Category Archives: Land Use Planning

Economic Resiliency: A Do or Die Proposition

March 26, 2011

“Economic resiliency” is a term we’re hearing more often of late. Auto manufacturers in the midwest are shutting down and laying off workers because the earthquake in Japan disrupted the supply of engine parts. Semiconductor chip prices are jumping for the same reason. The Middle East’s “Jasmine Revolution” is increasing oil prices and driving ethanol production, which competes for fields of corn — raising food prices.

Some of the challenges Boulder must address to achieve economic resiliency include a shortage of workforce housing, the need for more year round local agricultural production, and the ability to withstand temporary manufacturing supply disruptions, which may become permanent. When the price of oil rises high enough, “outsourcing” goes away, because the price of transport exceeds the savings realized from less expensive labor and less restrictive environmental regulations overseas.

Boulder would be well-advised to examine our local economy for vulnerability to supply disruptions. “Just-in-time” inventories work great until the flow stops. What raw materials, parts or products do we depend upon now that may become unavailable or unaffordable when predictable, probable disruptions occur? What is Boulder’s back-up plan? It is unwise to ignore the warnings current events are firing across our bow.

The essence of effective long range planning is anticipation of probabilities and preservation of options. If we assume we will always be able to afford what we need to survive after it has traveled half-way around the world to return to us, we may find that our “resiliency” was an illusion.

Regional Planning, Smart Growth, Architectural and General Reading List

prepared by Ed Byrne, President, Regional Planning Services, updated, 3/10/2011

LAND USE PLANNING

Urbanism In The Age of Climate Change, Peter Calthorpe, Island Press, Washington, DC (2011), Calthorpe proves again that he is the master of lifestyle/urban/planet-saving synthesis, describing succinctly what we must do to create sustainable human settlement patterns through smart planning before it’s too late.

The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability, Stephen A Mouzon, New Urban Guild Foundation, Miami, FL (2010), an easy to read, thoughtfully illustrated compendium of planning techniques based upon historically successful patterns and practices. One of the best books in this genre.

Resilient Cities: Responding to Peak Oil and Climate Change, Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, and Heather Boyer, Island Press, Washington, DC (2009), inefficient transportation systems and poorly designed buildings waste fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases; this book shows us how to save our cities and species before it’s too late.

The Regional City – Planning for the End of Sprawl, Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton, Island Press (2001), the latest Calthorpe text, his critique of auto-dependent planning continues to evolve, but now there are more examples showing solutions which are making a real difference in people’s lives today.

The Geography of Nowhere, James H. Kunstler, Touchstone (Simon & Schuster, Inc.), New York, NY (1994), the first howl against sprawl as a lifestyle-destroying development pattern and the beginning of the end of Western civilization.

The Next American Metropolis — Ecology, Community, and the American Dream, Peter Calthorpe, Princeton Architectural Press (1993), great general discussion, with very creative and inspiring examples of “transit-oriented development,” by the leading proponent of New Urbanism (but see Transit Villages for NIMBY reality check).

Crabgrass Frontier — The Suburbanization of the United States, Kenneth T. Jackson, Oxford University Press (1985), the history of urban/suburban development in the U.S. from the 1860’s; Jackson details how transportation options and federal housing policies have influenced community development patterns.

Toward Sustainable Communities, Mark Roseland, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BD, Canada (2005), social equity demands that we balance the needs of the biosphere with the needs of the vast majority of the human population, the urban and rural poor.

Managing the Sense of a Region, Kevin Lynch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, MA (1976), an early take on how the sensory quality of regions is driven by architecture first designed for kings and land management designed for large landowners, not ordinary people.

The Fractured Metropolis: Improving the New City, Restoring the Old City, Reshaping the Region, Jonathan Barnett, IconEditions (HarperCollins Publishers), New York, NY (1995), a how-to book on controlling sprawl, improving urban centers and edge cities, and fitting new buildings in with the old.

