engineering and lobbying fees. But the end goal of Wall Street’s sprawl arrangement was to persuade distant investors, through the assurances of ratings agencies and insurers, that any particular development — based on demographics, proximity to markets and even architectural and design parameters — would deliver returns with the same reliability as a similar set of box retailers or platted subdivisions in, say, Las Vegas.

Thus, the passion for preserving a local spring, or the Everglades, was blocked out by fractions and formulas claimed to diversify risks while guaranteeing a predictable, high stream of income to investors.

Not only have we lost our springs and much of the Everglades, the banks lost, too.

The banks didn’t lose roseate spoonbills or swallow-tailed kites. Instead, they lost hundreds of billions for investors, many of whom have abandoned the market for leveraged debt related to housing.

In other words, the spoonbills will come back sooner than the markets tied to debt for suburban sprawl. So, it is a good time to consider alternatives to a status quo that lost whatever leverage it had to reality.

Although its advocates claim the contrary, subdivisions far from places of residents’ jobs are not what the markets want; the subdivisions are what Wall Street can finance to its maximum benefit.

Those benefits are defined by the degree of leverage. Conversely, if one puts limits on leverage, attached to particular locations and property, it is possible to choke off sprawl the same way cancer researchers are learning to limit the spread of tumors by cutting off their blood supply.

It is time for a new model for growth that puts brakes to sprawl, matching what investors can expect to earn and what developers can finance to the true cost of protecting aquifers, the environment, and infrastructure that serves existing taxpayers.

For this to happen, Congress has to connect banking regulations, governing the issuance of financial debt such as mortgage-backed securities and such, to land use and the environment.

It is a tall order, but there is no better time than the middle of a crisis to consider new solutions. In the United States, the work of bond ratings, insurance, public and private debt has been deemed off-limits to scrutiny to all but the financially competent who are rewarded, in turn, by tipping the scales of equity to private interests.

During the housing boom, this worked especially well because everyone was a winner (except the poor and the environment). In The New York Times, Floyd Norris captured the formula in part: “It was the greatest credit party in history, made possible by a new financial architecture that moved much of the activities out of regulated institutions and into financial instruments that emphasized leverage over safety.”

The other part of the formula is the one that matters most: So long as leverage fails to account for the safety of our communities, we will be at the mercy of Wall Street and the masters of suburban sprawl. It is time to get smart and put handcuffs on a financial system that has been golden to all but the people who have to pay for them. That would be you and me, Florida taxpayers.

Alan Farago of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment, can be reached at alanfarago@yahoo.com. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.

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I’m assuming everyone would have figured out what city was featured in yesterday’s Pic o’ the Day had I placed this picture up instead:I’m surprised nobody could realize that was Duck Creek Park sitting right smack in the middle of all those housing sectors. The point of the Pic o’ the Day was to illustrate just how drab and boring our suburban lives in suburbia have become. As rd commented in the previous post:
“I still believe it’s somewhere in Miami visible by plane. I’ve seen Miami out of a plane before and it looks just like that photo.”

I’ve seen it too and it’s revolting. I can guarantee you (and I will) that I can find pictures of thousands of suburbs across the country that all look like they could be here in our own backyard. Kendall, most of Broward, South Dade, nearly all of Palm Beach, etc. is quickly becoming a mass of featureless suburban plight. Cookie cutter houses, laid out on arbitrarily curvy streets which connect to a few major connector roads, all of which are littered with drive-thru everythings and strip shopping centers. There is no sense of place or community because this isn’t a place (or a community!) just a soulless blob stretching out radially from every former nucleic city center…

To be continued…

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I was reading through an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune which chronicles the lives of commuters- people living way out in the suburbs (sprawl) and the absurd lifestyles they lead basically centered around absurd commutes. It’s interesting to witness the lengths people will go to in order to fulfill their idealistic view of the “American Dream.” Even more shocking is the amount of time they waste annually, idling in traffic rather than relaxing, spending time with their families, or just interacting in some socially normal behavior outside of their vehicle. I copied the more notable sections of the article below:

The Dunn Brothers coffee chain has “belts” in terms of when its stores open, said company President Chris Eilers.

“Urban stores open about 6:30. First- and second-ring suburbs, 6. And in the outskirts — Elk River, Monticello — it’s 5:30,” he said. “Typically, what sparks it is the number of people who show up before you open, pounding on the door and wanting their coffee.”

