Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cities and universities

CEOs for Cities has a post up about how universities can work to enhance cities:
Could universities better integrate with public transportation systems, increasing ridership and revenues while providing transportation options for their students?

Can universities better use the land they have to influence compact, mixed-use urban environments and get greater value from these assets?

Can universities rethink their approach to providing food and services in a way that grows small business and provides greater diversity, choice and convenience for their students?
I think Atlanta is actually a great example of how universities have helped make the city more urban.  Georgia Tech/Technology Square, and Georgia State/Aderhold-Broad Street should be on anyone list for how universities can be great for urbanism. 

Benchmarks for population - and effects

Matt Yglesias has an interesting post about population growth for Washington, D.C.:
Something I think the city could use is some kind of explicit population growth target. That might help structure people’s thinking about specific development issues. The city’s peak population came around 1950 when about 800,000 people lived here. And the population of the United States as a whole was only 150 million back then. Given that the national population has doubled since then and continues to grow, it seems to me that a District with aspirations should be hoping to see a over a million people living here a few decades hence.
I wonder if this wouldn't be a good idea for the city of Atlanta. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

Westside history lessons

There is a great history of some westside neighborhoods in this AJC piece about the Whittaker School on Huff Road.  For example, I never knew what gave Blandtown its name:

Blandtown, as the neighborhood was called, got its name from Felix Bland. A former slave, Bland after the Civil War took ownership of the land willed to him by his former owner, according to the memoir, “My 80 Years in Atlanta,” by Sarah Huff, who was 8 years old when Sherman shelled the city in 1864 and whose family gave Huff Road its name.

Bland quickly lost the land for not paying taxes. A developer took title and began carving out a residential area. Then came the rail spurs, around which a mill, a fertilizer factory and a stockyard opened, according to a book by Georgia Tech professor Larry Keating called “Race, Class and the Atlanta Housing Market.”

Two more books I need to read.

Also of interest for readers of this blog is the recent history of the property - it was bought in 2006 by Robert L. Silverman, who founded Winter Properties.  They had a lot of success in the late 90's and early 2000s, but I think things slowed down a bit recently.  They still have some active projects (Meeting Park in Marietta), though.  It is now for sale at half what Silverman bought it for three years ago.

h/t: A Is For Atlanta

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More good ideas from English footie

I was reading Mark Bradley's round up of national coverage on the Braves' Vazquez/Cabrera trade, and got to thinking how silly this whole trading players thing is.  I previously lauded the Premier League's dual championship format, and I think the Europeans have the right idea about personnel management, too.

All of the commentary in Bradley's round-up is basically about assessing whether the Braves got a fair-market for Javier Vazquez.   This means trying to assess the specific needs of both clubs with the specific talents of many different players.  It also means assessing the potential free agent signing the Braves can do with the extra salary freed up by dumping Vazquez.  Teams have to try and find clubs that have both the player they want, plus that want a player they have.  The whole trading idea just seems way to complicated to me.

In European football, you simply buy or sell a player's contract.  You determine a market value for the rights to the player's contract by negotiating with teams that want him, and you pocket the transfer fee.  This money can then be used for paying salaries or for buying contracts for other players.  If the Braves want to unload Vazquez, they simply sell him to the highest bidder, instead of having to take Melky Cabrera and some (very good) prospects. 

In economic terms, the present value of the contracts for Cabrera and the prospects should be equal to the present value of Vazquez.  All the talk about "was this a good deal" is really about trying to determine whether one team ended up with a higher PV for the contracts under their possession.  The mix-and-match nature of trading makes me think that it is very, very hard to make this collection of contract values match perfectly.  Someone is always going to get a better deal at the time of the trade, regardless of how each player performs down the line.

Isn't this analysis just a lot easier to do through just paying for the contracts outright?  If you still insisted on a trade, you'd at least be able to make up any discrepancy in present value in cash.  I would also think that the flexibility inherent in the European system would bring added value to these contracts, which would be a positive for team owners.

City politics update

Lots of articles recently on Kasim Reed and the new council members.  Plus more MARTA drama.
  • Reed has chosen Lisa Borders as co-chair of his transition team.  He also went to Washington last week to lobby the feds for money for the streetcar.  
  • Reed has also announced a panel to help come up with ways to fix the city's pension problem.  No idea who is (or will be) on it, just that it is chaired by former AJC editor John Mellott.
  • I was unaware that three of the new council members are CPAs or financial analysts by training.  I'm not sure if it is just the slightly optimistic tone of the article, but I am cautiously optimistic about the new crop of council members. 
  • MARTA and Jill Chambers still can't see eye-to-eye.
    "Every year they say they’re going over a cliff and there’s going to be a crisis, and yet MARTA’s running just fine," Chambers said.  "You can almost cut and paste the press release from the year before."
    MARTA CEO Beverly Scott says Chambers' statements are "inaccurate and fail to grasp the magnitude of the crisis."
    So things should go well next year at the legislature...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TADs and encouraging revitalization

Stephanie Ramage's recent post about TADs is interesting.  I disagree with Ramage about the magnitude of her criticisms, but I think they are very valid.  To summarize, she views them as too politically motivated and too big a burden on services and future tax revenue.

She uses Historic Westside Village as a sort of case study, which I think isn't very illustrative - Westside Village started as a Bill Campbell boondoggle, and the TAD component comes in later in the story.

There are plenty of other successful TAD projects in the city, but I largely I think Ramage's criticisms shouldn't be completely dismissed.  As a supporter of TADs, I wouldn't be doing myself any favors by ignoring the very real risks inherent with TADs. 

What I want to focus on though is what I think the fundamental difficulty with TADs is:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reed to be "muscular" with panhandling problem

Mayor-elect Kasim Reed is pledging to enforce existing ordinances and get "muscular" with the panhandling problem downtown.
"We're going to enforce the ordinances and we are going to fix the panhandling challenge in the city of Atlanta, period," Reed said to rousing applause from members of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We are going to deal with this issue in a very muscular way," he said.
I am not sure if new ordinances are needed, not that Reed has proposed any.  Stronger enforcement is a good first step here.

FWIW, I'm downtown quite often and I have certainly felt like the panhandler situation has been much better the last six to nine months.  I can't remember the last time I got asked for change Downtown (although it happened to me at in Midtown Tuesday).  I'm not really sure why - maybe I'm just getting better at ignoring it all?

Can we be smarter about transit advocacy?

Richard Green, a professor at the University of Southern California who blogs about real estate, has a great little post about how transit advocates sometimes don't do themselves any favors.  The issue in the post is local opposition to a major highway tunnel proposed for downtown Seattle:
Let me stipulate that the project may very well not pass a cost-benefit test. But the line "will only advance the interests of car commuters" reflects both snobbishness and detachment from reality. According to this blog, more than four-fifths of commuter trips and 85 percent of all trips in Seattle are made in private automobiles. Complaining that something advances the interest of auto commuters is like complaining about advancing the interest of, say, children--pretty much every one of us is one, or loves someone who is.

