Weekly Links

Selling Our Souls (and Train Cars) to Amazon

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


Urban Planning/Atlanta/Amazon

Selling Our Souls (And Train Cars) to Amazon

From The AJC. By now you probably know that Amazon chose Northern Virginia and New York as the sites of their dual campus second headquarters, which means Atlanta is no longer in the running. Now comes the fun part where get to hear more about why Amazon didn’t choose Atlanta and what the state and city offered them.

As we hypothesized last week, Amazon was apparently not thrilled with some of Georgia’s more controversial politics. This includes the proposed adoption legislation from earlier this year that would have allowed agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Another high-profile incident came when Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle publicly threatened to end a tax break for Delta if the company discontinued its private agreement with another private company (the NRA).

It’s difficult to imagine a company voluntarily agreeing to enter this environment, particularly when other states and cities also have some combination of: 1.) low taxes, 2.) large incentive packages, 3.) access to high-skilled workers, and 4.) economic and political advantages Low taxes alone don’t make a business-friendly environment for all companies, especially those that demand high-skilled, high-education workers – companies that are driving the new economy.

The city and state apparently offered plenty of perks to Amazon, including over $2 billion in incentives, proposals to rename streets after Amazon products (seriously), Amazon-only MARTA rail cars to “distribute products”, and an Amazon-only lounge at the airport with 50 free parking spots. These are the types of items that citizens and politicians in Seattle and San Francisco offered as warnings to other cities. Creating divides between tech workers (as well as other highly-skilled workers) and everyone else has led to bland, expensive cities with unhappy residents.

Urban Planning/Atlanta

The Right and Left Should Unite Against Parking Minimums

From Twitter. For decades, communities across the country have required buildings to have a minimum number of parking spaces. That is, zoning laws set a floor for the number of parking spaces a building or use must have. Numerous studies, papers, and books have shown that parking minimums raise the price of both housing and consumer goods. They also result in cities and suburbs being consumed by vast amounts of largely empty parking lots, which increase stormwater runoff and contribute to the urban heat island effect. While we often think of surface parking lots in front of stores or assigned parking spaces for apartments as free, they are not. The price to build and maintain the spots, the environmental cost of encouraging more driving, and the stormwater fee assessed to parking lot owners all get passed onto consumers.

Cities have now begun to re-think the whole “minimum parking” thing realizing that it’s often unneeded and generally contributes to waste. This movement should unite both left-leaning citizens who want to protect environmental interests and increase density and right-leaning citizens who want to reduce wasteful government regulations and who prefer user-fees (pay-to-park) over general fees/taxes (“free” parking lots).


Tim Keane, Atlanta’s Director of Planning, proposed several changes to city’s parking scheme that would generally reduce the number of parking spots. One change would be to allow on-street parking to count towards a building’s parking minimum requirements. So instead of the landowner constructing or preserving the required parking spots directly on their site, they could use available street parking to meet the requirement.

Perhaps the most significant change is swapping “parking minimums” for “parking maximums” – meaning sites will have a cap on parking spaces instead of a floor on parking spaces. Mr. Keane has proposed this for several zoning districts within a half-mile of a “High Capacity Transit” station. Requiring parking in areas that are served by transit not only undermines the efficacy of transit, but is a complete waste of space in high-demand areas. We’ll have more on this after the December 13 Zoning Review Board meeting.

Land Use/Housing

The Similarities Between Voter Suppression and the Housing Crisis

From Oral Argument. On the latest episode of Oral Argument, UGA law professors Christian Turner and Joe Miller discuss the housing crisis and NIMBYism with UC Davis law professor Chris Elmendorf. The episode is well worth a listen. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the discussion relates to the similarities between issues addressed by the Voting Rights Act and the anti-density, exclusionary zoning movement.

The federal government used many tactics in the Voting Rights Act to end state and local policies that discriminated against minority voters (though the Supreme Court gutted much of it in 2013). A similar framework could help state governments end local planning policies like exclusionary zoning and grassroots NIMBYism that work to prevent much needed housing from being built. This touches on some of the topics we’ve written about related to Japan’s top-down zoning scheme vs. the US’s bottom-up zoning scheme.


This Map Replaces City Names With Song Names

From Kottke.org and DorothyThanks to Jason Kottke for providing a good supply of map-related links. Design studio Dorothy’s map features place names like “Streets of Laredo”, “Fake Tales of San Francisco”, and “Straight Outta Compton”.


Cover Photo: Amazon’s Seattle campus by Ron Cogswell via Flickr


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