Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bike Sharing in Paris

Paris’s bike-sharing system, the Vélib’, lets users rent any bike from their ubiquitous stations in increments of 30 minutes each, and you can return the bike at any of their locations for 1 euro. 8 euro for a week and 19 euro for a year. Only catch is that Vélib’ bikes require a credit-card deposit, and the on-location machines accept only cards with embedded chips. American cards all use magnetic strips, about as archaic in Europe as feet and inches.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How History Killed the Suburb - The Atlantic

From the Atlantic:

For today's entry I am happy to return to Washington Post commentator Roger Lewis, whose April 23 column analyzed market forces now favoring walkable neighborhoods over the automobile-dependent, sprawling subdivisions that characterized most U.S. land development in the late 20th century. In particular, Lewis—sounding very much like the esteemed professor of architecture that he is—says that now-declining "suburban planning and zoning templates were predicated on four key assumptions":
- America had an unlimited supply of land;
- Automobiles and road building, thanks to inexpensive and presumably inexhaustible supplies of petroleum, would forever satisfy metropolitan transportation needs;
- Grouping homogeneous land uses, not intermixing them, would best protect property values, especially for residences; and
- The only way to realize the American dream was to own and inhabit a mortgaged house.

Today, all four of those assumptions have collapsed or are in the process of collapsing. We now know that much of our land, especially in and around metro areas, should not be developed, because of risk (flooding, wildfire, landslides); limited resources (water); or ecological value. There is considerable variation in these factors from one place to another, but the supply of land in regions experiencing growth can no longer be seen as "unlimited." Gasoline prices are back up to four bucks a gallon and, as global supply declines and demand for oil grows in developing countries, are surely going to continue to grow over the long term.

Read full story here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Forty Strongest U.S. Metro Economies: 2009

The Brookings Institution ranked the 100 largest metros by averaging the ranks for four key indicators:

- employment change
- unemployment change
- gross metropolitan product and
- home price change

Employment was measured by the change from the peak quarter for each metro to the second quarter of 2009. The peak was the quarter in which the metro had the most jobs during the past five years. Unemployment was ranked by measuring the percentage-point change from the first quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2009. Gross metropolitan product was measured from the peak quarter to the second quarter of 2009. And the ranking of home prices compared the second quarter of 2009 to the previous quarter. The employment data were provided by Moody's, the unemployment data were collected from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the home price index came from the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Using data and analysis from the Brookings Institution's new MetroMonitor study, ranked the nation's top 40 economies based on job growth, employment, economic growth, and home prices. And Texas seems to be the clear winner with San Antonio at the top of the list and five metros in the top 10.

Here's the top 10:

1. San Antonio, TX
2. Austin- Round Rock, TX
3. Oklahoma City, OK
4. Little Rock - North Little Rock - Conway, AR
5. Dallas - Fort Worth - Arlington, TX
6. Baton Rouge, LA
7. Tulsa, OK
8. Omaha - COuncil Bluffs, NE-IA
9. Houston- Sugarland - Bayton, TX
10. El Paso, TX

Except Ogden MSA, UT, none of the Western metros made it on the top 40. To see which metros made the list, read on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ed Glaeser on John Stewart - talking about...

what else but cities?

Watch interview here. The interview was broadcast/recorded in February I believe.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ed Glaeser on the Future of American Cities, with an Emphasis on Housing Policy

In a roundtable interview with MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton, Harvard University's Edward Glaeser discusses the future of American cities, including housing in Dec 2008. (length: 22:21 min)

Housing discussion in the clip starts at 4:58.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Curitiba's Success in Congestion Management

Here's a short video clip from the DVDe watched in class on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. Curitiba, Brazil is a city of more than 2 million people. Over the years, it has been a trail blazer in designing and implementing sustainable urban development strategies. This video clip highlights Curitiba's achievements in congestion management using integrated Bus service.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Glaeser's new book "Triumph of the City"

Professor Glaeser is one of the world's foremost economists. A wide-ranging thinker, he is particularly noted for his leading work on economic geography, urbanism, and the life and growth of cities. With politicians of all parties searching for new ways to think about growth and job creation, his thinking about how to reform planning and regulation is particularly relevant today.

His new book 'The Triumph of the City' synthesises a lifetime of thinking about the root causes of growth, and how and why cities work. With over half the world's population now living in urban areas, the question of how to make our cities work well has never been more relevant.

