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Friday, November 30, 2007


Kentlands: A Model of New Urbanism


Kentlands community, located near Gaithersburg, Maryland, is one of the best known examples of a new urbanism community. It incorporates many elements aimed at perpetuating community, socializing, borrowing sugar form neighbors, and etc. Examples include: many sidewalks, dense housing, garages tucked in behind the residence, and large open spaces for various public use. Kentlands has been around since 1988 so it has become the perfect proving grounds for the desired effects of new urbanism. The article author, Katherine Salant, interviewed just six residents before coming to the conclusion that the proximity planning of new urbanism does in fact manifest community. This opinion is shared by Joongsub Kim, an architecture professor at Lawrence Technical University, who has lived in and studied Kentlands and another nearby conventional subdivision for 10 years now. Kim claims to be reserved in nature but asserts that "When you walk down the street, you see all the activity and you feel like you want to be a part of it." Kim attributes this social utopia to proximity. The streets are narrow to bring houses together; some porches are only six feet away from the sidewalk and the parking garage alley ways behind houses provide good places for kids to play and adults to socialize when they’re parking their car.

It appears that in the long run new urbanism community planning has worked for Kentlands. The proximity will in fact bring community as reported by Salant and Kim but is this really a breakthrough? Is this something people never knew? I could have told you that fact after the first semester in the dorms my freshman year. The question that remains relates to individual preference. What does the consumer want? New urbanism might manifest community but is that what most people want? I suggest that time will tell. Shining examples of its success like Kentlands might prove new urbanism to be effective but whether or not it truly is the way people want to live will be shown in the long run as the trend continues or fizzles out.


How to "own" land in Boulder

I have recently finished reading an article by Rich Tosches in the Colorado Springs Independent this past week. This article was titled How to "own" land in Boulder. If you have not heard or read any of Mr. Tosches article, he is an accomplished writer/humorist who has written for the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Rocky Mountain News. Although, I do not place alot of factual merit on newspaper articles, he certainly is a trusted source in reporting during my time in Colorado Springs. This article was written in response to a land-use and the efficient use of property rights. I have not read the ruling on this specific case, yet the outcome is ludicrous.

In the city of Boulder Colorado a Judge recently ruled that the owners of a 4,700 square foot parcel of land must give one-third of this land to adjacent property owners. The "rightful" owners (Kirlin) of this land had owned the land for 23 years and had plans to build their dream house on this property. In the time they had owned this land they had paid property taxes along with Home Association Dues (HOA) on the vacant land. The adjacent property owners' (McLean & Stevens) had been using the land during this period as a resting place and for a pathway to the back of their home. The judge ruling for the McLean & Stevens (plaintiff) was as follows: "Plaintiff's attachment to the land is stronger than the true owners' attachment. Whereas the Kirklins were unaware of plaintiffs' use of the land during virtually their entire period of ownership, plaintiffs have efficiently used the land on a daily basis. Given this history of use, the equities favor transfer of title."

It is hard to imagine a life without individual property rights, rule of law or common sense. All these have been thrown aside with this with this judges ruling. I find little equity in the transfer of ones property rights to another strictly on a unauthorized use of the property over the last 23 years. I see no efficiency in the use of an others property without their consent. The final slap in the face is McLean and Stevens are seeking to have their attorney's fess paid for by the Kirklins. This is a sad period for the "People's Republic of Boulder and the State of Colorado.


Hawaii loves to conserve!

I stumbled upon a report from the South Kona- Kau coastal conservation task force to the 2007 legislature in Hawaii. They apparently had the governor stop all construction and development for a year in South Kona so that they could prepare a report about the development and subsequent preservation of this land. This task force would like for the state to deem these lands undevelopable unless the development doesn't impact the environment. Also they are asking that there be a boundary set up for this preservation area. They would also like to set up a trust in which people who donate their land to the trust will be given a very good tax break. And finally they would like to fund this strictly through private monies.

