Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Connectedness Critique

I still love this post: The Connectedness Critique.

Largely because of this line: "This lumbering iteration is, I suspect, is the highest degree of intelligence that you can ever expect from a democratic process."

Elected officials have to come up with solutions to some pretty crazy problems. But problems tend to be raised and solved on an ad-hoc basis. In a way, the process of planning is the systemization of problem solving--an ongoing process of raising the issues, coming up with solutions and figuring out how to implement them.

This suggests that one of the most valuable parts of the planning process may be what is typically regarded as the most problematic: Whenever you start planning for anything, all sorts of related issues are raised. Which tend to confuse and muddle the process--the planning process becomes an open forum for airing grievances. In a weird way, the public planning process may be the most democratic aspect in modern America, although education runs a close second. (Worth noting that both are spatially based, with specific geographic areas of effect.)

I'm fine with lumbering, fine with disjointed incrementalism. But the above suggests that we should stop making plans that are 'finished', should acknowledge that the process of planning is ongoing, that issues were raised that need to be resolved in future plans.

This suggests a move away from all-at-once 'comprehensive planning', and towards a series of subject specific 'master' plans. I'm fine with lumbering, fine with disjointed incrementalism. As Mr. Walker suggests in his post above, it may be the best we can hope for.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Denver Parking Ratios


There are a total of approximately 64,500 parking spaces in the
Downtown area. Seventy-four percent of the spaces are classified
as off-street public; 20 percent are classified as off-street private;
and the remaining six percent are classified as on-street. Of the
total off-street spaces, 60 percent are located in parking structures
and 40 percent are in surface lots. When the parking supply is
compared to existing office and retail square footage Downtown,
it computes to 1.9 spaces per 1,000 square feet of development.
This parking ratio falls within the national range (1.6-2.0) of
peak-parking requirements in a downtown with Denver’s current
level of transit usage.

Wonder what it looks like for SLC... or for Portland. (See earlier post).

Denver Gets It

Complete streets.

In an economic downturn, Denver keeps planning, preparing, and is investing in low-cost transportation infrastructure--An example SLC should follow.

Car Saturation

In 2009, bought 10m, scrapped 14m.

The question: Is this an indication of a social change, where living patterns are changing, or is this an economic change, where is is no longer feasible to afford multiple extra vehicles?

Biking in NYC

Converting Parking Meters to Bike Racks

Just musing, but biking seems to be beating transit, despite crazy increases in transit construction.

Buying a better house.

Street Corners vs. Cul de Sacs

I like this line the best:
“If you are a rational actor trying to maximize your dollar, you may have to pay more.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Parking is the Problem

We try so hard, and fail so miserably.

And here is why:

The success of transit hinges on land use in ways I would never have expected.

Notable from the above post:

Given that the average car-park takes up about 380 sq ft, a "market" price for parking is closer to $20/day.

How much should parking cost in your city?

Housing Market Still in Trouble

The power of good graphics: To say in a glance what can would otherwise take ten minutes of explanation.

From: Calculated Risk

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Social Network Structure

One reason I love forums is that they make it remarkably easy to engage in different levels of involvement in many different communities.


It would be great if someone were to study the role of sock puppets in maintaining forum dissent. A sock puppet is a second user account and associated identity created and maintained by a forum regular with the intent of dissent or outright antagonism without disrupting other (often tenuous) bonds with other forum regulars.

It is always good to be reminded that the internet is not like everyplace else--nowhere else can you be so effectively two-faced with so little consequence.

Manifesto-Why I write

My rationale for writing is two-fold: I desire it and I believe it to be desirable. It gives me joy to publish my thoughts, if even in so limited a manner. And I believe what I say is worth hearing--That by being thoughtful and articulate I may improve the breadth and quality of public knowledge, so that we may better engage in 'deliberative democracy'. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

about the author

Matt Miller is a transportation planner in Salt Lake City, interested in transit planning, regional governance, green urbanism, and sustainability. He has been a full-time consultant for two years, and had the good luck to be involved in a fair number of good projects in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Missoula, Montana. Born in 1982, he grew up in Salt Lake City during a time when transit was finally coming into its own. He went on to complete a BA and MUP at the University of Utah (SLC, Utah) and trying to get himself into a PhD program in Urban Studies, ideally someplace prestigious.