As the Onion so wisely headlined, "98 percent of US commuters favor public transportation for others." 
This sounds uncomfortably familiar to my rantings about a tunnel under my neighborhood:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Clermont condemned; no one surprised

Via Creative Loafing, I see that the Clermont Hotel has been condemned and must close by Dec. 31.  The inspection which preceded the condemnation was triggered by the property's foreclosure, as Inman Park Properties was unable to sell the property in time. The building is practically rotting on the inside:
"There are several issues that would have to be addressed," said Kevin Jones, a manager with the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness. Dirty linen, old bedding and bed bug stains were among them, he said. Inspectors also found mold growing on the walls, black water spilling from faucets and broken toilet fixtures.
None of this should surprise anyone who has followed Inman Park Properties over the years.  The company is infamously neglectful of property.  In June IPP got a lot of coverage from CL and the AJC, and the owner came off sounding more like a collector than a legitimate real estate investor.  I can't really fathom what business strategy he had in mind when he bought all this property and the did absolutely nothing with it. 

Anyway, anyone interested in great deal on a real fixer-upper knows where to look!

UPDATE: I can't have this post up without linking to Too Busy to Hate's requiem for  the clermont.

*image courtesy of Tadson via flickr

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Reed reiterates shorter timeframe for BeltLine

Thomas Wheatley has a good article about Kasim Reed and the BeltLine.  The next mayor wants to make the BeltLine a reality sooner rather than later:

At a groundbreaking ceremony on Saturday for the Beltline’s multi-use trail in southwest Atlanta, the city’s next mayor made a symbolic appearance, voiced his commitment to the project and reiterated something he said on the campaign trail: He’d like to see the Beltline become a reality in the next decade. And Reed says he’s gonna push for that to happen.
This is something I've been talking about for quite some time, and frankly I dismissed it when Reed mentioned it on the campaign trail.  I took note of it, but he phrased it rather non-committal way so it didn't really register.

As Wheatley notes in the article above, there is a matter of just how exactly to move things along quicker - all it takes is money...

h/t: Rusty Tanton

Monday, December 14, 2009

Green links

Ken Edelstein, who runs Atlanta Unsheltered, recently called my attention to a new project of his, MyGreenAtl.  While this blog isn't really an environmental blog, I know a lot of my readers are very environmentally-minded.  So I hope you enjoy the site.  I've certainly enjoyed what Ken does with Jeanne Bonner at Atlanta Unsheltered, so I expect MyGreenAtl will be just as good.  Ken also has a nice article on America's relationship with the automobile at Media Mayhem

And while were are in the world of evironmentalism, I thought I'd share an interesting article about zero-energy housing
It's a house built with less lumber and more insulation; with recycled countertops and bamboo cabinets; with a geothermal system and a 10-kilowatt solar array...

And one of those lessons is that simple is better, Watt said, both for the homeowner who may not have any predisposition toward tinkering, but also for the cost of the project. SpringLeaf's houses, for example, will be all electric. The houses are not designed to have any solar thermal water heating equipment, and natural gas is not used. Instead, the appliances are electric and the heating and cooling system is a based on a geothermal electric heat pump, which leverages the earth's stable below-surface temperatures to keep the house comfortable.
I have to admit I was a bit surprised when Ken dropped me a note about his new project.  I've communicated a bit with Jeanne about various development projects in town and what-not, but I have never seen Terminal Station as an environmentally conscious blog.  Sure, I blog about alternative/public transportation quite a bit, and also about sustainable development and smart growth.  But you won't find and "environmentalism" tag or even a "sustainable development" tag on the side bar. 

My interest in these topics is almost wholly unrelated to environmentalism. It just so happens that the kind of development I'm attracted to, that I think has a positive impact on our lives, is also more environmentally sustainable than sprawl.  It is also much more interesting and rewarding from a practitioners point of view. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The free market argument for rail transit

Joe, who used to blog here before he went to Harvard, sent me a link to a great video with Bill Lind, author of Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation

It isn't ground breaking stuff, but it seemed apropos given the post below about tunnels.  My favorite part in the video where he makes the point that we used to have a private, profitable rail industry in this country.  We killed it with massive government intervention and subsidies in the form of highways. 

Lind's book is now on my Christmas list.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

East side zombie road tunnels won't die

Of course I'm frustrated that this underground toll road through my neighborhood won't go away.  It seems like every idea that I think is laughable seems to stick around (Mary Norwood as mayor, underground highways through intown Atlanta, building a new central library...).

Anyway, the DOT has this underground toll road on their public-private partnership list.  My reaction when I first heard about the idea way-back-when was unsurprising - I hated it.  I am going to try and enunciate exactly why this strikes me as a very bad idea:
  • Cost - surely building tunnels for highways is a very expensive enterprise.  Regardless of whether the state itself pays for the construction (such as with a public-private partnership), when it comes to a comparison for value, this can't be very high.  Those same dollars could be spent on things like the BeltLine or MARTA expansion or commuter rail and provide much more value if you include any measure other than "move more cars from Roswell to Hartsfield faster".
  • Impact on neighborhoods - I find it very difficult to believe that this highway wouldn't be destructive for local neighborhoods.  Where will you vent all that exhaust?  What about during construction?  How are the interchanges for access to Downtown going to impact existing street grids?  Surely there will have to be emergency access points that will necessitate surface street interruption.  This doesn't even take into account the affect of areas south of I-20 where the road may become a surface street.  Cuz, y'know, screw East Atlanta and stuff.
I guess those are my first two problems.  If I could be satisfied on those issues, I'd at least be willing to give this tunnel thing a fair hearing - I'm all for  ways to improve transportation in this state.  I'm not entirely opposed to public-private partnerships (although I suspect that the government sides often get the poor end of the deal).  I think toll roads are a great idea, as well.  I'm reasonable.  But this tunnel, it deserves the stupid ideas tag.

The silver lining?  This is far from over:
It's far from a done deal. The chief of transportation planning at the Atlanta Regional Commission, Jane Hayse, said the project had not yet been approved by the ARC board, and it would have to be in order to proceed. Removal from the ARC project list can be the technical act that knocks out a project , as with the Northern Arc.  In addition, a federally mandated study of the project's impacts will investigate its likely effect on the environment and social justice, and can lead to changes in the project or even a recommendation not to build it.
h/t: Rusty Tanton

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Will this transportation funding finally pass?

 Lost amid the election coverage is a new transportation plan being floated by leaders at the General Assembly.
The measure would be a two-part bill aimed at breaking a logjam that has kept transportation funding bottled up in the legislature for the last three years, even as business leaders clamored for action to relieve Atlanta’s worsening traffic congestion...
The first part of the legislation, targeted primarily at metro Atlanta, would allow counties to band together and float regional 1-cent sales tax proposals to pay for highway and transit projects in their communities. Each referendum would give voters a list of projects to be funded with the tax revenue.

Keen said the second piece of the package would establish a mechanism for dedicating a portion of future revenue growth in Georgia to transportation improvements. The proposal, which would be statewide in scope, would be aimed at swaying lawmakers around the state to support the metro-Atlanta component of the bill.
I am not sure how I feel about the idea of including specific projects in a referendum.  When the state was doing it last year, I felt like it was a lot like pork, and it caused unnecessary panic when bad ideas ended up in the list.  When it comes to local entities passing the legislation, I can see how it helps voters know what their money will be going for - presumably these individual referendum would get plenty of debate in county commission hearings, etc.  But the prospect of the Fulton County Commission trying to hash out a funding plan for local transit projects with Gwinnett and Cobb sounds like a horrible, horrible idea.

As always, it depends on what the actual bills have to say, and I need to know more before I can have a fully informed opinion. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Less than serious blogging resumes

I'll admit that I was one of the guys in high school who gave unmitigated crap to all my soccer-playing friends.  Lots of yapping about it not being an American sport, and thus not a "real" sport, etc., the kind of stuff you say as a teenager to try and get under their skin.  I, of course, played baseball, the most American sport of all.