There are many people out there that would love to conserve nature and would finance this, but I know many more that would pay a lot of money to be able develop the land. This is kind of a classic example of the government not trusting the people to do the right thing. Instead of finding a way to buy the land and conserve it, the task force is looking to the government to do it for them. I wish that these task force people would see that it is also in the interest of developers not to ruin the islands, because if they did, less and less people would want to visit and they would loose business. Hawaii depends a lot on tourism and can't afford to stifle the growth of that industry, in the end it will mean more unemployment and a failing economy. Taxing the land that is bought by developers if they are ruining the land, is much more effective than just saying they can't develop at all!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Goodbye balcony

According an article in the Denver Post, cities big and small are experiencing a dramatic return to urban living. People are seeing that urban sprawl has its disadvantages, they are recognizing that if you can live in the city, walk to work and have a great view, there’s a great benefit to living in cities.
The article references that these urban condos are geared to singles who want to experience all the great amenities that come with living in the city. Personally I think it is good that more high rises are being built. Let’s keep the young singles who like to have fun in the middle of the city where all the action is. This way, we can save the edges of the city for the older people with families who probably like driving an hour to work everyday to escape their screaming kids.


Colfax and New Urbanism

A recent article I read in the New York Times talked about how Denver was trying to clean up Colfax Ave. Being from Colorado and spending time downtown I know what they are talking about. You never know what you may find walking down the street. The article says that Colfax is the Rocky Mountains equivalent Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York. Greenwich and Haight-Ashbury have changed due to gentrification, but Colfax remains the same. The city of Denver is trying gentrify Colfax by rezoning, increasing police and other policies they think might work. They have taken steps to rezone blighted areas so that they can turn it into Denver's Main Street.

From an economic standpoint if people thought there was a bright future for Colfax the government would not have to step in and blight areas. These areas would be bought at a price that both the buyer and seller would agree upon. Some one would have all ready seen the incentive to redevelop that area--not government. Crime is also a big concern for redevelopment along Colfax. The city has increased police and crime has dropped, but that did not make anyone want to move there. The people who all ready live in that area are aware of the crime. I think it is something they factored in before they decided to live there. The city can try all it wants to make Colfax Main Street America, but the reality is people have all ready decided what they want and it is not Colfax. They have moved away and have realized they are better off for the decisions they have made.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Why live in a new urbanism community?

After a semester of discussing this subject I thought it was about time that I asked the question “why live in a new urbanism community?”. While the advantages of new urbanism are clearly staggering (at least if you are a supporter of it), there are also blatant disadvantages. But are the advantages great enough to outweigh the disadvantages?

Without going into too much detail, the major advantages are being within walking distance to most major activities (work, school, shopping), and more neighborhood activities. While all of these advantages derive from preference, let’s assume they all are desirable.

The advantages that come from being within walking distance to most major activities stems mainly from America’s dependence on the car and the view that it is bad. However, being closer to these activities do have some real advantages too. When you can walk most places, you will burn more calories, have more time to think up excuses as to why you didn’t do your homework, and not spend as much money shopping because you know you will have to carry it back with you on your walk home. Also, with a reduced dependence on a car, you would save money on gas, maintenance, and perhaps you might be able to forgo a vehicle all together.

The presence of more neighborhood activities presents more advantages as well. With more people being involved in the community it could be expected that the crime rate will be lower then in other areas. By getting to know your neighbor it is likely that they will look out for you and your family. They might even let you stash Christmas presents at their place or let you borrow some flour Christmas Eve so you can make cookies for Santa, saving you a brisk walk to the store that would be closed because it was a mom and pop store.

While there are many disadvantages to a new urbanism community (narrow streets, small lot sizes, short driveways, being able to say hi to your neighbor during your morning pee) I will focus on one, which I feel is the biggest, personal liberty. What bothers me most about new urbanism communities is not how they are set up or any of the disadvantages listed above, but that it is someone’s idea that everyone should live that way and desires to use the coercive power of the government to see it happen. When someone tells you what to do and how to do it, they are taking away your voice in the market, which would ultimately reduce the efficiency with which the market operates.

