Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vision California - Page 2

Inherent in many politically oriented land planners is their great desire to create communities that are perfect. If the streets are laid correctly (i.e. gridded), if there are front porches (that can be successful only if there is a cable tv connection), and the garage is hidden (thus removing the evil auto from sight), our new towns will be wonderful.

Faced with the messy problem that people do like their cars, tv, curvey streets and cul-de-sacs; they continually push for general plan and zoning regulations that outright outlaw these elements of suburbia. Yes, these simple things are now codified out of existence through town laws and ordinances across the United States. (Well except for the tv bit – politicians do know their media outlets).

Yet the fundamentals of the marketplace challenge these new requirements. Vision California promotes the need to push homes closer together, rebuild urban areas, densify edge cities (regardless that they were once low density suburbs), and promote if not mandate transit oriented development (TOD). As a planner I am comfortable with many of these goals but they should be determined in the marketplace by the buyer and user – not forced through preventive ordinances.

Currently I am working on exactly these types of residential neighborhoods in Hayward, Milpitas and Santa Clara – all successful, all infill and transit oriented - and they have replaced land uses that have become obsolete, unnecessary, or just plain social disasters. These are partnerships between the developer and city and have created excellent neighborhoods. But they start at $450,000 and go up from there to near $800,000 – in today’s rough marketplace. The buyers have no cheaper options and the city then extracts fees for its affordable housing simply because they required the builder to reconstruct the surrounding streets and improve city utilities to many homes not a part of the new neighborhood. Easily more than a third of the cost of these homes is in other improvements not directly associated with the development. This is not the case elsewhere especially in the outlying areas.

This is why, in spite of planner concern and dogma, residential sales will return to the outlying areas during the next five years, the flight from the city and marginal suburbs will continue, driven by value, price, and availability. In the long term, jobs and facilities will follow, just like they have for two hundred years across the expanding United States. I recommend three authors who continually challenge these political planner's efforts: Joel Kotkin, Forbes columnist, futurist, and author of many books on the urban situation, The Next Hundred Million, America in 2050, The City, and other thoughtful books on the urban condition. Wendell Cox is an international demographic and urban policy consultant and brings a unique perspective in his War on the Dream, How Anti-Sprawl policy Threatens the Quality of Life. And Robert Bruegmann and his Sprawl, a Compact History, that shines a light on this pejorative term that changes the debate before it can begin.

Till next week . . .

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