Fast forward fifteen years. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Excellent choice of words, Decatur Metro

Decatur Metro, while discussing potential plans to build the multi-modal station Downtown, has a link to a DC blog Track Twenty Nine.  Track Twenty Nine has some schematics for how various rail lines could fill the Gulch area, which DM termed "rail porn".  Excellent choice of words - we salute you!

As far as the multi-modal station goes, GDOT is considering building it with the $87M in federal funds slated for the Lovejoy line.  Also mentioned in the AJC article is one of the ideas floating around for how to pay for commuter rail lines:
The project could address the fundamental problem that has dogged the commuter rail line proposal: Mass transit ticket sales rarely pay the full cost of operating the system on an ongoing basis. One idea is to gain a revenue stream for the rail lines by building and renting out office space above the terminal.  DOT, MARTA and other agencies could move into that space, and form a reliable renter base even in a shaky real estate market.
Sounds good, but I think it is much harder in practice to execute.  If you could fill all (or a lot) of the office space with MARTA, GDOT and other government agencies, you could probably get decent cash flow out of the deal, but I'm not sure what it means for the rest of Downtown.  It isn't like government workers are a revitalizing force for urban renewal - they basically go to work, eat lunch, and go home.  So Downtown will get some more sandwich shops.  To be really successful, I'd love to find a way for the multi-modal station to be more of a draw for different businesses.

Also, moving all those government agencies into the buildings would mean they are no longer renting space elsewhere - such as GDOT at One Georgia Center.  Unless you can  actually generate demand for office space, you are just playing shell games.  Maybe the multi-modal CAN generate demand, but I think we should spend some time laying out specifics on how that is going to happen.  New development doesn't magically generate people who want to move into your space (look at all the empty office space in Buckhead).

h/t: obvs. to Decatur Metro

Poncey-Highland Master Plan; I rant about "road diets"

The Poncey-Highland master plan was released last night.  You can find the details here

The first thing that jumped out at me was the North Avenue "road diet".  (Click the link or the picture at right to see the full-size jpeg.)

Can I just say that I find "road diets" annoying?  I know that there is a lot of traffic on North Avenue - I use it every day to go to and fro at Georgia State.  The reason for the traffic is not because North Avenue is poorly designed north of the BeltLine, it is because North Avenue is a million feet wide SOUTH of the BeltLinePonce and because de Leon is a mess during rush hour.  The real problem there is because there aren't enough east-west corridors other than Ponce de Leon.  All the traffic bulbs, medians, and swervy lanes aren't going to change that - these are band aids.  Hideous, Disney-character-covered, fall-off-in-the-shower band-aids to appease a neighborhood group.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NPU F decision on BeltLine a disappointment

I actually hesitated before writing about NPU F's rejection of the NE Beltline plan.  I have not been involved with all the discussion and meetings, and I think the NPU process is a net positive for the city as a whole.

I have previously commented on the plan, so I won't belabor the point.  Suffice it to say that I find the neighborhood's reaction extremely disappointing and short-sighted.  I think it is an excellent example of why NPUs only have advisory power - the city council (either this one or the newly elected one) should realize that it is in the City's best interest to direct responsible growth at this intersection and elsewhere. 

Shameless self promotion

Jon over at A Is For Atlanta asked me to participate in his "Five Questions With..." segment.  He has some very nice things to say about this here blog, and he's spruced up my answers with lots of relevant links and pictures.  Don't miss the old school Al Sharpton pic!

And thanks for asking me to do it, Jon!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reason from beyond the Perimeter?!

From perhaps the most unexpected place, Peach Pundit enunciates one reason why Kasim Reed is at this point Atlanta's best hope:
Meanwhile, Kasim Reed has the backing of all groups within the City Of Atlanta who must buy into fundamental change. He also commands respect and has good working relationships with the other group that must be brought into discussions to provide the carrot and stick to force the City Hall constituencies to change their ways: The State Legislature.

Kasim Reed holds a unique position in this pivotal point in time. He has the respect of two distinct and distant constituencies who are both integral to the future growth and success of the City. Worst case scenario, it is four more years of status quo while the forces for change are able to recruit a better candidate. But if Kasim is to live up to his challenge, he is the person best suited to bring all parties to the table, and set a course for Atlanta to work with the surrounding region and not against it.
I remain unconvinced about Kasim's ability to affect fundamental change in the city's policies or operational systems.  However, anyone attempting to change things needs to have the buy-in from the stakeholders involved.  I'd say that the most likely outcome of a Mary Norwood administration would be as described by the Peach Pundit post:
Sure she represents change, but is there any evidence it will be change for the better? Or would her inability to communicate or get along with fellow council members or city staff make her a figurehead who goes largely ignored while the city continues to spiral out of control under the weight of its own entropy?
Mary Norwood can complain that the rest of the City Council hasn't been willing to work with her, but that doesn't change the fact that she would have to work with them as Mayor.

Note: beware the entire post liked to above - while largely reasonable, it drips with a certain OTP smugness and condescension that required a large degree of restraint on my part not to engage.

h/t: el hermano

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sports and adaptive re-use: Highbury Square

Previously I highlighted an interesting aspect of San Diego's baseball stadium, where they integrated a historic building into a new stadium.  How about going at adaptive re-use from the other direction - adapting an old stadium into luxury housing

That's what English football club Arsenal did when they moved to a new stadium.  Historic Highbury Stadium became Highbury Square apartments.  The stands were hollowed out to became units, and the pitch (the playing surface) became a garden. 

Unfortunately, the deal has not been as successful financially:
Though sales have been steady, occupancy rates remain only around the 70% mark, according to the club. In September, Arsenal sold a tranche of nearly 150 apartments to real-estate group London and Stamford Property at a discount to market value of 20%, with cashflow problems blamed. A spokesman for Arsenal declined to comment on the specifics of the deal. Financially, at least, the stadium move may not have been entirely successful for the club.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Race, party affiliation, and city elections

I previously mentioned that I found the DPG's mailer about Mary Norwood possibly being a Republican to be in poor taste.  I just left it at that, but perhaps you found it odd since I also commented in my non-endorsement post that I found Norwood's "forgetting" who she voted for to be suspect.  Well, Jay Bookman pretty much sums up how I feel about the mailers:

The line between typical political hardball and tactics designed to milk racial suspicions can admittedly be murky. ...

But murky as it may be at times, that line does exist, and it’s important. The state Democratic Party, for example, edged close to or even over that line last week when it injected itself into the nonpartisan campaign with fliers charging that Norwood is a Republican.

On the surface it was a meaningless distraction, and Norwood did herself no favors with her flustered response. It doesn’t matter in the least whether Atlanta’s mayor is tall or short, white or black, male or female or Republican or Democrat.

But in a city in which Republican equals white, the underlying message wasn’t hard to decode.
All of the major candidates have done a pretty good job of avoiding making this election about race.  The DPG basically did all the suburban race-baiters a huge favor with that mailer, and I for one would prefer not to give them freebie's like that. 

Thursday, November 5, 2009

LILO transactions abridged

The paper I linked to earlier (pdf here) concerning lease-in lease out (LILO) transactions is a very good read.  It is also relatively easy to follow if you have a basic knowledge of finance. 

