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.

LOCUS

New LOCUS resources now available

LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors and Smart Growth America are pleased to announce new resources now available for LOCUS members and advocates interested in responsible real estate policy.

LOCUS is a network of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, walkable development in America’s towns and cities. By providing members of Congress with expert advice on current consumer demand and the many benefits smart growth strategies, LOCUS members can help more communities across the country develop in ways that are sustainable for the environment and the economy.

Visit the new LOCUS section of this site for information about LOCUS’ steering committee, the issues we work on, upcoming events and additional resources and publications.

If your company or organization is interested in joining the fastest growing network of smart growth real estate developers and investors, click here to learn more about becoming a LOCUS member today.

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New study by National Association of Realtors finds consumers want smart growth amenities

According to a report released today by the National Association of Realtors, Americans favor walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods over neighborhoods that require more driving between home, work and recreation. 77 percent of respondents said they would look for neighborhoods with abundant sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly features when considering buying a home. 50 percent would like to see improvements to existing public transportation rather than initiatives to build new roads and developments.

“Our members don’t just sell homes, they sell neighborhoods,” NAR President Ron Phipps said in a statement. “REALTORS® understand that different home buyers are looking for all kinds of neighborhood settings and that many home buyers want walkable, transit-accessible communities.”

The fact that home buyers want smart growth neighborhoods isn’t a new idea. LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors is a network of professionals who use smart growth strategies to create the neighborhoods consumers are demanding. Chris Leinberger, President of LOCUS, said in a statement, “NAR’s survey reveals what many real estate developers are seeing across the country: smart growth strategies are the best way to meet market demand for walkable neighborhoods with shorter commutes, diverse housing options and transportation choices. Demographic shifts in the United States along with the changing consumer preferences highlighted in NAR’s survey illustrate that consumers want neighborhoods with more walkable housing and transportation choices.

“Despite these emerging trends, federal policy often prevents real estate developers from meeting market demands for smart growth neighborhoods. LOCUS members are working with Congress to remove this red tape to help developers rebuild local economies with the strong neighborhoods Americans want to live in.”

Download the new study from the National Association of Realtors
NAR Study Finds Americans Prefer Smart Growth Communities [MarketWire, 4/4/11]

LOCUS

The WalkUP Wake-Up Call: Boston

A series of reports take a look at three metropolitan areas and find pent-up demand for walkable urban neighborhoods across the country. The reports identify regionally significant walkable urban places, or “WalkUPs,” and rank them based on economic performance, measured by the real estate valuations for each product type and the fiscal revenues generated for local governments, and by social equity performance, measured by accessibility, opportunity, and affordability for residents. Looking ahead to future opportunities, the reports also identify emerging and potential WalkUPs where new development could go.

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