Atlas of the New West, William E. Reibsame, James J. Robb, Center of the American West, University of Colorado at Boulder, W.W. Norton & Company (1997), a remarkable collection of data, maps, and prose examining what trends and philosophies have shaped and are shaping the Rocky Mountain West.

Redesigning Cities – Principles, Practice, Implementation, Jonathan Barnett, Planners Press (APA), Chicago, Illinois (2003), is an accessible review of urban redevelopment strategies with a partic­ularly strong chapter on “Sustainability: Smart Growth versus Sprawl.”

Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities, Timothy Beatley, Island Press (2000). A fascinating, exhaustively annotated first-hand study of dozens of European cities that have adopted and are currently implementing Agenda 21, a detailed action agenda from the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Conference on Environment and Development.

Sustainable Communities —A New Design Synthesis for Cities, Suburbs, and Towns, Sim Van der Ryn and Peter Calthorpe, Sierra Club Books (1986), fascinating series of essays by some of the leading planning, environmental, and economic theorists in the U.S.; led to creation of New Urbanist planning movement.

The Smart Growth Tool Kit – Community Profiles and Case Studies to Advance Smart Growth Practices, David J. O’Neill Urban Land Institute (2000), a compendium of specific guidelines and relevant case studies that delivers on the promise of its title.

Charter for New Urbanism, edited by Katherine McCormick & Michael Leccese, McGraw Hill, New York (1999), is a comprehensive look at the underlying principles of the New Urbanism movement. The elegance of New Urbanism is its ability to create attractive neighborhoods within sustainable communities that make sense in a regional context that sell to the ultimate consumer. The best thinking of the movement’s most respected leaders all in one place.

The Practice of Sustainable Development, Douglas R. Porter, Urban Land Institute (2000). A practical guide to envisioning, locating and building commercial, residential and mixed-use projects that can conserve resources while improving our quality of life.

ARCHITECTURE & THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Suburban Nation:: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zybek and Jeff Speck, North Point Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), New York, NY (2000), how the Orwellian world of suburban planning has shaped our built environment and diminished the public life of our communities.

Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia, Robert Fishman, Basic Books (Perseus Books Group), New York, NY (1987), an exhaustive review of the social history of the suburb, beginning in 19th Century London and searching for new, effective urban forms.

Designing The Future, Vernon D. Swaback, AIA, AICP, Herberger Center for Design Excellence, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, (1997), from a former Frank Lloyd Wright student, a beautifully designed and written examination of the challenges overcome by Scottsdale in its search to become a great desert city.

Design With Nature (25th Anniversary Edition), Ian L. McHarg, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, NY (1992), is a beautifully illustrated attempt to synchronize design with nature’s forms and biological imperatives.

It’s a Sprawl World, After All, Douglas E. Morris, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada (2005), demonstrates ow suburban sprawl has fractured social relationships and twisted the American Dream into a nightmare.

True West: Authentic Development Patterns for Small Towns and Rural Areas, Christopher J. Duerksen & James Van Hemert, Planners Press (American Planning Association) Chicago, IL (2003), a well-illustrated and researched examination of the building forms and community plans that have survived the test of time in the West.

The Creative Community: Designing for Life, Vernon D. Swayback, The Images Publishing Group, Victoria, Australia (2003), dedicated to all “who harbor visions of a better world while working to make incremental improvements in the here and now” (features hundreds of images of what works, and what doesn’t).

Design for Mountain Communities: A Landscape and Architectural Guide. Sherry Dorward, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, NY (1990), an evocative examination of the design challenges and solutions unique to mountainous environments with rugged terrain and harsh winter climates, including the Rocky Mountain West.

TRAFFIC CONGESTION

The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry, Robert Cervero, Island Press (1998). Includes extensive analysis of effectively designed and operated transit systems from all over the planet (Curitiba, Brazil; Copenhagen, Denmark; Melbourne, Australia; Tokyo, Japan; Munich, Germany, Stockholm, Sweden, etc.).

