Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

What people don't get about the DC housing market: supply is much less than demand, so prices keep rising (a/k/a basic economics)

The Washington City Paper's daily e-letter calls our attention to the Mark Lee column in the Washington Blade, "Is D.C. destined to be the domain of the well-to-do?"

The answer is "Yes."

Apparently, last fall I wrote a similar "blog entry in response to an article in The Atlantic, titled "Will D.C.’s Housing Ever Be Affordable Again?" My answer was no, but with a more detailed analysis than the one below.  The fact that so many people write similar articles is an indicator of the need to move from lament to solutions.

Also see "Canada's Housing Crisis: Twenty-Two Solutions" from The Practical Utopian blog.
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1.  For historical reasons, when legacy cities like Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington were built out during the primary period of growth, pre-1920 especially, in comparison, DC had much less population therefore much smaller buildings were constructed.  This has major consequences more than a century later.


A tenement building in Manhattan can house multiple families, while the same amount of space for two tenements in Manhattan would cover three small two-story rowhouses in DC.

2.  For a long time that wasn't a big deal, because demand was commensurate with the inventory--even less than the available inventory.

3.  But finally around 2000-2005, the trends favoring urban living finally hit critical mass, and urban living became appealing to many more segments of the housing market.

Now having three story apartment buildings from the 1920s instead of six-story tenements, small rowhouses instead of big rowhouses split up into apartments, building most rowhouses without English basement apartments, medium sized apartment buildings (four to six stories) instead of larger, elimination of alley dwellings and restrictions on constructing carriage houses on the back of properties, etc., means that the available inventory of rental and owner-occupied housing is significantly smaller than the demand.

These DC rowhouses are larger than the typical two-story rowhouse constructed before 1914 because they were built with basement apartments. (Google photo).

That's why prices keep rising.

4.  Because of DC's limited housing stock, even small marginal increases in demand, led and lead to significant price appreciation.

5.  And each new addition to supply isn't enough to meet the latent demand, so housing prices continue to rise regardless (plus the fact that new housing, constructed at current prices, is always priced at the top of the market).

6.  Because of DC's limited housing stock, people wanting to live in the city were driven to consider neighborhoods (H Street, Trinidad, Petworth, Shaw) that they weren't originally willing to consider, because they were priced out of more popular neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown, extending price appreciation and demand outward.
East Ohio Street, Pittsburgh
This grouping of mixed commercial and residentially-used buildings on East Ohio Street in Pittsburgh are far larger than the buildings typically constructed in DC's commercial corridors outside of Downtown, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle.  It's rare for there to be a 3- or 4-story building in a DC neighborhood commercial district constructed before 1940.

This leads to housing appreciation in neighborhoods that may have remained "affordable," had there been more housing options available in those neighborhoods more highly preferenced.

I wrote a few years ago in "Exogenous market forces impact DC's housing market," about how because more neighborhoods in DC have been integrated into the residential housing market "at the metropolitan scale," people shouldn't be considering solely within DC criteria and characteristics shaping neighborhood and housing attractiveness and pricing.

That's still the case.

I haven't seriously delved into the list of housing priorities created by a group of business and housing advocacy interests, touted in posts in Greater Greater Washington ("Diverse groups agree: DC needs more housing and more affordable housing now" and "Meet the housing demand: A priority for DC housing").

My initial reaction is that of course housing prices are going to continue to escalate and people of lesser means are going to be pushed out of the city, because regardless of good intentions, most residents seem to oppose the kinds of development measures that would take the edge off (but not eliminate) the ongoing upward repricing of DC's housing stock in most neighborhoods west of the Anacostia River, and increasingly in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

In short, in capitalism, people with more money bid up and acquire scarce resources ("Low income, high income, the market and the right to the city").

In DC, high quality housing and neighborhoods ("The eight components of housing value") are scarce resources. So people with less money are not equipped to compete for attractive housing, even with extranormal assistance.

But there are ways to take the edge off. This is what I wrote (edited and somewhat expanded) on the first GGW post:

I have been calling for a real housing plan for at least 10 years. My biggest lesson from the past 16 years of change in the city is that not being armed with good plans and vision at the outset of change/growth opportunities puts you seriously behind the market, and without the ability to shape change the way you want it.

We had no idea on what kind of change and the velocity of change that was unleashed by Anthony Williams becoming mayor, coincident with a reaching of critical mass interest in urban living.

Not having robust proactive plans in place such as a good Comprehensive Land Use Plan, a good housing plan, a plan for WMATA, etc. put and continues to keep us really really behind. As a result, it's almost impossible to change the trajectory as it relates to housing affordability.

WRT the group and the support it has by developers, it should be no surprise that the Growth Machine favors affordable housing. It's still growth. (And I don't have a problem with it.)

One, many companies don't want to get involved, but are happy others are. Some build affordable housing as a regular part of the portfolio, e.g., Related Companies, and make a lot of money doing so. Other companies focus on it, e.g., WC Smith, and do a great job.

But the biggest problem is that residents (supported too often by elected and appointed officials) want to do everything in their power to restrict housing supply, which is counter to the stated objectives of keeping the city affordable. The reality of economics and markets is that they are not confoundable:

- Any report on housing policy needs to explain how economics works and that serious restrictions on supply increase prices

- that additions to inventory shape pricing only over very long periods of time--multiple decades, 30 to 50 year periods

- that new additions to inventory are always priced at the top of the market

- that neighborhoods with a greater variety of housing types and options tend to be more affordable and more resilient

- that subsidies, including density bonuses, can lower cost of new additions but only so much

- that every floor you knock off on a project to placate stated resident opposition to density has long term consequences and opportunity costs in terms of inventory, housing access, pricing and business income, personal income, sales, and property tax revenue streams for the city

- not enough do people discuss the benefits of growth, one is that adding density supports amenities development and provision which makes neighborhoods more attractive and convenient to live in, e.g., H St., Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Capitol Riverfront/Barracks Row are the best examples in the city, maybe on a different scale, Takoma, where the addition of small amounts of multiunit housing at the core have led to a significant strengthening of the retail offer, mostly restaurants sure, but also the addition of a hardware store, etc.

- plus more residents supports the provision of more robust and frequent transit

- which means that there should be density bonuses awarded to buildings in areas proximate to high capacity transit, especially Metrorail station catchment areas (one-quarter to one-half mile radius especially)

- land tenure issues in mixed use communities, specifically adding owner occupied housing to mixed use districts, specifically condominiums, may have unintended long term consequences in terms of quality of design and willingness of future owners to pay special assessments for upgrades -- get it right the first time or problems can result.

- condominiums can be a problematic ownership structure for smaller properties, or in lower income areas, as the properties age, and if there are problems on the part of owners paying assessments, and the increasing cost of maintenance leading to assessment increases, making it difficult to stabilize the properties.

- need for programs to assist funding improvements to small multiunit properties ("Tower renewal: The Watergate and Southwest DC, and Toronto" and "Deeper thinking/programming on weak residential housing markets is required: DC example, Anacostia")

- that a housing priority plan needs to consider different types of housing segments such as SROs, types of housing (co-housing, cooperatives), and mixed age multiunit housing as households age, etc. ("More on mixing multiple housing types within multi-unit buildings")

- that innovative programs to support housing inventory expansion through English basements and accessory dwelling units need to be created (Edmonton and other cities have grant programs to facilitate the construction of accessory dwelling units)

- the need to "encourage" developers building to the maximum density where allowable, rather than at lower densities that are matter of right, because they don't want to go through the community approval process, which takes more time

- encouraging properties to build add housing to commercial properties where feasible (think of the wasted space above the Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Upper Georgetown or the Walmart on Georgia Avenue NW)

etc.

