Must see: Dr. Jovanna Rosen discussing her research on community development agreements

This is well worth your time. Dr. Rosen just completed her doctorate here at the Price School. Here’s the seminar:

And here’s an abstract:

Beginning in the early 2000s, community development agreements emerged as a land development innovation intended to foster equitable development and enhance community control. Under community development agreements, including community benefits agreements and project labor agreements with community workforce provisions, stakeholders leverage urban growth to promote community development and facilitate urban development. These agreements enter into a long history of land use exactions and bargaining for development, but introduce a new way of governing urban development, one that can either circumvent or supplement existing land use approval and policy formulation procedures, in favor of deliberation directly between stakeholders to create local benefits distribution policies through agreement.

However, early evidence indicates that many community development agreements are not producing all of their promised outcomes to community stakeholders, and little research has explored how implementation occurs. Existing theory on consensus building and deliberative governance overlooks implementation, but provides reason to believe that these agreements may systematically fail to deliver substantive change to marginalized groups, including community stakeholders, despite good faith deliberation and consensus. In this dissertation, I build four case studies to examine a) agreement, b) how, and the extent to which, community development agreements produce outcomes, and c) how stakeholder interests and incentives may shift during implementation and influence outcomes delivery.

I find that community stakeholders may have little direct control over outcomes delivery. They must rely on other stakeholders to realize their benefits. Community outcomes are among the last to materialize, after other stakeholders may have achieved their original goals and retain little incentive to produce community outcomes. In such cases, community stakeholders can use indirect tactics, including community monitoring and enforcement, to induce other stakeholders to produce community outcomes, but at a significant cost. This implies that community development agreements offer a fundamentally limited, though potentially net positive, strategy for generating lasting community change.

Alec MacGillis’ two implied critiques of Richard Florida in the New Republic

Attention Conservation Notice: It takes two to tango.

The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis has a piece up on what Richard Florida is up to now that he’s been proven wrong…which makes me wonder, why, exactly, this type of stuff is New Republic worthy, and what do we mean by wrong. The piece has a “this is what happens to celebrity superstars” tone to it, while I have often been critical of Richard Florida, I do have to ask whether any of this “oh he was so wrong about cities” stuff really matters in the way that MacGillis thinks it does. Florida proposed a theory that, when you read the books, really didn’t hold up for anywhere other than particular places. In this, he joins myriad other examples from economic development and planning, where many many particular ideas that have functioned well in particular places fail to generalize other contexts. Florida’s major problem has always been trying to make things straightforward when, in fact, stuff like cities and growth and quality of life is difficult to understand, let alone manufacture. Over the years as I have gritted my teeth as Florida produced book after book–with all the cringe-worthy name dropping–I also have spent a good deal of time wishing that Florida was right about cities and knowing full well he wasn’t. I sometimes wonder how many people who lined up behind Florida knew full well it was way more complicated than Florida made it, but who wanted answers anyway, the easier the better, and thought that partial, implementable measures might be better than the status quo.

The critique from the New Republic centers on two things, one that strikes me as somewhat fair and another that I don’t think is fair at all.

Let’s cover the first, somewhat fair critique: that Florida (and the New Urbanists–I say this, not MacGillis) contributed intellectual fuel for the ever-present and insatiable desire that affluent (and white) people have to congratulate themselves for being the center of urban life and urban economies, and to exclude from their urban spaces people who aren’t like them, like people who actually get dirty when they work for a living, or anybody poor, or who hasn’t gone to college. Hello, Mayor, you now how have the intellectual justification you need to explain why you are going to have your BID folks harass homeless people out of downtown areas–because “creatives”, including finance types, think those others are unsightly, and those creatives are the most important class of people in your city. You have a reason to pass that no-lying-down ordinance, San Francisco, because your economic health hinges on the keeping those people away so that the creatives have a nice hygienic playspace. BTW, Richard Florida’s creative class mantra is joined by myriad other social forces in creating an environment where nobody but the shoppers, sippers, and spenders are allowed: 9/11 brought us a whole host of security rationales, appealing to the right the way Florida has appeals to the left, for why ‘those people’ shouldn’t be allowed to loiter in front of my restaurant or smell up “my train.” Particularly sad, however, is the way that Florida’s followers appeared to buy into the implied idea that creative class benefits trickle down. Trickle down. What a hateful metaphor, anyway. Making cities fortresses for capitalists and affluent professionals, it’s good for everybody, as those folks drive growth, which lifts all boats, and trickle trickle trickle trickle. It turns out that like wealth in general, wealthy enclaves are mostly beneficial to the people who get to inhabit them.

Thus, it is not fair to lay gentrification or Brooklynization at Florida’s feet. The problems with academic celebrity is that academics should be able to try out and reject ideas rather than become poster boys with $40,000 workshop fees because of a static set of ideas–that much is clear from MacGillis’ essay, and he’s right about that. There’s much to deplore there, but I doubt many people would turn down the money if it were on offer to them, particularly in the chance to go out and talk about their ideas, which academics love to do. But the Florida phenomenon is a lot like the Rogoff and Reinhart deal: their paper, not peer-reviewed, and their book (lightly peer-reviewed, likely) became cited and famous not because of the inherent power of their ideas, but because they said things that many, many people wanted to hear. So maybe there is lots of fault to go around for the Brooklynization of our neighborhoods.

