Building for a new America: RailVolution 2011 in Washington, DC

To understand the new American dream, we have to understand the new America.

This was the theme of today’s opening plenary session at RailVolution, a four-day conference dedicated to discussing strategies for building livable communities served by transit. This year’s conference, which takes place in Washington, DC, will discuss the best strategies to support downtowns, the benefits rail can bring to a regional economy, and policy initiatives that can support these goals.

Opening this morning’s plenary was Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors. Joining him was Manuel Pastor, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Both Leinberger and Pastor spoke about shifting trends in the United States, and how these shifts will influence communities’ strategies for building homes, business areas and transportation networks. The U.S. is diversifying both ethnically and racially, Pastor explained, and the suburbs in particular are growing more diverse than ever before. These aren’t the only changes at work, however. Leinberger added that the U.S.’s population is growing older, as millions of Americans reach retirement age. The number of homes in America without children is also on the rise, and young people are increasingly moving to cities and urban areas.

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LOCUS steering committee members honored at ULI Terwillinger Center Awards Gala

The Urban Land Institute’s Terwillinger Center for Workforce Housing held its annual awards gala in September to recognize communities, real estate developers and policymakers in promoting workforce housing affordability. The Jonathan Rose Companies, led by LOCUS steering committee member Jonathan Rose, received the Jack Kemp Workforce Housing Model of Excellence award for their Tapestry development in East Harlem, New York. The award is given in honor of former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp in recognition of four developers who have used innovative financing and design strategies to build developments and offers units at both market rate and below-market rate for residents.

LOCUS Steering Committee member Eric Larson also attended the event to present the Robert C. Larson Workforce Housing Public Policy Award, which recognizes the commitment of a state or local government that is dedicated to the production, rehabilitation and preservation of workforce housing. New this year, the award is named in memory of Larson’s father, Bob Larson, a leading real estate developer and investor chair of the Resolution Trust Corporation and former ULI chairman. This year’s award recipient is the city of San Jose.

“My father believed that a keen sense of community would emerge when dedicated, smart people do the right thing. And public policy, with strong leadership, is key to the lasting quality of a community,” Larson said. “We are thrilled that San Jose is the first recipient of this award bearing my father’s name.”

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Shifting demand spurs new development in downtown Las Vegas

Real estate developers in Las Vegas are seeing growing demand for homes downtown.

An article in the Las Vegas Sun this week chronicles the change, explaining that offers for homes in the heart of the city are coming in above asking price, and as new amenities are created in the city developers expect demand to rise even higher.

“That’s what you need for a city to grow is rental housing,” said New York developer Barnet Liberman, as quoted by the Sun. “There shouldn’t be any barrier for lower-income people to be able to grow and prosper. The only question for developers, guys like myself, is they’ve got to know that there’s a real solid, almost certainty that if they do A, B and C, then they get D. When you see that the city is behind you in terms of a common goal, it helps eliminate some of the risk.”

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Building for Prosperity: Louisiana's Smart Growth Summit

Baton Rouge, LA – Developers, advocates, designers and civic leaders from across the region and around the country gathered last week for Louisiana’s sixth Smart Growth Summit. Hosted by the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), this year’s summit focused on the economic opportunities created by smart growth.

CPEX, which works primarily in Baton Rouge, is known across the state as the leading advocate for strategic redevelopment, land use and transportation planning. In 2006 the group led a state-funded visioning effort called Louisiana Speaks which engaged 27,000 people in a conversation about the state’s future. Cities, towns and parishes across the region joined the smart growth dialogue, and the results are already apparent in local plans and politics.

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LOCUS President Chris Leinberger promotes increased transit investment in Georgia

Last Wednesday, LOCUS President Christopher Leinberger traveled throughout the Atlanta metropolitan region meeting with political and business leaders to lend support for the upcoming Transportation Investment Act referendum and to advocate for public transportation’s unique role as a driver of the region’s economic development.

