Smart growth news – December 9

As U.S. road deaths drop, more pedestrians getting struck
USA Today, December 8, 2011
The USA is getting riskier for people on foot, and experts aren’t sure why. New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that pedestrian fatalities rose 4.2% in 2010 over the previous year. The number of pedestrians injured in motor vehicle crashes soared 19%, to 70,000.

Smart Growth conference to focus on sustainability
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 9, 2011
Pittsburgh’s rise from the ashes of a decimated steel industry and collapsed job market has caused some planning experts to refer to its story as a road map for post-industrial recovery. But organizers of the upcoming Southwestern Pennsylvania Smart Growth Conference say sustainable business strategies designed to revitalize existing resources are the models that ultimately will determine the future of the region and nation.

Governor Cuomo Announces $785 Million in Economic Development Funding Through Regional Councils
NBC 34 (N.Y.), December 9, 2011
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that $785 million has been awarded through the Regional Economic Development Council initiative, continuing the Governor’s efforts to redesign the way state government works in order to drive economic growth and create jobs. … In its plan, “A Strategy for Prosperity in Western New York,” the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council focused on preparing the region’s workforce for employment in key industry sectors, driving innovation and commercialization, investing in smart growth infrastructure, and attracting more visitors.

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The high cost of vacant homes: a new report from GAO

In 2010, there were 10.3 million vacant homes in America. Many are vacant as a result of foreclosure, and they’re costing municipalities at a time when public budgets are already strained to the breaking point.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examines trends in the number of vacant properties, how they relate to the recent increase in foreclosures, the cost of maintaining and administering these properties and strategies for coping with the crises. GAO analyzed Census Bureau vacancy data and data on property maintenance costs from the Federal Housing Administration and two housing-related government-sponsored enterprises. The Office conducted case studies in nine cities selected to provide a range of local economic and housing conditions, rates of foreclosure, and geographic locations.

For many cities, vacant and foreclosed properties are more than just another costly expense. Tending to these properties costs money, but neglecting them can cost far more, and the report from GAO makes clear the scope of this problem. The Huffington Post explained the dilemma vacant properties pose:

While the upkeep and maintenance of a vacant home is technically the responsibility of either the homeowner or the mortgage owner, in practice it often falls to the town, which has to pay for basic services – like cutting the grass, boarding up windows and draining swimming pools – to keep the property from falling into total disrepair. Alternatively, the town can have the vacant property demolished [but] either way, the tab for cities and towns is often high. Detroit, for example, has paid $20 million to demolish 4,000 properties in the past two and a half years, the GAO found.

Communities incur costs in other ways as well. The GAO noted that vacant homes are often associated with crime and accidental fires, which require the attention of police and fire departments, thus tying up city resources. And cities often see their property taxes fall as vacant homes drive down the value of homes around them.

While vacant properties pose serious challenges to the communities faced with them, cities and states are already using great strategies to turn these properties into assets. Land banks are public authorities created to acquire, hold, manage and develop vacant properties. Land banks aim to convert vacant properties that have been neglected by the open market into productive use, and are already in use in Ohio and New York. Land banks are a great way for municipalities to deal with the high cost of vacant homes and support their local economy in the process.

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Smart growth news – December 8

Economy, gas prices make Americans drive less
USA Today, December 7, 2011
It’s the first time the nation has seen six consecutive monthly decreases since October of 2008. A USA TODAY analysis of data from the Federal Highway Administration shows the miles driven during the year that ended in September were down 1% from a similar measure from February.

