Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When cultures collide, you get - chipmunks?

OK, this is just a fun little posting to illustrate how we can all be so embedded in our own cultures and circumstances that we sometimes need to see things from others' eyes. I remember experiencing this years ago, when I traveled to Europe the first time. Among the things that struck me (in addition to great french fries, excellent bread and tasty beer) were small differences in things I had simply never realized might be different: doorknobs (they were handles, not knobs), light switches (the flat kind) and pillows (round bolsters).

So last week we were walking down a street in Athens, near the Central Market, and we pass a pet store. In a cage, next to the usual birds, etc., we see for sale - for 35 Euros each (about $43) – chipmunks. Yes. Photo evidence here:Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Major income stream in the back yard! Just got to work out a few hundred details ...

Monday, June 28, 2010

New look at old problem: Paying for transportation

RED WING, Minn. – Planning consultant Scott Polikov from Fort Worth, Texas, has an idea that needs a bigger audience. It's about how you find money to build transit systems. That's a problem Charlotte is facing, along with dozens of other U.S. cities. Based on his thinking it's something Charlotte has possibly mismanaged, along with many other places.

The key understanding is that building a transit system (or any transportation system, whether it's highways or canals) creates huge profits for real estate interests. Example: A transit authority will announce it's building a line, and where the stations will be. Then it will go out and buy right of way, often through eminent domain, along that planned route, paying now-higher land prices, since the building of the line will make that land worth more.

"In Europe, the landowner pays for the right to have the station," he said.

Why shouldn't the government (that is, all of us, since we are the government) capture some of the value that it's creating (that we're creating) by building that infrastructure?

Indeed, in the pre-crash era there were developers who were seriously thinking about putting up millions to build Charlotte's proposed commuter rail transit lines, because they knew it would make their development significantly more valuable. The same was true for the Triangle Transit proposed transit line.

Sometime, credit for real estate development will re-emerge. When that happens, why shouldn't the Charlotte Area Transit System, for instance, auction off the development rights at the transit stations? And then use that money as a revenue stream? (Yeah, yeah there are a lot of legal issues involved, not to mention political ones.)

Consider how development has occurred along the Lynx light rail line through South End. The line was fixed. In an understandable effort to lure transit-oriented development at the station areas, the city has doggedly gone in and pro-actively up-zoned land to the TOD zoning – thereby giving away huge land value to the property owners. It also gave away any real power the city planners might have had to force better urban design onto that TOD development. If you're already allowed by right to do your TOD, why should you listen to the city's request that you do something different – for instance, including some affordable housing units?

(I'm at a yearly conference among people affiliated with the Citistates Associates, a loose coalition of planners, economists, think-tankers, current and former elected officials, Chamber of Commerce execs, etc., who share an interest in metro region growth issues.)

Best tax revenue bang for the buck? Not what you'd think

RED WING, Minn. – If you're worried about local government's fiscal crisis – and if you're not, you should be; it's why hundreds of local teachers are getting laid off, libraries closed and hours slashed – then you should read this.

I'm listening as Peter Katz, a local government official from Sarasota, Fla., shows a series of charts and graphs and talks about property taxes in Florida. In terms of land development in Florida, he says, "It's like we're falling off the edge of the earth. People are completely freaked out."

So he decided to look at exactly where local property tax revenues come from. He shows bar graphs showing residential property tax revenue per acre in Sarasota County. The biggest revenues come from city residential areas.

Next he shows bar graphs showing revenue per acre for retail development. Here comes surprise No. 1. Wal-Mart/Sam's Club development brings in only about as much, per acre, as city residential. (Think of all those acres of parking lots.) The biggest revenues come from Southgate Mall, an upscale shopping center. That's not so surprising.

Then he shows the one that blows away the room – and this is a room of growth policy geeks, remember. He shows a bar graph on a whole different scale. In terms of property tax revenue per acre, high-rise downtown urban mixed use projects bring in more local revenue than even Southgate Mall, by what looks to my eye as a factor of about 10.