In 2010, Georgia lawmakers passed the Transportation Investment Act, which calls for a statewide vote on whether to raise sales taxes one cent in order to fund mass transit, road, and other transportation projects in the state. The legislation divides the state into 12 regions and allows elected officials from each region to choose certain transportation projects to be funded by the tax. Currently, regions are compiling their list of transportation projects to be placed for a vote in 2012 voters.

Joined by Ray Christman, Director of Livable Communities Coalition at a Georgia Passenger Rail Coalition sponsored press conference in downtown Atlanta overlooking the future Multi-modal Passenger Terminal, Leinberger delivered a presentation on the latest trends in real estate and how demographic shifts are pushing demand toward transit-oriented, walkable development, which, as Leinberger concludes, is the next critical component of metro Atlanta’s economic development portfolio.

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Value capture: an innovative strategy to fund public transportation projects

Officials in Shenzhen, China, this month announced a $900 million project to expand the city’s metro system in anticipation for the XXVI Universiade Games. City officials hired the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Corporation – best known for running and managing Hong Kong’s mass transit system – to build and operate the ten-mile-long, ten station extension.

Unlike most transit operators around the world, MTR maintains a robust development portfolio that produces revenue far greater than its transit fares. Most of MTR’s properties surround the company’s rail lines, and in many instances – such as in Hong Kong – MTR received the properties from the city in return for financing and operating a transit system. In essence, MTR provides metro service below ground in return for property above. This strategy is called “value capture.” Although it’s not yet clear whether Shenzhen’s expansion will use this model, the speculation about using value capture there reaffirms the idea’s financial viability.

In Latin America, value capture has been utilized to help fund Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in cities such as Bogota, Columbia and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Property values have increased dramatically along BRT corridors as a result of the improved transit, and the local government has been able to recoup public funds used to finance the system through increased value of government-owned properties along the line. Both Bogota and Sao Paulo helped pay for new transit lines by betting property values would increase along those corridors.

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LOCUS members gather for 2011 annual summer meeting and advocacy day

Members of LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors, representing some of the leading transit-oriented development companies in America, gathered in Washington, DC on June 15 and 16 to meet with each other and visit representatives on Capitol Hill.

LOCUS members met representatives from nearly 40 Congressional offices to discuss how federal transportation investments can better support one of the fastest-growing segments of America’s housing and real estate market: walkable, mixed-use development.

If you or your organization are interested in advocating for sustainable real estate at the federal level, consider joining LOCUS today. Learn more >>

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Smart growth news – June 15, 2011

Did Smart Growth Fuel the Property-Price Boom?
Wall Street Journal Development Blog, June 14, 2011
In a recent paper, though, Wendell Cox, an Illinois-based consultant and an adjunct scholar with the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis, argues land-use restrictions and planning policies like smart growth fueled property prices and became the engine of the housing boom and bust. The price decline on the “drivable fringe” was generally twice as bad during the crash, said Christopher Leinberger, a developer of “walkable urban projects” and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. “And it was that part of the market that is the least regulated,” he said. Smart-growth areas or walkable neighborhoods within metro markets had price drops but they ultimately “held their value, thank you very much.” The problem, Mr. Leinberger added, was that “we built too much of the wrong stuff in the wrong location.”

A City Tries to Slim Down
New York Times, June 13, 2011
This city’s Broadway displays its own array of neon signs — two dozen fast-food restaurants, as diverse as McDonald’s and the local Indi’s — beckoning along a 2.8-mile corridor bookended by low-income neighborhoods on the front lines of a multimillion-dollar battle against obesity. The street symbolizes one of many hurdles facing officials here working to put a severely overweight population on a diet.

Poor public transit called threat to older Americans
Reuters, June 14, 2011
A new study says more than 15.5 million seniors, aged 65 to 79, will have poor or nonexistent access to public transportation by 2015. Many outlying suburbs and “exurbs” simply have few options for getting around for those who do not drive.

OC commuters urged to take public transit on Dump the Pump Day
KABC (Los Angeles), June 14, 2011
The Orange County Transportation Authority is encouraging commuters to give public transportation a try. They’ll even throw in breakfast. This Thursday is national Dump the Pump Day. It’s all about avoiding high gas prices by taking public transportation.