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Below is the list of what DC's housing priorities should be according to the statement.  My reaction is still more, "yeah, yeah, whatever."

For example, in order to "meet the housing demand" and "equitably distribute housing" and "utilize areas near transit" you need to take practical steps as identified above.  Now, it's all nice language with little practical import.


● Meet the housing demand.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should forecast, plan for, and encourage the creation and preservation of a supply of housing (market-rate and subsidized affordable) to meet the demand at all income levels. The supply of housing should be sufficient to slow rising costs of rental and for-sale housing.

● Equitably distribute housing. T​hrough the Comprehensive Plan, the District should fight against segregation, foster equitable access to opportunity, and comply with Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) priorities. The District should require that every part of the city participate in adding housing to meet the need for all income levels, with an emphasis on transit and commercial corridors.

● Best utilize areas near transit.​ When redevelopment occurs on blocks surrounding Metrorail stations and priority transit corridors, the District should, through the Comprehensive Plan, permit and encourage mixed-use developments of medium to high density. To the extent feasible, redevelopments involving increased zoning should include affordable housing in excess of what is required by inclusionary zoning

● Include families.​ The District should be a city that houses people of all income levels and of all household sizes, including families. Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should promote the creation and preservation of 3+ bedroom units along with other housing types.

● Prioritize affordable housing as a community benefit.​ When rezoning or granting significant zoning relief, the District should affirm through the Comprehensive Plan that affordable housing (in addition to any underlying requirement) is the highest priority benefit and that other community benefits should be long-lasting.

● Preserve existing affordable housing.​ When redevelopment occurs on properties with housing made affordable through subsidy, covenant, or rent control, the District, Zoning Commission, and neighborhoods should work with landowners to create redevelopment plans that preserve such units or replace any lost ones with similar units either on-site or nearby. These entities should provide the necessary density and/or potential funding to ensure it is financially feasible to reinvest in the property with no net loss of affordable units.

● Protect tenants.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should ensure that when affordable housing is undergoing redevelopment, tenants have a relocation plan, are allowed to continue their tenancy with minimal disruption, and will have the right to return to their units or an equivalent replacement. Whenever feasible, redevelopment should observe build-first principles.

● Support neighborhood commercial corridors.​ Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should encourage the success of neighborhood commercial corridors and locally owned businesses, especially in disadvantaged communities. This includes increased housing density that supports businesses and providing equitable opportunities for locally owned businesses in mixed-use and commercial developments.

● Clarify zoning authority​. Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should affirm that the Zoning Commission has the purview to allow increased density for Planned Unit Developments that supersedes the levels in the Comprehensive Plan’s maps in exchange for community benefits.

● Improve data collection and transparency. T​ he District should provide the highest quality public data. It should standardize housing-related data collection across agencies, and release all data and forecast analyses to the public, to facilitate transparency and regular reporting on the status and progress of housing-related programs. Data should include a comprehensive housing database and demand-based forecasts alongside existing supply-based (pipeline) forecasts.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

DC DPW Mural program, call for participation

I happened to be in the Anacostia neighborhood yesterday, and saw a Murals DC production on the side of a building near the Metrorail station.

The murals were renditions of old DC concert posters and I thought they came across very well.

From a DC Government email:
The DC Department of Public Works has a program called MuralsDC, a graffiti prevention project. DPW is now accepting applications from commercial property owners who are interested in receiving a free mural to replace or prevent a wall vandalized with graffiti. This program has been very effective for those owners dealing with repeat taggings. 
The information to apply for a mural is contained in the flier below. Please forward this to any business owners you may know of who would be interested. If there are any businesses within your ward that have been vandalized with graffiti, please encourage them to apply.

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Photo: Lloyd Wolf Photography.

This MuralsDC production is on the side of the Deanwood Post Office.

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A brief comment on local government finance: Fairfax County, Virginia

In "The real lesson from Flint Michigan is about municipal finance," and other writings, I make the point that the system in the US for financing local governments was created during the time when the country was growing furiously, and since it was based on property taxes, local governments could rely on growing revenues.

Being dependent on property taxes is increasing risky.

Now, being reliant on property taxes puts many governments at financial risk, even if they are still successful and growing, because legacy programs cost more to maintain over time, and new programs cost more money, etc.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post had a story ("Fairfax, Va.’s largest county, again trims budget requests as revenues stay tepid") about financial issues in Fairfax County, Virginia. 

Fairfax County is economically successful, with more than one million residents.

According to the World Atlas ("Richest Counties In The United States") Fairfax is the second wealthiest counties nationally when rated by median household income (interestingly, Loudoun County is first, Howard County in Maryland is third, and Arlington County in Virginia is fifth).

But Fairfax's checkbook is not unlimited. From the article:
Long’s proposed $4.1 billion budget reflects a local economy still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession and 2013 federal sequestration cuts and a county bracing for the possibility of further reductions in government spending by the Trump administration.

County revenue — generated mostly by real estate taxes — increased by $88.2 million last year, not enough to cover rising pension costs, a growing public school student population and more elderly and low-income residents seeking government aid in a county of 1.1 million residents.

“Slow economic growth is, I think, here to stay,” Long told the county’s Board of Supervisors during a bleak presentation that also fell $13 million short of what agencies requested for disability services, public safety, maintenance of county trails and raises for nonschool county employees. ...

Long’s budget also leaves about $21.7 million in planned police department improvements unfunded, including $5.3 million for a “Diversion First” program that steers people with mental illnesses to counseling instead of jail.

It does not cover about $6.7 million in services for people with disabilities, and defers maintenance of county sidewalks and trails.
According to the article, property taxes make up 65% of the county's revenue stream. Even though parts of the county are booming, primarily those areas served by transit, other parts are not, and commercial property values are dropping in those areas that are more automobile-dependent.

When the nation's second richest county has problems financing local government, there is no question that the system of local government finance that we have created isn't working for today's conditions.

The article on Flint covers other potential revenue streams, including income taxes.

Cities with low property tax capacity.
Ten lowest per capita taxable real estate, out of 250 largest US cities
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Toronto.  Note that this is a problem in other countries.  Toronto Star columnist Edward Keenan wrote about that city's budget travails despite being a world city ("What happens to Toronto when things get tough?")  From the article:
Toronto is a fantastically prosperous city: growing faster than almost any other place on the planet, enjoying a period of sustained economic boom, able to brag of being home to “12 key business sectors” (it is the most tax-competitive city in the world according to KPMG) that keep the city “resilient” and its population relatively wealthy.

And for all that, Toronto is a city that expects to shutter 7,500 units of social housing in the near future because it will not spend the money to keep it from falling apart.
Furthermore, after giving signs of agreement, in January, the Provincial Government refused to give Toronto authority to charge tolls on the city's two locally-controlled expressways, instead giving cities more gasoline tax revenues ("No tolls? Tory wants provincial money for DVP, Gardiner," Toronto Globe & Mail).  This was done to placate suburban jurisdictions, whose residents would pay the bulk of tolls were they to be assessed.

But Toronto countered that this will raise less money than tolls, and that unlike locally-controlled tolls, they will not be able to do debt financing against monies handed down and controlled by the Province, thereby reducing the city's ability to finance transit infrastructure.

The UK.  And cities in the UK are totally screwed by the central government's austerity program. There, the national government provides most of the funding for local government, and mandates, and by contrast to property tax collection in North America, local governments don't have similar revenue streams.  Local governments are finding their budgets cut by 50% ("Britain's local councils face financial crisis," Economist).