If you are interested in just what it is that Jill Chambers thinks MARTA officers are too dumb to understand, I'll try and summarize:
  1. A tax-exempt organization like MARTA has property and assets that it owns.  Let's call them the "owner".
  2. The owner leases the property to an investor.  Let's call him the "taxpayer".  (I'm borrowing terms from the Yale paper.)
  3. The taxpayer takes out a loan for the present value of the lease obligations, and pays it to the owner up front instead of making annual payments.  The taxpayer takes out a loan to make this payment, so he'll owe principal and interest on it over the course of the arrangement.
  4. The taxpayer then leases the property back to the owner.
  5. The owner takes that lump sum (the present value of the lease obligations), and invests it in bonds.  He'll use this investment to pay for the sub-lease he made with the taxpayer.   
The annual cash flows look like this:
  1. The invested lump sum throws of interest, which the owner (MARTA) uses (in conjunction with part of the invested amount) to pay the taxpayer for the lease.  
  2. The taxpayer uses this payment to pay back principal and interest on the loan he took out to finance the lump sum payment in the beginning. 
  3. The owner (MARTA) doesn't get anything on an annual basis - remember, they got everything up-front in order to invest it.
So shouldn't all this stuff equal out?  Why is anyone making any money on this deal?  I'll quote from the paper:
My analysis reveals that the underlying source of tax benefits is the arbitrage created because a LILO is effectively two sequential loans: the taxpayer borrows money from third parties, lends the money to the owner as a prepayment, and the owner then lends the money back to third parties. Tax arbitrage is created because the taxpayer deducts interest on the funds used to make the prepayment whereas the owner pays no taxes on the interest earned on that prepayment.
Make sense?  While it may look like the taxpayer is the only person making money here (because he's the only one getting tax savings), these savings can then get distributed between the partners if you wanted.  Indeed, MARTA has made $119 million on these deals so far.

The paper notes that the total tax savings are about 10%-15% of the value of the asset.  Assuming the taxpayer/partner stays in business to keep making payments, why wouldn't you expect a cash-strapped entity like MARTA to try and make money on its assets?

Unsurprisingly, the IRS doesn't like these deals, since they are the ones getting screwed.

UPDATE: Atlanta Unfiltered has a link to The Tax Foundation's article about SILO (Sale-in, Lease Out) deals, which are a variation on the LILO deal. In a SILO deal, the owner/agency sells the asset to the investor, who can then deduct the depreciation as an expense.  At the end of the deal, the original owner of the asset typically has the right to buy back the asset for a nominal amount ($1). 

Jill Chambers can suck an egg

I'm a bit late on this news, but MARTA has shown up Jill Chambers in solid fashion.  Chambers requested an audit of MARTA's complicated Lease-in Lease-out (LILO) transactions, and the audit came back saying that MARTA has made $119 million so far on the deals. 

Maria Saporta is right when she says:

This audit review should be enough to silence Chambers once and for all. She has made MARTA and the state jump through time-consuming hoops on her witch hunt for evil and wrongdoing.

And now it’s time for her to stop....

In fact, for the life of me, I don’t even understand why MARTOC exists in this day and age. Remember, the state of Georgia does not have any money in the game.

Unlike all the other major transit agencies in the country, the state shamefully does not contribute to MARTA’s operations, which puts our transit system at a major disadvantage...

Again, no other major transit agency in the country has to deal with this kind of constraint.
I said quite some time ago that while MARTA was not without problems, but that it was fundamentally doing the right things.  In the almost 11 months since I wrote that post, I haven't seen anything to change my opinion of MARTA's managment.

Chambers of course thinks MARTA just got lucky on the LILO deals:
However, she said federal pressure aided transit agencies such as MARTA in escaping fees on the transactions, and the other findings were not a vindication of MARTA leaders' decision-making.

"I’m not sure they knew what they were really voting on," Chambers said, describing the transactions as too complicated for the average person.
So if Jill Chambers can't figure these out,  The bottom line is that MARTA wouldn't need to engage in complicated financial transactions if Chambers and the legislature would let MARTA have access to all of its funds and would get serious about integrating MARTA with a regional transit solution.

I am about to dig into just how LILO transactions work with a 30-page pdf from Yale School of Management.  Hopefully I can do a better job of understanding these transactions than Jill Chambers.

Is anyone really surprised APD isn't cooperating with the CRB?

Atlanta Unfiltered reports that APD officers aren't cooperating with the Citizen's Review Board. 
Ten Atlanta police officers have refused to cooperate with investigations of alleged misconduct, and Chief Richard Pennington has failed to respond to a call for discipline in a case of excessive force against a lesbian couple, an oversight panel said in a letter released today.
Well, I for one am just SO surprised by this.  After fighting it every inch of the way, I expected the APD to act completely contrary to its normal behavior and actually cooperate with the CRB.  Yes sir, when it comes to accountability and transparency, you can always count on the APD.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mary Norwood and race

Hey, did you know that Mary Norwood is white?  No, seriously.  She's from Buckhead, and she's a white housewife.  What?  You knew that?  I just wanted to make sure you were aware, these sorts of things can be hard to catch. 

The big story lines of the election have been:
  • Atlanta is broke!  What a mess...
  • Crime sucks, and so does the police chief
  • Republican bogeyman!
  • Mary Norwood is white
Most of the attention has been on the changing demographics of the City of Atlanta, and the usual suspects have injected race into the debate in a way that the candidates have studiously avoided.  (FTR, I think the DPG attacks on Mary Norwood are poor form.)

However, what I really want to focus on is the fact that Norwood is getting 34% of the black vote according to the cross tabs in the latest Insider Advantage polling.  She is pulling more black support than either black candidate.  She is pulling 56% of white voters, which is a majority but far from an overwhelming landslide. 

Let's say that Norwood were polling at say 10% among black voters (about what Republicans can expect to get from black voters).  By my math, she'd only be getting 32% of the total votes, and we'd be talking about a much closer race. 

If Mary Norwood is Mayor of Atlanta, it will be because of black voters, and their willingness to vote for a white candidate.

Just something to chew on the next time someone from Macon who traffics in selling outrage wants to tell you this election is all about race. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My non-endorsement for mayor

I thought making a decision on who I'd vote for mayor was going to be difficult.  Well, it was until I actually looked into it.  Let me explain...

I started this election out with a certain point of view.  I worked at the State Capitol in 2004 and 2005 for a state senator representing Atlanta.  I got the chance to meet Kasim Reed a few times, although I'd be surprised if he remembered since my direct involvement in politics since then has been minimal.  I came away with a positive impression of Reed.  I thought he was indicative of a newer model for black politicians - simply compare Reed's accomplishments and style with Senator Vincent Fort.  Reed actually gets things through the legislature, while Fort mostly gets press attention. 

I think Reed was a great senator, but I never came away from him thinking that he was particularly visionary or dynamic.  He is a solid legislator and a good politician.  I am not particularly sure why he wants to be mayor, or what drives him for this particular position.  I also have concerns that he has spent too much time in legislative politics, which kind of adjusts your expectations towards inertia and status quo.  After a while at the Georgia General Assembly, you kind of get used to nothing happening and adjust your expectations accordingly. 

I have only met Lisa Borders in passing.  I was introduced to her once at a function.  I've seen her at City Council meetings.  I've read about her getting broken into, and I know all about her connections to "big developers," as well as her family ties.  I don't think she has done much as Council President, although it isn't the sort of position where you can get much done.  Despite making it her pet project, Cathy Woolard couldn't get the BeltLine very far off the ground until the Mayor decided it was important.  The BeltLine wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Woolard's support, but the position of Council President is terribly impotent. 

