A few things to know this week: September 13, 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:
We talk often about the concept of aging in place; what we don't talk about often enough is how we can use places in cities not just to engage residents, but to connect them across generations. I've always been fascinated with the European ideas of bringing elementary schools and nursing homes together, and this report is one I can't wait to sit down and read. This piece touches on a few ideas from a new report titled The Best of Both Worlds: A Closer Look at Creating Spaces the Connect Young and Old. She writes, "People of all ages have built-in opportunities to create meaningful relationships, find motivation, improve skills, and feel the joy of connection. In addition, shared sites create cost-efficiencies of sharing space, resources, personnel, rent, and more." Take a look — lots of lessons to be learned here and remind us to think more broadly. – AJ
When we do our fiscal analysis for cities, we look at their budget and where the revenues come from. Property and sales tax are often the two largest revenue sources, along with enterprise funds. Another category we see is commonly referred to as the "3 Fs"—fees, fines, and forfeitures. This article explores how and why many small towns rely so heavily on these extractive revenue sources to fund even the most basic services in their community. And, as more larger cities struggle to keep up with funding gaps, escalating service and infrastructure liabilities, and stagnant or declining business and residential population, they too are looking to capture revenue through increased fees. As Jordan and I discussed in our recent podcast on property tax caps, this is a short-sighted approach to filling the resource gap, and a dangerous path to go down, as it often exacerbates the cycle of decline and poverty in communities. – Kevin
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We (the people who put this digest together every week, who also have day jobs) spend a lot of our energy trying to communicate the true cost of our cities’ chosen development patterns. While the real costs are so much more than just the dollar amount to replace a system of streets and pipes, the fact is that replacing those things is so much more expensive than city officials realize that it can seem like sky-high price tags are the whole story. In a way, the infrastructure replacement price tag is at the center of the story—but the real, human toll of cities not having enough money is what the story is about. This piece on water contamination crises in the US highlights the reality that Newark and Flint are not unique. More and more cities have water systems that are poisoning their residents. There are a few good takeaways from a story like this. The one I’ll spotlight is this: we’re constantly learning that lots of things we did in the past actually turn out to have really bad consequences for people. In city building, that’s things like lead pipes, or dangerous and pedestrian-unfriendly road and street networks. Fixing infrastructure mistakes like these is incredibly costly, and not fixing them is even costlier. The water crises are yet another warning that the more we spread out our infrastructure in a way that we can’t ever afford to replace, the more likely we’re making it that people have live in harmful conditions, or die because of them. (On the flip side, your city can take some pretty important steps by diagnosing the fiscal performance of your development patterns, and then modifying your policies to require fiscally productive patterns instead. If you’re interested, give a holler to Felix or Kevin.) – Jordan
A new study completed by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation ties the lack of density to lack of affordable housing, and connects demographic trends to opposition to housing development. The study is from California, but there are lessons to be learned from this research for everyone. – Kevin
This article about the social, economic, environmental, and health benefits of the "superblock" concept in Barcelona has spurred cities across the globe, including the United States to propose or incentivize the concept at home. This type of design can help to save or extend lives in a multitude of ways. This superblock concept is built around the idea that the city is for people and the interactions that they have. When give over priority to car cars in the places where social interaction should take precedent, we unavoidably sacrifice livability, safety, and resident satisfaction. Taking this practice and implementing it in our most auto-centric cities would be no easy task. Yet new development is constantly occurring, as is infill redevelopment. Why not make the superblock the new gold standard? – Ryan
6. New Orleans plans tour supporting tax exemption amendment
At Verdunity, we talk a lot about how our development pattern can affect affordable housing in a city. In New Orleans, the city is attempting to solve that problem in another way: exempting select properties under 15 units from property taxes. It's hoped that this will provide more affordable housing, and due to the unit requirement, will most likely apply to a lot of missing middle housing as opposed to large complexes. – Tim
Nothing kills the perception of a place more than a vacant storefront. There are ways to activate empty buildings and vacant lots that don't just eliminate the eyesore but also contribute to the character and energy in the area. – Kevin
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!