Next highest is mid-rise urban mixed use projects.

"From a fiscal standpoint this really puts hair on your chest," Katz says to chuckles in the room.
Less than an acre of downtown high-rise mixed use urban development brings in more property tax revenue than a 21-acre Wal-Mart Supercenter, he says.
Update here, Thursday 7/1, after I get some information from Katz: He says, " Less than an acre (.75 actually) of downtown high-rise mixed use urban development brings in more property tax revenue than a combination of the 21-acre Wal-Mart Supercenter and the 32-acre Southgate Mall, the county’s highest end commercial property with Macy’s, Dillards and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Then they looked at the payback time for the infrastructure costs for the development. The payback time (measured in property tax revenue, I believe) for the urban mixed use development was three years. Want to guess the payback time for infrastructure built for a planned mixed use development out at a highway interchange? It was a whopping 42 years.

Some disclaimers: Katz notes that they weren't measuring sales tax, only property tax. He also notes that there's obviously a limit on the market for high-rise mixed use projects in any downtown. And I'll note that this posting is a real-time one, and I haven't had time to check with Katz to ensure that I've totally gotten his stats correct.

Update No. 2: Katz notes that the tax analysis was done by Joe Minicozzi of Public Interest Projects, Inc., in Asheville.

(The event is a yearly conference among people affiliated with the Citistates Associates, a loose coalition of planners, economists, think-tankers, current and former elected officials, Chamber of Commerce execs, etc., who share an interest in metro region growth issues.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

In Charlotte, walking has pleasures but problems, too

In my life as an associate editor at the Observer I've written a lengthy piece about my experiences walking 4-plus miles to work once a week in Charlotte, since March. Here's the piece, with a photo slideshow.

But it's too bad the slideshow with the package doesn't show the evil "goat path" along Runnymede, where the sidewalk has not been cleared, to my observation, since at least 2001. Doreen Szymanski of the Charlotte Department of Transportation told me she believed the city had cleared it, at least once. I drive that way almost daily, however, and have never seen it cleared of muck and leaves. I've posted a photo below.

Some adjoining property owners – who ARE RESPONSIBLE because property owners bear the responsibility for keeping sidewalks clear of obstructions – have not-so-helpfully planted holly bushes there, the kind with prickly leaves. So if the bushes ever grow you'll be crowded off the goat path and onto the teensy planting strip.

I'm already getting emails from readers, including one from someone who's a quadriplegic. She writes:
"As a quadriplegic and wheelchair user, I blog about wheelchair pedestrian safety frequently. So many people fail to recognize that, as paratransit cuts continue, even more blind people and wheelchair users are taking to the streets to get around to doctor's appointments, grocery stores, etc. as a necessity. Passable sidewalks, street signals and driver education are urgent concerns that need to be discussed in communities."

Another reader tells of stealth pruning:
"After years of watching walkers and joggers (me included) duck -- or walk in the street to avoid -- low hanging branches on the sidewalk next to a large condo complex, I took my loppers in the dead of night and did some heavy pruning.Now, once a year or so, I just have to do some light maintenance. I leave the clippings -- in the case of the first year, the limbs -- on the grounds of the condo complex, thinking they would get the hint. Now, several years later, I STILL have to do my midnight pruning."

Here's the photo of the Runnymede goat path, with holly bushes:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Charlotte bankers: Armed and dangerous?

I stopped into Johnny Burrito, one of my favorite uptown lunch spots, today and Johnny himself (aka Johnny Bitter) was behind the cash register. He thanked me for a photo I had shot in May that ran in the Observer with an editorial about the visiting NRA convention. The photo showed a sign he had put up offering a free soda or iced tea to anyone showing a gun permit.

They'd had a lot of business after the photo ran, Bitter told me. Because his shop is in the basement of the Building Formerly Known As Two First Union (sorry but I have no clue what its name is anymore, it's the College Street tower behind the Atrium on South Tryon), he'd had a lot of Wells Fargo folks come in, he said. Showing their gun permits.