Here's a link to a presentation he made on his new book for Policy Exchange UK. (length 1:26 min)

Monday, April 4, 2011

New zoning fad creates old-style business districts

By Dan Bobkoff
Marketplace, American Public Media, Monday, April 4, 2011

City planners increasingly wonder if traditional zoning laws lead to sprawl. So more cities are turning to "form-based" code, which focuses on a building's look, rather than its specific commercial/residential use.

BOB MOON: This land is your land, this land is my land. But the government can decide how it gets used. More and more communities are looking to the future, and getting a little nostalgic about the way things use to be. They have visions of nice shops and busy sidewalks, maybe apartments on the upper floors, and homes a short walk away. There's just one problem: zoning laws.

Dan Bobkoff, of the public media project Changing Gears, tells us why.

DAN BOBKOFF: Before big-box stores and strip malls and a car in every driveway, it was normal to live in dense neighborhoods.

ANTHONY FLINT: A place where they can walk to a corner store, maybe live above a store. And those kinds of things, that's illegal in America today in so many of our communities.

Illegal because of zoning. Anthony Flint is with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. He says cities have spent much of the last century separating the shops and factories and homes. And that made sense in the beginning.

FLINT: You didn't want to have a slaughter house next to a residential apartment.

But the effect was an almost complete segregation of uses.

...Read full interview here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Urban renewal bills clear Idaho Senate committee | Idaho Legislature | Idaho Statesman

From the Idaho Statesman, Mar 16, 2011:

Two bills aimed at urban renewal reform cleared the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee on Wednesday. HB 95 would require a citywide election to form a new urban renewal agency. It also would limit bonds and districts to no more than 20 years; require an annual public hearing on the district's finances and projects; and prohibit district expansion once boundaries are set. HB 110 would require a public hearing before an urban renewal plan is implemented. Both bills were sent to amending order for possible amendment to clarify language.
The House unanimously passed both bills March 1.

Accessed at Idaho Statesman

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why Urban Renewal is Unpopular in Idaho

From the Idaho Statesman, Mar 13, 2011:

Supporters say it’s a valuable economic development tool. Critics say it siphons off property taxes with little accountability.
Lawmakers and other critics cite these complaints:
- Cities create urban renewal agencies without a vote of the public. The boards of the agencies get to spend property tax dollars and have power to condemn property, but are appointed, not elected.
- Once created, agencies can start up urban renewal districts and go into debt without a public vote.
- Urban renewal districts keep the property tax money generated by new development, leaving others to pick up the costs of fire, police and other services that new development demands.
While some lawmakers are champing at the bit to curtail the agencies, others urge caution. Sweeping change could make it difficult for cities and urban renewal agencies to do their jobs — attracting businesses, creating employment and boosting the economy.

- Debt: According to the Idaho Constitution, a city or other local government that wants to build a new building or other capital project must pay cash or get two-thirds voter approval to incur debt.
Urban renewal agencies do not need voter approval to issue bonds — take on debt — to finance a project. Those agencies should be “treated like every other taxing district,” said Rep. Phil Hart, R-Hayden. “They’ve got to get voter approval before they go into debt.”
- Over-broad powers: All it takes to create an urban renewal agency or a district is a city council vote. Under state law, urban renewal areas are intended to address blight. But in the past, farm, forest and even desert land has been deemed blighted. The city of Nampa took a chunk of agricultural land to build the Idaho Center; Coeur d’Alene created an urban renewal district next to a resort.
- Board accountability. Last year, the 40 urban renewal agencies in Idaho took in about $52 million in property taxes. The boards for school, highway and irrigation districts that control how property tax money is spent are elected. But mayors appoint urban renewal agency board members, who also have the power of eminent domain.
- Unfair distribution of taxes. New buildings in an urban renewal district place new burdens on fire, police and roads. But the tax revenues from those new buildings go back to the agencies to finance urban redevelopment, not government services.

Urban renewal supporters say that all these criticisms miss the mark. Cities, counties and the state ultimately benefit from the new development — and urban renewal spending — through increased sales and income taxes.
“Urban renewal has been one of the cornerstones of economic development in this state and a proven jobs generator. Look at Twin Falls last year, where an urban renewal project created 700-plus jobs in the depths of the recession,” said Mark Rivers, who developed the BoDo project in Downtown Boise and is working with the Twin Falls urban renewal agency.
Proponents also note that the property tax diversion is temporary. Urban renewal districts use that “incremental” property tax for the 24-year life of the district (although legislators want to change that to 20 years). When the district expires, the gains in value are added to the tax rolls.
“Many of Boise’s best projects were made possible through urban renewal, including The Grove Plaza, the Wells Fargo and One Capital Center buildings, BoDo, the 8th Street market, the Basque Block, the Convention Center, and a long list of others,” said CCDC’s Kushlan.
Proponents note that mayors and city councils are the elected officials who oversee urban renewal agencies — and do answer to voters. Agency board members often are selected for their business, legal or financial expertise.

