Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My top 10 urban planning/design thinker

1. Jane Jacobs
2. Andrés Duany
3. Kevin A. Lynch
4. Jan Gehl
5. Rem Koolhaas
6. William H. Whyte
7. Ebenezer Howard
8. Léon Krier
9. Camillo Sitte
10.Lewis Mumford

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Four Freedoms

“In the future days,….we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want–which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants–everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.”

---- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Saturday, September 18, 2010

From NIMBYs to DUDEs: The Wacky World of Plannerese

Planning Glossary
BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything
CAVEmen: Citizens Against Virtually Everything
CEQA: Consultants Employment Quality Act [California Environmental Quality Act]
DBTD/DBTN: Two common vaccines used by planners to “fix” a project they don’t like. DBTD is technically Death By a Thousand Days and DBTN is Death By a Thousand Nicks [also known as the BED Principle—“Bleed ‘em Dry”]
Disneyfication: Architectural fad on a community scale.
Doczilla: Any technical report that should be caged rather than shelved.
DUDE: Developer Under Delusions of Entitlement
Fauxburb: Modern suburb replicating post WWII suburbs with eclectic architecture.
PowerPoint Poisoning: Nauseous state of mind and body induced by viewing “professional” presentations.
Sense of Immunity: Mistaken belief that land use regulation does not apply for a particular neighborhood or site.
SLAPP: Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation

Additional Terms
Spinoffs of NIMBY:
BANYs Builders Against NIMBYs [Not In My Backyard Activists]
GOAH Gedoudaheah
GOOMBA Get out of my business area
GUMBY Gaze upon my backyard [Opponents of residential walls and fences]
KIIMBY Keep it in my backyard
NIABY Not in anyone’s backyard
NIMD Not in my district
NIMEY Not in my election year
NIMFOS Not in my field of sight
NIMFYE Not in my front yard either
NIMTOO Not in my term of office
NITL Not in this lifetime
NOPE Not on planet earth
NORF No observable redeeming features
NOT None of that
NOTE Not over there either
NUMBY Not under my backyard
PIITBY Put it in their backyard
QUIMBY Quit urbanizing in my backyard
WIIFM What’s in it for me?
YIMBY Yes in my backyard

Repetitive, monotonous design of buildings and places:
Anyplace syndrome: No ‘sense of place’
B4 and after: Big, bland, beige box…still. Less than inspiring architecture even with extensive landscaping.
Comprehensive Flan: The relatively bland, custard-like filling in many Comprehensive Plans.
Custard development: Bland clustered development.
Déjàvenue: An impression of having seen or experienced the same street before.
Gagplanistan: A place of massively meaningless planning.
Generica: The stores and strip malls you can see in any town in America.
McPlace: Standardized “sense of place.”
Nullibiety: State of being nowhere.
Pablumia: A universal name for urban communities whose ambiances of uniqueness and regional flavor have been eradicated in favor of cookie cutter chain retail stores, restaurants, background music, entertainment and interchangeable local residents all dressed as Americans. The word is from the baby food, Pablum, which has a bland consistency and is completely tasteless.
Placebo: A place that has the appearance, but none of the value of a real place.
Oatmeal Architecture: Contemporary bland, beige, stucco architecture.
Ranchburger: A one-story generic southwestern tract house.
Replaceable places: The same drive-ins, prefab motels, offices, and salesrooms on every road and corner.
Second Street: Average, lackluster or normal. Stemming from the fact that Second Street is the most common name in the United States.
Taupeville: A neighborhood that requires buildings to be all neutral colors, usually beige and taupe. Generic, non-descript, lacking in personality and boring. ‘Over the taupe’ implies something more creative or excessive.
Terrorforming: Extremely bad urban designing. The opposite of “terraform:” to change a planet’s surface and atmosphere so that life as it exists on Earth is possible.
Urban fabric softener: Generic zoning that smoothes out the distinctions between areas.
Vanilla: An adjective for a bland or boring design or plan.
Betty Crocker Suburb: A suburb without child care facilities.
Blurb: Indistinguishable suburban neighborhoods.
Peter Pan Suburb: Suburb designed without consideration for the elderly.
Sitcom Suburb: Neighborhoods of traditional Cape Cod or colonial houses with neat front lawns.
Suburbidity: A thick, hazy condition of sense of place.

Blandscape architect: Minimalist landscaper.
Bungalow Bill: Tract house architect.
CAVEman: Citizen against virtually everything.
Designosaur: Designer with an enormous impact.
DUDE: Developer under delusions of entitlement.
Hippodamist: A city planner [from Hippodamus, a fifth-century Greek architect, who planned the first city].
Inferior desecrator: Interior designer.
Landscraper: Landscape architect.
Meisterplanner: An artistic or epic planner.