Medicine Hat.  Interestingly, Medicine Hat, Alberta, which through a fluke of history maintained ownership of the natural gas resources underneath the city, is planning on creating the equivalent of a sovereign wealth fund to better reap the benefits of this revenue stream going forward ("A Canadian City Thrives on Gas, Like a 'Wealthy Little Country'" New York Times).

Over the decades, the city has used the revenues to keep taxes low, and to recruit industry, including providing free or reduced price natural gas.

Now, with industrial decline and a fall in the price of gas and oil, the city needs to be more judicious about the use of this revenue stream.  Hence the proposal to create a wealth fund.

Oklahoma.  The Governor, Mary Fallin, proposes adding a variety of services categories to the sales tax, which would raise almost $800 million for cities and counties, and $900+ million for the state ("Gov. Mary Fallin's tax plan clarifies choices in Oklahoma," Daily Oklahoman). From the article:
The proposal is based, in part, on a desire to overhaul Oklahoma's tax code so it reflects the modern economy. Fallin's budget plan notes that, according to Bureau of Labor statistics, in 1939 service industries employed more people than manufacturing by a ratio of 2-to-1. Today that ratio has grown to around 5-to-1.

This means a sales tax applied primarily to goods reaps far less money than in decades past. Yet the impact of addressing that discrepancy in a single year is jarring to many citizens.
The master list.  Expanding the activities eligible for sales taxes is another item that should be added to what I thought of as the master list in the Flint blog entry.  

Yet another item would be dealing with "payments in lieu of taxes" for properties held by certain nonprofits, such as colleges and universities (past blog entry, "Changing the structure of local government revenue generation," 2013).

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The answer is: Receivership

The question is posed by the headline of this Washington City Paper article, "What Can Elected Officials Do About D.C. Slumlords?" From the article:
“It’s frustrating because we have incredibly strong tenant protections, and yet negligent landlords still find a way to persist,” [Councilmember] Nadeau says. “That’s one of the biggest challenges that we face.”
I wrote about this earlier in the month (See "Receivership as a strategy for notorious nuisance properties"), in response to a City Paper cover story on a slumlord, making the same point:
Receivership.
In that article, Mari commented (which I seem to have missed), writing:
Why they aren't being seized... might be because of what happens the day after the property is seized.

DC government is a lousy landowner. When DC Gov takes a property it will sit vacant for years..... YEARS. DC Gov also doesn't appear interested in being a landlord. To hand if off to a non-profit seems interesting, but what non-profit out there that presently exists that is a real non-profit and not a "non-profit" that only exists to get contracts from municipalities? 
Taking a property would make an impact, but it would also use up a lot of resources.
This is my response:
I missed this comment. You are of course, absolutely right.

In my early writings, I joked that DC's primary property management strategy is "demolition by neglect." And that in an objective evaluation, using criteria of the Housing Courts in Ohio, DCG wouldn't be deemed a credible and eligible receiver, based on past practice.

That's why starting from the very beginning, I've argued that DCG shouldn't be the receiver, but capable nonprofits.

In Ohio, such activities are monitored by the Housing Court, so a receiver has to act, implement the plan to cure the nuisance, or they lose control of the property too. And receivers that fail don't get properties awarded to them in the future.  [added -- Failure is not rewarded, unlike the current process.]

I can't claim to know all the ins and outs of the various nonprofits in DC, but one that I observe to be very credible is Jubilee Housing. An organization like that could become a receiver.   (There are some good for profit property managers. They could act as receivers too.)

In Cleveland, it was the Cleveland Restoration Society (but because the job was so difficult, they got out of it for awhile). They were motivated to save historic properties from demolition.

And recently I wrote about a "nonprofit" business in Philadelphia set up to cure nuisances and make them habitable, usable properties that strengthen the neighborhood. (I can't claim to like their design choices but they do good work otherwise.) See "A great example of the market at work: making a business in restoring blighted properties/curing nuisances (Philadelphia)."

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Next week is Phoenix Urban Design Week

-- Phoenix Urban Design Week
-- "Phoenix Urban Design Week 2017: Here's everything you need to know," Phoenix New Times
-- "Roosevelt Row murals," Phoenix New Times

El Mac and David Choe mural near Second and McKinley streets. Photo by Lynn Trimble, Phoenix New Times.

Yes, Phoenix and its metropolitan area is a poster child for sprawl.  That being said, there is enough going on there to keep a traditional urbanist occupied for awhile, from various urban design and transportation initiatives in Tempe, the light rail system, the Roosevelt Row arts district in Phoenix, and many other elements, such as a regional bike trail system or the Phoenix Biotechnology Campus and initiative.

I like the idea of an "Urban Design" week as opposed to an "Architecture Week," because you get place into the picture, and aren't solely focused on "the buildings."  What people call "historic preservation" I argue is the nexus of place, architecture, and people.

-- Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center, Alley of the Arts mural
-- Roosevelt Row temporary street art
-- alley and public art walking tours
-- Local First Arizona, Cultivating Temporary Uses forum

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Will a BQX light rail along the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens have extra-normal economic impact?

Proposed routing for the Brooklyn Queens Connector light rail line in NYC.

Notions Capital (not a fan of the DC streetcar) calls our attention to the Village Voice cover story ("Light Rail’s Dark Side: How Will NYC Pay for the BQX?") casting doubt on the economic impact assumptions of the proposed BQX light rail line along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts.

While it is true that development on the Queens waterfront lags other areas, there is no question that development along the Brooklyn waterfront has been on fire for a long long time.

The argument, according to the Voice, is that the economic impact is significant enough to allow for the city to pay for the system--as a local transit project, it would not be paid for by the MTA, which runs the subway and bus system in the city--conceding that the proposed line isn't addressing "transit desert" issues--or improving transit service and access in areas under-served by transit. From the article:
BQX's location far from the city's transit deserts has been one criticism of the plan, which has otherwise drawn cheers from advocates eager for any new mass transit construction. While some gentrification-wary residents suspect a stealth ploy by developers like David Walentas's Two Trees Management — which not only first concocted the idea, but continues to play a central role in planning discussions — the city has a simpler explanation: BQX may not be the transit system New York City most needs, but it's the one we can get. By building in a hot neighborhood along the waterfront, officials insist, they can use the magic of "value capture" to grab increased property tax receipts to pay for the project's estimated $2.5 billion construction cost, getting the city a new light rail line entirely for free.
Given all that I've written ("Update on the DC Streetcar program on the verge of launching Sunday service") about the DC streetcar being wildly successful in auguring development intensity and velocity at a level comparable to that of Metrorail station catchment areas, even though most of the H Street corridor is significantly outside of the Metrorail transit shed, I am not convinced that the proposed light rail line is the right choice for New York City.

(Note that when I first read about the idea in the NYT years ago, I was skeptical, because light rail has an inherent capacity limitation that doesn't make sense for such a densely populated city as New York. "Streetcars are not a good inter-borough transit choice for New York City").

1. Unlike H Street NE, the Brooklyn waterfront already is undergoing extensive redevelopment and has been for some time.  Therefore, it is arguable that a light rail line will add that much in the way of incremental development.

Does it make sense to encumber the property tax revenue stream from this area to build a light rail line, when other parts of the city are in much greater need of better and higher capacity transit service?

For example, the proposal for the Triboro RX, which probably should be train, not subway, service, to be able to interact with extant freight rail service.