Because it’s hard to change agencies retroactively — many are in the middle of decades-long bonding projects — urban renewal critics are likely to return in future legislative sessions for more tinkering. No law changed this session will end the debate.
Rivers, who testified last month at a House committee hearing, said he came away believing “legislators themselves don't even understand the policy.”
Critics’ misinformation, he said, hurts cities that are trying to increase jobs, investment and economic activity.

Access full story here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Urban Housing Crisis: The Case of Peru

In Peru it is estimated that up to 80 per cent of the country's population could be living in urban areas by 2030.

With half of Peru's economic activity based in the capital, Lima, it will put enormous pressure on the city's already floundering services.

Many of the country's poor come to Lima in search of work. As the city cannot accomodate the numbers, many migrants end up building their own homes in run-down areas on the outskirts of the city.

Most of them lack basic services like running water and sewage systems.

Here's a video clip on the urban housing crisis in Peru but the country is not an isolated. A large of part of the rapidly growing developing is experiencing a similar crisis.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How urban renewal districts work:

Example: THE C.W. MOORE PLAZA, 250 S. 5TH ST.

In 2010, the Capital City Development Corp. collected $9.1 million in property taxes on about $528 million worth of new, or “incremental,” property value in Boise’s urban renewal districts. Here’s a look at one property.
1994: The River/Myrtle urban renewal district is formed. The assessor establishes a “base” value for each property in the district. The vacant 1.25-acre lot is assessed at $217,800.
1999: The C.W. Moore Plaza is completed.
2010: Moore Plaza land and building are valued at $13.5 million.
2024: District will sunset and all governments will again share the tax revenue on the property’s full value.
C.W. Moore Plaza 2010 property taxes: $231,698
Seven taxing districts receive property taxes on the 1994-set value of $217,800:
- $1,520.40: City of Boise
- $1,214.88: Boise School District
- $666.56: Ada County
- $258.78: Ada County Highway District
- $35.21: College of Western Idaho
- $33.56: Emergency medical services
- $7.49: Mosquito abatement
CCDC receives the tax on the difference between the 1994 and 2010 values, which is $13,286,500:
- $227,962.53: Urban renewal district
Boise, Eagle, Garden City, Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell all have urban renewal agencies.
The oldest and biggest is Boise’s Capital City Development Corp., which has three urban renewal districts totaling 518 acres, with a fourth under consideration:
- The 34-acre central district Downtown is set to expire in 2017.
- The River-Myrtle/Old Boise district is 340 acres; it expires in 2024.
- Westside is 144 acres; it expires in 2025.
- In July, the Boise City Council directed CCDC to prepare a study and plan for a new district, the 573-acre 30th Street area. The detailed urban renewal plan would have to be approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the council.
CCDC also owns and operates eight parking garages.
CCDC receives about $9.1 million in property taxes annually. By comparison, property taxes generate $105.8 million for the city, $81.7 million for Ada County and $31.7 million for the Ada County Highway District.

Accessed here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Boise to retool 30th Street neighborhood

From Idaho Statesman, Jan 23, 2011

Rarely does a city get a chance to create almost from scratch a new central district within the core of a highly urbanized area.
Boise is getting that chance — and it won’t be just new housing, retail and commercial development. This new district will include the city’s first whitewater park, a new road with Boise’s first major roundabout and two more new parks.
The city hopes this unique combination of amenities will fuel economic development and serve as a catalyst to revitalize the 30th Street neighborhoods.
The city’s goal is to “allow the area to achieve its full potential, particularly in the commercial areas,” spokesman Adam Park said.
The district extends from the Boise River north to Irene, between Veterans Park and 23rd Street. Its central location — abutting Garden City, North Boise and Downtown, with the Bench nearby — make it a regional attraction, not just a neighborhood.
The city’s plan calls for commercial development on the northern and southern edges — the State Street and Main/Fairview corridors — transitioning into high-density residential areas in the core with parks, the river and the Greenbelt along the western edge.
The area has several large vacant properties. The city owns 9-acre and 3-acre undeveloped parcels along Fairview Avenue. The 10-acre former Bob Rice Ford dealership at Main Street and the river recently went on the market.
Three undeveloped parks, the Boise River and the Greenbelt provide existing and future recreational infrastructure.
Linking it all together will be a new five-lane road connecting State Street and Fairview, which provides another north/south transportation corridor and access to the new city parks.
Making this dream come true will take public and private investment. The city is providing parks. Ada County Highway District is putting in the new road.
A team of stakeholders has been assembled to determine how best to fund or encourage other development.
Unlike Bown Crossing or Harris Ranch, conceived by and largely financed by private developers, this neighborhood plan being shepherded by the city still needs a mechanism to get private developers involved.