Transit Villages in the 21st Century, Michael S. Bernick and Robert B. Cervero, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., (1996), An excellent exploration with concrete examples and imagery of the conflict between placement of regionally significant transit centers and local neighborhood opposition (NIMBY).

Stuck In Traffic — Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion, Anthony Downs, The Brookings Institution and the Lincoln Land Institute (1992), Very readable discussion of the prospects for various traffic reduction alternatives, based upon current development realities and commuting practices.

End Of The Road — From World Car Crisis to Sustainable Transportation, Wolfgang Zuckerman, Chelsea Green Publishing Company (1991), obviously written from a point of view, but entertaining reading and very informative, particularly concerning what other countries are doing about traffic congestion.

GENERAL

Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawkin, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, Back Bay Books (Little, Brown & Co.) New York, NY (1999), an economic prescription for our future, honored in the breach, that remains the best road map out there for retooling industry to save our species.

PLAN B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute, W.W. Norton & Co. New York, NY (2009), on how to restructure our economy, eradicate poverty, and reverse environmental destruction one step at a time.

The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World, Peter Senge, et al., Doubleday, New York, NY (2008), on how systemic thinking provides a toolkit for redirecting our economy to produce meaningful change in how corporations, working with governments and NGOs, do business.

Common Wealth: Economics For a Crowded Planet, Jeffrey D. Sachs, The Penguin Press, New York, NY (2008), describes how, if we act quickly, we can reap huge benefits for shared and sustainable prosperity and peace worldwide by addressing the needs of the world’s poor and the global environment.

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, Mark Lynas, National Geographic Society, Washington, DC (2008), discusses in a carefully researched and cited, but engrossing read how each degree of global warming will inexorably change our current way of life.

$20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, Christopher Steiner, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY (2008), explores how gasoline price increases will ripple through our economy, forcing a restructuring of our lifestyles, for better, not worse.

Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization, Jeff Rubin, Random House, New York, NY (2009), our economy, built as it is on cheap energy, is about to be transformed, reversing globalization and requiring local manufacturing and agricultural capability to secure economic resiliency in the future.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell, Back Bay Books (Little, Brown & Co.) New York, NY (2002), complex theories made simple with clear, elegant prose, explaining why human begins influence change through social behavior that far exceeds that produced by technological innovation.

Reinventing Government — How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector, David Osborne and Ted Gaebler, PLUME (division of Penguin Books) (1992), provides great examples to use with bureaucrats who profess that “it can’t be done.”

Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke The World, Liaquat Ahamed, The Penguin Books, New York, NY (2009), Pulitzer Prize winning story of how a handful of central bankers inadvertently caused the Great Depression, setting the stage for WW II.

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, Daniel Yergin, Free Press (Simon & Schuster), New York, NY (2008), Pulitzer Prize winner, more than you ever wanted to know, but less than you need to know about how the oil industry has shaped the twentieth century and still threatens to destroy the twenty-first.

An Empire Wilderness: Travels Into America’s Future, Robert D. Kaplan, Vintage Books (Random House, Inc.), New York, NY (1998), a glimpse of how America, fractured along lines of race, class, education and geography may appear in wealth-stratified, transnational world.

The Death of Common Sense, Philip K. Howard, Warner Books, Inc., 1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020 (1994), It’s such a good read, full of horrifying examples of bureaucratic brain death (in thrall to the rules), that the last person I lent it to didn’t give it back, so I can’t give you more details.

Management For A Small Planet — Strategic Decision-Making and the Environment, W. Edward Stead and Jean Garner Stead, Sage Publications (1992), worth it for the Bibliography alone, exhaustively researched, easy to read, hard to put down.

The Ecology of Commerce — A Declaration of Sustainability, Paul Hawken, Harper Business (division of Harper-Collins publishing) (1993); Preface and Chapter I are truly inspiring.