The second implied critique strikes me as not fair at all, and that is the idea that Florida’s ideas about growth in the city would have informed us much about the recent recession, or what the recent recession proves or disproves anything about Florida’s ideas. Urbanists far and wide tend to think very little about business cycles or macro phenomena in general. There is so much sugar water in pretty bottles sold in urbanist thought that every model that gets out there promises us that if we only follow, we will be thin, sustainable, and wonderful in every way. Extending that to mean economically resilient isn’t much of a stretch, but I don’t think Florida made the claims that the creative class drives the macroeconomy, nor that they would bulletproof the macroeconomy–he just said they were good for urban and regional economies. As we know, scaling up from individuals to who economies is a problem, and the problem doesn’t go away when you try to scale from individual neighborhoods to regional economies (which Florida does try to do) or from regional economies on up, either.

All that said, apparently, Richard Florida is now writing a book about inequality. Sigh.

Selections from Plan On! My brilliant students’ blog

Hey, if you aren’t reading the blog maintained by my brilliant USC students, you are missing out. I believe this year’s editor is wonder-student Stephanie Byrd.

There’s Jackie Illum reviewing The Garden Movie and discussing the use of community gardens to create place and interaction

And here’s Paige Battcher writes about Digital Story-telling in LA, and the connection between journalism and urban planning.

Karen Chapple on California’s Redevelopment Agencies

When Governor Brown first mentioned the plan to cut back on redevelopment agencies, our Op-Ed person asked me to write about it. I wrote about how an optimal gas tax would eliminate the need for so much cutting, and the Op-Ed guy snuffed it, saying basically that “taxes are dead.”

I rejoined that I didn’t know anything about redevelopment agencies other than I don’t like them very much–which isn’t much of a rationale for an Op-Ed, let alone policy recommendations.

Why don’t I like? In LA’s case, I don’t understand why redevelopment money got put into LA Live, and I don’t understand why, when there is public money in a project, we don’t even get a bench at the bus stop outside LA Live out of the deal. LA Live turned out to be a cash machine. Couldn’t that have happened without taxpayer money? Couldn’t public money have gone to improving the transit environment around the development?

Perhaps I am mistaken about that deal.

And why is there no joint development with the Blue Line light rail after 20 years? Are we only interested in large-scale, super neoliberal corporate festival marketplaces rather than small businesses in actually depressed areas?

Karen Chapple, professor at Berkeley, summarizes the policy and planning argument against redevelopment here. I particularly appreciate the emphasis on affordable housing, which I might have put as my first point simply because I think that’s turning out to be one of the biggest barriers to growth in California.

The Sprawl/No Sprawl-Productivity Connection (?!)

From Papers in Regional Science, a new paper shows the connection between lost labor productivity and sprawl. From the abstract:

This paper draws on urban agglomeration theories to empirically investigate the relationship between the economic performance of US metropolitan areas and their respective amounts of sprawl. To measure urban sprawl, we construct a distinctive measure that captures the distribution of population density and land-use within metropolitan areas. Using both ordinary least squares (OLS) and instrumental variables (IVs) approaches, we find that higher levels of urban sprawl are negatively associated with average labour productivity. This pattern holds even within given industries or within given occupational classifications.

link: Urban sprawl and productivity: Evidence from US metropolitan areas – Fallah – 2010 – Papers in Regional Science – Wiley Online Library

Here’s their sprawl measure:

It’s a relative measure: L% is the percentage of the regional population living in block groups with population densities lower than the US median, H % is the percentage of the metropolitan area living in block groups above the US median. The number is going to range between 0 and 1, with higher numbers meaning greater sprawl.

So the least sprawled regions wind up being the big metro areas, with some surprises:

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano-Beach, FL — 0.3405
Stockton (!!!) — 0.3394
CA Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI — 0.3329
El Paso, TX — 0.3315
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA –0.3176
Honolulu, HI — 0.3170
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA — 0.3104
Laredo, TX — 0.2620
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long-Island, NY-NJ-PA — 0.2479
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA — 0.2313
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA — 0.2058
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA–0.1630

According to their measure, Los Angeles is the least sprawled metro region in the country, beating out New York and San Francisco.

This creates problems. Because Los Angeles IS what people worry about when they worry about sprawl.

The most sprawled:

Barnstable Town, MA–0.9497
Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL –0.9232
Punta Gorda, FL –0.9041
Panama City-Lynn Haven, FL –0.8868
Spartanburg, SC –0.8767
Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL –0.8722
Burlington, NC–0.8657
Fayetteville, NC — 0.8560
Lakeland, FL — 0.8538
Chattanooga, TN-GA — 0.8478
Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC — 0.8404
Fort Walton Beach-Crestview-Destin, FL — 0.8402

They find that the connection to labor productivity comes from the share of population who has a college degree. That is, the self-selection of college graduates in the denser regions. It’s hard telling what these findings really show; their data year is 1990, and the sprawl measure is blunt.

