COVID -19 Weekly Summary

A weekly review of commentary and perspectives about COVID-19 implications on communities and places.

This week’s topic is transportation.

One of the more visible signs of the pandemic is the dramatic reduction in traffic and air pollution.

“According to the study conducted by mapping software and transportation analytics company INRIX, enough to speed up travel into the core of Chicago by 77 percent and Los Angeles by 53 percent. The study, which examined average travel speeds in 25 of the country’s most populous cities during the week of March 11-18, found increases in travel speed ranging from that 77 percent figure in Chicago to a mere 16 percent in Atlanta (Source: Next City, March 25, 2020). “

(Rachel Leathe / The Seattle Times)

INRIX’s U.S. National Traffic Volume Synopsis: Issue #5 (April 11 – 17, 2020) shows the dramatic reduction in passenger vehicle travel.

Google provides community mobility data by states and counties – Google Community Mobility Reports

With reduced traffic and congestion, there is a resultant drop in air pollution, evident around the world. Here is a comparison from Italy, March 2019 versus March 2020.

Source: COURTESY OF EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY

With reduced activities, other elements of the environment has also improved as seen in  Venice.

Venice, Italy, March 8, 2020.Manuel Silvestri | Reuters

So what does this mean for the future?

Here are some perspectives and aspirations, knowing we are in uncharted times.

How Is the Coronavirus Pandemic Affecting Climate Change? Wired, Matt Simon, April 21, 2020

Here is a series of commentaaries,  summarizing a number of impacts from the current pandemic, with some surprising implications, good and bad. No conclusion about these implications is final, as research continues. 

“It is the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, and it is climate change. The two are intimately linked: As you’d expect, emissions have fallen as people drive less and industries grind to a halt. But dig deeper into how the pandemic is influencing the climate, and surprising and often counterintuitive dynamics begin to emerge. This is your guide to those complexities.”

Forbes, April 10, 2020, How Clean Air Cities Could Outlast COVID-19 Lockdowns, Tamara Thiessen

This provides a number of takeaway lessons from cities around the world about maintaining lower traffic levels and emissions.

StockSnap_E5BW2K6ZYK
Stocksnap

“In a word: cut car dependency, increase bike-walk commutes. telecommuting, renewable energy and post-car cities.”

The Guardian, Milan announces an ambitious scheme to reduce car use after lockdown, Laura Laker, April 21, 2020.

A specific and ambitious plan by Milan, the epicenter of the COVID in Italy, to maintain and expand  reduction of car use and traffic. Note Milan’s population is 1.4 million and transit use at 55 %.

“The Milan plan is so important is because it lays out a good playbook for how you can reset your cities now. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a fresh look at your streets and make sure that they are set to achieve the outcomes that we want to achieve: not just moving cars as fast as possible from point A to point B, but making it possible for everyone to get around safely.”

When the World Stops Moving, CityLab, Laura Bliss, March 19, 2020

aerial-view-architecture-buildings-681335 Pixels
Pexels

This commentary discusses the positive effects of traffic reduction and auto emissions, but conversely, the significant negative impact on transit use and their fiscal survival. 

“Transit is in a perilous position. In addition to signaling the economy’s screeching halt, bottomed-out ridership threatens to destabilize a critical industry.”

“Such a scenario would impact millions of people who rely on public transit to get to work, school, and other essential activities. It would also be really bad for the environment; in the U.S., vehicle emissions already make up the majority of atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases.”

Speeders Take Over Empty Roads — With Fatal Consequences, Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, Jenni Bergal, April 20, 2020

red light camera hd-mediaitemid50782-2746
ADOBE STOCK

Another perhaps untended consequence that I notice in my community – speeding, particularly ominous, as pedestrian/cycling fatalities have been rising the last several years. 

“As Americans remain at home, many roads in cities, suburbs and rural areas are practically deserted. But the absence of traffic is a seductive draw for one type of driver: speeders.”

So the new “normal” transportation is not known, other than there will be a profound change to our mobility. Stay tuned for updates. 