It’s an interesting way of analyzing commute patterns but the coffeehouse provides us with a great ruler for measuring sprawl…
That side trip alone can add a half-hour to an already epic daily trek. And it means a staff member from the day care needs to walk the first-grader to school later in the morning, when it opens. Eager would love to arrange to work from home. And she says it “makes me want to cry” to have to crawl into town alongside so many freeway-clogging single-driver cars, when more carpooling and bus rides would speed the trip for all.

Now what Eager, like many suburbanites, fails to realize, is that suburban sprawl makes bus riding and carpooling extremely difficult to implement because most sprawl areas lack a definitive center from where an organized system can be implemented successfully.
But Ardner, the mayor of Mora, sees the stresses that creates. “Truth is, we’d love to have a four-lane road up here,” he said. “If you know anyone whose arm we can twist, we’d love to hear about it.”

But that’s just it, said Johnson. What people do in their own lives to save money, finding a cheaper home farther out, creates costs for society.

“The public massively subsidizes all of this,” he said. The cost of adding lanes in Mora, for instance, would be averaged out across all users, even those driving a lot less. “Just imagine what would happen if we charged people what it costs to live this far away. That’s sort of behind a growing inclination, in Minnesota and elsewhere, to think about taxing mileage rather than fuel, to really calibrate how much you’re using the roads.”

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has talked of moving toward what he calls a “fuel-neutral mileage charge,” partly because new technologies such as electric cars will make it harder to collect revenue from road users. Six states are taking part over the next two years in a major study aimed at experimenting with using onboard computers to gauge roadway use and charge drivers accordingly.

Many megacommuters, partly in response to the cost of gas, are making big adjustments. Toni Roy, coming in from Claremont, in Dodge County, to Bloomington, often stays with her folks overnight. Davis, the Mora commuter who gets but an hour at home at night before turning in, works 10-hour shifts four days a week so she doesn’t have to drive in on Wednesdays, and sometimes trades homes with her city-based sister. She hops an express bus in Blaine many mornings, letting the driver deal with the stress of the trip’s most-congested stretch.

It’s interesting to see the educational contrast in Minnesota’s political scene, an occurrence which seemingly happens far too often across the country. The unwitting and shortsighted local politician seeks roadway expansion as a “viable” solution to his constituents’ needs while the state works on a broader level to reduce emissions and personal vehicular transit…

Some Related News:

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The Tragedy of Suburbia is a 20 minute presentation by James Howard Kunstler which just about sums up everything we are trying to achieve with this website. His witty presentation is thorough and identifies many of the main problems facing every American city. It goes hand in hand with many of the issues addressed in our book of the month: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces; and will provide you with some great visual evidence on our planning deficiencies.

Now, you’ll notice this video is marked under our weekly Metro Monday feature but clearly lacks any mention of public transit. We’d like to emphasize that this is done on purpose. Our message is that transit is far more than trains, buses, and automobiles; it’s a comprehensive study of these systems and their interactions with our urban landscapes and people. It includes our buildings, their uses, and the way people interact with them on a daily basis…

Image Via myuzishun’s Flickr

The alarms should have rung long ago, not today when the stock market plunged 300 points on the news of dismal results coming from the nation’s top sprawl produces. It’s pretty disappointing to see that so much of the US economy is based on the growth of these development groups which continue to produce nothing but atrocious housing developments on the outer fringes of nearly American city. Its also ironic that what we consider to be an economic engine in our communities is also responsible for degrading our lifestyles, increasing congestion, straining our resources and with that likely costing us as taxpayers more in infrastructure needs and upgrades than the economic benefit we receive in return:

“Disappointing results from home builders including Pulte Homes Inc. and D.R. Horton Inc. — squeezed by a sluggish environment from home sales and continued defaults in subprime loans — weighed heavily on the market.”

An Excerpt from Suburban Nation, The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream:

“…The primary goal of the [housing] industry remains to build and sell individual houses as quickly and profitably as possible, to “blow and go,” as they put it…Homebuilders, land developers, and marketing advisers are all constituents that must be won over if the campaign against suburban sprawl is to succeed. Their participation will be meaningful in the long run only if it is driven by the profit motive, because in America at the millennium, ideas live or die based upon their performance in the marketplace….A higher standard of development will become common place only if it offers greater profits to those who practice it.”

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I just completed Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself and I came across a couple of quotes which are noteworthy:

“…Although the bookshop was no more than seventy or eighty feet away, I discovered that there was no way to get there on foot. There was a traffic outlet for cars, but no provision for pedestrians, and no way to cross on foot without dodging over six lanes of swiftly moving traffic. In the end, I had to get in our car and drive across. There was simply no other way. At the time it seemed ridiculous and exasperating, but afterward I realized that I was probably the only person ever even to have entertained the notion of negotiating that intersection on foot…”

Sound familiar? I can think of dozens of roads and intersections locally which could serve as the exact road Bill is describing. Try crossing Kendall, US-1, or any other stretch or road and you too will notice that pedestrian planning is an afterthought, at most.

