Yglesias discovers the comprehensive plan

Matt Yglesias, Slate writer and MOU (market-oriented urbanist), laments Minneapolis’ NIMBYs (emphasis mine):

…if each NIMBY group gets its way, then the “push the costs onto other people” plan becomes self-defeating. Others bear the costs of your NIMBY actions, but you bear the costs of their NIMBY actions. What’s needed is a citywide institutional framework that leads to a less-dysfunctional outcome where valuable projects are allowed to go forward.

Perhaps some sort of community visioning session that combines a look at projected growth, market forces, neighborhood desires, externalities of development, transportation impacts, and comes up with a mutually-agreed-upon document that can guide regulatory land use controls?

Or perhaps he means, as a friend emails, a comprehensive plan and zoning code that aren’t influenced by residents/stakeholders? 1) Good luck and 2) that kind of defeats the purpose.

See my early screed about MOU “solutions”.  MOUs claim market forces can unlock better outcomes for our urban areas, but the big barrier is really one of better process and collaborative decision making, which gets short shrift or no shrift at all in these posts.

Empty lots

Empty Lots in a photo project of Chris Keimig documenting all the empty parking lots in downtown Minneapolis.  He recently ran some numbers on a section of 5th Avenue South (think Metrodome/Downtown East area).

Well, over the weekend, we finally took the time to crunch the numbers, and—to say the least—they are pretty staggering. Along a single stretch of 5th Ave. South (a stretch that occupies ten entire city blocks and spans three-quarters of a mile), drivers have their choice of no fewer than 7,401 parking spots. This number includes all parking lots and parking garages that can be accessed along this stretch of 5th Avenue and includes 2,666 surface parking spaces as well as 4,735 garage parking spaces spread between 5 above-ground garages. Most of these lots can be accessed for an entire day for five or six dollars (or less than it takes to get to and from downtown via an express bus), and most of them also don’t reach capacity even during the busiest times of the day.

Study: city dwellers produce as much CO2 as countryside people do (but urban form still matters)

A new study of two metro areas in Finland proclaims to “illustrate that the influence of urban density on carbon emissions is insignificant”.  This study was published in Environmental Research Letters.  You might remember other studies that seem to indicate the opposite.

The idea that urban form has a significant impact on emissions and therefore should be considered during planning and land use decisions is embraced by many urbanists, environmentalists and scholars.  Others disagree with this position, saying us “sanctimonious urbanites” may be overplaying our hand.  I don’t think this latest report really does anything to resolve the “GHG blame game” (or, as I prefer to call it, an accurate accounting of externalities).  In fact, if you look at the data, it supports the notion that land use and transportation decisions and patterns have a significant impact on emissions.  While trying to avoid sanctimony, let’s look at the details.

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Take the skyway

Leif Pettersen chronicles his experiment with long-term skyway-only living in VitaMN.  He didn’t venture outside any skyway-connected space for two weeks this last winter.

I did work downtown for a period (and will soon return), but it was in the warehouse district, which isn’t well connected to the skyway.  Reading this gave me a new appreciation for just how completely downtown Minneapolis is oriented towards the skyway.  It almost made me change my opinion on whether they are good or bad for downtown.

You can see a doctor, dentist, optometrist or hairstylist. You can get your body pulverized by a masseuse, chiropractor, personal trainer or yogi. You can apply for a passport, renew your driver’s license, pay back taxes, get married, get divorced and sue your ex-spouse. You can hire a Realtor, shop for a condo, engage a mortgage broker, secure a bank loan and furnish your new home. You can take your in-laws to a very nice dinner, then a live theater show, movie or sporting event, and leave them at a respectable hotel. You can buy groceries, fill prescriptions, get a tetanus shot, do your dry cleaning, go to church and outfit an exceptional wine-tasting party. You can take university classes and go swimming, art-spotting or bar-hopping. You can send a package, receive a package, gift-wrap a package and get your package waxed. All this and much more — without ever stepping a toe outdoors.

Kids in the city presentation available

A big thanks to everyone who attended the ULI Minnesota Kids in the City Program on March 10th.  The panel was excellent and the discussion was great.  Below is the intro presentation that was given during the event.

ULI YLG Kid-Friendly Cities 3-10-10

Steve Berg Is An Urbanist Who Doesn’t Hate The Automobile

Steve Berg compliments conservative politicians success at simplifying and demonizing the car-hating left to their political advantage.  He makes his position clear (which I’m sure he shares with many urbanists):

In fact, I love to drive. The family road trip was a staple when the kids were small. I can easily recite the roads and distances between Washington, D.C., and Boston or the scenic detours between Minneapolis and San Francisco, then down the Coast Highway to San Diego. There’s nothing like the freedom of the open road.

But for me driving is a little like chocolate. It’s a wonderful indulgence that is easily overdone. When everyone drives a lot, things get out of hand: traffic congestion, air pollution, storm-water runoff, oil spills, greenhouse-gas emissions, oil dependence, foreign-policy complications that sometimes lead to wars, sprawled development, redundant infrastructure, drive-through lifestyles that lead to bad nutrition and obesity — all of these things can be laid, at least partially, on our need and desire to drive excessively.

The position us urbanists should all adopt:

Urbanists are accused of wanting to take away people’s cars and force them to live in tight quarters, but that’s absurd. Urban-style living isn’t for everyone. People should live where and how they want. What urbanists do favor, however, is a system of rules and prices that fairly reflect the costs of people’s decisions. Those who prefer to drive long distances and occupy large footprints should pay a fair cost. Those who choose smaller footprints shouldn’t be penalized by cumbersome rules or burdened by price systems that continue to reward inefficiency and heighten risks to the environment and to national security.

These don’t seem like elitist or radical positions to me. They seem reasonable and downright conservative, even patriotic. They pose no threat to personal liberty so far as I can see. Most important, they are proactive. I’d rather anticipate the future than try to recapture a past that’s already behind us.