David 

 

COVID -19 Weekly Summary

A weekly review of commentary and perspectives about COVID-19 implications on communities and places.

This week the focus is housing. There has been a housing affordability crisis for some time in the US.

I’m a boomer, so owning a home was the pathway to increased wealth and the “American Dream”. I followed the “normal” path – finished college, entered the workplace, got married, rented an apartment, saved and eventually bought a single-family duplex in the suburbs, started a family, took a better job, needed more room, moved and bought a “real house” (single-family, a 1-acre lot) and have remained there for over 30 years.

pexels-photo-4036300 housing sub
Pexels 2017

But guess what, my housing needs have evolved and changed! I am of the “age” that I don’t want to mow the lawn ( remember 1 acre!), shovel the snow and now as “empty nesters” don’t want and need the space and all the associated “stuff”. Time to downsize!

But the ability to buy or even rent a house has drastically changed not only for us boomers but also for millenniums, Gen Xers and others.

Now COVID-19 adds additional uncertainty to an already stressed housing market.

The first two articles provide the reasons for the current housing crisis and the elements that produce housing in the US.

This sets the stage last two commentaries – how and why the COVID-19 will impact housing.

The affordable housing crisis, explained Blame policy, demographics, and market forces

Curbed, Patrick Sisson, Jeff Andrews, and Alex Bazeley Updated March 2, 2020

This article,  part of Curbed’s Primer on the Housing Affordability crisis series, provides a compelling list of factors driving up the cost of housing.   One factor perhaps not fully recognized, but now a major issue is transportation costs.

“The affordability of housing  isn’t all about the housing itself: As rising rents and home prices push low- and middle-income households farther from major urban centers—where the greatest number of jobs and the most robust public transit systems tend to be—lower housing costs in suburbs and exurbs get offset by increased spending on transportation.”

421-MN_AffordableHousingMPLS-2 april 2020
Photo by Carolyn Torma (CC BY-NC 4.0) Copyright 2007 American Planning Association

Who’s to blame for high housing costs? It’s more complicated than you think.

Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, Jenny Schuetz, Fellow –  January 17, 2020

This piece……..lays ” out some basic facts about the financial ecosystem of housing development, and discuss the ways land use regulations affect development decisions. How do regulatory barriers impact the profitability of a new housing development? And how are the costs of development (including complying with regulations) shared among developers, lenders, and investors?”

So what happens next because of COVID-19?

How Coronavirus is Impacting the Housing market

Curbed, Jeff Andrews, Updated April 9, 2020

This sums up the uncertainly and daily change that could worsen the demand and supply balance as well as the financial infrastructure needed to find shelter, a basic human need.

“But the coronavirus has changed everything, and new details every day alter what the landscape for homebuying could look like after the pandemic passes. While studies of previous pandemics suggest that home prices won’t drop all that much, the economic fallout of COVID-19 could be sweeping.”

architecture-building-construction-daylight-534220
Pexels, July 20, 2017

When This Crisis Ends, People Will Still Need A Place To Live

Atticus LeBlanc, Forbes Councils Member, April 14, 2020

This commentary adds another opinion on how COVID-19 will impact housing.

“America’s housing policies operate under assumptions: Single-family housing is good; multifamily housing is bad, and many people sharing one house is worse. A wave of people looking for shelter in the wake of economic dislocation will challenge those assumptions that history already proved wrong a long time ago.”

Reading this and other related materials have called into question my planning training, education, beliefs, and work experiences. But the facts clearly show that housing is a crisis, needing attention and collaboration, not fixing blame, now more than ever.

COVID -19 Weekly Summary

A weekly review of commentary and perspectives about  COVID-19 implications on communities and places.

This week’s topic is density –  good or bad? Has density fueled COVID? Two perspectives. 

photo-1545469044-6a709aeb90b5 times sq density
Photo by Julius Jansson on Unsplash

But first, an overview of the impacts on urban planning. 

How Will COVID -19 Affect Planning?