-- "How About A Subway Linking Brooklyn, Queens & The Bronx WITHOUT Manhattan?," Gothamist
-- "This Commuter Rail Line Could Revolutionize Outer-Borough Transit," Curbed

From the Curbed article:
The above-ground line would intersect and connect with 17 existing subway lines and four commuter rail lines, and will also include 24 of its own new stops. RPA estimates that about 100,000 people would take the Triboro daily, which trumps the daily ridership of the Staten Island Ferry by about 30,000 people.

As with all things, the concern is: but how much will this cost? RPA nails the initial estimate at $1 billion to $2 billion (which is, er, pretty lenient) including the cost of installing signals, new track, rail cars and stations, and possibly power substations.

The plan is still in its conceptual phase, but an RPA representative said that the project's development could be partially funded through Move NY, the city's on-the-table plan to add tolls to the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges as well as create a surcharge for entering Manhattan by car below 60th Street.
2. Although one advantage of the addition would be another transit line directly connecting Brooklyn and Queens without having to travel via Manhattan  in between.

Today, the G Line is the only subway line that travels directly between these two boroughs.

Rendering of an in-street BQX train.

3. Is light rail even the right choice? In transit-intensive cities, light rail tends to be used in areas with significantly less ridership potential, which tend to be outside of the core, such as on the outskirts of Paris, where orbital light rail lines connect subway and railroad passenger lines, not unlike how the pending Purple Line project in Suburban Maryland will connect four legs of the Metrorail system as well as all three MARC railroad passenger lines.

On the other hand, the Docklands Light Railway in London serves about 340,000 riders daily. But over time it has grown from 8 miles of track, 15 stations and 3 branches to 7 lines, 45 stations, and 24 miles of trackage (with further plans for extension), becoming a more extensive system rather than merely a line.

When the DLR was launched, the Docklands was in the beginning of its revitalization program.

Built originally on an abandoned railway line, the system has dedicated trackage, not shared with roadways.  It's also computer controlled, cutting labor costs, and affording frequent service.  To increase capacity, the system has gone to three-car trains, which has necessitated platform extensions and other changes.

-- "Docklands Light Railway: A success story that spans a generation," Global Rail News.

4. The TransitCenter, in "What the Paris Trams Can Teach U.S. Cities," suggests that the Paris tram system offers many lessons not typically considered in the US, especially the utility of trams in transit cities as a way to provide additional connections to existing lines, the value of dedicated right of way, and fare integration practices that don't require an additional payment to use this mode.

Another key point in the article is that transportation planners there have used the implementation of tram service as a way to create new roadway and traffic patterns that emphasize sustainable mobility over privileging the automobile. This for the most part, doesn't occur in the US, putting serious capacity limitations on LR as a mode.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Smell, maintenance, allergic tenants: why restrictions on dogs/pets isn't unreasonable

Last Spring, I wrote about the negatives of Amtrak's decision to allow pets on board trains--smell, maintenance, and most importantly, other passengers may have allergies to pet dander ("Amtrak's allowing cats and dogs on trains disses people with allergies").

Charity Struthers, right, holds her dog, Benny Goodman, on the roof of the Park Chelsea Apartments. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)


Accommodation for dogs is an increasingly popular amenity in high end property buildings.   I"An apartment building in Chelsea is luring tenants with doggie day care,"Boston Globe; "Going to the Dogs: Pet Amenities Aren’t a Luxury Anymore," Multi-Housing News, "Welcome to 'Yappy Hour': Developers lure D.C.’s dog-lovers with parks and perks," Washington Post).

Historically, this level of accommodation hasn't been present in public housing.  The Washington Post reported earlier this week ("Some pets now allowed for disabled and elderly residents in D.C. public housing") that in senior housing buildings, the DC Housing Authority will remove most restrictions on having pets.

But some advocates say that the policy doesn't go far enough.  From the article:
For a large majority of public-housing tenants — meaning thousands of people living in apartment complexes that are not designated strictly for elderly and disabled residents — the no-pets rule will still apply. Among those tenants, the only people exempt from the prohibition are residents who are legally certified as needing pets or service dogs to help with mobility or emotional problems. That has been the case for years.

Because of the continuing ban, the two biggest advocacy groups for allowing pets in public housing say they are not satisfied with the revised policy. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Rescue Alliance called the housing authority’s decision merely “a positive first step.”

The groups argue that all tenants should be allowed to keep pets. In reviewing the pet policies of 150 public-housing agencies in the United States, the ASPCA says, it found that only three are as strict as the D.C. regulations.
My response.  There is a difference between a ban and a restriction.  I do think it's reasonable to extend the ability to have pets across the portfolio of public housing properties, not only for senior and disabled tenants.  However, there is no reason to not limit certain types of pets--dogs and cats in particular--to particular floors or buildings, to constrain the potential for problems.

Usually, to control for smell, maintenance, and allergies, for profit housing organizations tend to "restrict" pets to particular buildings or wings of buildings. And they charge for the privilege of having a pet.

From the Globe article:
A dog lover himself, Szary gambled that the convenience of an on-site doggy day-care facility, in addition to standard luxury amenities like hot tubs, game rooms, and fire pits, would be key in attracting young professionals to Chelsea. One North charges $50 a month per dog, and $35 for each cat. It reserves the right to restrict so-called aggressive breeds and limits dogs to two per unit. The day care is an additional $19 a day.
Restricting pet accommodation to particular floors and buildings is a reasonable action for public housing authorities, just as it is for privately owned housing.  

I do think it's worth considering adding a small monthly fee for allowing animals, to cover the costs they incur to the property.

And take it the next step and add, where appropriate, dog parks and other placemaking accommodations on public housing sites.

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Reston Town Center parking issue as a "planning failure" by the private sector

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Correction: Note that Reston Town Center's does not charge for parking on weekends. See "All Reston Town Center merchant leases raised spectre of paid parking, owner says," Washingtong Business Journal). The text below has been corrected. 2/9/2017
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Reston Town Center is an "edge city" in the classic sense, and it has more than come into its own as a suburban business and residential district (ULI book, Transforming Suburban Business Districts and summary report, Ten Principles for Reinventing Suburban Business Districts) even before its integration into the Metrorail transit system.

It's an illustration that urbanization is by no means a phenomenon exclusive to traditional center cities and suburban towns.

-- "Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County"
-- "Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC"

From a planning sense, RTC is in the news because of the introduction of paid parking to the development, which is 100% privately owned.

Paid parking is not totally foreign to the suburbs, but it is still an exception. The challenge comes when privately owned "retail" centers become a mix of commercial and non-commercial functions, how does the public have input into the changes?

I wrote about it a couple times last year, because it is an illustration of the gap in having public planning processes in places where most or all of the property is privately owned.

-- "What to do about public input when seemingly public facilities are privately owned?: Parking at Reston Town Center, Fairfax County, Virginia"

But it's in the news again ("Send lawyers and money: Reston Town Center merchants organize for potential battle with Boston Properties," Washington Business Journal) because the change has been introduced, and restaurants are experiencing up to a 40% loss in business. From the article:
Here is what has the largely independent retailers so peeved: Boston Properties instituted a $2 an hour weekday parking fee in order, it said, to cut down on commuter parking. In the month since, businesses have reported a drop in business anywhere from 10 to 40 percent, as well as a marked decrease in retail employment applications. Parking is mostly paid through an app, which many users say they have found confusing. Other patrons are just staying away on principle. ... 
Meanwhile, a group of patrons is organizing a protest march at Reston Town Center for March 4.
-- Reston Town Center Parking FAQ
-- Change.org petition
-- Park Free RTC Protest Facebook Page

Analysis.