Sense of place:
Scents of place: The odors, smells, aromas, and fragrances associated with a place. The most powerful of the senses is also the most overlooked in planning.
Sense of entry: The front door is big and far away.
Sense of immunity: Mistaken belief that land use regulation does not apply for a particular neighborhood or site.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fortress Australia: Ground Hog Day

Posted: 11 Sep 2010 10:12 PM PDT From Ross Elliott
A decade ago, politics in Australia lurched to embrace all things rural, happily demonizing urban interests. This happened in response to a renegade Politician – Pauline Hanson – who for a time captured public sympathy with populist anti-immigration sentiments, threatening to unseat entire governments in the process.
Now the result of the recent National Election in Australia has seen not only the return of anti immigration sentiments, but the ascendency of anti-growth statements in mainstream politics. For a large country with only 24 million people, it’s a dangerous development.

Two things are shaping in the aftermath of the 2010 Federal Election as portents of things to come for our economic future. One is the rise of an increasingly orthodox view that Australia at 24 million people is reaching its maximum sustainable population. The second is toward appeasing the agrarian socialism and social conservatism of rural politics. Together, this could mean we are about to usher in an era of low growth, high protection policies. Fortress Australia could easily become a reality no matter which side ultimately claims the keys to the Government benches.

Prior to the recent Federal Election (August 2010) both major political parties have become shy of the country’s long term population growth patterns. In September 2009, Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan released some early findings of the Intergenerational Report, which predicted Australia could reach 35 million by 2050. Although this rate of growth was pretty much the same as the preceding 40 years, the figure was greeted with alarm by media, the community, and much of the political herd. ‘Australia Explodes’ went the headlines and the lemmings followed over an ideological cliff. (See this blog post from a year ago).
A month later, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was proclaiming that he believed in ‘a big Australia’ but by mid 2010 his later nemesis Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard was proclaiming she ‘did not believe in a big Australia.’ Gillard replaced Rudd in a Labor Party coup, and then as Prime Minister declared we shouldn’t ‘hurtle’ toward 36 million but instead plan for a ‘sustainable’ population, renaming the recently created portfolio of ‘Population Minister’ the ‘Sustainable Population Minister’ in the process. The word ‘sustainable’ in this context stands for ‘slow down or stop.’

Then came the election campaign with Opposition Leader Tony Abbot promising to ‘slash’ the ‘unsustainable’ immigration numbers (that his mentor John Howard had been responsible for as conservative Prime Minister for over a decade) and to ‘turn back the boats’ of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, mainly from south east Asia or Afghanistan. Population growth was to be cut to 1.4% (a long term trend anyway) and migrants potentially forced to settle in rural areas (some dodgy form of zipcode migration policy).

The message from both political leaders was clear: support for a ‘big Australia’ (35 million population by 2050 or the same rate of growth we’d seen in the last 40 years) was gone.
Add to that the quixotic Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith and his population TV documentary ‘The Population Puzzle’ where he alleged Australia was at risk of running out of food, out of space and out of control, comparing us (oddly) with places like tiny Bangladesh (population 160 million). Smith might be mad but you can’t discount the impact he has on Australian popular opinion. People believe him, politicians included.

Could it get any worse for the prospects of maintaining even modest levels of population growth in Australia? The last election outcome means the answer is yes. The balance of power in the Senate of the Australian Parliament will now be controlled by ‘The Greens’ (a left wing environmental party). The Greens’ view on population growth is clear: they don’t support it (unless oddly if you’ve arrived illegally, by boat). "This population boom is not economic wisdom, it is a recipe for planetary exhaustion and great human tragedy” said Greens leader Bob Brown when the Intergenerational Report was released last year.
In the House of Representatives, the balance of power is now held by a handful of independents, representing rural seats. Socially conservative but economically protectionist, the independents’ views on population suggest they would lean toward the Abbot view: turn back the boats, and slow the overall rate of growth. They are quite likely to also push for a redistribution of economic riches to a range of projects for rural and regional areas. The irony that the election result hinged on big swings in urban seats but that a handful of rural independents are now trying to call the shots shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Joining the growing chorus of slow or no growth chants is municipal government. The Local Government Association of Queensland’s annual conference this year talked of limits on population growth unless bountiful riches are showered on local governments to cope with ‘unsustainable’ rates of growth. Association President Paul Bell says “councils cannot let population growth exceed infrastructure needs.”
"Where we find water supplies no longer match the size of the community, where we find roads are congested, where we're seeing other infrastructure whether it be health or education are falling behind," he said, population growth was by implication to blame.

The bottom line? Population growth is now a dirty word in politics and for any business which relies on growth for its prosperity, this is not good news. Everything from airports to property to construction to farming to retailers, manufacturers and tourism will be affected by slowing growth.
Even social services could suffer if growth is deliberately slowed. Why? Because in 50 years time, without migration or natural growth, the ageing bubble of post-war baby boomers may mean there are two working adults for every five retired. You wouldn’t want to be one of those two and paying their tax bill in 50 years’ time or dependent on the kindness of those workers.