TheCityFix, Urban Development, Rogier van den Berg , April 10, 2020

Five keys ways urban planning will be affected:

  1. Focus on Access to Core services
  2. Affordable Housing and Public Spaces
  3. Integrated Green and Blue Spaces
  4. Increased City-Regional Planning
  5. More City-Level, Granular Data

“The impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic are still being understood, but it does seem clear that this crisis will make a mark on cities, physically and socially, that will echo for generations.”

After Coronavirus, We Need to Rethink Densely Populated Cities

FORTUNE Commentary, Urban Planning – JOEL KOTKIN, April 1, 2020

This opinion piece makes the argument that while density has made urban areas attractive, it also makes them “more dangerous”. 

“The impact of the coronavirus pandemic may be too early to measure, but it’s clear that the great preponderance of cases, and deaths, are concentrated—at least as of now—in dense urban centers, most particularly Wuhan, Milan, Seattle, Madrid, and New York City. This crisis is the right moment for the world to reconsider the conventional wisdom that denser cities are better cities.”

Density is Normally Good for Us.

New York Times, The Upshot, Emily Badger, March 24, 2020

This opposite commentary argues “The very thing that has made cities vulnerable in a pandemic has protected them in other disasters.” While acknowledging density is a factor in the spread of the virus, density provides…” diverse restaurants, rich cultural institutions, new business ideas — that we can’t enjoy right now. Even more than that, density, in the right conditions, is good for us. It even protects against other kinds of calamities.” 

“How, then, do we reconcile the benefits of density for a healthy society with the threat of density in a pandemic? And what happens if we lose sight of those benefits — including the ways they are operating even now — while we are preoccupied by the harm?”

photo-1463839346397-8e9946845e6d dc mall
Photo by Jacob Creswick on Unsplash

Density is but one of many components of an urban place. COVID-19 has exposed the need for a different approach for better places expressed by  TheCityFix commentary: “A more holistic approach to planning that combines gray, green and blue infrastructure supports better health, better water management (flooding contributes to many epidemics and diseases after natural disasters), and climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. Furthermore, larger open spaces within the urban fabric can help cities implement emergency services and evacuation protocols.”

Upcoming posts will provide additional insights and perspectives about other approaches and opportunities resulting from COVID-19.  

 

 

 

 

 

Perspective: Recovery from COVID

pexels-photo-1034662 city march 2020
Source: Pexels 2019

It’s been some time since my last post. The world has dramatically changed as the COVID pandemic spreads, with significant impacts and implications on the world and our lives. This continues daily!

While the COVID-19 has yet to peak in the US, we will move on from this and already needed discussions and perspectives about what comes next for our communities and their recovery have started.

 I am then inspired and motivated to re-engage and contribute, sharing information and perspectives. This is the first of a series of posts about how the COVID has and will impact our “Places” and communities.  

Here is a March 23rd post-CityLab   What a Coronavirus Recovery Could Look Like. It is an interview with Michael Berkowitz, the former executive director of the nonprofit consultancy 100 Resilient Cities, and now founding principal at the Resilient Cities Catalyst. He has worked with dozens of local governments around the world to plan for hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, disease outbreaks, and other social shocks.

Berkowitz begins with “urban resilience – “the ability of a city to survive and thrive in the face of any disaster”, including the following elements:

  • ” Good infrastructure that promotes mobility and sustainable transportation”
  • “Cohesive communities where neighbors check in on neighbors”
  • “A diverse economy with a strong middle-class jobs base
  • “Good governance with multiple stakeholders at a decision-making table

Many communities, not only urban, have resilience. We see this every day now across the country, building on a tradition of moving forward.

pexels-photo-193821 reslience march 2020
Source: Pexels  2016

My rural/suburban community certainly has resilience after a 2005 tornado (EF3) destroyed our downtown. The town and community worked together to rebuild,  not just the physical and built environment, but also the community’s spirit and engagement processes. This continues today.