1.  The property owner said they needed to introduce paid parking to reduce "free parking" by commuters, seeking no cost parking to support their use of Metrorail.  What that means is the problem they've identified is during commuting hours--the daytime--Monday through Friday,

2.  But they've introduced paid parking on a 24/5 basis, including evenings, but not on weekends. Note that evenings and weekends are when retailers and restaurants conduct the bulk of their business.

3.  Retailers can validate parking, but the company has introduced a program that limits validation by retailers to particular parking structures, making it impossible to "trip chain" or "park once" and conduct multiple activities seamlessly in one trip, for example, having a meal and seeing a movie.

4.  This illustrates they've introduced a transaction focused, not service focused process.  Which structure is used shouldn't matter.

5.  Boston Properties shouldn't be so concerned about revenue, if they are merely focused on managing the parking inventory in terms of commuting.

Recommendations

1.  Reston Town Center should be focused on managing the resource/charging for parking when it matters, which now is during the week during the "daytime."  Like in Montgomery and Arlington Counties, where county parking structures usually have free or reduced parking at nights and on weekends, they should do the same.

2.  If not, RTC should cover the cost of validation for the retail and entertainment establishments, at least for a long period of time.

3.  They need to integrate all the resources (each individual parking structure) into one seamless system, and provide multiple options for paying, and even include people as the new system is introduced--it's a fully automated system now.

Public Participation Recommendations.  Irrespective of the general issue of paying for parking to manage the resource being an issue in suburbs too, as I wrote almost a year ago, even though the development is privately owned, it's considered by the users to be a "public space," the community's Downtown.

4.  In recognition that the space is "owned" in part by its users, the property owner needed to create a very public planning process for the consideration and implementation of paid parking at the Reston Town Center.

While Boston Properties had some meetings and did studies behind the scenes, their efforts didn't extend to the lengths that a traditional public process would go, and they are paying for it now (See the letter to the editor, "Reston Town Center parking poorly designed, poorly implemented says transportation consultant" and "Reston Town Center paid parking discourages my family from visiting," Fairfax County Times).

Just the cost of counsel for one lawsuit is greater than it would have cost to run a public planning process.  And who wants to go through the hassle of dealing with your customers as demonstrators?

Going forward, such developments should take steps to provide for public engagement and involvement, even though it wouldn't go to the extent of "oversight."

5.  Create an advisory council.  Reston is an unincorporated area of Fairfax County and has separately, a very powerful citizens organization, the Reston Association, which is very involved in area planning.  Interestingly, the Association doesn't appear to have weighed in much on the RTC parking issue.

I would recommend the creation of an Advisory Council for the Reston Town Center, not unlike the WMATA "Riders Advisory Council" or how universities may have neighborhood-town engagement committees, to provide a regular channel for back and forth communications and consultation (George Washington University Community Advisory Committee).

Arguably, the organization could step in and broker the creation of this kind of committee, which should have membership based on relationship to the RTC (patrons, business owners, residents, commercial tenants, etc.), which therefore would preclude residentially-based membership restrictions, which is atypical for the organization's other committees.

Montgomery County Urban District Advisory Committees.  Another model, although it is County-created, is how Silver Spring, and Wheaton have "Urban District Community Advisory Committees," when each of those areas is unincorporated.

More recently a similar committee has been created to advise on issues related to the redevelopment of the White Flint area, which has land use conditions similar to that of Reston, but a much wider array of "property relations."

===============
From Ten Principles for Reinventing Suburban Business Districts:
Community building involves the mobilization of public and private capital to create assets that engender pride and value in a community. It involves the activation and growth of community support through stakeholder consensus. The transformation of suburban business districts relies on a three-way partnership of the private sector, government, and the broader community. Community outreach must be ingrained in the process from the outset.

Many community-building projects have failed or wasted precious time and financial resources either in litigation or in gaining community support because essential communication channels were not established at the beginning. In essence, such communication builds understanding and trust. The three-way partnership should be built on a firm foundation of shared goals and, at the very least, should include a fair and open process that allows all interested parties to be heard before decisions are made and implemented. (p. 11)

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Do tax incentives pay off? : Illinois; Tennessee; Rosslyn + "The Airport Access Factor"

Last week, it was reported that Nestlé, an international foods conglomerate based in Switzerland, is moving their US headquarters from Glendale in Metropolitan Los Angeles, to Rosslyn in Arlington County, Virginia ("Nestlé to move U.S. headquarters to Arlington, bringing 750 jobs," Washington Post).

They will be moving to a signature building that has been vacant ever since it opened in 2013 ("The war of 1812 is over for Monday Properties' Tim Helmig," Washington Business Journal).

From the Post article:
The commonwealth is offering $10 million in cash grants to Nestlé: $6 million as a Commonwealth Opportunity Fund incentive and $4 million from a Virginia Economic Development Incentive Grant. Arlington County is offering an additional $6 million in incentives — $4 million from performance grants and $2 million in infrastructure updates — as well as additional money for “extensive relocation assistance” to help cover expenses related to the company’s move and training of new hires.

Nestlé will spend an estimated $39.8 million building out its share of the 35-story high-rise. The company will take over 40 percent of the building, or about 206,000 square feet, on the top nine floors. The move will begin this summer and is expected to be complete by late 2018.
1812 N. Moore Street building.

Rebranding Arlington County for business independent of government.  Nestlé will be bringing at least 750 high-paying jobs to the area, with the potential for more, and the move of a high profile corporate headquarters will help re-brand Rosslyn as an important business district with meaning beyond associations with and proximity to the federal government, during its process of rebranding and repositioning which took a big hit as the result of the Great Recession.

The Nestlé office building in Frankfurt am Main is topped with distinctive signage that can be seen from a long distance away.

Economic return from tax incentives.  When you figure the number of jobs compared to the amount of tax incentives, it's a bit more than $200,000 per job.

While some think that is too high of a cost ("The Right Note: Nestlé Move to Rosslyn May Be Bittersweet," Arlington Now), the reality is that it is a highly positive economic return, especially compared to Tennessee, where reports say that on average incentives are about $1.2 million per job ("State's largest tax credit for biz costs $1.2M per job, study finds," Nashville Tennessean) and Illinois, where an analysis of the State's main tax credit programs by the Chicago Tribune found that most of the projects did not generate significant economic return ("Chicago Tribune investigation on state tax incentive deals with corporations").

Nestlé has big operations in York, England, and calls attention to this with signage at the local train station.  Photo by Daniel Rogers.

And for roughly the same amount of jobs for GE's move to Boston from Suburban Connecticut, the City and State of Massachusetts are providing upwards of $120 million in tax incentives ("Documents Show Boston Doubled Its Tax Incentive Offer To Help Lure GE," WBUR/NPR) which is 7.5x greater than the amount Virginia and Arlington will be providing to Nestlé.

Corporations moving to "urban" but not necessarily "center city" locations.  This move is in keeping with a rising trend of businesses moving from suburban more disconnected locations to more urban--but not necessarily center city locations--and transit-connected places.

-- "A lesson that seeing is believing: Panasonic's new building in Newark, NJ as an example, positive and negative, in businesses coming back to the city center"
-- "Corporate headquarters relocating to the center city: GE chooses Boston"

In Montgomery County, Maryland, Choice Hotels (to Rockville Town Center) and Marriott (from a highway-centric location to Downtown Bethesda), have moved or are planning to move within the county to transit-connected urbanized centers within the county, rather than to the City of Washington.