In addition to this blog, he is a voracious reader and prodigious poster on many forums.

For more on Matt Miller, and this blog, see the Welcome and Manifesto post

About the Blog

Patrick Bel Geddes had the right ideas, and the right approach. This blog is named in his honor.

One of Geddes' most well-known physical contributions is his so-called 'sociological laboratory', the Outlook Tower in Edinburgh, which he acquired in 1882. His intention was to create an observatory, as well as an 'Index Museum to the World' to act both as a local memory storage and a link to the wider world7 - thus classifying and inegrating local, regional, national, European, and global aspects of life. Critically important to the philosophy of the Tower is its focus on the art of seeing. Its objective is to create new points of view. At the top of the Tower a camera obscura enables the looker to hold the life of the city in the palm of the hand.

Why the bailout?

Pretty simple. Story of supply and demand.

In theory, when there is more demand then supply, price rises. Think the Christmas rush for Wii or Tickle Me Elmo. The inverse is also true. When there is more supply then demand, prices fall. One caveat:

*Prices on big items are sticky*

If you bought a house for half a million dollars, you sure as hell aren't going to sell it for $350,000. You might buy a car for $3000 and sell it for $1500, if you really had to. But $150,000? Five years of your annual salary? Hell no.

There are way too many houses in America for the number of people who are actually able to afford them. For about five years, people were able to temporarily afford them, due to some creative financing. That's over now. But we still have way too many houses.

So housing prices are starting to fall. Which is a curiously bad thing, because a number of people in finance and real estate borrowed a SHIT ton of money from various pensions, 401K investment firms, banks, and investment companies.Your money, your parents money, your grandparents money. And they invested in the housing market. Paying for houses to be build. Those houses aren't worth the money paid for them right now. They are worth about... 3/4 of it.

So, if the free market was actually working, housing prices would fall to a new lower level, and everyone would get on with life. But.

The American Government is in a really tight spot. Seriously screwed, really. They have a bunch of voters who have their money in two places: Investment/pension and houses. If the government doesn't bail out the banking system, all the investors in housing lose money. And all the people with houses lose massive money.

People with houses tend to be wealthier, more settled, better educated, and vote more often. Also, often retired and bored. A dangerous group to piss off.

So, the people on the hill say "oh oh! What do we do"? And that solution has been the tax rebate on houses. If you buy a new house, you get $8000. But only if you do that before a certain date. So this creates a pretty strong incentive for everyone to buy a house. This artificially stimulates demand, and keeps housing prices high.

Detroit did that. IT ONLY WORKS FOR SO LONG. GM offered bonus after bonus after bonus for about a decade.

Notice that the feds just extended the $8,000 tax rebate for another six months,eh? I'd bet on it being extended again.

What the Washington clan of policy wonks is hoping is that the price of houses will rise fast enough in the next few years that the 'natural' rate of appreciation catch up to current price levels.

I'd bet against it, were I a betting man. But I'm not. Because the government does not define the market. It just distorts the market. The things they are doing to fix things are doing weird things to other parts of the market. Housing price depends on supply versus demand. More demand then supply, price rises. More supply then demand, price falls.The funny part is that they are already starting to build more houses. The economy is down, so the price of labor for construction is way down. There are unemployed construction works willing to work for half of what they were two years ago. So even when we have a vast oversupply of houses, people are building MORE of them. Because that $8000 incentive is making more people buy.

This is kind of a clusterfuck. Figure everyone that buys a house gets the $8,000 tax incentive. Figure EVERYONE, whether they buy a house or not, has to pay for it.

Fixing it:

First: $8,000 incentive goes away.

Second: Federal government currently insures any mortgage that meets certain requirements. That changes. They should stop ensuring 'big' mortgages. Unless you live in NYC or DC, you have no need for a $750,000 mortgages. People in Arizona took them out and used them to buy houses in places where the average house price was $250,000. It's a national standard. That needs to end. Simple change, really. Max mortgage size=2.5*Area Median Income.