Material World – A Global Family Portrait, Peter Menzel and Charles Mann, Sierra Club Books (1994), a classic work featuring photographs of families from all over the planet, shown with all their worldly possessions. The contrasts are startling, and the message is one anyone struggling with resource conservation and social justice issues will appreciate.

New Year’s Resolutions, circa 2011

January 2, 2011

Let’s take ourselves less seriously, set aside our historic community feuds, extend our planning horizon, and begin the process of saving our species. Mother Nature doesn’t care about us all that much. At this point, Mother Earth can support microbes and cockroaches more easily than humans. Where is Plan(et) B? The dinosaurs had it done to them, but we’re doing it to ourselves; and we think we’re the intelligent ones?

We hope we can save ourselves by tinkering around the margins (i.e., buy a Prius, install solar panels, insulate, grow your own vegetables, install low flow shower faucets [been there, done that]), but what we really need to do is restore turn of the last century streetscapes. You know,: the walk to work, bike to school, say “hi” to the neighbors at the corner grocery store, take a train to the big city once in a while world that is the definition of nostalgia now, but was all we needed to survive without cheap oil in its day.

We need modernity’s antibiotics, birth control and Internet, but we also need to wean ourselves off of outsourced manufactured goods and 3,000-mile salads in favor of home-grown food and home-made stuff that isn’t dependent upon $50/barrel oil for its creation or $3.00/gallon gasoline for its transport. We can expect those prices to double or even triple in the next 5 years, but so what if they don’t? What makes you happy? Less driving? Shopping closer to home? Follow your bliss in 2011.

BVCP Misses Opportunity to Embrace Positive Change

December 4, 2010

Our economy and quality of life are dependent on cheap energy. However, people in China and India want what we enjoy, too. Congress will now ignore this competition for resources. Therefore, the ongoing BVCP 5-year update ought to have special significance and a sense of urgency. Instead, staff’s time and resources are being used to tweak land uses around the margins of only those areas within the City likely to develop in the next five years.

The BVCP identifies the need to reconfigure sprawl by adding mixed-use neighborhood and subcommunity centers along transit corridors and at transit nodes, but then yields to political expediency by embracing “areas of stability” and “areas of change” concepts that leave most of Boulder’s residential neighborhoods off the table. It is high time we acknowledged that much of the residential development added to Boulder since the 1950s is neither walkable nor primarily self-sufficient, and has only limited, inconvenient access to transit.

The BVCP’s current geographical focus needs to be expanded to include the North Metro region’s commuter-shed. We need to make local planning decisions in a regional context and create a forum where regional stakeholders can meet regularly to better anticipate and coordinate them. Our human settlement patterns must be adapted to nurture greater social and economic resiliency, particularly with respect to workforce housing and local agricultural and manufacturing capability. Held captive by past zoning decisions and philosophies, we are squandering an important opportunity to stretch our vision into the future and embrace positive change.

Fourmile Fire Rapid Response

September 11, 2010

Wisdom? Common sense? Compassion? Boulder County’s regulations should be imbued with all three of these values. Time will tell. The Fourmile Fire has claimed 139 homes. The innocent victims can not be made whole, but we need not add to their pain. Many carefully followed the County’s wildfire mitigation requirements, believing it would protect their homes. Which requirements helped? Made no difference? Made matters worse? We must learn from this tragedy by studying the homes saved and lost – this wisdom has come at a high price, but our friends have already paid it.

Common sense and practicality demand that the procedures typically required to obtain a building permit to replace an existing home must quickly be adjusted. Many insurance company policies require replacement within 12 months – delays beyond that deadline can cause coverage to lapse. More homes were destroyed in two days than have been processed, inspected and approved by Boulder County in the past two years. New homes proposed to replace the old ones that are approximately the same size and are more energy efficient and fire resistant than their predecessors should be fast-tracked.