Last summer, GE announced a move from suburban Connecticut to Boston and this past month, Caterpillar has announced it will be moving from Outstate Illinois--Peoria--to Chicago. Chicago has been very successful of late in landing corporate headquarters, despite its economic problems ("Caterpillar's HQ Move to Chicago Shows America's Double Divide," Urbanophile).

But Chicago's suburban communities are angling for the Caterpillar headquarters ("Suburbs vs. city of Chicago: Who wins Caterpillar's headquarters?," Peoria Journal-Star) even as companies like Sears and McDonald's are moving headquarters operations back to Chicago proper.

Airport access important, not recognized as a factor in Nestlé's decision.  Apparently, a key aspect of Caterpillar's decision is airport access, and O'Hare Airport is an hour away from Chicago's Downtown.  See the past blog entry "Aerotropoli and rethinking the scale of mobility networks in the context of a global economy."

DC has similar conditions vis-a-vis Dulles as Downtown Chicago vis-a-vis O'Hare.  This might hurt Downtown DC--not for domestic airport access--as a location for businesses with a high demand for international airport access.

(Note that while I think access to National Airport is quite good from Downtown, the fact is that Downtown Atlanta has even better airport access--"Top Global Airports for transit access," Infrastructure USA)

So suburban communities near the airport do have a shot at landing the company.

This shows that mobility is valued at three different scales:
  • city and metropolitan area in terms of employee preferences and access to work; 
  • airport connections to other destinations important to the firm's business; and 
  • time to reach the airport(s) from the headquarters location.
In the media coverage on the Nestlé decision, airport access hasn't been mentioned.  Rosslyn is a short drive to National Airport, which focuses on domestic travel, and a reasonable trip to Dulles Airport, the area's primary international destination serving airport.

Of course Tysons and Reston are better located for based strictly on access to an international airport. But in terms of balancing employee preferences, proximity to federal decision makers, transit access, and airport access, Rosslyn has more potential than economic development planners have realized.

National Airport and Downtown Washington as a location for business.  Similarly, perhaps Downtown DC can do a better job in trying to recruit business headquarters for companies valuing both access to government and to a domestically-focused airport, since Metrorail access to National Airport is quite good, all things considered.

Long term, except that it will take "forever," probably at least 15 years, this is an opportunity for Pennsylvania Avenue and the site that will be redeveloped pending the relocation of the FBI.

-- "Pennsylvania Avenue DC planning initiative"
-- "Could bringing premier regionally headquartered business enterprises to the Pennsylvania Avenue Corridor be key to its renewal and revitalization?"

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Sunday, February 05, 2017

Are we entering a new era of protest in the United States?


Postcard mailed from Washington DC to Seattle Washington in November 1969.

Past articles that address community protest and media include "Grassroots protest communication capability in the city" and "Washington, DC and protest."  Also see "Local history museums and critical analysis opportunities for communities."

The latter piece discusses the role of Washington, DC as the national capital and as a location for people to come together and protest, from Civil Rights to Women's Issues to Abortion to Anti-War to Politics.

The 1960s Anti-war protests were probably the peak of regular protest movements and actions, in DC and around the country.

With the election of Donald Trump as President, there have been repeated protests in DC, across the country, and even around the world--which is remarkable.

Protests happened immediately after the election, in NYC around the Trump Tower, on the day of the Inauguration, the Women's March the day after the Inauguration--more people came to the protest in DC than to the actual Inauguration, at airports ("Thousands protest against Trump travel ban in cities and airports," Guardian) in response to the Executive Order banning travel to the US of people from seven Middle Eastern countries where the populations are predominately Muslim.

This particular postcard was sent by a health care professional to someone that she worked with, addressed to a specific medical ward at the hospital.  She had come to DC for a conference. 

They arrived during a big Anti-War protest, the "Moratorium," and the message comments on how the protest made getting around difficult, that streets were closed, and also full of people.

I had been meaning to write a piece speculating about whether or not we are entering a new era of frequent protest, and in the interim, the Washington City Paper published a great piece on the topic, "District of Protest: How D.C. Will Foster Political Expression in the Era of Trump."

Amanda Kolson Hurley writes:
Not even two weeks into the Trump presidency, it’s becoming clear that large crowds taking to the streets to oppose his administration won’t be a rare occurrence. It’s hard to predict all the consequences for the city, but here are a few to expect.
  • Citizens will feel a stronger sense of ownership over urban space
  • The scale of D.C.'s monumental core will again be a feature, not a bug.
  • More frequent protests will underscore our dependence on Metro.
  • "Protest is the new brunch."
... It’s debatable how long the current mood will last before fatigue sets in. In the meantime, near-daily protests are a potent reminder of how flexible and accommodating our main civic spaces really are. L’Enfant, Washington’s planner, called the Mall his “public walk” and saw it not as an unspoiled green but a bustling space akin to the Champs-Elysees in Paris. He described the future city of Washington as a “system of movement”—which is exactly what it became on Jan. 21.
Some other points.  (1) Social media makes it a lot easier to organize demonstrations ("The Machinery Is in Place to Make Trump Protests Permanent," WIRED Magazine).

(2) Anarchists will seize the opportunity to be violent at protests and this will make it easy for anti-progressive forces to decry, discount, and demonize protest. Organizers will have to develop much more sophisticated approaches and responses if they don't want to be ignored, and if they want to move change forward, instead of being sidelined.

 A UC Berkeley graduate student, Melissa Batchelor Warnke, has a great op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, "Berkeley protesters just fell into the most obvious trap imaginable. Again," discussing recent protests there around the talk by alt-right personage Milo Yiannopoulos.  From the article:
What was originally billed as a peaceful protest quickly turned violent. The bigot didn’t end up speaking to a crowd of several hundred students. Instead, he spoke to a crowd of millions, during an extended interview on Fox News and a series of rants on his Facebook page, where he claimed he’d been evacuated from the campus. ...

East Bay protests are often overrun by relatively small numbers of black bloc anarchists, who hijack the message and the intent of these events. Imagine the peaceful protesters anticipating that would happen, and making clear contingency plans for it. Imagine the bigot strolling out into a near-empty plaza, confronted by his own irrelevance. Imagine students moving far away from the black bloc when it became violent, and holding an equally powerful show of nonviolent disgust, rather than gaping and building the anarchists’ crowd. Imagine another student group hosting a well-attended speech on the history of justice movements at UC Berkeley to coincide with his event. In any other scenario, the bigot would more than likely have gone on being the same fragile, cold-hearted creature he was when he arrived, with the same number of devotees. After tonight’s actions, he has many more.
The volume of ridership on the day of the Women's March made clear failures in the original design of the system in terms of platform width and length, and the limited number of escalators, elevators, and stairways at key stations being too small to handle huge crowds.

(3) In DC, WMATA successfully handled the transportation needs for the Women's March ("Women's March on Washington vs. Inauguration: March crowds take lead," USA Today) when mostly for the past couple years, Metrorail has been an incessant series of failures.  The success--the day was Metrorail's second highest ridership day ever, with over one million rides--was nice to see.

(4) My experience in college--which was a few years after the end of the 1960s protest era (1974 was the end, when the US pulled troops out of Vietnam)--was that a lot of people considered protests from that era a failure and therefore they needed new--read more narcissistic--approaches.

