Land Value Capture and City Finance

A long post about urban infrastructure finance via “Land Value Capture” from Next American City.  The general idea is that the provision of public goods — roads, sidewalks, transit lines, sewers, utility lines, etc — adds value to the property which it serves.  This value pertains to the location, not the improvements any developer might have built (or refrained from building) on the property.  Land value capture mechanisms seek a slice of that incremental value to re-pay (or finance) the provisioning of those improvements.  It’s a feedback loop that results in density without lots of debt financing on the part of the city.

Cars? Not For Us

The Atlantic recently had a piece looking at the decline in home and car ownership amongst the young, and their migration to urban centers, dubbing this “The Cheapest Generation”  This demographic felt the need to explain the freedom of not owning in their own words, pointing out that cheap and broke are not the same thing, even though they can be similar, behaviorally.

The Case for Separated Bike Lanes

Even just barely physically separated bike lanes command much more deference from motorists than paint on the ground.  Would-be urban cyclists consistently (and Boulder is no exception here) cite fear of traffic and the desire for separated infrastructure as the number one reason they don’t bike at all, or don’t bike more.  And it doesn’t have to be a big infrastructure investment — even just red plastic cups taped to the edge of the bike lane will keep cars at bay!

Energy Intensity and Boulder’s Climate Action Framework

With this year’s expiration of the Kyoto Protocol and our Climate Action Plan (CAP) tax, the city of Boulder is looking to the future, trying to come up with an appropriate longer term climate action framework, and the necessary funding to support it.  To this end there’s going to be a measure on the ballot this fall to extend the CAP tax.  I’m glad that we’re talking about this within the city (and county), because at the state and national level, the issue seems to have faded into the background.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away.  This year’s wildfires, the continuing drought that’s decimating the corn and soybean harvests, and the phenomenal 2012 arctic melt season are just appetizers.  If the last decade’s trend holds true, we’ll have an ice-free arctic ocean some September between 2015 and 2020.

The major sources of emissions, broadly, are electricity generation, transportation, the built environment (space heating, cooling, hot water, lighting), agriculture, and industry (the embodied energy of all the stuff we buy, use, and then frequently discard).  The extent to which local government can impact these areas varies.  We interface with embodied energy most directly when it comes to disposal and at that point, the materials have already been made.  Similarly, most of our food comes from outside the region.  Our most ambitious project so far has been the exploration of creating a low-carbon municipal utility.  We’ve also potentially got significant leverage when it comes to transportation, land use, and the built environment, since cities and counties are largely responsible for regulating those domains in the US.

Continue reading Energy Intensity and Boulder’s Climate Action Framework

How far will we walk?

How far will we walk to go somewhere depends on the quality of the walking experience.  An obvious conclusion maybe, but one that bears repeating.  In central Paris or Rome, folks will regularly walk 5 miles a day, and enjoy it, because the cities are lively and interesting the whole way.  I have an elderly friend in San Francisco who regularly walks all the way from the Presidio, where she lives, to downtown (and sometimes back again) for errands, but also for the people watching and joy of it.  Density alone is not enough to make a place walkable, and lower density — if it’s interesting enough — can still entice people to wear their comfortable shoes.  Good details in the original post.

The Next Wave of Urban Growth

Where the Next Wave of Urban Growth Will Come From, the Harvard Business Review looks at a study from McKinsey, detailing the economic centrality of cities, vs. national economies.  Large cities and modest countries are now of the same scale, and cities are growing much much faster, economically.  If you’re going where the market is, most likely, it’s in a bunch of towns you’ve never heard of, each with a population of several million.  Mad change.

The Diverging Diamond

Strong Towns takes on The Diverging Diamond and suburban traffic engineers everywhere.  It’s nice to see someone on the conservative end of the spectrum also arguing passionately for livable density and good urban spaces.  He comes to it from an economic point of view — we don’t have anywhere near the pile of cash required to maintain the infrastructure we’ve built (and we never will, because it’s expensive and does not come close to paying for itself in terms of economic benefits)  so we need to let it crumble or actively remove it, and go back to a network of roads connecting places, which are filled with streets — networks that facilitate local activity, especially economic activity, and which are cheaper to maintain as well.  And better for pedestrians, and kids, and biking, and sidewalk cafes too.

He’s got a good TEDx talk too, up here:

Rethinking the Economics of Traffic Congestion

The Atlantic Cities takes a look at the Economics of Traffic Congestion.  It turns out that congestion is positively correlated with per-capita GDP, and there’s little evidence to suggest that traffic congestion ends up inhibiting economic development significantly.  In their words it’s nothing more than a metric of how convenient it is to drive an automobile.  But many cities still insist on “Level of Service” as a metric of success in their transportation master planning process, under the assumption that congestion must necessarily be bad for the economy.

Google Street View for building energy efficiency

Essess is doing drive-by thermal imaging in high density urban areas across the US, hoping to target possible building energy efficiency opportunities.  Another company is using urban satellite imagery to choose the best rooftops for solar energy siting.  Big Brother may be watching you… but at least occasionally he’s got the right idea.