Among the things I like about Borders are that she has executive business experience and the confidence of the business community (which is necessary to get anything done as mayor).  She has lived in the city, and has personal experience with crime.  I don't think this necessarily makes her more qualified to deal with it, but at least she is more likely to get what people are talking about. 

So I approached the race with the following ideas:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More from Saporta on GDOT's ineptitude on transit

Maria Saporta reports on how Washington is viewing GDOT's actions.  They are unimpressed:
Just last month, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood came to Atlanta to deliver the message for transit in person. Get your act together , he told Georgia officials...
“They were already aware that we were demoting the Intermodal Division,” Stoner said. “They said, ‘Obviously Secretary LaHood’s message did not get through.’”
Stoner’s contacts in Washington, D.C. even jokingly asked him if there were anything more Georgia could do to hurt its ability to get federal transportation dollars. (Don’t tempt them).
Yup.  Sounds about right for this state.

The state of transportation in this state almost makes me want to cry.  Not just because the state is moving backwards or because GDOT is comically inept.  It is because I have zero faith that this will change any time soon.  As far as I know, none of the major GOP candidates for Governor would be any better on these issues than Perdue has been.  I wish Sam Olens were running, I would vote in the GOP primary.  (Oops, did I say that out loud?)

Can anyone give me a single reason why the next Governor, who will almost certainly be a Republican, will be any different than Perdue?

This sort of stuff is why the metro area needs its own source of transit funding and its own process to allocate that money. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Shirley calls out Mary Norwood

Shirley Franklin commented on a Political Insider post Sunday, and had this to say about Mary Norwood:
I support candidates with vision, integrity and intelligence and I have voted for candidates with these 3 characteristics throughout my life. Mary Norwood has none of these. Therefore, I do not support her candidacy for mayor.
Wow.  The rest of the comment is in that same line of thought.  I guess that is to be expected when Norwood has spent her entire time running for mayor blasting Shirley.  I'm only surprised that Shirley was willing to go on the record with such harsh language when she has been relatively silent on the mayor's race thus far.

I don't follow Norwood enough to comment on her integrity, although watching her show up at any community event where there is a camera certainly says something about her character.  As for vision and intelligence, nothing I have seen of Norwood's public life leads me to disagree with Mayor Franklin.  We are talking about the woman who wanted to make it illegal to build a high rise if it blocked the view from another high rise! 

I'm working on a post about who I'll be voting for in the mayoral race.  I'm not calling it an endorsement, since I'm not nearly that important.  It will simply be the mental process which has led me to vote for one candidate over the other.  My mind is about 90% made up, and hopefully I'll have something up in the next few days.  I'll give you a hint: it isn't Mary Norwood. 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saporta: DOT moving backward on transit

I missed this last week.  Maria Saporta reported that new GDOT commissioner Vance Smith has moved the "Intermodal Division" to the "Intermodal Programs" of the Engineering Division.
And the timing couldn’t be worse. Last month, Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, came to Georgia where he criticized the state’s lack of planning and development of transit and rail.

Georgia already is being scrutinized closely in Congress for sitting on $87 million in federal funds that are supposed to have gone towards building a passenger rail line between Atlanta and Lovejoy (or preferably Griffin or Macon). The state has been told that it will lose those dollars if it doesn’t move forward with the project.
Yes sir, just the people I want running MARTA... Of course, what did we think would happen when we put a road builder in charge of the DOT?  This would all be comical if it weren't so sad. 

Idea on eminent domain a bit silly

Lisa Borders said she'd use eminent domain to let the city take abandoned/blighted properties.  It created a big to-do.  As a blog that focuses on local politics and real estate, I guess I should have a say....

I got the impression from the quote that it was in reference to foreclosed or abandoned properties with absentee landlords (typically banks) who cannot or will not maintain property.  So my question is, why do we need to use eminent domain?

Friday, October 23, 2009

State control of MARTA? No thanks...

Okay, I'm sure you expected that my reaction to the idea of a state takeover of MARTA would be, "No."  However, I did try to give the idea a chance.  For one thing, I think Rep. Fran Millar's approach is a million times more productive than any other approach I've seen from the state level:
...to compound the problem, we have now been told by Georgia State University that MARTA will probably be short $85 million in sales tax receipts for fiscal 2010 and over the next decade could be short $1.4 billion. In other words, MARTA cannot be financially viable in the long run with only Fulton and DeKalb as its source of primary funding.... 

This is our one chance to get away from a department of highways and have a meaningful department of transportation. With this new MARTA financial data, any reasonable person must conclude that Fulton and DeKalb can no longer carry this burden alone.
I like Republicans at the state house who are interested in actual solutions, as opposed to morons like Jill Chambers.

My problem is less with Atlanta "losing control" of MARTA or anything like that, but rather that I don't think the GDOT is the right place for MARTA to end up.  MARTA needs to be a regional system, which logically suggests a regional management agency.  GDOT is a state agency with a broken power structure, whose transit program is in disarray, with entirely too many connections to rural road builders.  All the reasons why I disliked the state-wide transit funding idea still exist in Millar's scenario.  Anything that lets rural legislators have a say over MARTA won't end well.

I would be more amenable to a truely regional transit agency.  Clayton County is shutting down its C-Tran bus service, one of the heaviest used bus systems in the metro area.  Cobb County has its own bus service, as does Gwinnett.  Seriously, let's go ahead and combine all this and set up a regional transportation agency that is funded with a regional sales tax.  Use the sales tax to fund transit, as well as all the other transportation needs for the metro area.

I have absolutely no problem with the realization that a regional transportation agency would probably lack the focus on Atlanta that you get now with MARTA.  I have no problem with suburban counties sharing the governing power for MARTA, since they'd actually have something to do with the service (unlike Jill Chambers).

DeKalb stadium? Guess what category I'm filing that under...

If you read this on RSS, you may have missed my "stupid ideas" tag.  It exists for ideas such as building a new Central Library, reviving I-485, and video casinos at Underground.  We can add "building a stadium in Doraville" that that list.

On a simple level, I believe that a stadium for the Atlanta Falcons should be in, um, Atlanta.  The Georgia Dome also regularly hosts events such as the SEC championship games, Final Fours, Peach Bowls (not gonna call it that other thing), celebrity get-rich seminars, and church revivals.  Many of these events pack the hotels Downtown.  What sense does it make to try and move this infrastructure to Doraville?

"Livable" parks

I didn't realize that the National Park Service not only owned the MLK birthplace block on Auburn Avenue, but that they let people rent the houses.  I suppose I could have put one and one together, but I'd never really considered who owned and lived in those houses.  They recently acquired another piece of the block from the Trust for Public Land, and the article included this bit:
“We will fix it up to the time Dr. King was living here, and then we allow people to live here,” said Forte of the renovated houses on the block. “Structurally, it’s in pretty good shape.” ...

The MLK district is only one of three “livable” national parks that preserve the historical and cultural qualities of a place while it continues to thrive as an ongoing community.

Forte also hopes that the street can be transformed into being less of a thoroughfare and more of a residential, pedestrian-oriented street, much the way it was when King was growing up there. She would love to see streetlights and landscaping that would become even more of a tourist and educational destination.
I have done a little bit of searching, but I can't find what the other two "livable" parks are.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Google maps adds parcels

It appears that Google Maps has added parcel info to their display.  Apparently this is a result of Google switching to in-house map data from an outsourced data company.   This is lots of fun for real estate junkies such as myself...

