MLewyn's blog

Learning from Seattle: Transit

Before attending the Livable Cities conference in Portland, I am visiting Seattle for a few days.  As in Salt Lake City, there are some things I like and some I don't.

Seattle seems to have an extensive bus system.  Ideally, a bus system would give riders a way to pay without having to fumble for dollar bills and quarters- New York's metro card system comes to mind. 

Seattle has such a system; however, to get a metrocard you have to pay a $5 start-up fee- not exactly a tempting option for visitors and occasional users.

Neighborhood Character vs. Diversity

The conventional zoning wisdom is that all structures in a neighborhood should have the same density, in order to preserve "neighborhood character."  So even in mixed-use urban areas, this sort of zoning leads to a kind of monoculture: high-rises attract high-rises, low-rises attract low-rises.

A (Possible, Partial) Myth About Suburban Poverty

A recent blog post commenting on the growth of suburban poverty has the headline: "As Cities Prosper, Poor Move to Suburbs."  The headline seems to imply a simple story: poor people priced out of the city are moving to suburbs.  (In fairness, the story itself is much less simplistic).  But it seems to me that there are a variety of other possible explanations for the growth in suburban poverty:

Another Way To Measure Car Dependence

I got into an argument on Twitter about how widespread car ownership was in NYC's outer boroughs, which in turn caused me to go to city-data.com to answer the question: how do you measure how many people own cars, anyhow? The City Data website has data not just for cities and counties, but for individual neighborhoods within a city.  In particular, the site gives data for household size and for the number of cars per household.

Environmental Law and Road Widening: A New Ruling in Wisconsin

A federal district court in Wisconsin recently ruled that Wisconssin highway officials failed to prepare an adequate environmental impact statement about a proposed highway widening in Milwaukee.  

Evidence That Gentrification is Overrated

A recent article in Better Cities points out that while some transit-heavy neighborhoods in Chicago became more expensive (especially those on Chicago's north side) "transit sheds" in Chicago's south and west shed actually lost value relative to the region as a whole.  In other words, rich intown neighborhoods are getting pricier, but poor ones are actually losing value.

Highlights of CNU 21, Part 2

I saw a few more panels on Friday, and spent much of the weekend visiting Salt Lake City's various neighborhoods.

Sarah Susanka's plenary address contained one line that spoke to me.  She spoke about an "appreciation for space", comparable to an appreciation for music.  I think one reason I don't fit in with my relatives and friends who have gotten used to sprawl is that I have a highly developed, perhaps overdeveloped, sense of space.  My relatives in Atlanta have gotten used to things (such as streets without sidewalks) that horrify me.

Highlights of CNU 21

One interesting part of today's CNU session was Andres Duany's keynote speech.  Duany focused on the relationship between environmentalism and New Urbanism.  He suggested that the fear of climate change was actually more important in shaping public policy than climate change itself, because this fear may create long-term demoralization (especially, I suspect, among environmentalists - though I'm not sure if Duany was saying this).

Property vs. Sales Taxes

The first CNU 21 speech I went to was by attorney Craig Galli, who briefly outlined the history of Salt Lake City.  He pointed out that one of the region's problems was the dependence of local cities on sales taxes; to attract tax revenue, local governments need to attract sales-generating retailers.  As a result, the region became oversupplied with big box stores, some of which are now vacant due to competition from other big box stores.

What The Height Limits Debate Is Really About

It seems to me that the debate among new urbanist/smart growth types about height limits for office buildings* is really about one question: if businesses can't find enough office space in a low-rise business district, will they:

1.  move a few blocks away, thus improving a neighborhood adjacent to downtown?

2.  move to a suburb with more lenient height restrictions or cheaper land?

This story is strong, but anecdotal, evidence for view 2.