It was a surprising number, he said. And they were mostly concealed-carry permits. Regular people, he said. Many of them long-time and frequent customers. People with families and everything. Who knew?
Of course, you're not allowed to have a gun in the bank towers. But if it's a concealed carry permit ...
Happily, no gun play broke out at Johnny's and hasn't, to our knowledge, broken out at the bank tower either. Just don't get too snippy with that teller, or your loan officer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Memory, culture and 'architectural cleansing'

ATHENS – You've heard of ethnic cleansing. Architect Christos Floros of Athens popped out with a new term on Monday: "architectural cleansing."

Sadly, I needn't have listened to the long history of demolitions in Athens to have been able to understand the term. Hey, I live in Charlotte, where what we really need to memorialize at The Square in the heart of the city is not another piece of odd, or clumsy, public "art" but a bronzed bulldozer.

(I'm at a conference, in Athens, of the Johns Hopkins University International Fellows in Urban Studies. [Hat tip needed, here, to other sponsors: Chicago Dwellings Association (akin to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership), the Museum of the City of Athens, Panteion University of Athens, SD Med Association, Pantheon-Sorbonne (Paris 1) University and UMP Geographie-cites (CNRS). And a disclosure: The International Fellows Program paid my travel expenses to the conference.)

The conference theme explores whether memory (that is, the past as reinterpreted by the present) is an asset or an obstacle in urban revitalization. In a city this ancient you'd think the Athenians would revere the past. And you'd be wrong.

The city has had numerous eras in which the buildings of previous eras were simply wiped away. The most recent came with rapid population growth of the 20th century. Most of the 19th Century neoclassical buildings (which had, themselves, wiped away Ottoman and Byzantine architecture) were demolished. Much of the city is now vaguely Modernist-style buildings of little delight or distinction.

Architectural cleansing, Floros said, can accompany war, religious conflict, rapid population growth, ignorance, greed or one-dimensional ideology. It can accompany wars, such as the Persian invasion of 479 BC, in which Athens was demolished, but Floros made an exception for some wartime destruction that takes place without intent to destroy a culture.

Ignorance about the value of the monuments on the Acropolis led to architectural destruction during the Ottoman Empire's 400 years of rule here. Fueled by greed, it took place during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the era when Lord Elgin carted away the Parthenon frieze to England.

It took place due to one-dimensional ideologies during the first Greek state, founded in 1830, when northern Europeans decided the only architecture of value was neoclassical. Byzantine and Ottoman buildings were razed or allowed to fall to ruin during that era.

And it took place during the 20th century, fueled by rapid immigration to Athens from all over Greece. The rebuilding here was influenced, as in most Western cities, by the Modernist architectural movement – founded, ironically, with the 1933 Charter of Athens – which rejected pretty much anything that had ever been done, on the theory that the city must be completely reinvented.

Floros quoted Lord Byron, the English poet who came to Greece to fight in its war for independence in 1821 and died of a fever: Athens is "the most injured and the most celebrated of cities."

Although if you want to narrow the competition to destruction of memories of the past, from what I can see Charlotte wins – in a New York minute. I'm pondering whether the destruction of downtown was fueled more by greed, or rapid population growth, or an unconscious effort to wipe away the black neighborhoods, or the wish to demolish a memory that people didn't want to have to remember.

Next up: Was the Charter of Athens just simply wrong? (Sure seems that way to me.) Asking that question appears to make many architects deeply uneasy.

Update, Thursday June 24: I got an e-mail from Floros, asking that I be sure to note that some of the buildings that have been victimized by "architectural cleansing" in Athens are some important mid-century Modernist buildings. And he's right to be concerned that yet another era of architecture is being wiped away – and not only in Athens. The Charlotte City Council set a precedent in October 2008 when it refused to designate as historic a mid-century Modern house – the first time it's refused a request from a property owner – apparently because council members just didn't think the building was all that significant.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Unfamiliar places, familiar issues

ATHENS – We’ve taken a rest in a bench in the shade, on a 95-degree afternoon climb up to see the Acropolis. Hearing our English another perspiring American tourist asks to share our bench and as we chat about where we're from it emerges that not only had he lived in Charlotte (on The Plaza) but he knew several of our friends.

