Effectively challenging policy
Rules of thumb
Parking as economic destruction
Tracking ideas is a Bob Dey Property Report section devoted to ideas on property questions such as urban strategies & design, many from overseas but with relevance to Auckland.
By the time I’d wandered through a few links I’d forgotten what brought me here in the first place – often the case on a Saturday morning when I pick up a few threads set aside during the week.
My 2 questions for Tracking ideas items are:
- Is this relevant to Auckland?
- Will it prompt you to think of how things might be done better?
The Strong Towns website has done a lot of such prompting for me recently, and today’s Tracking ideas page carries several links directly to Strong Towns columns, plus related pages.
Effectively challenging policy
What prompted me today was less a MinnPost article, What most neighbourhood activists don’t understand about real estate development, more the comments beneath it.
Among the topics raised were comments about zoning, nimbyism, timing of consultation, destruction in the name of affordable housing, making a difference at policy level, progress versus progress (or, definitions versus reality).
I don’t know a thing about Minnesota or Minneapolis, which is what MinnPost is about, but the points raised are relevant here. For instance, on zoning, Auckland is going through the process of making long-term zone decisions which have involved many people in presenting submissions on individual sites, suburbs, right up to the whole isthmus and right across building types or living styles.
The process has been too much for me to follow intimately; I’ll write more when Auckland Council deliberates on the recommendations of the independent panel that’s about to finish hearing submissions on the unitary plan.
Also in Auckland, as public transport has begun to improve, the campaign against minimum parking ratios has grown. For many years, the Auckland Regional Council & Auckland City Council were at odds on this, advocating different ratios for new commercial development.
My favourite example of timidity versus firm action on parking/public transport (right or wrong) occurred in 2007, when Architect Greg Boyden, then a director of Jasmax Ltd, wanted to build a 2-level apartment above 2 office floors, with far less parking below than the rules dictated.
Mr Boyden left Jasmax in 2013 to set up his own architectural practice from his new building on Railway St, a small side street off Newmarket Broadway. At the initial hearing, he withdrew his application as councillors weren’t prepared to allow less onsite parking if it meant more vehicles being parked elsewhere, in conflict with the push for more people to use public transport – and Broadway had plenty of that.
Parking ratios are an issue elsewhere too, as the Strong Towns website testifies. Blogger Joe Cortright wrote about those ratios & other transport & design issues in a column there in January, questioning the old rationale, and Urban3 analyst Joshua McCarty wrote more those ratios last November.
Rules of thumb
In Strong Towns in January, City Observatory blogger Joe Cortright wrote an article, Our old planning rules of thumb are “all thumbs”: “We all know & use rules of thumb. They’re handy for simplifying otherwise difficult problems and quickly making reasonably prudent decisions. We know that we should measure twice and cut once, that a stitch in time saves 9, and that we should allow a little extra following distance when the roads are slick.
“What purport to be ‘standards’ in the worlds of transport & land use are in many cases just elaborate rules of thumb. And while they might have made sense in some limited or original context, the cumulative effect of these rules is that we have a transport system which is by regulation, practice & received wisdom, ‘all thumbs’.”
His lists of old & new rules of thumb (go to Strong Towns for the detail):
1, We should have a high “level of service” on our streets
2, Wider streets are safer streets
3, We should require “enough” offstreet parking for every use
4, We should plan for a certain number of car trips to be generated by every land use, no matter where it is
5, We should have a hierarchy of streets
1, Closer is better
2, Slower is safer
3, Sharing is efficient
4, Our objective should be accessibility, not mobility.
Parking as economic destruction
The Strong Towns website describes #BlackFridayParking as a nationwide event in the US “drawing attention to the harmful nature of minimum parking requirements which create a barrier for new local businesses and fill up our cities with empty parking spaces that don’t add value to our places”.
In a Strong Towns column last November, Urban3’s chief analytics researcher and resident geo-accountant Joshua McCarty wrote: “What makes surface parking so destructive is that it consumes a finite resource with virtually no direct financial benefit. Our preoccupation at Urban 3 is local finance. From that perspective, parking – in particular the vast kind that adorns strip malls & box stores – is dead weight. Local governments, be they in cities, towns or counties, are all constrained by the land they can develop. What they do with that resource is thus paramount to how well they can pay their bills. Tax revenue is but one of many resources squandered by each acre of land devoted to deactivated cars.
“This year for #BlackFridayParking, I’ll delve deeper into the pattern of tax efficiency in our 3D models to focus on the impact of surface parking. Those of you who are familiar with Urban Three will recognise this image as the incredibly common pattern of property tax production per acre.”
Mr McCarty’s work focuses on new ways to visualise local finance: “At the core of this work is an ongoing effort to quantify, measure & communicate patterns of urban development & the outcomes of design choices.”
Urban 3 LLC is a private consulting firm based in Asheville, North Carolina – actually, in what used to be the boiler room of the George Vanderbilt Hotel built in 1928 – specialising in land value economics, property & retail tax analysis and community design. Its name acknowledges that cities & towns are a “cubed” or 3-dimensional representation of space, its aim is to “help communities make better decisions through the understanding of data & design”, so it provides analytical tools for a 3-dimensional world.
A signature product is the maps it does of cities showing tax productivity, among a number of other results inclined to make you think about inputs & outcomes.
Strong Towns founder & president Chuck Marohn asked in a presentation to the winner of the website’s strongest town competition this month:
- Why are our cities & towns so short of resources despite decades of robust growth?
- Why do we struggle at the local level just to maintain our basic infrastructure?
- What do we do now that the economy has changed so dramatically?
His response: “The answers lie in the way we have developed; the financial productivity of our places. This stunning presentation is a gamechanger for communities looking to grow more resilient and obtain true prosperity during changing times.”
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, population 19,000, won the website’s 2016 strongest town contest against 15 other towns across the US after a competition of one-on-one playoffs to carry out a series of tasks to showcase their strength & resilience through words, photographs, interviews & a live broadcast.
Mr Marohn wrote: “The winner has proven its commitment to safe, accessible transport with a recent road diet down its main street, new bike/walk trails & bus routes. Children in this town regularly walk to school. Its community organisations have come together to improve the public realm through parks, gardens & events, and its local colleges play a central role in the life of the town. Diverse residents make their home in this place, and challenges like the loss of factory jobs are met as opportunities for growth & transformation.”
MinnPost, 6 April 2016: What most neighbourhood activists don’t understand about real estate development
Arian Horbovetz, The Urban Phoenix, 5 April 2016: Revitalisation of small cities: Challenges & advantages
Strong Towns, 12 April 2016: Strongest town contest winner
Strong Towns, 4 April 2016: And the strongest town award goes to…
Strong Towns, 7 January 2016: Our old planning rules of thumb are “all thumbs”
Strong Towns, 24 November 2015: Mapping the effects of parking minimums
Urban 3 blog
Attribution: MinnPost, Strong Towns, Smart Growth, Urban 3, Urban Phoenix
Regular leads: Planetizen