Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fix our pensions like AZ, passing Chicago for #3? avoiding over-regulation, MaX Lanes, and more

I want to open this week by getting a little contrary with this call for more planning, control, and zoning in Houston to prevent future flooding problems.  While I'm sure there's more we can do to make sure new developments retain their runoff, I get a little tired of the call for more controls and regulations every time an averse event happens.  This is how stultifying bureaucracies get built, and once built they're almost impossible to remove.  Repeat after me: "planning does not lead to utopia" (if it did, please point to such a city for me).  If strong centralized planning led to thriving communities without disasters, then the USSR would have won the Cold War and Chernobyl would never have happened. (mic drop)

Moving on to this week's items:
"What would happen if your city, in the name of progress, started giving poorer residents vouchers for landline telephones rather than smartphones? Or if, rather than stocking public libraries with computers, so that people could write emails, your city installed fax machines? You would consider these unnecessary expenditures on outdated technologies. Yet when it comes to public transit, many cities splurge on modes designed for a different time and place—namely light rail.
Instead these officials, often backed by federal grants, are throwing money into a century-old transportation concept that is unfit for most U.S. cities. This is a lazy approach, and insofar as it perpetuates the congestion crisis, it undermines the urbanist cause, by making dense living less convenient. It’s time for transportation planners to emphasize the future over the past."
"And Houston, which lacks a formal zoning code, has become a city that, contrary to its reputation, features numerous skyscraper clusters and whole neighborhoods dominated by new townhomes. 
These trends point out a glaring contradiction in modern urbanist thinking. The people who claim they like density—such as planners, architects, environmentalists, and self-described progressives—also tend to prefer government centralization for cities. And they tend to oppose, as a broader principle, ideas that are market-oriented, anti-regulatory, capitalist, and pro-growth. But they seem not to have pondered how any of these variegated ideas actually work in practice within cities. Centralization has led to a stifling regulatory climate—most notably zoning—that prevents cities from adding new buildings and people, a point demonstrated by the New York Times. A hands-off approach, meanwhile, is what has proven to liberalize cities for this human influx, making them dense and dynamic."
Finally: Arizona has solved pension reform, can we do something similar?

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At 10:52 PM, May 25, 2016, Anonymous Adam said...

Let me start by saying I'm a huge fan of your blog and it's an island of reason for urban planning, but I've been consistently disappointed by your comments since the last flood.

As a strong libertarian myself I think you are offering a straw-man argument. It's the responsibility of any property owner or developer to take responsibility for their actions. If their building has a direct impact on my home then they've violated my property rights. That's the most fundamental aspect of libertarianism and you are largely ignoring it under the guise of "less regulation".

It's not overly regulatory to require people who concrete miles of wetlands, which nature designed to retain and clean water, to deal with the runoff they create for those downstream of them. If you have an alternate or superior model to adding regulations over these issues, propose it. Don't hide behind an overly simplistic statement You didn't provide any argument worth claiming a mike drop.

At 11:04 PM, May 25, 2016, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Maybe I did get a bit cavalier there. I agree that we need development regulations to capture runoff, and we do have those. Maybe they need to be better - I'm not an expert and I don't know. But I know what we don't need is comprehensive zoning that tries to tell everyone where and what they can or can't build. Let the market sort it out and let them be responsible for their own flood insurance.

As far as buildings that have a direct impact on your home violating your property rights, I'd call that a slippery slope. At best this is an indirect impact on your home, as is any building in the metro area upstream of you - should you have a say in everything they build? If an adjacent land use creates a direct nuisance, I think there's a case, otherwise I don't think you have a right to say your property rights have been violated just because you don't like what gets built next to you, or upstream of you.

At 10:03 AM, May 26, 2016, Anonymous Adam said...

I think you can directly tie the paving of thousands of square files of wetlands, an ecosystem that exists specifically for this purpose, directly to worse and worse flooding in Houston. The problem is that you can't tie a single developer or property owner to a single damaged property owner downstream. That doesn't mean its not happening. If you a city upstream of you is throwing their garbage in the river, the city downstream can show damage even if you can't tie each piece of garbage to the town above.

As to exactly how that looks from a regulatory environment I don't know. I'm not an expert either. But I will take a look at any all proposals with an open mind rather than have a knee jerk reaction because it involves updating a building code or uses the word regulation. I don't think making some intelligent changes requires ruining the zoning and flexibility Houston currently has.

I've mentioned this to you on twitter, but I think you could add a lot on this topic, perhaps just by gathering interviews with experts on this topic and asking them questions.

At 1:57 PM, May 26, 2016, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The article I link to calls for far more comprehensive planning and control than I'm comfortable with, thus my reaction. But I have previously agreed it's worth looking at existing runoff retention regulations for new developments to see if they could be improved. I'm assuming the new City Sustainability Czar (Steve Costello) will be doing exactly that.

At 2:25 PM, May 26, 2016, Anonymous Derek said...

Re: "subsidizing 100-year-old technology," how old do you think the automobile is? Furthermore, every improvement to cars and buses that the anti-rail crowd gets excited about is really just making cars and buses more like trains: electrification, automation, driving in tight caravans, separated ROW, etc. Let's just cut to the chase and move to a proven technology, rail, that can run on clean power more efficiently and provide higher capacity and reliability than anything else.

Re: Houston overtaking Chicago - you don't even need to look at Houston's rate of growth, you just need to recognize that all those articles are only comparing Houston and Chicago cities proper, not the metro areas. Chicago's MSA is 9.5 million vs Houston's 6.6 million. We have a long way to catch up.

At 3:55 PM, May 26, 2016, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Well, except for one very major difference: cars and buses can go from anywhere to anywhere - trains are stuck on a very limited linear path.

Agreed on the metro sizes, although metros are a somewhat arbitrary definition (like the separation of SF from SJ). Cities sizes do matter somewhat. I'm not sure NYC, LA, or Chicago would be what they are if they were a collection of small cities instead of the single large cities they are.


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