Threads in New Urbanism News 6-25-10

Transit Funding — The Austin City Council has determined to hire a consultant to determine how to pay for their urban rail system.  In the meantime, DART is starting a pilot program for paid parking at two of their new train stops — for those coming to a DART parking lot from a non-DART city.

What Makes a Great City? Speaking of Austin, the combination of cheaper real estate (than say California) and a fun city to live in has helped Austin attract a younger population, but as the city matures wealthier, older, mainstream people are moving in – which may make it harder to “keep Austin wierd” and real estate prices will likely increase. There are some common characteristics to great cities.

Shaun Donovan, at the Atlantic’s Future of the City Forum, noted that the average household spends over 50% of its budget on housng and transportation, and in some places in excess of 70%, leaving no money for groceries, medical care or child care — and no time for family as we face long commutes, making “drive until you qualify” an unworkable family situation both economically and socially.  Take Stockton, CA — 2/rds of homeowners owe more on their house than it is worth, and drive 46 miles each way to work. 

Density & Driving Less – A recent University of Utah study shows that if you double density, you’ll get a 5 to 10% reduction in vehicles mile travelled and that best way to minimize driving appears to be to develop in existing centers near the core of the metropolitan area, in areas of high destination accessibility where there are a whole lot of jobs near by.  And ULI’s report, Land Use and Driving, confirms this finding — Compact development—mixing residences and other buildings in pedestrian- and transit-friendly places—offers many benefits, from fostering the emergence of vibrant, walkable communities to lowering infrastructure costs. And a California study shows that well-planned land use could dramatically decrease pollution and household cost burdens.  Over the next 20 years, California will need an astonishing 2 million new homes to accomodate its growing population, and passenger vehicles are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, so location, density and transit-connectedness are critical to the state’s future.

Is Gas too Cheap?  There are a lot of costs of driving using gasoline that are not readily apparent — although the Gulf Oil disaster does highlight the direct ecological effect, including the impact on fisherman, tourism & real estate.  But the hidden costs of gasoline go on.

ParkingCould eliminating parking spaces actually cause less traffic?  Someone in the elevator today actually said “our company should not subsidize parking — it just encourges driving and discourages transit use?”  [and this is in Texas where owning a car and using a car is the key to freedom and part of the “American way”]

HUD & Sustainability — HUD has announced that as part of reviewing federal dollars grants and loans for sustainability, it will use the LEED for Neighborhood Development scoring to rate the “location efficiency” of the community project.  And HUD and DOT announced a new $75M grant program for sustainable communities.

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About Bob Voelker

Head of the Munsch Hardt (Dallas law firm) Hospitality & Mixed Use Development Group, and former developer of affordable housing. I'm i
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