Three days later at an elegant former residence that's now the Museum of the City of Athens I chat with a smartly turned out Athenian with impeccable British-tinged English. It turns out she's an alumna of East Carolina University and has relatives in Greenville. N.C.

Indeed the world is small. That was driven home when I did an informal survey of some three dozen planners and urban academics from around the globe, at a Johns Hopkins University-sponsored conference in Athens. What's the biggest problem your city faces, I asked. Despite different histories, cultures and governments, the list would sound familiar to any U.S. observer of cities:
problems of urban regeneration/gentrification.
maintaining social cohesion/integrating immigrants.
retaining jobs/boom-and-bust economies.
undeveloped infrastructure.

Except for this: The architect/planner/professor from Calcutta and the architect/planner from Mexico City both pretty much said, "all of the above."

Cities with strict urban growth boundaries – that is most of the rest of the world except the U.S. – still struggle with sprawl. In Greece it manifests itself in people building illegally, on land preserved for agriculture, and then eventually becoming legal, and demanding sewer service, schools and other urban infrastructure. Hmmmm. Except for the part about it being illegal that's pretty much the pattern in the U.S. as well. We may sprawl, but at least we're not creating as many criminals while doing it.

And speaking of criminals, Athens traffic engineer and professor Thanos Vlastos told me that for 30 years Athens has had a law that you can only drive into the center of the city every other day. They check for odd-even license tag numbers. If you get caught, the fine is substantial, he estimated it at about 700 Euros. But, he said, everyone ignores that. It's not well-policed. And it simply inspired people to buy a second car. We humans do have a way of trying to outsmart most everything.

(Disclosure note: The Johns Hopkins Urban Fellows Program paid my travel expenses to Athens for the conference.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Charlotte: The Venice of the Carolinas?

I'm blogging from a conference of the International Urban Fellows of Johns Hopkins University, in Athens (Greece, not Georgia). I'll be updating this and sending more posts as time and internet access allow.

ATHENS – Laugh if you want. I've just had a conversation with an Italian professor from Venice that made me think Charlotte and Venice may have a lot in common.

Without the canals, the seaside locale and the splendid cathedrals.

Pier Luigi Sacco, who grew up in a town in central Italy but who now teaches at the University of Venice, started saying that Venice doesn't respect its historic buildings or its tradition of arts and culture. My response was only slightly more coherent than, "Say what?"

We un-cultural Americans, of course, think of Italy as a land of high culture, where beauty and art are worshipped daily.
Not so in practical Venice, said Sacco. Venice values the arts only if they can be shown to improve economic development, he said. It's a city with a centuries-old history of commerce, which has led to a very practical and mercenary outlook on such things.

Sound familiar? Charlotte is also the kind of place where artists have to justify the arts as an economic engine. (To be fair, that's true of many other American cities.) Our Arts & Science Council does studies of that sort routinely. So do state arts agencies. I know New York City did a similar study not too long ago.

Sacco described how an important art historian in Venice had told a conference of other art historians that the importance of the arts was so that tourists would leave the city with empty pockets. (!) That's putting it a bit nakedly, I guess, but if you listen to our local boosters you'll hear a lot of similar thinking, more politely couched, about Charlotte arts groups.

Now, about those canals ...

(Disclosure note: The Johns Hopkins Urban Fellows Program paid my travel expenses to Athens for the conference.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Look for blogging from Athens starting Sunday

I'm spending a few days in Athens (yes, Greece) for a conference that starts Sunday, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University's Institute for Policy Studies and its International Urban Fellows program. I hope to do some live-blogging from the conference. The topic is "Memory" and its effects on how a city grows and develops. We'll tour the 2004 Olympics facilities, among other events.