They play with different sprawl measures, and their findings are pretty robust.

So if they are right, what does this mean? I’m a wee bit worried about this finding, actually. It suggests that the connection between sprawl and labor productivity derives from residential self-selection into particular metropolitan regions–the big ones–rather than from anything related to physical aspects of urban form. They aren’t, for example, capturing any real inherent disadvantages from commutes on labor productivity, or loss of connectivity in the exchange of ideas. Instead, it’s a matter of correlation rather than causation: high-productivity laborers like urban amenities–Richard Florida’s arguments.

If that’s the case, the labor productivity nexus can change a lot if those taste preferences change.

Go read the full article:

Fallah, Belal, Mark Partridge, and M. Rose Olfert. “Urban Sprawl and Productivity:Evidence From US Metropolitan Areas.” Papers in Regional Science (2010).

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Between Church and State- Salt Lake City’s City Creek Center

One of my students this semester sent me the following link to an interesting development conflict in Salt Lake City:

Salt Lake City Journal – Project Renews Downtown, and Debate –

Churches as developers is not a new phenomenon, as Catholic Churches wielded (and continue to wield) enormous financial and political capital in the places they hold land. The LDS folks here are pragmatically allowing the development of liquor licenses. IOW, they seem to be acting like any other property developer.

One of the things I always wonder about, however, is what would the US be like if it ever went the way of Iran–going from a modern state to religious one. I know plenty of people think that Christian groups have far too much influence in the US as it is. But I could imagine a world where nation-states have largely dissolved in favor of city-states. If that ever happened, what would these cities be like? Would churches become less pragmatic and more prescriptive, being such major landholders, in a city-state? Or would global economic pressures force cosmopolitanism?

Clearly I am skylarking, but it brings me to the thought that came up as I was reading the story: well, if church development of its own property is a problem because it’s a church, what, exactly can Salt Lake City do about it? I assume the church holds the property at a certain level of zoning which entails by-right development intensities. Other than denying approvals for changes or trying to argue that the church can not develop or hold property, I can’t think of anything that prevents a church from doing what any other developer would do.

The problem, from the social inclusion/sustainability perspective, is not that real estate companies, whether they are some billionaire LA developer or a billionaire Church like the LDS, creates these kinds of faux-public space developments. The problem is the underprovision of genuinely public places like parks and squares in the chronically underfunded cities like Los Angeles. It’s not that these developers are really doing anything sinister; the problem arises if cities are not doing their job as public space developers in keeping pace with providing good spots for activities that don’t involve shopping or having to buy a $4 latte to sit down anywhere.

Unsustainable losses of human capital

The L.A. Times today has a story on bike lanes in Long Beach (yay) and homicide deaths in LA County.

While I generally do not like statistics that try to equate risks in a numbers game–like somehow death, injury, and suffering are linear metrics when they are not–about 250 children die in the entire United States each year from bike crashes. Don’t get me wrong: that is unacceptable. Our goal should be zero.

Nonetheless, that is about the same number of people who died of gunshot wounds within a 4-mile buffer of one part of Los Angeles in just two years. The whole country on the one hand; a 4-mile buffer on the other.

It’s not that we shouldn’t care about bike lanes; we absolutely should. It’s that we have to expand our notion of what the sustainable city is and what does not happen in it. While the addition of bike lanes is a victory and I am glad, there is no victory in the sustainable city until that 4-mile buffer in South Central (or whatever the city is trying to get us to call it now) is as safe as the many 4-mile buffers in Santa Monica that haven’t seen a single homicide death in years. As we focus on important issues like climate change, we must also think about the social devastation of poverty, desperation, and social exclusion played out on the scale we see it in Los Angeles. These deaths–predominately male, predominantly among people of color–are an environmental justice issue.

My colleague David Sloane, works with the city to study and try to intervene in gangs. One of his many gifts is seeing the real issues–the ones that really matter–in the life of poor neighborhoods. Check out some of his work:

Sloane, D.C., with C. Maxson, K. Hennigan, et. al., “It’s Getting Crazy Out There: Can a Civil Gang Injunction Change a Community?”; Criminology and Public Policy 4(3): 577-606; 2005

Sloane, D.C., with L.B. Lewis, L.M. Nascimento, et. al., “Assessing Healthy Food Options in South Los Angeles Restaurants” ;American Journal of Public Health, 95/4: 668-673; 2005

Sloane, D.C., “Bad Meat and Brown Bananas: Building a Legacy of Health by Confronting Health Disparaties around Food”;Planners Network (Winter 2004). Reprinted in T. Angotti and A. Forssyth (Eds.), Progressive Planning, pp. 49-50; 2004

Sloane, D.C., with A.K. Yancy, L.B. Lewis, et al., “Walking the Talk: Process Evaluation of a Local Health Department-Community Collaboration to Change Organizational Practice to Incorporate Physical Activity”; Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 10(2): 120-127; 2004

Sloane, D.C., with A.L. Diamant, et al., “Improving the Nutritional Resource Environment for Healthy Living through Community-Based Participatory Research”; Journal of General Medicine, 18(7): 568-575; 2003