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.