Top Planning Issues Of 2006

From green building to the housing bubble, the editors of Planetizen review the most talked about stories of 2006.

January 8, 2007, 7:00 AM PST

By Planetizen Team

Over the course of the year, the Planetizen staff editors review and post summaries of hundreds of planning and development-related articles, reports, books, studies, and editorials. Before we close the book on 2006, we like to look back through all the news stories and pick out the top planning issues and trends of the year, incorporating what Planetizen readers think is important from the popularity of each article we post.

What follows are the top planning issues –- five in all -- that we believe were most important in 2006.

Property-Rights: The Kelo v. New London Backlash

The Supreme Court's 2005 ruling in the case of Kelo versus New London was a call to arms for many landowners and property rights activists. Throughout 2006, numerous court challenges to the use of eminent domain by local governments were made across the country. This backlash culminated in November, when ballot initiatives or constitutional amendments in 12 states asked voters and legislators to decide whether the eminent domain powers granted by the Kelo case should be limited – some of them clones of Oregon's landmark Measure 37. All but three states passed these initiatives, boosting the rights of property owners and restricting the ability of local governments to seize private property.

Downtown Redevelopment and the Problem of Gentrification

A trend appearing across the nation in cities big and small is the development or redevelopment of downtowns. These areas are gaining clout as a kind of "blank canvas", ready to be rejuvenated in the name of economic development. They are also gaining popularity amongst luxury loft and condo developers, who are rapidly buying up old office buildings and warehouses in the downtowns of some of North America's biggest cities. But while this recent revival of interest in often ignored and abandoned city centers is providing needed economic growth for their cities, the low-income residents of this formerly-unwanted real estate are seeing rents shoot far out of their price range. Gentrification has pushed thousands of downtown residents out of their low-rent housing, such as old warehouses, lofts, and single-room occupancy hotels. Though the cities see a downtown renaissance resulting from the influx of predominantly younger residents with money to spend, displaced lower-income residents are left looking for another place to go.

The Katrina Cottage and the Promise of Prefab Housing

The lack of affordable housing is a growing problem in many communities across the country. In no place is the housing shortage more evident than New Orleans. More than 300,000 homes were lost as a result of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. In the time since the devastation, efforts to house the displaced have been slow to progress. Many residents were forced to move out of town or even out of state just to find a place to live. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reacted by sending out RV-like trailers to some residents as temporary housing, but the waits are long and the supplies are few. The architecture community has responded to the area's need by designing simple pre-fabricated housing, now known as "Katrina Cottages". These small, sturdy, storm-resistant homes have been designed to cost about $60,000 to build – a significant discount compared against the $75,000 FEMA trailers. Demand is high for these neo-traditional cottages, which can range from 400 to almost 1,000 square feet and house up to four people. While bureaucratic delays are hindering the dispersal of federal money to provide cottages for Katrina victims, prospective buyers from across the country are looking to get Katrina Cottages for their own less-than emergency use, such as guest houses, vacation homes, or even ski lodges. Responding to the demand, Lowe's Company -- one of the nation's largest home-improvement retailers -- began selling plans and materials for the cottages in about 30 of its Gulf-region stores. Affordable housing developers are also taking note, hoping to use this innovative new housing type to provide housing to lower income families.

The Bursting Of The Housing Bubble

The 2006 trend with possibly the most widely-felt effect has been the bursting of the real estate bubble. The housing market experienced a significant cool-down in 2006, flipping poles from a seller's to a buyer's market. But this hasn't just meant that sellers are being forced to reduce their asking prices. Homeowners who used adjustable rate mortgages to get in the door are finding themselves on the threshold of defaulting. And homebuilders with growing inventories are slowing production and cutting jobs. As falling prices (equaling decreasing household wealth) and growing unemployment in housing-related sectors begin to detract from the nation's sense of economic wellbeing, some economists are concerned about a general economic slowdown or recession in 2007.

Green Building Going Mainstream

2006 was what many environmentalists like to think of as the year everyone else finally started hearing what they were saying. From global warming to hybrid cars to alternative fuels, green thinking definitely got a little bit closer to going mainstream. This was especially evident in the fields of planning, architecture, and development, where green building saw a huge increase in use, affordability and acceptance. Green roofs and energy-efficient designs are becoming increasingly popular with big-name architects, and these environmentally sustainable designs and methods have become almost standard in any high-profile development. The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building standards – known as LEED – have become highly sought. Some cities, such as Boston, Seattle and Salt Lake City, require LEED certification for all new public buildings. And many universities have made a pledge to operate their campuses at carbon-neutrality – meaning their facilities and campuses are or will be designed to reduce as much carbon-dioxide as they produce. And as the environmental effects of climate change continue to be seen, trends such as these are sure to continue.

Did we miss anything? Can you predict the top issues for 2007? Write a comment below and let us know.


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