“…You find it at Disneyland, where people flock to stroll up and down a Main Street just like the ones they abandoned wholesale in the 1950s. It happens at restored colonial villages like Williamsburg, Virginia and Mystic, Connecticut, where visitors drive long distances and pay good money to savor the sort of compact and tranquil atmosphere that they long ago fled for the accommodating sprawl of suburbs. I can’t begin to account for it, but it appears that in this country these days we really only want something when it isn’t really real…”

I get the feeling Bill Bryson gets “it.” I’ve long noticed the obsession with fakeness in this country. Celebration and Tradition, two newer Florida “towns” immediately come to mind, let alone Disney or any of the various “town centers” popping up across our landscape. More on this subject later, I get the feeling it’s a topic we’ll be addressing more often…

A recent CBS4 “investigation” supports our claims that road expansion simply isn’t the solution to the traffic woes in our region. The report puts the new 836 west extension to the “test,” with two vehicles racing to a central meeting point on Bird Rd and SW 137th ave. The results were disappointing to those hoping that the extension would provide western suburbanites with a speedier alternative to the turnpike (you know, because of that exorbitant toll.) What the CBS4 report and many natives fail to understand is just how traffic, roadway expansions, and arterials interact with each other.

To simplify, think of traffic as a fluid (water) and roadways as pipes. The obvious is that when there is a clogged pipe (accident) no water can pass through. Easy enough, right? Now, many people assume that by creating a new path for the water (836 extension) water will be able to flow quickly along this new path. But, given the existing saturated nature of the current western routes (Tamiami Trail, Bird, Flagler, etc.) the new extension alleviates a certain amount of traffic from each corridor, providing no specific time difference impact to any single corridor. If too many cars choose to use the extension, then it too becomes saturated and proves to be just as ineffective as the alternate street routes. In then end, the whole system balances out and our overall personal gain is negligible. Plus don’t forget that any gains will be rendered useless once western expansion continues (you know, because of all that extra “capacity” we created) and more cars are found to fill in the gaps along each of the corridors… Good Luck!

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We turn our attention once again today to the East Kendall Homeowners (Association? Organization? Federation? Coalition of the willing?) to discuss the initial purpose of the group’s existence. The EKHO was formed in June 2005 in opposition to the former Dadeland Breezes development, slated for N Kendall Dr. and 77th Ave. An excerpt from their site:

“A massive development called “Dadeland Breeze” is being proposed for our neighborhood. This development will demolish the 3 story apartment buildings at N. Kendall Drive & S.W. 77 Ave. in order to construct a complex of 8 condominium towers up to 8 stories high with nearly a 100% increase in the density of the existing buildings. This proposed construction project is clearly incompatible with the low-rise scale of our “East Kendall” residential neighborhood…”

I’d like to speak to the person who reasoned that an 8 story building was “out of character” with the neighborhood, but the Palmetto expressway, expansive parking lots of Dadeland Mall, or the gargantuan 6 lanes of Kendall drive just blended in seamlessly with the surroundings. The fact that most East Kendall residents don’t likely walk to their local Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, or Mall is the most alarming part of this discussion. Furthermore, I find it kind of hypocritical when a group speaks out against a project of greater density because of “increased traffic” but yet also goes against measures to bring public transit to their neighborhood. Is it the development that East Kendall fears or is it a change in the way of life?

“…It will worsen our already bad traffic, further burden our over-capacity schools, and have a negative impact on the quality of life of our families.”

Yahtzee! “Impact on the quality of life” Now, what impact precisely is anyones guess, but a change that will have us living a more vertical, sustainable, and likely healthier life doesn’t sound so bad, that is, unless you like idling in traffic along US-1 or Kendall bouncing around from parking lots to fast-food drive-throughs.

What many Miami residents, organizations, etc. fail to realize is that change and progress are a way of life. Had such powerful opposition existed in the early 1900’s, much of our prized downtown Brickell land could still look much like it did in 1915:

Imagine that? The Four Seasons was once a 2 story bungalow. By now we surely would have paved clear across the everglades and into Naples had someone not decided to build vertical…

Try explaining that and the benefits of sustainable growth to these folks, the EKHO, a group of citizens obviously set in their ways and accustomed to the lousy quality of suburban life:

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