Considering how long social change takes (think of the incidence of tobacco use, dating to the Surgeon General report in 1964 and later steps concerning advertising on television, secondhand smoke bans, etc.), given that the US got out of Vietnam, that LBJ didn't run for president again in 1968, that Richard Nixon was forced out of office because of Watergate, not to mention Civil Rights and Women's Rights gains, it's fair to say that the 1960s protest movements did not fail, but succeeded wildly, in a society where there are many political barriers to social change.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a good example that shows not having an agenda doesn't help propel change forward. And a counter is that the conservative Tea Party movement was successful in propelling change, because they were able to manipulate the bias within how political districts are set up for State Legislatures and the House of Representatives.  See "Beyond Zuccotti Park: Book and Exhibit."

Anyway, Todd Gitlin's book The Whole World is Watching, which analyzed the impact of media coverage by the New York Times and CBS News on the anti-war group, Students for a Democratic Society, is well worth reading about how media coverage influences advocacy groups and how they are perceived, although compared to the minimal world of media back then, and the explosion of online media and social media directly controlled by participants, the world of political action is much different today.


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Receivership as a strategy for notorious nuisance properties

The Washington City Paper has an important cover story this week, "Life Is Hell for Tenants of Giant D.C. Slumlord Sanford Capital," about the systematic abuse of tenants by a residential property owner that seems to specialize in poorly maintained properties catering to the extremely impoverished.  The company has been sued off and on over the years.

Washington City Paper photo by Darrow Montgomery.

For as long as I've written this blog, I've mentioned how some states and cities have very strong receivership statutes, which allow for the seizure of properties, in order to "cure" nuisances and correct behavior. Ohio has a particularly strong statute.

-- Ohio Revised Code; Title 37: Health-Safety-Morals; Chapter 3767, Nuisances; Section 3767.41

 Pennsylvania too ("Pennsylvania passes receivership law with regard to vacant/nuisance properties," 2010). Also see "When tax lien sales further, not staunch, disinvestment: Indianapolis," 2015.

Note that DC Government's management of properties is not such a great track record that they ought to be the manager of such properties. In my writings, I've suggested this authority be given to nonprofits, as is the case in Ohio. To win receivership, a management and action plan must be created and approved by the Housing Court. To clear title of liens and to be awarded the property, the nuisances have to be successfully cured.

Why Sanford Capital's properties aren't being seized is beyond me. (Other than the fact that the city doesn't want to have to have too contentious a relationship with commercial property owners.)

Having such a statute and process in DC would go a long way towards correcting the negative actions of companies like Sanford Capital.

Taking the property will have a lot bigger impact than paying a legal judgement, which is tax deductible.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

DC Public Safety Survey/Search for a new Police Chief

DC has launched a public safety survey as part of the process of selecting a new police chief. Some of the questions are poorly written but overall it's an ok survey. Here are some of my responses for qualitative questions.

About the police department's effectiveness


The survey question is poorly written, as you don't give a neutral option. I'd say that the dept. is reasonably effective, but could be a lot better, were it to have a more structural approach to addressing crime in particularly hard-hit areas. Examples would be the Community Safety Partnership in LA, which is discussed here or better approaches to dealing with people with mental health issues.

What should the department focus on?


DC's police department has more police per capita than any other city police dept. in the US, and that doesn't include the other forces present in the city (Housing Police, Park Police, Capitol Police, Uniformed Secret Service, etc.).

I worry about the constant call for more police officers when MPD has so many more police officers compared to other cities. One question you aren't asking is "better use of police officer time."

Plus, there is a big difference between "zero tolerance policing" and "broken windows policing." It's not clear from these questions that you know the difference. There is also a difference between "increasing the size of the police force" and "maintaining the size of the police force" and using the time better by sworn police officers.

What professional experience should the city be looking for in a police chief?


DC government is not known for innovation. This is true for the police dept. too. I'd like to see a police chief with a sense and inclination for innovation, e.g., programs like the Community Safety Partnership in LA, the way that the Fullerton Police Department in California has completely reformulated in response to a beating death of a homeless man by police officers, the way the High Point, NC police dept. deals with domestic abuse, the way that Boston dealt with monitoring of people on probation, ("Problem-solving probation" and "On probation, at a turning point," Boston Globe), the need for more structured approaches to CPTED and pattern crime, the connected approach of Chris Magnus, now chief in Tucson, formerly of Richmond, CA; the approaches by police departments to mental health matters in San Antonio, and Boston, etc.

Other thoughts on the police chief search


Besides what is mentioned above, I am an urban planner. There isn't a "plan" or "master plan" for the police dept. It would have been useful to create one in advance of selecting a new chief. See "State of Tennessee public safety plan as a way forward to link #BlackLivesMatters agenda with crime dampening" and "Seattle Police Department master plan is quite impressive."

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African-American History Month and (Urban and Transportation) Planning

February is Black History Month and it's a good opportunity for the planning profession to focus attention on African-American issues and cultural history in terms of land use planning, transportation planning and transit, and parks planning (among other disciplines).

Planning and the Black Community is one of the membership divisions of the American Planning Association.  COMTO, the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, is a support and training association focused on strengthening the presence and success of people of color within the transportation field.

Environmental Justice.  The Environmental Protection Agency is a national leader and resource in the Environmental Justice movement, which addresses racial and economic disparities in environmental issues, laws, and regulations (such as locating undesirable land uses such as dirty manufacturing plants or landfills in minority communities).  EJ is one of the bases in the developing field of equity planning.

White privilege/structural racism.  There was a good op-ed piece in the Washington Post on white privilege ("This is what white privilege is").  I hate to admit that it took a long time for me to reboot my own way of thinking about this.
Bus Carrying "Freedom Riders" Burns.
A Freedom Riders bus went up in flames when a fire bomb was tossed through a window near Anniston, Ala. Ambulance drivers refused to take injured black riders to area hospitals. AP file photograph.

Recently, there have been some good articles about the reality of structural racism, which many people choose to not see.

-- "The dangerous myth of the 'missing black father'," Washington Post
-- "Ben Carson's Denial of Reality," New York Times

And I was crushed to learn about structural racism in the 1950s at my alma mater, the University of Michigan as mentioned in an obituary on Dr. Jewel Cobb ("Jewel Plummer Cobb, 92, Dies; Led a California Campus," New York Times.

From the article:
After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Michigan but, because black students were not allowed to live on campus there at the time, soon transferred to historically black Talladega College in Alabama.
I never knew.

If they even notice it, too many people take that kind of structural racism for granted, as a kind of natural law, and these days, because that happened "so long ago," as not a problem relevant to today.

Policing, crime, criminal justice, and public safety.  One element of urban planning is public safety and policing, although usually the traditional "Office of Planning" doesn't interact all that much with a police department, even though typically police departments have research units and they may have planners on staff.

Obviously, with the #BlackLivesMatter movement calling attention to the reality of police officer killings of civilians, while I have been writing about this issue for some time, how this issue is being addressed is changing.

Pieces I've written about LA's Community Safety Partnership and the Advancement Project and Richmond, California capture some of my thinking on the topic as do the writings of Elijah Anderson.

Driving while black.  Many of the police killings of civilians have involved African-Americans being stopped for infractions that might have been ignored had they been white.  See "Philando Castile killing: Officer charged with manslaughter," CNN; "Photo contradicts key claim made by Tulsa police in unarmed black man's fatal shooting," Denver Post.


Image from DownTrend.

Related would be various Black Lives Matter protests conducted in a manner which halts traffic on roadways ("Black Lives Matter protesters block highway in Minneapolis," ABC-TV; "'Black Lives Matter' protesters block I-64 in downtown St. Louis," FoxTV2, and "Why highways have become the center of civil rights protest," Washington Post).