Public mass transit regains footing
USA Today, December 7, 2011
More people rode public transportation in the first nine months of this year than last, a sign that more people are working and looking for cheaper options to get around. Ridership on public buses and trains increased 2% — from 7.63 billion rides to 7.76 billion, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

Vacant Homes Impose Big Costs On Cities Amid Budget Crises: GAO
Huffington Post, December 6, 2011
The foreclosure crisis is costing cities at a time when they can least afford it. Millions of homes in America are standing vacant, and in many cases they represent a financial sinkhole for their communities. Local governments — forced to absorb the costs of maintaining or razing these homes, and seeing property taxes plummet in response to the spread of urban blight — are increasingly shouldering the burden of the country’s slumping housing market, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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Smart growth news – December 5

Ventura mayor plans to move to D.C. after leaving office
Ventura County Star (Calif.), December 2, 2011
Bill Fulton, whose term as mayor of Ventura ends Monday, will leave town in the spring for a job with an urban planning think tank in Washington, D.C.

A new challenge for this politician
Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2011
Fulton announced in July he wouldn’t seek reelection when his term was up this year. In a few months he will move to Washington, D.C., where he’ll work for Smart Growth America, a think tank that advises cities and counties on development issues.

‘Smart growth’ advocates study Williamson’s efforts
The Tennessean, November 30, 2011
Quality-growth experts from throughout the country visited Williamson County as part of a three-day visit to Nashville to learn about successful quality-growth models and best practices in Middle Tennessee…A model region is selected every year by the Smart Growth America network as part of its convention. Smart Growth America is a national organization that works with communities to implement smart growth planning and development.

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Smart growth news – November 4

Poverty tightens its grip in America’s cities, new numbers show
Kansas City Star, November 2, 2011
The population in the nation’s extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods — those where 40 percent or more live below the poverty line — has risen by one-third in the last decade, according to a Brookings report out today.

Blueprint for a New American Home
Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2011
The new American home is taking shape. Tough recent years are leaving their mark on home design, just as the housing-boom years sent square footage soaring and stamped a distinctive “McMansion” style on neighborhoods across the country. Big home builders, smaller architecture firms and even bathroom-fixture makers are adjusting to the shift toward more practical features and away from the aspirational.

Detroit native Dan Gilbert bets big on the city’s rebound
Reuters, November 2, 2011
In all, Gilbert controls 1.7 million square feet in Detroit, including four office buildings and two parking platforms in a four-block area of Woodward Avenue. His plan: To leverage his wealth and connections to create a cluster of entrepreneurial companies in downtown that will lure other start-ups away from Chicago, New York and Silicon Valley. He calls his vision “Detroit 2.0.”

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Smart growth news – September 29

New Austin blueprint envisions new direction for growth
The Statesman (Texas), September 28, 2011
After two years of debates and committee meetings, Austin officials have unveiled a broad vision for growth that condemns traditional suburban development and is garnering both praise and skepticism.

Smart Growth Policies Face Overhaul
NJ Spotlight, September 28, 2011
The state is thinking about revamping its policies dealing with what projects receive financial incentives to reduce energy use in buildings, a change smart growth advocates fear will lead to further sprawl and loss of open space.

HUD grant would help homeowners in 4 Iowa counties
KTIV (Iowa), September 27, 2011
Residents that experienced tornado and damaging winds back in April may get some financial help from the federal government. The Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Council (SIMPCO) has submitted an application to the state of Iowa to help certain home owners whose homes were damaged from the strong winds.

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Smart growth news – September 28

Increased demand driving new development in Las Vegas’ core
Las Vegas Sun, September 27, 2011
“I have a stack of buyers who want to buy downtown,” he says, listing them by occupation — a federal public defender, electrical engineer, museum curator, federal prosecutor, schoolteacher and artist, exotic dancer, freelance writer, Las Vegas city employee, a Zappos employee. “This is the creative class, that’s who’s contacting me,” he said. “These are Baby Boomers whose kids are grown so they want to move downtown; these are people who don’t want to live in the ’burbs anymore.”

For Strapped Cities, a ‘New Normal’
Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2011
City finance managers project that general-fund revenues will decline 2.3% this year, the fifth straight decline, according to a survey released Tuesday by the National League of Cities. Spending will decline 1.9% this year, a second straight drop.