I guess there is no easy answer to the question “why live in a new urbanism community?”. Will the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in your specific case? If so, I would say you should CHOOSE to live there. But keep in mind that choice is not what these communities are about and don’t be surprised if the home owners association requires you to own only a certain type of dog or face eviction.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Liberty vs. Stupidity

An Article in the Seattle Times (November 12, 2007) written by Neal Peirce is the antithesis of personal freedom and economic liberty. The Article’s title is “You Should Listen to Ron Sims” and as the title suggests, Peirce wants readers to embrace the actions of King County Executive Ron Sims in opposing a 17 billion dollar road and rail project. Not only are Sims and Peirce’s objections to this project unfounded and unsupported by evidence, but their grandiose claims signify the end of economic liberty in favor of government control and regulation.

Pierce says, “The overall package would have raised the area's carbon-dioxide emissions by 18 million to 28 million tons over the next 50 years” and “already, notes Sims, as many greenhouse gases are emitted in Washington State as the Philippines, which has 12 times Washington's population. Metro areas, he says, can't claim they're expanding for economic efficiency "and then go down to Brazil and say please don't cut your tropical rain forest””.

First, I cannot say for certain, but Ron Sims is not clairvoyant or psychic in any way, and therefore, he cannot make claims about future carbon monoxide emissions because he DOES NOT KNOW. The cars made in the next 50 YEARS will be noticeably different in the amount of emissions and may not emit carbon monoxide at all. Second, the analogy between Washington State and the Philippines is certainly not equitable. The GDP per capita (PPP) in the Philippines is 5,000 (US dollars) and in Washington State alone is more than 53,000 (US dollars). The number of roads in the Philippines that are paved is only 10%, and its national GDP is measured only in the billions. There is no comparison between Washington and the Philippines, especially economically. Third, advocates for economic efficiency do not waste time worrying about Brazil. The irony, is that those individuals who support “growth limits — tighter, denser communities”, also try to infringe on the economic freedoms of people in Brazil.

The socialist rhetoric and twisted values purposed by Peirce do not end with Brazil. He says:

“No one should have to commute more than a half-hour from home, Sims suggests."The human body," he said, "was not designed to be pounded from the stress and strain of long commutes." Plus, he said, we all need "time with our families, to live." That translates too into time for a mix of exercise and sociability, walking and biking and talking with neighbors — which reasonably compact communities make easier””.

Wow! Finally, a doctor, a psychic, a family psychiatrist, and an economist all in one! I find this statement as ridiculous as it is flawed. My freedom to NEVER meet my neighbors or walk my dog is worth the so called “problems”. In no way should anyone listen to Ron Sims or Neal Peirce and we are all a little more stupid for having done so already.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Urban Spral = Global Warming

Urban sprawl. In its simplest term, the unplanned development of land. In reality, it is the modern day epidemic, sweeping the nation and destroying everything in its path. Urban sprawl can now be held responsible for its contribution to global warming. President Bush once told us “Our duty is to use the land well, and sometimes not to use it all.” Smart growth advocates promote this idea through the implementation of ideas that encourage pedestrian and bicycle usage versus extended commuting times. Public transportation that has been well created is is said to be an option to reducing sprawl and minimizing the amount of CO2 emitted by everyday transportation. The increase in urban sprawl puts more people away from the center of the city which increases the amount of driving time per household, the amount of CO2 emissions, traffic congestion and of course the amount of open space that is designated to parking lots and shopping malls.

