Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Study: 'Gated' doesn't equal 'safer'

Chief Rodney Monroe had some other interesting things to say, in addition to spilling the beans about the Ritz-Carlton-EpiCentre noise issue.

After giving a short presentation Monday to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, planning commissioner Nina Lipton asked the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief whether he had any data on safety in gated versus nongated communities.

"We looked at that," Monroe said. The police and planning departments matched up communities as closely as they could, looking at income levels, multi-family, single-family and other factors. In terms of crime rates, Monroe said, "We saw no difference."

What matters in terms of neighborhood safety, he said, is who's living there: Are residents looking out for their neighbors? Are they taking responsibility? If it's a rental community, is there professional management? Are renters being screened for criminal records?

Lipton noted that planners often hear "safety" as a reason to avoid following the city's connectivity standards. Monroe essentially shot down that rationale for gated communities. Just making a development gated doesn't make it safer, he said. "Sometimes it creates an opportunity for me to charge you more."

I asked Planning Director Debra Campbell after the meeting for a copy or a link to the study. She said the department was still looking at the methodology to make sure, as she put it, that they were really looking at "apples to apples" comparisons. She said the topic had been a hot one last winter and spring but with the development market so slow the department hadn't seen any reason to rush to give the information to the City Council. (If I were on the council I might ask them for it again.)

Indeed, I wrote a column about that very topic on Feb. 28, after City Council twice winked at its adopted policies on connectivity, despite planning staff opposition. That column isn't available online for a link. (Update: CharlotteObserver.com's fabulous Dave Enna found it. Here's link.) But it described a a Feb. 16 rezoning for a gated apartment complex near Arrowood Road. The other was a Nov. 17, 2008, rezoning for 300 apartments on Woodlawn Road that didn't want the city-desired connecting street. (That development isn't happening; the Charlotte Housing Authority hopes to put a development there.) Not surprisingly, neighbors near both of those proposed developments didn't want more traffic on their streets. Neighbors aren't always right, you know. As I wrote in February, "Facing a double-whammy of developers and neighbors against connectivity, council members' spines tend to take on a jelly-like consistency."

Monday, December 07, 2009

When cultures collide ... uptown

If you're paying big bucks for a room at the Ritz, do you really want to hear loud bands playing at a huge collection of bars right across the street? Apparently, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe, the answer is no.

Monroe was giving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission a presentation Monday and mentioned the police were getting noise complaints from patrons of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which just opened Oct. 1.

Above the eighth-floor in the hotel, he said, you can really hear the sounds of bands on the rooftop patios. "It'll rattle your windows," he said. "When you pay a thousand dollars a night you don't want your windows rattled."

(Note of responsible journalism here: I checked the Ritz-Carlton web site and a weeknight room can be had for roughly $300-$370, less on weekends. I didn't see any $1,000 possibilities. But then, I couldn't find a room rate for the Presidential Suite, which looks rather lavish.)

Monroe was answering a question from a planning commissioner about how or whether zoning and plans affected crime rates. He pointed out that both the EpiCentre and the Ritz were developments everyone had wanted. "Be careful what you ask for, you just may get it!"

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Governors 1 - Mayors 0

Did the Obama administration and the Congress favor states over cities in the stimulus package? This article in the Atlantic magazine finds evidence that happened. It notes that Veep Joe Biden, in a In a September speech on the stimulus, lamented that “Congress, in its wisdom, decided that the governors should have a bigger input.”

Wi-Fi on city buses?

Keith Parker, late of CATS and now leading the transit system in San Antonio, talks in this Houston Chronicle story about the experiment offering free Wi-Fi in city buses. It's a pilot project, to see if the service gets used by enough riders to make it worth installing permanently.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Charlotte snags 'Smart Growth' award

Although Charlotte's policy to design streets to better accommodate pedestrians and bicycles remains under assault by the local developers' lobby – who claim the extra pavement required for sidewalks and more streets isn't good for the environment – note that the Environmental Protection Agency has given the city an award for those very same Urban Street Design Guidelines.

The EPA announced today that Charlotte is one of four winners of its Smart Growth Awards.
Click on this link to the EPA web site, which should be updated after 3 p.m. Here's what the press release says:

Policies and Regulations: City of Charlotte for Urban Street Design Guidelines. As the central city in a rapidly growing metropolitan area, Charlotte, N.C., is under intense development pressures. Rather than continue the automobile-dominated development patterns of the last 50 years, Charlotte adopted Urban Street Design Guidelines to make walking, bicycling, and transit more appealing and to make the city more attractive and sustainable.

Other winners:

Overall Excellence: Lancaster County (Pa.) Planning Commission for Envision Lancaster County. "Lancaster County, in south-central Pennsylvania, is known for its historic towns and villages, and its fertile farmland. To maintain the county’s character, its diverse economy, and its natural resources for future generations, the Lancaster County Planning Commission established a countywide comprehensive growth management plan, which protects valuable farmland and historic landscapes by directing development to established towns and cities in the county."

• Built Projects: Chicago Housing Authority, FitzGerald Associates Architects and Holsten Real Estate Development Corporation for Parkside of Old Town. "Parkside of Old Town sits on eight city blocks that were once home to a public housing complex notorious for criminal activity. The redevelopment has transformed the neighborhood by reconnecting it to downtown Chicago and tying together mixed-income housing, parks, and new shops and restaurants."

• Smart Growth and Green Building: City of Tempe, Ariz. for the Tempe Transportation Center. "The Tempe Transportation Center is a model for sustainable design, a vibrant, mixed-use regional transportation hub that incorporates innovative and green building elements tailored to the Southwest desert environment. The Tempe Transportation Center is a true multi-modal facility that integrates a light rail stop, the main city bus station, and paths for bicyclists and pedestrians."

More federal streetcar bucks?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in New Orleans, announces $280 million in federal streetcar and bus money to be made available. Streetsblog.org has the story.

It isn't new money, but unallocated funding for "New Starts" programs and buses.
Here's what Streetsblog's Elana Schor writes:

The money is set to be divided into two parts. The first would award $130 million to streetcars and "urban circulators," with a focus on proposals that promote mixed-use development in local neighborhoods. No project can win more than $25 million from that pot, however, which would provide about 12 percent of the funding New Orleans needs for its ambitious streetcar expansion plan.

The second $150 million group of bus grants would go to proposals that "provide access to jobs, health care, and education, and/or contribute to the redevelopment of neighborhoods into pedestrian-friendly vibrant environments," the U.S. DOT said in its announcement.

Obviously, there's no way to know today whether Charlotte's fledgling streetcar project might be eligible for any of that streetcar pot of money. Or what $25 million would pay for.