How has this come about? The answer is simple: growth itself has never been the problem. Instead, it’s been a notoriously inefficient planning approach which has misdirected precious infrastructure spending, pushed up housing prices through artificial restraint on supply combined with usurious upfront levies, which now average $50,000 per dwelling in Queensland (often more) and considerably more in NSW.
In the last decade, can anyone honestly claim that our planning schemes are now more efficient and quicker, or more easily understood, or better targeted, than a decade ago? I doubt it.

Would it be too much to ask for a sensible, evidence-based approach that ties population growth to urban and regional strategies, which emphasises economic progress while maintaining lifestyle and environmental standards? How about some decent plans to link regional urban centres to major cities, based not on pork barrels to influential independents but based only on the business case and community mutual benefit? Or how about putting the ‘growth’ back into smart growth, with policies that allow our urban areas to expand in line with demand matched to infrastructure spending, rather than policy dogma?

Those same questions were being asked a decade ago. Welcome to ground hog day.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Australia 2010 unstable politics

On 24 June prime minister of Australia was dumped before facing the voters a second time. This was the first time ever for such an early exit. Then the election on 22 August produced a “hung parliament”, an outcome not seen since the 1940s. Having fallen short of enough seats to form government, the major parties are scrambling for the support of four independents and one Green in the House of Representatives.

So why did the Labor government, elected in 2007, fall apart? There was certainly a lack of governing experience after eleven years in opposition. But in a broader sense, the political class is struggling to cope with Australia’s increasingly regionalised economy, and the divergent sources of its new-found prosperity.
The booming commodities export sector, dominated by mining, is concentrated in the northern and western states of Queensland and Western Australia, which account for 74 per cent of onshore mining production. By 2007, there was a widespread view that the benefits of the resources boom were not being distributed fairly. The service sector professionals of the south-east, especially in the public sector who dominate the national media, began to shift to Labor as did outer suburban workers, who saw the dream of home ownership slipping beyond their reach. Forced to compete for investment in the open economy, south-eastern state governments, controlled by Labor, were constrained to keep taxes low. An ever larger proportion of their budgets was channelled into health and education services, partly due to close links with powerful public sector unions. There was little left to pay for urban infrastructure on the booming fringes.

At the 2007 election, Labor leader Kevin Rudd claimed to have the solutions. Paying lip service to Howard’s fiscal conservatism, he signalled plans to divert mining boom proceeds towards infrastructure and services, including a new deal on health funding and an “education revolution“. Much of this was wrapped up in the rhetoric of climate change, talked up by Rudd as “the greatest moral challenge of our time”. His environmental centrepiece was an Emissions Trading Scheme (cap and trade), a massive revenue raising device for the federal government. In essence it was a mechanism for transferring wealth from the mining states, and their fossil-fuelled economies, to the populous south-east.

Rudd’s electoral success, and apparent public support for climate action, drove the agenda forward until the crash at Copenhagen. This precipitated a revolt in the opposition Coalition, which replaced ETS supporter Malcolm Turnbull with climate-sceptic Tony Abbott. When Abbott labelled the ETS “a great big new tax on everything“, and blocked its passage in the Senate, public interest in the scheme melted away, particularly in the mining regions. Rudd lost his nerve and shelved it until 2012. For many Australians, he was exposed as a weak leader without the courage of his convictions.

Rudd refused to give up his dream of redistribution though, turning to Plan B. Having commissioned a review of Australia’s taxation system, he announced a Resource Super Profits Tax, a complex device confiscating up to 40 per cent of mining profits above a threshold. Adopted without consulting the resources industry, it attracted furious opposition from the global mining companies, which launched a powerful advertising campaign against it. Opposition leader Abbott labelled the measure ”a great big new tax on mining”. Opinion polls showed strong opposition to the tax in mining states, and mild support in the south-east. Rudd’s poll ratings fell through the floor. He was soon deposed by his Labor Party colleagues.

Julia Gillard, the new prime minister, substantially modified the proposal after negotiations with the large miners, but smaller operators remained opposed, along with most of Queensland and Western Australia. Gillard quickly called an election to capitalise on her status as the country’s first female leader. But the legacy of Rudd’s undelivered promises shaped the outcome.

Well over half of Labor’s lost votes moved left to the Greens, who more than doubled their share of the vote, rather than right to the Coalition. Increasing numbers of south-eastern professionals consider the Greens their preferred agent of redistribution. Handing the Greens the balance of power in the Senate, and possibly the House of Representatives (only one seat this time), may prove a better strategy than sticking with a fractured Labor Party. Inevitably though, regional and outer-suburban voters, with their divergent priorities, will react to a green-dominated agenda, which tends to dismiss suburban interests. Over time, and perhaps after the next election, this may mean a shift back to the right and a clear Coalition victory.