This increase in people wanting to move away from pollution and overpopulation is only recreating the same problem further away. The government is then of course not only responsible for urban sprawl and its solution but also the impact it is having on global warming. If the government would implement smart growth boundaries then development could be quarantined to a much smaller area, allowing preservation if open space. Advocates are suggesting solutions such as an increase in land use planning, the development of public transportation that is accommodating to a greater range of people and housing that would place community members closer to school and jobs and homes that are more energy efficient. The problem with this is that many of these solutions to not consider that most of these solutions do not accommodate the lower class. Those that are already living paycheck to paycheck cannot afford the rent in housing close to the city core that is impacted by the rent gradients. The increased upfront cost for a hybrid is not in the budget for many as well as the higher cost for energy efficient windows or better insulation. If you choose to recycle through your garbage company, you actually have to pay them. Many of these options are just not an option for a family with a limited budget. So, until it is affordable to Go Green, environmentalists can continue to blame the government for urban sprawl and its contributions to pollution rather than the market that is making a big buck off of the consumer efforts to conserve.


Thursday, November 08, 2007


Inner Economist

If you are looking for a winterim course, then you might be interested in my Econ 398 Inner Economist. Maybe another title for this course would be "Economics For My Life." The course will involve reading two books: (1) Tyler Cowen, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist, and (2) Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why The Rich Are Rich, The Poor Are Poor -- And Why You Can Never Buy A Decent Used Car! The course will culminate with a set of assignments suggested by The Economic Naturalist. Perhaps a better title for the course would be: "Economics for My Life." You could almost expect to find this stuff in the "self help" section of your favorite bookstore.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Creative Construction

Zoning used in defense of morality- Creative Construction

Zoning and controls can make construction and development very difficult. In an article from Economist.com, the author suggests a circumstance where zoning could be used to hinder construction of a Planned Parenthood building in Aurora, Illinois.

Aurora’s battle nominally centered on a permit and how Planned Parenthood obtained it… When Planned Parenthood applied for permits in Aurora last year, it used the name Gemini Office Development, a subsidiary, hoping to keep the project quiet for as long as possible. When pro-life activists learned of the building’s true purpose in July, they were furious, claiming that Planned Parenthood had committed fraud… The lawyers found no wrongdoing, however, so the clinic opened just two weeks late.

The construction of the building has caused controversy, not because of where it is being built, but because of the types of services and procedures that it provides. The most controversial procedure offered by the clinic being abortion. The controversy in Illinois is not the first and certainly will not be the last for Planned Parenthood. In 2003 a similar situation arose in Austin, Texas. The main contractor pulled out and after boycotts from many subcontractors, and Planned Parenthood stepped in to assume the contractors role. The same problems may arise in Denver where another Planned Parenthood is scheduled to start construction in November.

Although the question of zoning has not been raised in the battle in Aurora, Illinois it has been used to deter and to prevent businesses to be built where they were initially planned. Fortunately, for the Planned Parenthood in Aurora the area is zoned for medical use, and can not be barred from being built based on zoning requirements. Zoning regulations seem to hinder development in many areas, but are put in place to enhance, or help guide the direction of growth and economic development. The case of Planned Parenthood wanting to move in seems to be a classic example of how zoning laws and regulations may be used to help certain parties while they hinder others. Whether or not it is fair seems to be subjective based on whether you win or lose.

Source: http://www.economist .com/world/na/PrinterFriendly.cfm?story_id=9946963

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Smart Growth??

According to the 2007 growth and transportation survey ¾ of people surveyed claimed they feel smart growth is important and the way of future city growth. The main solution listed was to improve public transportation and current roads, and to stop building new roads. This smart growth is supposedly the answer to city traffic and congestion. Half of the people surveyed would push for public transportation to be improved. However in our own city the public transportation system is struggling. The city is increasing the rates for mass transit due to a decline in users. This system is good in theory, but people are ultimately going to be unwilling to change their preferences. Driving is a preference and it has been proven in cities that have implemented mass transit over expansion to increase traffic and congestion. The misconception is that everyone will change their preferences in order to move towards this idea of smart growth, but that has not proven to be the case.

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