Check the map.

Read more:
Boise to retool 30th Street neighborhood |

Monday, January 10, 2011

Falling home values and rising property taxes

From the Idaho Statesman, Jan 9, 2011:

After another year of falling home values, some Treasure Valley homeowners are again voicing their anger over higher property tax bills. Others, meanwhile, are actually paying less — but at the expense of dramatic decreases in the assessed values of their homes.
“I personally took about 200 calls from people,” said Canyon County Deputy Assessor Joe Cox after residents began receiving notices for the first half payment on their 2010 tax bill, due Dec. 20.
What made the difference? Budget decisions and the not-always-equitable real estate market.
Unlike income and sales taxes, which are collected at set rates, property tax levy rates are determined after budgets are set.
Cities, counties and other local entities decide how much they will spend, and then the burden is spread among all the property owners in their areas — based on assessments that are the county’s best guess as to how much the properties were worth on the previous Jan. 1.
So your final tax bill depends on:
1) Whether homes in your neighborhood lost more or less value than others.
2) How many taxing districts you live in and how much their budgets grew or shrank.
And after values have dropped as much as they have, No. 1 is having a bigger impact than No. 2.
Take the Ada County Highway District’s 2010 property tax budget request of $31.6 million. That’s identical to its 2009 request, but lower housing values required that the district’s levy rate rise by a whopping 16 percent in order to generate the same amount of revenue.
The median decrease in Ada County housing values for 2010 was 14 percent — but that varied by community, to as high as 18 percent in Eagle. (The median value means half of all homes saw decreases greater than the median decline in their district, and half saw lower decreases.)
A home whose values fell by less than the median decrease was likely to see property tax increases. Homes with higher percentage decreases in their assessments would have a chance of getting a lower tax bill, Ada County Assessor Bob McQuade said.
Plus, there are 38 taxing districts in Ada County, including cities, counties, and school, fire, highway, library, sewer, emergency medical and mosquito abatement districts. In 2010, 25 of those districts increased their budgets.
Of course, those districts have widely different budgets. “Twenty percent of the districts collect about 80 percent of the property taxes,” McQuade said.
The larger the district, the more impact it has on overall property taxes.
For example, the city of Boise increased its budget by more than $4 million in 2010, pushing its levy rate up by 19 percent, according to the assessor’s office.
The result: A home that paid $586.83 on $100,000 in taxable value a year ago received a $13.51 city tax increase — even after its value dropped by the city’s median decrease of 14 percent to $86,000.
City spokesman Adam Park said the council took the full 3 percent property tax increase allowed by law in order to maintain its existing level of services.
“The 2010 Citizen Survey shows almost 70 percent of residents say they are getting their money’s worth in terms of value of city services for taxes paid,” Park said.
Under Idaho law, taxing districts can increase their property tax budgets by 3 percent each year, along with an additional amount for growth and new construction.
However, a provision in the law allows districts that took less than their 3 percent increase in past years to go back and recapture that money in subsequent years.
That’s what Nampa did in 2010.
The city took its 3 percent property tax increase, plus another 2 percent it left on the table a year ago. So the city’s budget increased by $2.9 million and its levy rate rose by 23 percent — more than making up for Canyon County’s median 15 percent decline in housing valuations.
Let’s go back to that hypothetical home, but put it in Nampa. Valued at $100,000 in 2009, it had a city property tax bill of $828.28. The 15 percent median decrease dropped the home’s taxable value to $85,000 — and still the homeowner owes $863.26 to the city for 2010.
And that’s before taxes owed to other entities such as Canyon County, the Canyon County Highway District, the Nampa School District, the Nampa Highway District and the College of Western Idaho.
Cox attributed the jump in overall property taxes to the city’s decision to increase its budget by $2.9 million.
“What the city did was legal; I just don’t know that it was prudent, because it’s putting a heavy burden on taxpayers,” Cox said. “With a lot of people struggling to stay in their homes, it was a bad time to raise taxes.”
Nampa Mayor Tom Dale defended the city’s decision, arguing that it was either increase property taxes or cut police and fire protection.
“These are services that people have come to expect, and which have to be met,” Dale said. “We’ve delayed capital projects, street maintenance and not filled open positions. There was no place left to cut.”

Read full article.

Comparison of selected property taxes and school districts.