Also, much apologies for the lack of posting.  School is quite a lot of work this semester (although I think I set the curve for my financial analysis class on the last test).  I'll try and have some posts about the upcoming elections, although I probably won't be "endorsing".  I will probably note who I will be voting for, however, along with reasons. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

I don't really think 13th counts

The ABC cites a poll showing Atlanta "among most popular places."  This means that Atlanta is the 13th most desirable place for people to live:
New York City topped the Harris Poll this year as American’s No. 1 choice to live, followed by San Francisco, which tied with Denver at the No. 2 spot, San Diego was No. 4 and Seattle was No. 5. The other cities on the top 10 are Chicago (No. 6), Boston (No. 7), Las Vegas (No. 8), Washington, D.C. (No. 9), and Dallas (No. 10).
So..... I look at that list and I think "man, we've got a lot of catching up to do."  Not, "hey, we are one of the most popular places."  Also, a lot of these places are areas that strong urban/pedestrian cores.

I think there are some "institutional advantages" that places like San Francisco, NYC, Chicago, Boston, and maybe DC have over Atlanta in terms of history and walkable infrastructure that results from that.  However, Seattle, San Diego, Dallas, Denver and Vegas should all be on a short list of "cities we should be better than."  Perhaps the natural environment makes Denver, San Diego, or Seattle a bit more attractive than Atlanta - we don't have the Rockies or the Pacific on our door step.  Atlanta DOES have lots of natural resources at its disposal, however, and we have very vibrant outdoor community.

We SHOULD be able to compete with some of these cities - the fact that we aren't higher on this list is because of our city and region's inept leadership over the last two decades.  We should have been cultivating a stronger walkable core with more alternative transportation, but instead we've been sitting on our hands....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More on crime techniques

Stephanie Ramage has an interesting post up that is a different take on the AJC's crime opus
We know that when a reporter spends more than 2,000 words on the number of reported crimes, police department policies and the media’s role in perception, with only about 600 devoted to any actual crime—the John Henderson slaying and a list of homicide highlights that left out the murder of Harish Roy—and that no survivors of those crimes are interviewed for the story, the story is not about crime: It’s about numbers, policies, and low-rating other media.
The story is a little bit too inside-baseball for me, media wise.  Still, she has some solid points about how the AJC compares Atlanta to other cities.  I also think there is a density issue to the "asset turnover" of police officers.  Denser cities, like Boston, can get more use per officer because they spend less time driving to and fro and more time policing.  That is just an idea of mine, though, with no proof.

I'm personally more interested in learning about the criminologist she interviews, David Weisburd.  He's apparently done some work on effective policing techniques, and a quick googling brings up this book on crime mapping, as well as a number of other books. She gave him a call:
It was Weisburd who studied policing in Minneapolis in the mid-1990s and found that by concentrating more police in troubled micro-areas or “hot spots,” crime could be reduced overall by as much as 13 percent. Since then, he says, the method has only grown in currency and support. The entwined ideas that adding police doesn’t have much impact on crime and that for a city like Atlanta, with a poverty problem, “a high crime rate is inevitable”—as the AJC’s Judd claims “criminologists say”—are outdated.

 “That used to be a consensus among criminologists,” says Weisburd. “But at least since 1990, there has been a growing body of literature about how police can affect crime rates.”
He doesn’t discount the fact that various social factors affect crime, but, he says, “there are poor areas with little crime.”
I am curious about how the APD utilizes the crime-mapping data they have.  I assume, and hope, that they use the data for more than a web page display and public information.  However, I don't hear much about how they are using it to target hot spots and to inform officer distribution.  I also think it is slightly ridiculous that someone like me (with el hermano and Cassie) has to be the one who produces the GIS maps and data reports on micro-levels.  It would be unbelievably simple for the APD to generate data reports and maps on a regular basis.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

College Football Hall of Fame to ATL. Yawn.

So the College Football Hall of Fame is moving to Atlanta, and we beat out Dallas and T. Boone Pickens to secure the move.  As a Michigan grad, I engage in an extremely mild amount of schadenfreude at seeing South Bend, Indiana lose the Hall of Fame.  As an Atlanta resident, I am a bit disappointed as it appears the boosters of the move are going to be taking a piece of property on the east side of Centennial Olympic Park at Harris Street:

View Terminal Station Development Tracker in a larger map
I am generally of the opinion that Atlanta needs more residents and sustainable development, not more tourist attractions.  I also would love to see a higher density development than a likely two story building on that particular piece of dirt. 

I'm not opposed to the HOF relocating.  I'm enough of a home town booster to rejoice at beating Dallas for something, especially football related.  So far, the Hall of Fame has given me Notre Dame snubbing and Texas snubbing.  If we could work in some Alabama snubbing, it'd be the holy trinity of self-important football schadenfreude.  But the College Football Hall of Fame is a decidedly B-grade tourist attraction, certainly not on par with the Aquarium or the CCHR.  It doesn't match up to the World of Coke, either, which frankly is a B-grade attraction, too.  The HOF might even be C-grade.

So I'm disappointed that this actually happened, but I guess realistically it is good to have something being built Downtown.  It might be a positive addition to the city, but I still think in the long run that the opportunity costs for that parcel are too high. 

Reader email: New BeltLine CEO

I got an email from a reader, and was about to write him back when I figured my response might be worth posting:
They named a new Beltline CEO.  What do you think? If he was teh VP of Atlantic Station, the only thing I can say is I am concerned for the Beltline.  I know Atlantic Station is a major improvement from what it was, but the last word I would use for Atlantic Station is "impressive."

It all comes down to quality and design.  If the CEO doesn't have it, then the project won't have it, simple as that.
I have been ambivalent about Atlantic Station in this space.  At one point I said, "Atlantic Station is in many ways a huge disappointment it also did a lot of things right."  That is still about how I feel, although I've warmed up to the place the more I go there.  I really only end up there once a month or so for a movie, and it is always fairly busy.  It feels more urban as they fill in 17th Street with more high rises, but I also haven't been near some of the ugly multifamily buildings in a while.

I also don't know much about Brian Leary as an individual.  However, from an outsider's perspective, my first instinct is that BeltLine made a pretty good hire.  First, I think the private enterprise experience is important, and Atlantic Station is one of the few mega projects that has actually delivered anything to market.  Allen Plaza is the only other one I can think of, and the BeltLine has had mixed results working with the Barry folks on the Wayne Mason parcel.  Projects of this magnitude are very, very difficult to pull off, and Brian Leary has been a key part of one that can generally be called a success.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Required reading on APD

The AJC had a long piece in the Sunday paper about the Atlanta Police Department - you should read the whole thing. There are a few things I wanted to highlight, though.

I've been saying that simply adding more officers isn't much of a solution. The AJC thankfully points out that:
Despite recent cuts, Atlanta has more officers for every 1,000 residents than all but one of seven benchmark cities identified by a consultant to the mayor.

The only city in that group with more officers than Atlanta — St. Louis — also is the only one with a higher crime rate.
While I think there is a matter of density to consider, I hope we can agree that "more officers" doesn't automatically translate into lower crime rates.

The second thing is the issue of "perception".

Friday, September 18, 2009

Atlanta crime data: Larceny from Auto

This is the second in a series of posts looking at APD crime data. Previously I looked at residential burglaries. For an overview, including methodology, see Atlanta crime data: project overview.