Architects, contractors, banks and other consultants will soon be in great demand. In today’s moribund construction market, bargains can and must be found. Compassion requires that the development community work together with Boulder County to minimize costs and delays in providing what the victims need to return home sooner than later. We deserve to be judged by the quality of our response.

500-Year Flood Land Use Regulation

August 28, 2010

When Boulder Creek is full, Barker Dam is overflowing, and thunderheads are growing behind the Flatirons like a Doug West painting, flood experts will tell you the chance of the 100-year flood remains “once in a hundred years,” by definition. Even with our state of the art monitoring systems, we will only receive about 20-45 minutes of notice before the big one hits.

We’ve chosen to regulate land use based on the 100-year event. It could happen within our lifetimes, or within the expected life of the structures we build. The characteristics of the 500-year flood are quite different. Like some of the water in the 100-year flood, its water won’t remain within the river channels formed in Boulder long before settlers arrived. It’s not a mile wide and an inch deep (more like 1-3 feet in most places), but one look at the maps will show you that a whole lot of Boulder is going to get wet. It won’t stay wet for long. Services will be interrupted, but they may return to normal in a few days. Our flood will not be like the ones in Iowa or New Orleans. It’s more like a toilet flush.

Identify the properties at risk. Floodproof infrastructure. Plan how to direct people to higher ground. Segregate hazardous wastes. Relocate the elderly and the disabled (eventually) to move them out of harm’s way. Get insurance. When the sirens go off, turn off the power to prevent fires. Let’s not get carried away

500-Year Flood Regulation, long version

August 28, 2010

I have had a morbid fascination with the 100-year flood ever since I was a city prosecutor working in the Justice Center in the early 1980’s. I called the flood folks on a day in early June when the banks of Boulder Creek were full, Barker Dam in Nederland was overflowing, and thnderheads were building like a Doug West painting west of the Flatirons. “What is the chance of the 100-yuear flood today?” I asked. “Once in a hundred years,” I was told. I thought the odds would shift when conditions were right, but, other than flash flood warnings, our state of the art monitoring systems will only provide us with 20-45-minutes of notice before the big one hits.

Climate change is increasing the risk of violent storms, but until the warning sirens go off, by definition, the 100-year flood remains a 1 in a hundred year risk. So also with the 500-year flood, except, of course, it will occur once every 500 years. We’ve chosen to regulate land use based on the 100-year event, which makes sense. It could happen within our lifetimes, or within the expected life of the structures we build.

The characteristics of the 500-year flood are a bit different. Like some of the water in the 100-year flood, its water won’t remain within the river channels formed in Boulder long before settlers arrived. It’s not a mile wide and an inch deep (more like 1-3 feet in most places), but one look at the maps will show you that a whole lot of Boulder will get wet. It won’t stay wet for long, and the vast majority of people will be able to stay out of its way.

15-20 other people attended the 500-year open house on 8/24/2010, plus 5 or so City staff members. If implemented, the regulations proposed could impact many aspects of our lives that are yet to be considered (i.e., is a 1 in 500 year event a sound basis for regulation? how might our built environment be altered by creation of barriers to prevent any property damage that might result? is the shallow, but extensive pool of shallow water spilling out beyond the 100-year regulatory flood plain destructive enough to warrant significant intervention? how do Boulder’s flash floods [with dissipation in a matter of hours or, at most, days] differ from the flood characteristics that have recently been observed in Pakistan, China, New Orleans and Iowa, and what should that tell us about the nature and extent of regulation required? Does it make sense to build “fixes” that may or may not last for 500 years, so we can be protected from a harm that may exist for 2-3 days? Is there any urgency to do something? Is it reasonable to require that comments from the open house be submitted within 2 weeks [on or before September 6th!]? Does this provide sufficient feedback for such a potentially dramatic shift in planning principles? etc., etc., etc.)