MTA Puts More on the Block
Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2011
As part of a months-long review of its real estate, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to put nine more properties on the block, including the mostly empty building in Downtown Brooklyn that has long angered the borough’s politicians, the agency said Monday.

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Smart growth news – September 26

East Liberty finds formula for success
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 25, 2011
When East Liberty Development Inc. officials were roughing out strategies to improve the Pittsburgh neighborhood, a big question was what to do with some 50 vacant properties. The properties were robbing tax-paying homeowners of their equity, discouraging investment and exacerbating crime and other factors. This had led the neighborhood to become what Rob Stephany, director of the city Urban Redevelopment Authority, calls “below the line” — a place you don’t visit. They decided to buy them all, rehabilitate some themselves, sell others to rehab-minded buyers and tear down the rest.

Suburban Ghetto: Poverty Rates Soar in Suburbia
Time, September 26, 2011
For well over half a century, the American dream has typically centered on life in the suburbs. A move to the idyllic suburbs—picket fences, sidewalks, cul-de-sacs, the whole deal—has traditionally signified success, a move up the economic ladder. Lately, however, the ‘burbs host millions more residents living below the poverty level than do America’s “poor” inner cities, and poverty rates in suburbia are rising faster than any other residential setting.

In-fill proposal looks to give Stockton a greener image
The Record (Calif.), September 23, 2011
With the right kind of development, downtown Stockton could become the kind of place where people live in apartments or condominiums, commute by train to Silicon Valley jobs before returning home, where they can bike or walk to do their shopping or run other errands.

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Smart growth news – September 21

Officials eye federal money for vacant homes
Baltimore Sun, September 18, 2011
While most of the debate on President Barack Obama’s jobs bill has focused on taxes, spending on infrastructure and unemployment insurance, housing officials in Baltimore and across the country are monitoring a little-remarked proposal to revitalize vacant and abandoned properties. Though housing officials generally praise the $15 billion program, called “Project Rebuild,” they say its impact will depend in large part on whether it is geared to address recent foreclosures or the more chronic abandonment of the sort found in cities such as Baltimore and Detroit.

Good news and bad on federal funding
New Urban Network, September 20, 2011
As Congress turns its attention to appropriations, advocates of smart growth and New Urbanism see the results so far as mixed. Reconnecting America expressed satisfaction Tuesday (Sept. 20) with one of the most recent Congressional decisions.

Daemen Summit Features Speakers on Smart Growth and Climate Smart Communities
Buffalo Rising (N.Y.), September 20, 2011
The term “Smart Growth” was coined by former Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning during his first gubernatorial campaign. Glendenning used the phrase to describe a “smarter”, more sustainable alternative to sprawling development. Subsequently, in 1997, Maryland passed the first comprehensive state Smart Growth law, which became the prototype for Smart Growth reforms today.

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Smart growth news – September 20

Top federal urban programs face the ax
New Urban Network, September 19, 2011
Smart Growth America alerted its members today that funding for the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities is in imminent danger of being discontinued.

Federal Support for Smart Planning Is on the Line Tomorrow
Streetsblog, September 19, 2011
Tomorrow, a Senate panel will vote on two budget bills for FY2012, one of which is for transportation and housing programs. The draft of the bill isn’t available until after the subcommittee markup tomorrow, but Smart Growth America is calling attention to the fact that it’s important to make sure the bill includes funding for the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the partnership between USDOT, the EPA, and HUD.

How a small community is becoming greener – with help from some important friends
NRDC Switchboard, September 19, 2011
The small city of Ranson, West Virginia – population about 4000 – has taken some very important steps toward a more sustainable future. In particular, it is cleaning up its contaminated sites; reconceiving its streets and stormwater management; and encouraging walkable, in-town redevelopment, all at the same time. That Ranson had the initiative to do this is immensely significant, since we need more and better examples of green initiatives in small, rural communities. But just as significant is that none of this would be possible without the assistance of the federal government’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

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