(Note with regard to the latter, during my student protest days in college, I used to say we shouldn't bother taking over the Administration building, which is more about visibility, but taking over the parking garage across the street, where their cars were parked, and the university's two computing centers.)

Transit.  The history of the Civil Rights Movement is intimately linked to transportation access, segregation on transit and in transit stations, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders, etc. PBS had programs on the Freedom Riders a few years ago.  It'd be nice for them to do repeat showings (although at least some PBS stations did run a number of such programs on Martin Luther King Day).

A number of transportation authorities are doing special programs on desegregation of transit.  For example the Hillsborough Area Transit Authority has been running a video ad on the local Tampa city cable channels.

It focuses on the "Freedom Riders," the people who pushed the federal government to enforce public accommodations laws concerning inter-state transportation.  It highlights Tampa Bay residents who participated and the book, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, by Raymond Arsenault, a professor at University of South Florida.

But I think transit authorities ought to compile local histories of transportation and transit including race, public accommodations, environmental justice and other considerations.

For example in DC, transit wasn't segregated (although restaurants and other public facilities were at the time).  But the transit company did discriminate in terms of hiring.

And there may have been issues with inter-state transit, although back then most surface transit services were offered on an intra-city or intra-county basis and didn't cross state lines. This kind of history should be codified, interpreted and presented, during Black History Month and throughout the year.


I can't imagine that transit in the Tampa area was free of discrimination before say 1965, and if so, that history needs to be acknowledged and communicated as much as the "Freedom Riders."

Transportation history and the automobile.  Because restaurants and hotels were segregated, automobile travel could be problematic for African-Americans too.  The "The Negro Motorist Green-Book" was a guide for African-American travelers, providing directions to those places which would accommodate them in otherwise segregated communities ("An atlas of self-reliance: The Negro Motorist's Green Book (1937-1964)," Smithsonian Museum of American History).

The history of urban freeway construction is equally problematic.

The routes for freeways through cities typically disrupted communities, displaced residents, and destroyed neighborhoods.

Mostly, with some exceptions like Philadelphia, the people most likely to be displaced and the neighborhoods wrecked were African-American.  Also see "How railroads, highways and other man-made lines racially divide America’s cities," Washington Post.

-- "Moving to equity: Addressing inequitable effects of transportation policies on minorities," Harvard Civil Rights Project
-- "From racial zoning to community empowerment the interstate highway system and the African American community in Birmingham, Alabama," Journal of Planning Education and Research, 2002
-- "Back of the Bus: Mass transit, race and inequality," Transportation Nation

Transportation Technology.  An African-American, Garrett Morgan of Cleveland created the three-position traffic signal, adding the middle phase "yellow," to what had been two-stage stop and go signals.  COMTO chapters sponsor "Garrett Morgan Days" as a kind of career planning event and introduction to the transportation field.

Granville Woods invented the device that allowed for the transmission of electricity from catenary to the streetcar through a pole and wheel roller.

Biking.  Major Taylor was an African-American cycling racer active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  Today's Major Taylor Clubs (Seattle)promote cycling in African-American communities.

Land Use.  Segregation and racism marks many US center cities.  Segregation through zoning was introduced in Baltimore in the early 1900s and spread very quickly to other places.  Race-based deed restrictions were another way to restrict African-American access to neighborhoods.  So were race-based underwriting standards in the federal mortgage guarantee program--restrictions that were not lifted until the late 1960s.

Urban renewal.  The Urban Renewal redevelopment movement starting in the 1950s frequently targeted African-American and other minority neighborhoods for change, with the residents left on their own for relocation.  DC's Southwest quadrant was one of the pilot locations for testing the program.

I recently came across a fascinating presentation, called the Bulldozer and the Rose, with before and after photos in Southwest DC, by someone contemporary with the process.

Housing and gentrification.  A complicated issue that I have covered many times.

Community Economic Development and Poverty Interdiction.  This is a topic on which I plan to write a position paper on at some point.  In the meantime, Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Dallas, and Richmond have interesting initiatives that bear further inspection.

Parks and recreation.  Historically, parks, recreation facilities and public spaces were also segregated.  Many communities had separate facilities, public and private (such as amusement parks, clubs, etc.) for blacks and whites.  That changed with the Civil Rights laws.

The National Park Service has an initiative focused on increasing the number of African-Americans visiting national parks.  See "National Parks Reach Out to Blacks Who Aren't Visiting," New York Times.

Theresa Brown, Le Droit Park, Washington, DCTheresa Brown, now deceased, was a leader in DC's historic preservation movement and led the effort to create the Le Droit Park Historic District.  Washington Post photo.

Historic preservation.  The National Park Service is also home to the federal government's historic preservation program.  The cultural resource management program of the organization has extensive programs focused on preserving African-American heritage.

Of course, just as urban renewal was called "Negro removal," historic preservation is criticized as a method of reproducing and repositioning space in a manner which displaces low income residents.

Many African-American neighborhoods have been historically designated across the country.  Sweet Auburn comes to mind in Atlanta, Sugar Hill in Harlem, U Street in DC, and the Eatonville Historic District, where Zora Neale Hurston grew up, in Florida come to mind off the top of my head.

History and cultural interpretation/Civil rights history.  Last year the Associated Press reported ("Some civil rights sites at risk of being lost to history) on how there isn't a systematic program on a national scale to preserve places significant to the nation's history of civil rights.

Part of the problem is that there isn't one organization, public or private, to lead the charge.  A counter example would be the Civil War Preservation Trust, which aims to preserve sites significant to Civil War history, or how a number of states have a joint effort to coordinate Civil War history trails across their respective states.

I have suggested that this should be done for African-American history more generally, and could be done for civil rights history as part of that.  Ideally, a national organization like the new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture could take the lead on such an initiative.

History and cultural interpretation/Memorials and Monuments of the Confederate Cause.  There has been a lot of discussion about monuments and memorials to people who were ardent segregationists.  Monuments to segregationists have been defaced in many places across the country as a protest.   Many institutions are changing their policies and practices as a result of this renewed discussion.

For example, South Carolina has stopped flying the Confederate flag--a symbol of opposition to civil rights--at the State Capitol and in other public places.  The University of Maryland has renamed its football stadium ("Maryland Got Rid of a Racist Name… Is It Really That Hard, Pigskins?," Unobstructed View column, Washington City Paper).

Officials in Slocum, Texas unveil a marker that offers a brief account of the Slocum Massacre. (Dylan Hollingsworth/For The Washington Post).

I was impressed by a Washington Post article, "Texas marks racial slaughter more than a century later," about a community finally acknowledging its history of racial violence through the state's historical marker program.

Museums and cultural planning. The Association of African American Museums is one resource. Getting more people to visit and helping such museums become more successful are key issues.

Last September marked the launch of the new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC ("Smithsonian opening African-American history museum on Sept. 24," AP).

Schools.  There has been an incredibly missed opportunity to deal with racial and economic disparities in student outcomes.

DC's focus on testing hasn't done a lot to improve the circumstances of students from impoverished families.

There is a model program in Toronto that sadly wasn't accessed when developing "improvement programs" in DC.  TDSB also has great programs on social inclusion for immigrants.

-- Model Schools for Inner Cities, Toronto District School Board
-- "Model Schools empowers marginalized students — and their parents, too
Poverty throws many barriers in the path of learning; practical supports like cheap lunches and taxi chits can help knock them down
," Toronto Star

I have also been influenced by Marion Orr's Black Social Capital: The Politics of School Reform in Baltimore.

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