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Smart growth news – June 13, 2011

Fix it first
Twin Cities Daily Planet, June 9, 2011
A new report shows that our state is spending nearly half of its highway capital on expanding roads and less than the national average on keeping them in good shape. And the national average is pretty discouraging, too. According to the report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, only four states and the District of Columbia are doing enough to keep good roads good and make bad roads better. Minnesota isn’t among them. The state Department of Transportation has quibbled with some of the study’s Minnesota-specific findings, but its own projections show a near-tripling of highway miles in poor condition over the next two decades.

Repair Priorities
Hawaii Reporter, June 10, 2011
Anybody that’s owned a house knows that keeping up with the maintenance is critical. Patching a small hole in the roof now is a heck of a lot less expensive than ignoring it and having to replace the entire rotten roof down the road. Unsurprisingly, the same applies to our nation’s infrastructure, and specifically the road network that we rely on to get where we are going and move the goods to get our economy humming.

Are the Millennials Driving Downtown Corporate Relocations?
The New Republic, June 9, 2011
In spite of the U.S. Census data for the past decade showing continued job de-centralization, there is now much anecdotal evidence for the just the opposite. The Chicago Crain’s Business Journal reports that companies such as Allstate, Motorola, AT&T, GE Capital, and even Sears are re-considering their fringe suburban locations, generally in stand alone campuses, and may head back to downtown Chicago.

Virginia: Alexandria presents alternative to waterfront plan as protests continue
Washington Post, June 11, 2011
About 200 Alexandria residents marched through Old Town on Saturday and converged on City Hall to protest a $51 million plan to bring hotels and other new development to the city’s waterfront. Opponents of the proposed project, who have organized as Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan, said they want the City Council to consider designs that include more parks, a focus on arts and Alexandria’s history, and have no hotels.

Minnesota: Two St. Croix River bridge plans follow far different approaches
Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 12, 2011
In an era of tight government budgets, it’s wasteful to build a bridge that doesn’t serve multiple purposes, said William Schroeer, of St. Paul, who is policy and research director for Smart Growth America, a nonprofit group that advocates sound economic development strategy. “In this era of $4- and $5-a-gallon gas, to spend money on a bridge that only cars can use — that doesn’t make sense,” he said.

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National association releases smart growth course for real estate professionals

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) officially launched a new course offering at their mid-year meeting last week. “Smart Growth for the 21st Century” is designed to bring real estate professionals up to speed on the basics of smart growth – what it is, why home buyers want it, and how it can build their business. The four-hour course is now available to Realtors® associations nationwide.

“Our Smart Growth Program Advisory Group asked us to create this tool to help our membership lead conversations about their communities’ futures,” explained Joe Molinaro, the Managing Director for Smart Growth and Housing Opportunity at NAR. “Realtors® are deeply rooted in and knowledgeable about the places where they live and work. They are in a position to make a strong case for smart growth.”

The course uses the ten smart growth principles to explain how different elements of community design and public policy work together to create the communities demanded by a growing market sector. The course also lays out economic arguments for smart growth and engages participants with opportunities to practice explaining and promoting smart growth approaches based on their community’s needs.

A recent NAR poll found that the majority of Americans define their ideal community as including a mix of houses, places to walk, and amenities within walking distance or a brief drive. These ideal communities included cities (preferred by 19 percent of respondents), mixed-use suburbs (28 percent), and small towns (18 percent). According to Mr. Molinaro, developing a national course that could address each of these contexts was a priority for the Advisory Group. Course instructors are trained to tailor the materials and exercises to the specific needs of different communities, using case studies and examples that are especially relevant to the hosts’ geography, community size and market conditions.

Robert Johnston, Vice President of the Anne Arundel County Association of Realtors in Maryland, attended the first training and said, “I really appreciated the balanced perspective. So many times those discussions are one sided, and not realistic. This course is really grounded in the realities of the market.” NAR also provides interested Realtor® associations with a list of instructors and an application to apply for an NAR Smart Growth Action Grant to help defray the course implementation costs.

For more information visit www.realtor.org.

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