A few things to know this week: September 6, 2019
Happy Friday, friends!
Every week, we round up some of the things we read, listened to, or watched that really caught our attention. Here are just a few things we think you should know this week:
This week's things to know:
New on the Go Cultivate! Podcast:
What the heck are ADUs, and why aren't there more of them? We discuss the benefits of these 'granny flats' (as they are sometimes, less clinically, referred to), some common preconceptions about them, and how your city could encourage people to build them.
And here’s what we’ve been reading:
1. Density Alone, does not an Equitable, Sustainable and Beautiful City Make
I didn't know about Kathleen Given until I came across this article. If you're into credentials she's a professor at University of Virginia's Department of Architecture. She's also serving on Charlottesville's city council. I appreciate how as an educator and public servant she's trying to keep density in context when it comes to city development and not make it a binary indicator of “good” and “bad” design. Key quote from the piece: "What all these folks [Jane Jacobs, Peter Calthorpe, Robert Cervero] agree upon is that density alone does not automatically lead to great cities, affordable housing or high efficiency transit. Density correlates with affordable housing and better transit, but it isn't causative." – Felix
This piece is a great reminder of the centrality of art and artists in generating sustainable, long-term community wealth. Last year, CultureBank—a place-based initiative that “invests in social impact artists in order to steward community assets that promote the health and well being of residents”—began a pilot program in Dallas to learn how social impact art can help revitalize communities from within. Working with the City of Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs, CultureBank selected a learning cohort of six “artist-investors,” charged with the following objectives:
using resources differently,
shifting their frame,
building capacity, and
changing traditional dynamics.
The greatest resource any city or neighborhood has is its people, their creativity, and their desire to shape a place they can belong and remain. I would love to see more cities placing a greater emphasis on encouraging—and empowering—people to see themselves as investors in their community. Not only does this set a foundation for stronger community relationships, but it also helps build viable and long-lasting community wealth of the kind that conventional “economic development” practices cannot generate. – Jordan
3. This video uses the “Cities: Skylines” game to show how freeways damage cities
A simulation to show the impact of freeways. I’m not sure how many planners actually simulate the projects that they work on, but this seems a great way to simulate these developments and understand the post-affects. The narrator creates a hypothetical for the construction of an urban freeway similar to many of the unbuilt freeways planned for Washington, DC. It is part of a series illustrating urban issues using the popular PC game Cities: Skylines, along with a hefty dose of sardonic commentary. – Bhargava
4. The building blocks of a great public space
We talk often about how the status quo of urban design tends to generate disposable, uninspiring places. There are plenty of great resources out there that describe in detail the design elements that cities should always factor into the creation of their spaces. In a 2018 report titled "North of the Water,” experts in Toronto used a variety of methods to study how people connect with public spaces. This link takes you to a Q&A with the authors of this report, and a path to the report itself. It's intriguing, powerful, and inspiring. – AJ
As an urban dweller, it is interesting to see what the people around me choose to use to get around the city streets. More than ever before electric scooter sharing seems to be a mainstay in the urban commute or weekend jaunt, but is the city ready for a more robust option coming into the fold? The electric moped sharing companies, like Revel mentioned in this article and this slightly less robust OJO that has slowly been introduced to the streets of Dallas, are the next step in the rapid evolution of the electric ride-sharing ecosystem. The article makes great points on how these vehicles are more of an actual vehicle than their scooter predecessors, and so come with the associated responsibilities. With more alternative transportation options coming to cities all over the US, how will citizens and city leaders alike accept the perhaps impending permanency of these services? How will, if at all, infrastructure start to accommodate riders? – Ryan
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As the housing affordability crisis swells in cities big and small, it’s the responsibility of state and local governments to seek out solutions that really work—especially for the most vulnerable. One important tool, rent control, has a proven track record of success in stabilizing communities (when applied strongly and broadly), yet its application is still not widespread. The arguments against rent control are widely voiced (including by many economists, whose opposition is mentioned in the piece), yet the authors contend that these are narrow and not at all convincing. Rent control, Amee Chew and Katie Goldstein argue, works best for renters when it has teeth; its impact is diminished as loopholes are written in. “Over the decades,” they say, citing examples in California and elsewhere, “landlords and their allies in office have rolled back or watered down existing regulations (e.g. by imposing vacancy decontrol).” No single policy will solve the entire crisis, as the authors point out, but rent control is is a crucial and (importantly) immediate piece of the broad response to housing unaffordability. Chew and Goldstein point to our over-reliance on the for-profit market to provide housing—and the growth of speculation—as primary drivers of the affordability crisis. That market “has never met the needs of low-income renters, and production is increasingly geared at the luxury end.” Rent control “preserves and deepens affordability” but doesn’t produce new units. So to curb speculative influence on rents and ensure long-term affordability, the authors argue that rent control would need to be paired with “massive investment in public housing and subsidies, as well as policies that limit speculative practices.” Still, as an immediate relief to renters facing runaway costs of living, rent control is a meaningful action that cities take right now. The real estate industry is, of course, deep-pocketed; do we have the will to take bold steps that keep people in the homes and neighborhoods they love? – Jordan
Did you miss our Q&A webcast on the 2019 Texas Legislative Session?
In our August webinar AJ Fawver and municipal attorney Mick McKamie discussed a number of newly adopted Texas laws, 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. If you missed it, you can watch the replay of the video to learn why McKamie calls the 86th Legislative Session the most impactful session for Texas cities in four decades.
Texas legislative digests now available for free!
To our Texas friends: Want to dive deeper into the new legislation passed down this year—and what it'll mean for your city? We've got you covered. We put together a legislative digest package featuring nine of the most important new laws, explained in plain English.
If you’re interested, here’s how you can get your copy:
Join the Community Cultivators Network if you haven't already. (It’s open exclusively to folks working for a local government or agency, and it’s totally free to join.)
Look for "86th Texas Legislative Session" under "Groups," and join.
Enter the group and download the digests!
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!