Looking at the the Larceny from Auto (car break-ins) data is rather different than the home burglary story. With home burglaries, we saw rather localized results, where it was possible to identify areas of the city that saw disproportionate increases. With car break-ins, we basically have several major problem areas in the city for all years of our data set.

For the city as a whole, car break-ins are up. Things started off well, as car break-ins actually dropped in 2005, but picked up again in 2006. 2008 was a particularly bad year.

Overall, I can't see significant trends in the data other than the fact that 2008 was a very bad year for car break-ins. Without the 2008 series, many of the NPUs have average annual increases in the single digits, and a few NPUs actually have fewer car break-ins. So for, the first half of 2009 is showing a decrease in major problems areas, as well.

Don't park your car in Buckhead, Midtown, or Downtown

Breaking down car break-ins by NPU very quickly shows that the it is dangerous to park your car in densest areas of the city with the greatest amount of on-street parking and open-air parking lots. Combined, NPUs B, E, and M account for 54.83% of all break-ins over the period studied.

What you can also see here is that the trends aren't as strong for car break-ins as they were for home burglaries. For a lot of NPUs, the numbers of incidents are relatively level. The biggest increases are seen in 2006 and 2008, but in different areas. All of the increase in car break-ins in Buckhead (NPU B) occurred in 2008, while 2006 was a bad year for Midtown (NPU E). Midtown, incidentally, actually had a net decrease in activity because the increases in 2006 were offset by large decreases in 2005 and 2007.

Other areas with significant car break-in issues include NPU F (including Virginia-Highland), NPU N (including Inman Park, LIttle Five, and Cabbagetown), NPU W (including East Atlanta), as well as NPUs T and V (Summerhill, Mechanicsville, Peoplestown, Capitol View). For the most part, these problem areas correlate to areas with lots of nighttime activity. For crying out loud, don't leave stuff in your car when you go out at night!

East side again a problem area

The concentration of car break-in activity also means is that relatively modest increases in activity in these NPUs gets magnified. When car break-ins increase by 30% in Downtown over five years, it accounts for 24% of the increase in all break-ins. By contrast, care break-ins in NPU P increased by 156% yet that only contributed to 4.6% of the overall increase in activity.

Compare this graph, showing just the additional incidents by each NPU, with the second graph, showing the overall percentage change in car break-ins for each NPU.

Several things jump out to me. First, while downtown accounts for a lot of the increase in burglaries, Midtown and Buckhead are less culpable. NPUs N and O show both significant percentage and absolute increase in activity. Almost all of the increases for N and O occur in 2008.


So far, most of the major problem areas are all showing decreases in car break-ins for the first six months of the year compared with the first six months of 2008. Buckhead, Midtown, Downtown, East Atlanta, and Little Five NPUs are all down, while Virginia Highland is up. NPU O, which includes Edgewood and Kirkwood, has really taken off, though. Car break-ins have almost doubled there - no surprise given the recent reports there.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Apologies for the lack of content

It has been too long since I wrote. I have been very busy with school, but I am beginning to get a handle on the semester. I'm spending hours every day playing with spreadsheets, which is fantastic.

At one point a classmate complained about the hours he was putting in for our Financial Analysis class.

I responded, "Yeah, it is fun, but it takes a long time."

"You think this is fun?!"

I guess I'm in the right program.

Anyway, I should have a post up on car break-in data tomorrow. I have had all the analysis done for two weeks, I just hadn't had the time to write anything up. I got about 90% of the work done tonight while watching the Tech-Miami game, so you can look forward to that.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Transportation forum recap and mayoral news

Joeventures gives a pretty good write up of the most recent mayoral forum. Lisa Borders comes off the best. Joe has some okay things to say about Kasim Reed, but thinks he lacks the ability to be an effective CEO. That is one way to express a concern I share, too.

Also, Kyle Keyser of ATAC enters the race. I guess he's putting his name out there for public debate.... but I don't want to look at him the same way I look at the other candidates who might actually be in charge of the city. I mean... I have doubts he can raise enough money to qualify. I'm pretty sure that all the major candidates are aware that crime is an issue this election, and Kyle deserves some credit for that. However, I'm not sure what his candidacy will accomplish beyond that fact.

h/t: Grift Drift

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

History of I-485

Via Thomas Wheatley, there is a comprehensive history of the original I-485 fight on the Inman Park Neighborhood Association web site. The PDF was originally put out by the Morningside-Lenox Park Neighborhood Association in 2003.

Wheatley's article also include a letter from the Inman Park Neighborhood Association president to Oxendine that is worth reading. The end of the letter is, for me, the bottom line.
These Atlanta neighborhoods, including Inman Park, most soundly defeated this highway proposal decades ago, at a time when they had little organization and little resources. Today, we are highly organized and closely networked. We have neighbors and friends in many high places, and we have a lot of money, set aside specifically to protect ourselves against these kinds of proposals.
This basically sums it up - I'd like to see Oxendine try. Really. The entire east side of the city would go into primal-scream mode. The original I-485 fight, along with the subsequent Stone Mountain Freeway fight, were the catalyst for urban renewal in Atlanta. Beyond just not wanting a freeway through our neighborhoods, the fights have become even more important as a sort of local mythology.

Consider the ferocity with which folks fought against Wayne Mason, and that was for a relatively minor issue. I have no doubt that the intown neighborhoods would use every lever at their disposal, including:
  • a life time of support for John Lewis
  • a state House and Senate delegation with years of service and experience (and chits)
  • a sizable amount of disposable income useful for political donations (beyond what the neighborhood organizations have at their disposal for legal fights, etc.)
  • the made-for-the-media story line of "neighborhood fights the big bad road builders"
  • connections and often executive-level employment at Atlanta's major companies
I have little confidence that Oxendine could get any sort of bill through the legislature that would allow this to happen - if the entire Atlanta delegation didn't completely flip out I'd be surprised (and it would be legislative malpractice if they didn't).

I highly doubt that Oxendine gave this idea more than a minimal amount of thought. Not that he really gives a crap about pissing off intown neighborhoods. It is just that this is just an idea for him to put out there to say, "hey, I have transportation ideas." If he got elected, he'd never want to spend political capital on this fight. I doubt he has considered what it'd take to get such a road built. This will never happen. That doesn't make it less insulting or threatening.

That is perhaps the best way to view this proposal, as a threat to a way of life in the most drastic way possible. It isn't just threatening the symbols of that way of life, it is threatening to dig up and pave over the actual real estate that makes up a community. Auburn Avenue has never recovered from the connector getting put right though it. Can you expect Atlanta, from Morningside down to Reynoldstown and East Atlanta, to not freak out? Oxendine may as well just spit in my face.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

What a wonderful smell you've discovered

I had a whole long post written about Ox's idea to revive I-485, but it basically degenerated into a string of curse words. All I can say is that I find the idea of a parallel connector to be one of the most offensive, divisive, disgusting ideas I have heard in a very, very long time.

If I try to write anything else I will devolve into a spluttering mess and just embarrass myself. Perhaps I can prepare a cogent attack on this idea later, but I'd give it's chances for passage about a -10%.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mayoral forum on alternative transportation

The Atlanta Bicycle Campaign is hosting a mayoral forum focusing on alternative transportation. Reader Doug alerted me to the event, which I unfortunately will be unable to attend. So many of these events coincide with my classes...