My just-graduated from high school daughter (see last Saturday's op-ed on that emotional milestones) and I are here early, playing tourist so the scholarly and expert discussion about the city will have some meaning. We spent the hottest day of the year so far (at least 95 degrees, possibly hotter) touring the Acropolis, where there is very little shade and there were long lines for the water fountains. But it is a more stunning experience than I was prepared for.

Then we opted for the air-conditioned spendor of the new-last-year Acropolis Museum, which has a magnificent display of Greek antiquities from the Acropolis, especially the Parthenon. I won't launch into a travelogue here, but suffice to say that the display -- with plaster casts filling in for the sections of the carvings that Lord Elgin took away to England and which are now displayed at the British Museum -- makes painfully clear that those artworks deserve to come home and be reunited. There are sections where a rider's head is in London, and the rest of the body and the horse are in Athens. Or a leg is in one country, the body in the other. The artwork is too beautiful to have to endure, severed.

NPR did a piece today about the dearth of tourists in Greece. Here's a link. Having only arrived at noon today, I can't say whether the relatively deserted streets today (and "deserted" in Athens is about like a noonday weekday crowd at Trade and Tryon in Charlotte) were a result of a tourism slump, or the 95-degree heat, or the World Cup game in which Greece was playing (and beat) Nigeria. We heard TVs on in many homes we passed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Long-time utilities staffer snags top job

"After a nation-wide search" Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities' deputy director (and currently interim director) snags the top job. Here's the city's press release:

City Manager Names Barry Gullet New Utilities Director

(Charlotte, NC)… After a nation-wide search Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton announced today that Barry Gullet has been selected the new Director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities effective immediately. The search was conducted by The Waters Consulting Group, Inc.

Gullet was named Interim Utilities Director February 18 after former Director Doug Bean announced his retirement. Since joining Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities in 1978 Gullet has served as Civil Engineer, Assistant Chief Engineer and Deputy Director.

“Barry’s knowledge of the system and experience with the City coupled with his creative problem- solving solutions set him apart from other candidates,” says Walton. “While serving as Interim Director he demonstrated great leadership skills and is advancing a nine point plan to improve customer service and operations.”

Gullet is known for being a change agent. As Deputy Director, he has been called upon to successfully lead the utility through difficult reorganizations and performance improvement initiatives. He led a team of employees through a competitive proposal to substantially enhance the way Charlotte’s treatment plants are operated and managed earning the utility national attention. He is also the Chairman of the Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group.

The 54-year-old Landis native was also the 2009 recipient of the Fuller Award, which is a national recognition awarded annually by the American Water Works Association for distinguished service to the water supply field. He is a licensed Professional Engineer and a state-certified Water Treatment Plant Operator. Gullet earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from UNC Charlotte.

Under Gullet’s leadership, the City will continue its review of customer service delivery, the Utilities Billing Center and the successful completion of the meter reading equipment audit.

Additionally, a rate study is getting under way to analyze and make recommendations related to the water and sewer rate structure. The study will be presented to City Council’s Restructuring Government Committee for review and a recommendation to the full Council later this year.

As CMU Director, Gullet will oversee a 721 employee department with an annual operating budget of more than $104 million and an annual capital budget of nearly $200 million. He will direct city and county-wide utilities planning and management activities for water and sewer operations that include eight treatment plants and more than 8,000 miles of water and sewer pipe. These duties include developing and promoting long-term regional services; maintaining and enhancing existing service levels, designing, constructing and managing the future utility system, in addition to meeting public health, safety and environmental regulations.

A total of 32 candidates from across the country applied for the position. After review and evaluation of qualifications, the Waters Group presented 16 applicants for consideration by the City Manager of which five were interviewed. The interview panel included Ron Kimble, Deputy City Manager; Jeb Blackwell, City Engineer; Bobbie Shields, Mecklenburg County General Manger [er, "manager"/Mary] ; and David Jarrett, CMU Advisory Board Chair. The five applicants were narrowed to two finalists who were interviewed by the City Manager.

