Weekly Links

Atlanta’s Battle of the Gulch Heats Up

Weekly Links: brief commentary on local, state, and national stories from (roughly) the past week


Atlanta/Urban Planning

Battle of the Gulch

From The AJC. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms postponed a scheduled city council vote on Monday due to a lack of votes for the proposed development in the downtown Gulch area. The CIM Group sought up to $1.75 billion in public financing for the $5 billion project that would transform the long-vacant property into an area filled with city blocks, retail, apartments, and offices – including the possibility of it being the site for Amazon’s second headquarters.

Those opposing the project labeled the nearly $2 billion in public financing as a giveaway to a large national developer. Oh, and the CIM Group has apparently worked with Donald Trump and Jared Kushner on properties in New York. That relationship, however, is over according to the developer. All of that was too much for the city council. At least for right now.

There’s little doubt that something useful needs to take the place of empty parking lots. People and politicians coming out in support of the project because “we need something there” are stating the obvious. Do we need to spend $ 2 billion to get it, though? A grand central rail and transportation hub has long been floated for downtown Atlanta, particularly with increased interest in regional high-speed rail. The CIM Group has no plans for such a station and Atlanta officials have shown little interest.

We should be thinking about what we want long-term for the area and not what we need to get Amazon as fast as possible. With a strong national and local economy, it’s hard for many to accept that the public needs to pay $2 billion to redevelop a site in the heart of Atlanta. Granted that money will eventually come back through property taxes, but we just financed a private stadium and we’re being told that we have to pay $1 billion to get Amazon. On top of that, there are no plans for a regional transportation station and the new streets and public spaces created by the development will actually not be public at all, but owned by the CIM Group.


Mapping a City in Three Dimensions

From Kottke.org. Ordinary maps are great, but they often don’t reflect the topography of a city. For most people this may not be important, but knowing the steepness of streets is useful information for those who are walking, biking, or have a disability. Toby Eglesfield, a graphic designer in New Zealand, created a simple, intuitive map showing the steepness of streets in Queenstown. While it’s not as detailed as a true topographical map that utilizes contour lines, it’s much easier to read for the average person.

It would be interesting to play this concept out to show other aspects of cities, such as areas that are most likely to flood during thunderstorms or large rain events, the areas with the most shade, etc.

Urban Planning

Strangely, HUD May Actually Try to Stop Exclusionary Zoning

From Bloomberg Opinion. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson recently floated the idea of only extending federal funds to cities that limit their use of exclusionary zoning. Such zoning practices are implemented by wealthy NIMBYs to discourage density by creating rules that only allow single-family homes in many parts of cities. There is a long-held belief going back to the original Supreme Court case that upheld zoning, Euclid v. Ambler Realty, that apartments are full of undesirable people who only bring crime and traffic. Opposing development through exclusionary zoning is a tactic used by both conservative and liberal people and its one that reduces available housing, which drives up prices.

Since people on both sides of the political spectrum share these anti-density feelings, it makes it very difficult for local politicians to zone for more housing throughout cities. We’ve previously posted about how Japan zones on the national level (as opposed to locally like here in the US), which perhaps makes politicians less susceptible to pressure from small groups of wealthy homeowners.

If Ben Carson were to actually follow through with the proposal, he would not only be bucking principles of his own party, but he’d be standing up to an influential and wealthy class of people who have greatly, though not entirely, contributed to the lack of affordable housing. Local governments would still have to actually reduce exclusionary zoning by allowing more density and uses, but the threat of not receiving federal funds may be a needed incentive.


Cover Photo: Downtown Gulch



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