A few things to know this week: August 16, 2019
Happy Friday! Every week, we round up some of the things we read, listened to, or watched that really caught our attention. Here are 9 things we think you should know this week (plus an announcement):
This week's things to know:
First, this week on the podcast: Property tax caps aren't helping
Texas is the latest state to pass or amend legislation capping the amount that cities’ revenue from property taxes can increase year to year. In this episode, we discuss the fallout from this type of legislation in states across the country—and what cities can do in response.
PS: If you're in Texas and want to learn more about what this and other pieces of legislation from the 2019 session, don't miss our live Q&A on Wednesday, August 21 with AJ Fawver and municipal attorney Mick McKamie! RSVP and pre-submit questions here!
And here's a bit of what we've been reading (and listening to):
Texas' biggest cities scramble to figure out what the 2019 legislative session will cost them
Jordan and I recently discussed impacts of property tax caps on our podcast. Are you curious about how the new bills will impact Texas cities' budgets and ability to provide services? This article has a nice summary of what some of the larger cities in Texas are projecting they'll lose in revenues. And this doesn't include unfunded liabilities like deferred and future street maintenance that we've highlighted in past posts and our fiscal analysis work with cities. These are big, big resource gaps that our communities are facing, and it's going to take a very different approach to development to navigate the future ahead. – Kevin
I'm a civil engineer and spent the first 15+ years of my career designing auto-centric development, highways, and local roads, believing that this type of growth was great for the communities I was working with. I was a fan of ASCE's "infrastructure report card" and often lobbied for mor investment in infrastructure at all levels. My perspective on the role of engineers and infrastructure changed dramatically when I was offered the opportunity to serve as national director of my former firm's Community Planning and Urban Design practice. I have since come to respect the import of prioritizing people and place in our neighborhoods and cities, and how the pattern we build directly relates to municipal finances and community health, wealth and resilience. And today, our firm's work shines a big ol' spotlight on the resource gaps in cities and opportunities we have to close the infrastructure funding gap by prioritizing people and place over cars. So, I was thrilled to read this article about how the Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is using her background in planning to transform how her state and national transportation organizations like AASHTO are thinking about mobility and infrastructure. If we want to build safe, healthy, equitable cities and ultimately leave a world worth inheriting for our kids and future generations, this country desperately needs more elected officials and transportation agency leaders like Leslie Richards. – Kevin
The answer to that question is we'd allow our cities to build with greater density. Take, for example, a host of European cities that people from around the world visit for their charms. "Paris is almost six times as densely settled as Seattle. Barcelona is three times as dense as Vancouver. And Vienna is more than twice as dense as Portland [. . .] Compact, populous cities save so much energy by sharing walls, shortening trips, and shedding cars that they are to urban planning what windmills are to the electric grid: indispensable climate protectors." – Jordan
Do you enjoy these weekly roundups? (Why wouldn’t you?) You can get them sent straight to your email inbox every Friday, if you’re into that.
At Verdunity we encourage communities to take a closer look at their resources already in place to solve local issues. I enjoyed this short read, revolving around the issue of homelessness, affordable housing, and a new approach that demonstrates creativity at its finest. A local housing advocacy group, Yes In God's BackYard (YIGBY), worked to identify houses of worship around the city where affordable housing could be built on church property, and the City of San Diego's planning staff is re-examining its codes to determine a workable solution to build the housing San Diego so desperately needs. What would be possible if we thought outside the box more? – AJ
This is a long but essential read for anyone who cares about cities and the people residing—or, as is the case more often than some would like to admit, just trying to survive—within them. We can talk about the inherent community value in human-scale streetscapes, for example, and that's all good. But we also need to confront the reality that for some people in this country, going about daily life means living in fear of a City that's supposed to look out for them. This piece by Sahra Sulaiman dives into the history of segregation, gang injunctions, and what happens when a city effectively declares you to be blight. – Jordan
History repeats itself—a lesson we have a bad habit of forgetting. This article takes an interesting look a the reemergence of an age-old industry, services for the wealthy. "Wealth work" is on the rise with a new twist thanks to the automobile and the digital age. – Felix
I've long believed that small, locally-owned businesses are the heartbeat of this country and our economy. In our work with communities, we encourage them to cultivate a self-reliant local economy by connecting and investing in local residents (and their ideas), banks, buildings, and organizations. This new study by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) suggests that local efforts to strengthen and grow small businesses can have at least as great a job payoff as efforts to recruit and retain large companies (not to mention some of the community benefits that locally-rooted businesses can bring, compared to outside corporations). If you're not already prioritizing growing local businesses over incentivizing companies to move to town, you should be! – Kevin
In preparation for his book Strong America, Chuck has been using his podcast to host guests that have influenced his philosophy the most. In this episode, he speaks to architect Steve Mouzon about sustainability, and how the greatest lessons can be learned by observing the past and the present states of our built environment. As he puts it, we've developed an unhelpful obsession with "gizmo green" consumerism—“the proposition that with better equipment and better materials we can achieve true sustainability." The thing that caught my ear the most in this episode was the connections he drew between declining suburbia and areas hit by natural disasters. Both geographies are scarce of resources, and offer opportunities to redevelop sustainably and implement lessons learned from development patterns that stand the test of time. – Tim
Mark your calendar! Live Q&A Webinar on the TX 2019 Legislative Session
On our next webinar, AJ Fawver will be talking with municipal attorney Mick McKamie about some of the recently passed bills in Texas, how they are impacting cities, and what some cities are doing to address things like the property tax cap, annexation limitations, building materials and more. Sign up, submit your questions, and join the discussion Wednesday, August 21 at 4pm Central.
Hey, friends in local government:
Have thoughts on any of the links above? Think we missed something essential? We’re discussing these topics and more over on our brand-new online community, exclusively for local government employees.* Sign up for the Community Cultivators Network and join the discussion!
* The network is currently only for those wonderful folks out there who work in local government. If you’re not currently working for a city, town, or county, we still love you (and are sure many of you would add value to the community), but we want to keep our commitment to making this a community focused specifically on our friends working in local government. Thanks for understanding!