To read more about Barry Gullet click bio. The annual salary of the CMU Utilities Director is $152,000.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Old/new Charlotte photos, plus - ta-da! - 'Voltron'

If you're a sucker for old photos of Charlotte (or you like the phallic gallery of new building photos) hop over to CLTblog, and/or to urbanplanet. Folks have posted a number of old photos, postcards and cityscape scenes, many of them from uptown/downtown, shown in varying degrees of glamor.

The photo atop this is of South Tryon Street. It strikes me dumb whenever I see it, that the city allowed that street scene – and all the similar scenes – to simply vanish. It's more than just a lack of interest in historic preservation, although that's part of it. It's a loss of the collective will to create architecture with a human scale, I think. Compare that street scene to the thrusting, oh-so-macho towers depicted in the newer photos.

I'm not saying nothing new should be built. That's silly. But what would have been wrong with saving a few blocks of buildings that look like this? If you want to see a downtown where some of the old fabric has been saved, visit downtown Raleigh. Its city planning department also has an Urban Design Center right on Fayetteville Street, its main downtown street. Go figure.

Here's a quick plug, as well, for a great little video-with-music of the new Duke Energy Building with its lights running, a sight I have yet to see although I look out my vintage-'60s gun-slit windows at the Observer building and see the building multiple times a day.

(Just to disclose: The Observer building is NOT one you'll see many loving photos of in those aforementioned building-photo collections. And it's as functional as a place to inhabit 10 hours a day as it is delightful as a view.) Here's the link to the Voltron video. (It's embedded below.)

If you prefer different music, Justin Ruckman at CLTblog has done a three-movement series of videos, set to Beethoven's String Quintet in C, op. 29. Check them out here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

U.S. youth less car-crazy than their elders?

Something is changing in America. People aren't driving as much – even taking into account that the recession and unemployment reduces commuting. Several people, including a writer for Ad Age magazine, have noticed a dip in the rates at which young people are getting driver's licenses.

Jack Neff, writing in the May 31, says, "The automobile, once a rite of passage for American youth, is becoming less relevant to a growing number of people under 30." His piece shows the stats that back up that thesis.

Similarly, Nate Silver, writing in the May 6 Esquire, opens his piece this way: "This is surely one of the signs of the apocalypse: Americans aren't driving as much as they used to."

And the ubiquitous Richard Florida, writing at, points to Neff and Silver's articles and ponders whether his predicted "great reset" is taking place. This view dovetails nicely with Florida's new book, "The Great Reset." He's been writing about "resets" for the Atlantic for some time now.

If you read the pieces it's hard not to think they're onto something. AdAge, especially, is known more for pointing to consumer trends than for worrying about issues such as the fiscal and environmental irresponsibility of suburban sprawl.

But here's another sign that something truly is changing. Automakers *#8211; who have nothing if not a history of extraordinarily effecting ad campaigns – are changing the backdrops on their ads, using more sexy urban scenes and fewer beautiful wilderness scenes. Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez point this out in a June 3 Huffington Post piece, From Upstream to Downtown: Car Ads Head to the City. The two are authors of the book "Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on Our Lives." In the HuffPost piece, they write, "Just when some of us have decided we want to live in places where we don't have to be quite so dependent on the automobile, the automobile is trying to follow us there."

If you're interested in more about "Carjacked" – a book I recommend as one that looks at the world in ways you probably hadn't thought of before – here's a Q/A I did with Fernandez for

Monday, June 07, 2010

More delays for Charlotte's tree ordinance

Charlotte has lost half its tree canopy since 1985, and Mecklenburg County has lost a third of its. (Read the report on that - see page 70 of this pdf.) So plenty of eyes are on a proposal – moving through the bureaucracy with the speed of Providence Road traffic at 5:30 p.m. – to strengthen the city's aging tree ordinance as it applies to commercial and multifamily development.

Finally, the plan was, the City Council's environment committee would render its recommendation today at an 11 a.m. meeting. This isn't final adoption, mind you, just a recommendation to be sent to the full council. The environment committee, which until Anthony Foxx was elected mayor last November was dominated by Republicans (on a council with a Democratic majority, mind you), has been gnawing on the ordinance since June 2008.

