Weekly Links

Tim Keane Has Had It With Poorly Designed Buildings

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

Urban Design/Atlanta

Tim Keane: Architecture Cop

From Saporta Report. In an interview with Maria Saporta, Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane expressed his frustration with the wave of poorly designed buildings going up around town. He’s talking about the new apartments and condos that essentially all look the same: the facade has four different colors with perpendicular lines scattered about and random rectangular shapes thrown in. 

It’s about time someone said something about this. The first one that went up was interesting, but they look like cheap, out-of-the-box designs that poorly reflect the look and feel of the surrounding area. While he wasn’t clear on the type of architecture he’s looking for, it appears Mr. Keane would generally like cleaner looking buildings.  

As it stands now, Atlanta can really only put pressure on developers to change their designs since the city doesn’t have mandated aesthetic design rules of this nature. But developers are likely to give in rather than go to court. 


A Cap-and-Trade for Affordable Housing? Not So Fast.

From CityLab. Back in the 1990’s and 2000’s, New Jersey allowed municipalities to send affordable housing units to other cities willing to build them. In return, receiving communities obtained compensation from transferring communities to rehabilitate and preserve affordable housing. They did this because the New Jersey Supreme Court mandated that all communities must accommodate affordable housing – so this cap-and-trade type system developed so wealthier communities could avoid having to actually build affordable housing. The analogy is to carbon cap-and-trade systems where a cap is set for pollution and companies can trade pollution credits.

Robert Wassmer, professor of public policy at Cal State – Sacramento, floated the same idea in a recent paper. The paper was met with skepticism in the urbanist community and for good reason. New Jersey’s cap-and-trade system simply exacerbated existing socioeconomic segregation since wealthier communities didn’t have to build affordable housing and receiving communities gained few new jobs.

The root cause of the problem is people’s perception that affordable housing hurts home values. While additional affordable housing has little, if any, negative impact on the infrastructure and crime of a neighborhood, the perception of negative impacts reduces housing prices. We should, of course, ask why we even have a system where people’s livelihoods are so attached to home values – but that’s another discussion. The root cause, perception, would never change if we simply continued to isolate affordable housing in pockets of the country.

What if instead of making the wealthier community pay the receiving community, the wealthier community paid individuals living in the receiving community? So those rejecting affordable housing would simply give cash to affordable housing occupants not to live in the wealthy community. When the payment transfer is obscured through a large bureaucratic process, the biases leading to that transfer are also obscured. Would direct payments from those rejecting affordable housing to those receiving affordable housing lead to a more explicit confrontation with one’s own biases? And would that direct confrontation lead people to realize that their negative perception of others is not only misplaced but has led to this immoral proposition?


American Cities Have Strange Borders and That’s a Bad Thing

From The Economist. Why do American cities have such strange political borders? Unlike cities in the UK, cities in the US tend to look like splatters of paint. On a map, cities have long thing arms stretching out from the core, random protruding boxes, or even boxes that are completely detached from the rest of the city.

This is largely a result of how cities are created in the US. Cities get their start at the direction of the state government and thus derive all their power from the state. Cities, though, are always looking to incorporate more of their surrounding area to increase the tax base. At the same time, some residents are looking to get out of cities or create new cities in order to reduce their taxes or prevent their tax dollars from being shared with poorer people. 

This results in messy jurisdictional borders and wasted money. If you thought the proliferation of new cities in the Atlanta area was bad, take a look around. Los Angeles County alone has 88 different cities while Allegheny County, PA has over 100 (including Pittsburgh). The constant battle annexation and incorporation is a net less for everyone. City and county governments end up spending more money to cover the same services (trash, police, etc), have to create more inter-governmental bodies to reach regional decisions, and compete with each other for new companies and businesses (where businesses are often the only winners). 


Elon Musk Unveils His Hyper Loop…Kind Of

From The Washington Post. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been talking for sometime now about a network of underground tunnels that would transport people at rapid speeds across the country. Yesterday he unveiled a prototype of a similar underground urban transport system to move people throughout a city. 

That sounds an awful lot like a subway, which was invented over 100 years ago.  The only difference is that Mr. Musk’s transport system moves fewer people than a subway and requires you to drive a car into it. 

The prototype is basically a Tesla car driving through a 12-foot wide tunnel 40 feet under Los Angeles at top speeds of 49 miles per hour. The Washington Post reporter described it as a bumpy ride and an experience no one would accept from an actual subway. It is just an initial prototype, though. 

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