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News Summary and Analysis - October 2006
Listen to the audio podcast version of this summary and analysis.
Last month, the United States reached a demographic milestone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 300 millionth American was born sometime in the middle of October. How the country handles its expanding population will become increasingly significant as the weight of this population growth stresses the country's housing supply, its infrastructure, and the global environment. With researchers predicting that the next 100 million will be added to the population by 2050, long-term planning will be critical. While many planners are concerned about the impacts of the growth on development and natural resources, commentator Joel Kotkin argues that America's growing population is not all bad news. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Kotkin says that the population increase gives the nation a competitive advantage over other countries, spurring continued American innovation. By facing this expansion, he says, cities have been given the opportunity to reinvent themselves.
One unlikely American city has already begun its own renaissance. By integrating far-reaching design standards with its master plan, the city of Omaha, Nebraska, may look to become one of the most progressively designed cities in the nation. Metropolis Magazine reports that Omaha's strict design standards are on the verge of being codified into law and have already begun creating vibrant and walkable urban areas throughout the city.
As planners and public officials look to revitalize their cities, they often look to the traditional urban designs of Europe. Now one modern European design movement may be making its way into the U.S. In an opinion piece published recently on Planetizen, authors Heike Mayer and Paul Knox predict that some cities in America will soon become part of the "Slow City" movement – a series of principles which place emphasis on the unique attributes of a place such as small businesses, locally owned restaurants, farmers markets, and socially responsible enterprises.
Whether part of a specific movement or not, creating a sense of place is becoming increasingly important to planners, architects and city officials. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the city's mayor and its urban design community have begun looking to alleyways as prime areas for infusing the city with dense, populated and active plots of organic new urbanism. But the importance of walkable areas is not just recognized in the big cities. According to the Washington Post, a mixed-use, walkable town center was recently completed within the guarded gates of a Virginia Army base. As its population is facing a large increase over the next five years, the base's administrators decided to redesign with principles of New Urbanism, including narrow streets, neighborhood parks and affordable housing.
As other military bases consider making similar changes, developers are considering making two of the nation's most famous streets into pedestrian malls. Developers are considering making the entire stretch of New York City's 42nd Street into a pedestrian mall equipped with a cross-town light rail line. And public officials in California hope to convert part of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills into a pedestrian-only street. Proponents argue that the changes will greatly increase economic activity on the two streets.
And a new trend may be emerging in the field of environmentally-conscious development. Grist Magazine reported that the U.S. Green Building Council is crafting a way to expand its highly-sought Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building standards -- known as LEED -- from concerning just single buildings to entire neighborhoods. The new LEED-Neighborhood Development standards look to create compact neighborhoods based on principles of walkability, a relevant mix of land uses, and an emphasis on environmentally-friendly design and construction. Grist also recently reported on the creation of a home building method that sharply decreases construction waste and the environmental impact of construction materials and of the houses themselves. Sustainably farmed wood and on-site "graywater recycling" are some of the green features of this new method, known as "Cradle-to-Cradle" housing.
And finally, Election Day is approaching and a number of initiatives across the country are testing the limits of property rights. Voters in 13 states are facing decisions about how their states should regulate the acquisition of private property and how affected property owners should be compensated. At the heart of these initiatives is last year's ruling in the Supreme Court case of Kelo versus New London, Connecticut, which gave governments the authority to use eminent domain to condemn and acquire private property in the name of economic development for the benefit of the community. The 13 states in question are Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington. Voters in these states will decide whether their states should limit the eminent domain powers granted to them in the Kelo case. Some states are also considering decisions about taxpayers compensating owners of private property that has been acquired through regulatory takings. Property rights advocates and Libertarians are pushing these ballot initiatives to limit the power of government and its abuses of eminent domain. But many public officials -- especially in the states facing decisions about proper compensation for regulatory takings -- are concerned that passage of these initiatives could greatly reduce a city's ability to afford much needed redevelopment. Whatever the outcome of this election, these property rights decisions are sure to leave at least some stakeholders unhappy.
Below are links to summaries of the articles highlighted in this month's analysis:
The audio segment originally aired on the nationally syndicated radio program "Smart City", which is broadcast in cities across the U.S.