I don't know what all local developers think of it, because that's a large and diverse group – a fact you wouldn't know if you listen only to the local developers' lobbying group, REBIC. But REBIC and its members have been raising issue after issue for five years, first on the stakeholder committee, which could not reach consensus, and now as the ordinance is before the committee. During the stakeholder discussions REBIC used the time-honored "stall-it-by-demanding-a-cost-benefit-analysis" gambit, which took more than a year, in part because a few non-developers on the stakeholder committee suggested that maybe the anti-tree-ordinance folks shouldn't be the ones who got to choose the sites on which the cost-benefits were being analyzed.
REBIC didn't like the idea of pushing the required "tree save" from the current 10 percent up to 15 percent. They didn't like the idea that trees in parking lots should be planted closer together. Those issues have been, I think, resolved.

Today two sticking points remained: The city staff's proposal for how to deal with development on already-developed sites, and how to set the fees for a "fee-in-lieu" proposal, under which developers could opt to pay a fee rather than save the trees on a full 15 percent of the site. (It's all very complicated.) REBIC's preferred "fee-in-lieu" was laughable: just decide that all land in the city, for tree ordinance fee-in-lieu purposes, is worth $40,000 to $50,000 an acre and set the fees as if that were the case.

Council members offered several proposals to "compromise" between staff's recommendations and REBIC's ideas. Why the council members so rarely seem to just opt for their paid staff experts' recommendations, which have already been compromised during stakeholder talks, is beyond me. But instead of voting today, the committee has punted until June 21.

Best quotes of the day: Both courtesy of District 6 rep Andy Dulin.
- In the context of his worries that the tree ordinance will add costs to development: "We're going to jack up the cost of building a strip shopping center."
- "Developers love trees."

Thursday, June 03, 2010

For traffic geeks, policy wonks and more

Sharing tidbits and links:

- Lew Powell shared this article about a math whiz in Manhattan who is devising an intricate Excel program to show the cost to everyone from each car, truck, taxi or bus that enters Manhattan daily. It's in Wired magazine. For congestion-policy geeks and others.

[Lew, for you who don't know him, is now retired from his long-time role as Observer Forum editor, Buzz editor and office "wag" – as when people would write, "an office wag quipped ... " and recount a pithy and witty observation.]

- A sad, ironic note. The Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department recently learned it's one of three finalists for the 2010 NRPA Gold Medal Award. It's an annual award from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) honoring excellence in management and planning of parks and recreation agencies. Of course, the county park department's budget is being cut almost in half. It's losing dozens of staff to layoffs, and some of its programs will have to be eliminated.

- Want to see a new promotional video for the city, done by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA)? It's at the bottom of this page. Cameos by Michael Jordon,
Winston Kelly, Anthony Foxx, a tray full of homemade biscuits and more. I note one shot early on is from – gasp! – the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens in Belmont (not Gastonia, as I wrote in haste Thurday night). That's legit if you think of "Charlotte" as the region. Not sure about that Childress Vineyard clip, though. It's up the road rather a ways, outside Lexington. Pick you up some Lexington BBQ on your way ...

- Here's a link to the piece in the Atlantic magazine about Andres Duany - a piece I referenced in my May 21 op-ed, "Jane Jacobs, Robert Moses and NIMBYs." If you missed them, here are a couple of earlier posts on related topics, here and here. Both were written at a conference where Duany spoke, sponsored by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the Nieman Foundation and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Anthony Flint of Lincoln Institute sure wished I'd have mentioned that sponsorship in the print oped. I should have, he's right.

- ‘Bright flight’ changes the face of cities, suburbs/Younger, educated whites moving to urban areas for homes, jobs - It's a link to an Associated Press story on the web site. It refers to a Brookings Institution study released in May, but the link to the study on Brookings site is temporarily broken. This link takes you to the main Metropolitan Policy Program site at Brookings.