The pertinent data:

Tuesday, September 1
Loudermilk Center Auditorium
40 Courtland Street NE
Bicycle valet parking will be provided

Click the picture at the top of the page for a bigger version of the flyer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mid-week links

Class has curtailed blogging thus far this week. Also, I'm going out of town tonight and through the weekend. I have no idea if blogging will continue on vacation. I doubt it. I'm spending some free time looking at the Larceny from Auto crime stats, so hopefully I'll have a post for that early next week.

Here are some links to tide you over:
  • A recent shooting has led to several anti-crime rallies in Kirkwood.
    The “safety” rally, which is intended to bring light to Hagen’s shooting and other recent crimes, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Bessie Branham Park on Delano Drive. All Atlanta residents are invited, said Anna Knipfer, one of the organizers.

    “The rally is intended to positively promote ideas on how we can get city officials more involved and to shed light on how the rezoning of Zone 6 police station has threatened the safety of all our neighborhoods,” Knipfer said. “It is also is intended to show the criminals that we are standing together and not backing down.”
  • Mayor Franklin and Chief Pennington attended a national summit on gang crime in DC earlier this week.
  • Mary Norwood has a profile in the AJC.
  • I'm really enjoying the new Karen O song from the Wild Things soundtrack.
  • Stephanie Ramage endorses Kasim Reed, and doesn't have terribly nice things to say about Lisa Borders or Mary Norwood. I read this when it was posted, but apparently Reed thought enough of the endorsement that I also got an email from him about it.
I like that Ramage is endorsing, but basically she has stated she is just disclosing her biases in the race. I would do the same, but I haven't made up my mind yet. I think I'm pretty straight forward with what I think about the candidates, though.

Monday, August 24, 2009

GIS images for residential burglaries

This post updates my first post regarding the increase in residential crime in the city. This is the first in a series of posts looking at different types of crime over the last five and a half years.

Cassie created some awesome GIS maps that really illustrate how various parts of the city have seen an explosion in residential burglaries. Click on the slide show to go see the entire album in Picasa in very high quality.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday links

I'll try and get back to regular posting on Monday. Here is what has caught my eye in the last two days:
  • I ate a massive breakfast at Parish that darn near killed me - it was so good I couldn't stop eating. I don't usually link to the stuff I post on the Metblog here, but I mention this because the building that houses Parish is really cool. If you like adaptive reuse, you should go eat there. Also, the brunches are fantastic.
  • Interesting report by the AJC on the rise of gangs. Grisly stuff.
  • Stephanie Ramage takes a look at how the rise of foreclosures might contribute to the decrease in robberies on in certain areas.
  • AJC article on how a lot of decrepit properties Downtown have been redeveloped over the last few years.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend links

Some links to get you through Friday afternoon and to the weekend:
  • Atlanta is still in consideration for World Cup hosting duties. The US bid committee is narrowing down potential sites in case the US is awarded the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. Yay, footie! Also, how could they exclude Atlanta? Um, Olympics? I think we can handle a soccer game.
  • The city council voted to award the Crum and Forster building landmark status.
  • GDOT is including commuter rail in its request for federal bucks.
  • Kasim Reed picked up some labor union support.
  • Steve Brodie gets some endorsements from police unions and Stephanie Ramage

Skeptical about home sales data

Existing home sales are up nationwide, but I'm not convinced that it means that "The housing market has decisively turned for the better," as the National Association of Realtors' chief economist says.

I think a lot of the demand for these homes is coming from the tax credit, and that there is a high likelihood sales rates will drop again beginning next year. I guess that is too far out to really predict, and the economy could pick up enough by then that demand could naturally continue. I doubt it, though.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Atlanta crime data: Residential burglaries

This is the first in a series of posts looking at APD crime data. For an overview, including methodology, see Atlanta crime data: project overview. UPDATE: You can view the series of here.

The first piece of crime data I wanted to look at was the residential burglaries category. Paulie recently got hit, and I've had a few other friends get hit as well. Burglaries are particularly important when it comes to that nebulous "perception" issue, as well.

When someone breaks into our home, we feel personally violated and extremely vulnerable. Even with no one physically hurt, the violence done to our property threatens our physical safety. Could they come back and do that to us? I've seen people completely lose it over a break-in, and it wasn't over the things they lost.

The short version of this post can be summarized succinctly:
  • Residential burglaries are up significantly across the city
  • Southwest Atlanta has seen the highest increases in burglaries
  • East Atlanta and Grant Park had high levels of burglaries, and they've only gotten worse
  • Mild improvements in 2009 aren't enough, given the increases of the last three years
Residential burglaries are up across the city

One thing that is lost in the overall numbers that get reported is how specific categories have performed. Residential burglaries are up significantly, both city-wide and even more in certain NPUs. From 2004-2008, the number of home burglaries increased 65%.

It is no surprise, then, that people feel less safe. Their homes are being violated at an alarming rate. This also places the statistics from 2009 into better context than I reported earlier. Through the first six months of 2009, residential burglaries are actually down slightly:

The fact that burglaries are down by 2% so far doesn't negate three years of double-digit increases from 2006-2008. When it comes to residential burglaries, the city gets a big, fat, FAIL.

Southwest Atlanta hit the hardest; East Atlanta and Grant Park stay high

While burglaries are up overall, certain areas of the city have been hit the hardest. Southeast Atlanta neighborhoods have consistently had some of the highest levels of home break-ins, and burglaries have increased significantly in those areas. The biggest explosion in burglaries occurred in 2007 and 2008 in west and southwest Atlanta.

You can see that some of the most significant increases in 2007 are in NPUs G, H, I, J, and K, while in 2008 NPUs P, R and S skyrocket. These NPUs are geographically concentrated in the west and southwest of the city. These areas went from relatively low levels of activity (100-150 burglaries per year) to having very high levels of activity (350-500 burglaries per year). NPU J (Dixie Hills, Grove Park, around Simpson Road) has always been bad, but the rest of the NPUs haven't been awful.

You can also see that the NPUs most associated with these types of crimes in the media, O and W, aren't doing so hot, either. NPU O, which includes Edgewood and Kirkwood, started off with one of the highest levels in the city before decreasing a bit from 2005-2007. However, 2008 was an awful year for NPU O as the number of burglaries shot up to just over 400.

NPU W, which includes Grant Park and East Atlanta, saw moderate increase in 2005 and 2007 before also exploding in 2008. 2008 was a bad year for the city as a whole, but particularly bad for NPU W - it brought them in to position as the #1 NPU in the city for residential burglaries for the year.

Overall, SE Atlanta is worst area for home burglaries

Taking a five-year average for each NPU smoothes out some of the wild variations between years and lets us see which NPUs over the last five years have been the worst for break-ins. This diminishes the rapid growth on the west side, since initial burglary levels there were relatively low. Still, NPUs I and J rank 3rd and 5th overall in average activity.

It also highlights just how bad things have been in the southeast. NPUs V, W, and Z rank 2, 4, and 1 overall in average number of incidents, while O and Y are 8th and 6th, respectively.

2009 results are mixed

2009 has been mildly successful, although again we are comparing against a banner year for criminals. So far this year, burglaries are down the most in west-side NPUs. Almost all of the NPUs with decreased level of burglaries are on the west side. NPUs W and O on the east side has seen a slight decrease in activity, but the NPU V has skyrocketed.

The trends on the west side are hopeful, but "status quo" for the east side means a continued high level of burglaries. If the west side trends continue for the rest of the year, perhaps 2007 and 2008 were just rough years, as opposed to indications of a permanent increase. The same cannot be said for the southeast.

Below is a summary of numerous statistics referenced in this post, as well as annual averages for the increases for each NPU.