BVCP: Lead Follow or Get Out of the Way

July 24, 2010

In Boulder County, there are delightful, walkable neighborhood centers in most of our historic downtowns. It is, perhaps, worth noting that they were built before zoning regulations existed in Colorado. The downtowns of gridded streets and alleys were established along railroad tracks that were the West’s lifelines at the turn of the last century. They evolved naturally in response to business innovation and customer preferences. From a carbon footprint perspective, per capita energy use and waste were, of necessity, optimized and minimized.

Those involved in the Boulder Valley “Comprehensive” Plan 5-year update process should bear this history in mind. The end of cheap gasoline may have us headed “back to (survive in) the future.” We’re all in this together, too; Boulder cannot meet this challenge alone. We must expand the BVCP planning geographic and time horizons, not because we can control either variable, but because our plans will be be more successful if we consider them.

I believe our greatest challenges in the next decade will be driven by the price of fuel. We must develop a more resilient economy capable of replacing essential agricultural and manufactured goods with local production capacity. Our workforce is the other indispensable community resource that will be harmed by escalating fuel prices. We need to make it possible for more of them to sleep in Boulder, not just work here. Their return to walkable, transit-utilizing, primarily self-sufficient neighborhoods with robust community and regional connectivity could save us. The BVCP should make it possible.

Upgrading Boulder’s Rental Housing

April 24, 2010

I have many friends on both sides of this issue, and I stand with my friends! Two weeks ago, I wrote in this space that we shouldn’t drill for expensive oil or harm the environment and people mining coal “until our energy system has been fine-tuned to waste none of it.” More than 50% of the dwelling units in Boulder are rental units (surprised?).

For most, there is a fundamental disconnect. The people who pay for utilities, the tenants, do not own the homes. Neither owner nor tenant has sufficient economic incentive to insulate, caulk, upgrade furnaces, refrigerators, washers & dryers, etc., on their own, or they’d have done so already. What you hear instead are horror stories, gaping holes in roofs, plywood doors, and $300 utility bills.

The entire community can benefit from more energy-efficient rental housing, but who should pay? And which fixes will provide the most bang for the buck? Will rent increases to cover a landlord’s costs be offset by lower utility bills for the tenants? Will higher rents simply cause tenants to move further away, increasing Boulder’s carbon footprint with longer commutes?

Government has to know its limitations – it is the trim tab, not the rudder. Shine a bright light on a market factor like energy efficiency. The players in the marketplace often do the rest. For starters, Council should pass full disclosure rules that reveal average utility costs. Smart tenants may then reward responsible owners. If they don’t, turn it up a notch.

Conservation Is a Conservative Value

April 10, 2010
By Ed Byrne

When an addict wants to threaten his dealer, “I’m looking for a new supplier” has no where near the impact as, “I’m clean and sober, and I intend to stay that way.” For the good of the planet and to strengthen our economy, we have to kick the carbon fuel habit. That such a commitment would rattle a few cages in the Middle East, Venezuela and West Virginia is just a side benefit. Such a commitment will also evidence a willingness to sacrifice to secure a better future, a quality noticeably lacking in the U.S. since WWII.

Our “burn” rate is alarming enough by itself, without bending environmental laws or incurring additional human and ecosystem health risks to feed our energy-consuming beast. We must create economic resiliency in our towns and cities, while hedging our generation’s GHG/Post-Peak Oil bet. Let’s plug every hole, insulate every wall and roof, calk every window (after replacing the porous ones), retire every gas guzzler, ride every bike and bus we can, build new walkable neighborhood centers, add multi-family homes along transit corridors, etc.

We know what needs to be done, but we’re whistling past the grave yard, hoping to put it off another day. Instead, let’s reduce our leaks and our profligate use of carbon fuels, before opening up the supply spigots further. Expensive, hard-to-find, environmentally risky oil and coal production should wait until our entire energy system has been fine-tuned to waste none of it. Conservation is a conservative value, isn’t it?