To then build resilience for the future, “the trick is linking different goals together i.e. – when thinking about governance and community engagement, how do you build trust and confidence in elected officials so that in crisis situations people listen to and follow the advice of elected leaders?” This is needed now more than ever.

Berkowitz adds that a job stimulus package (not passed when interviewed and now a possible infrastructure package) offers an “incredible opportunity to build more resilient infrastructure and to engage communities as we do it.” This should not be the same old tired formula of building highways, airports or “just put things back like they were and not make them better, but about economic development, public health, biodiversity and flood control.”

“We’re going to get a whole new generation of infrastructure because of this pandemic, and we have to do it better than last generation.”

Out of this upheaval, there is a great opportunity to transform our communities, processes, systems, and economies exposed by the pandemic – the fragile public health system, transportation alternatives other than driving, our connectivity systems, diversifying our economy and repurposing industries and buildings.

He concludes by asking us to think and act holistically about how to rebuild. The real question is “Will we have the strategic gumption to make things better?

I hope we do!

Look for more related content as we move through this crisis.

Continue reading “Perspective: Recovery from COVID”

Tips To Avoid Failure In Comprehensive Plans

A  Comprehensive Plan (aka Com Plan) has been and still is the bedrock of planning for most communities. But the process and contents of a Comp Plan have and continue to evolve, reflecting mistakes of the past and the future needs of the places and communities.

As defined by the American Planning Association (APA) a Comp Plan:

comprehensive-planning-image-apa-1
APA, 2018

“is the adopted official statement of a legislative body of a local government that sets forth goals, policies, and guidelines intended to direct the present and future physical, social, and economic development that occurs within its planning jurisdiction.

A local comprehensive plan represents a “big picture” of the community, allowing officials and citizens to explore their communities’ major opportunities and challenges and clarify their ideas on the kind of community they would like to live in.  The comprehensive planning process provides residents with the opportunity to be involved in creating a vision for their communities and offering input on ways in which that vision may be achieved. The adopted comprehensive plan offers a series of goals and policies to guide the local government in administering regulations and making capital improvements and investments within the community. Strategies and action steps offer concrete opportunities for implementation”

 This topic is personal and relevant for several reasons and from different perspectives.

apa map
Source: APA, 2018

First, my experiences as a planner (non-profit, government) participating in comp plan preparation and switching roles to the for-profit sector, reviewing them, seeking development/project approvals.

Second, the place where I live is now updating their 2009 Comp Plan.

Full disclosure – I was a staff planner and active participant in the preparation and eventual adoption of the 2009 Plan. To be candid and blunt, that Plan was not a good one but provides a framework illustrating key tips for effective plans so places can be better.

Just a pretty picture?

Comp Plan Image - APA
Source: Google 2019

 Comp Plans are more than just the physical layout of buildings, streets and associated land use. It is a holistic integrated process, each element dependent on the other.  We planners (me included!) have tended to dwell on the pretty drawings and sketches on what places could be neglecting the interdependence of each plan element, how to achieve this vision, the impacts (  the environment, economic, social) and the uniqueness of each place (one size does not fit all!). So avoid all the focus on the pretty pictures but pay attention to the uniqueness of the place and its interrelated issues  – affordable housing, infrastructure, climate change, and economic inequality. 

Public engagement

Articles_Public_Meeting_Notice
Source: Google 2019

“The community is the expert.”Project for Public Spaces (PPS)

Based on my experiences, this has been woefully inadequate. This is not denying that public engagement is hard, time-consuming and with no guarantee of success, but it is a necessary process that can make comp plans effective through active engagement by the community. During my work on the referenced 2009 Comp Plan, public engagement was limited to work sessions before the Planning Commission, where citizens could attend, but not comment and the perfunctory public hearings on the draft plan before the Planning Commission and then the Mayor/Town Council, the approval authority.  During the many months of developing and then writing the plan and policies, there was virtually no public review. We wrote the “updated” plan based on demographic changes, the previous plan and in essence our opinions as planners that we knew what is best for the community.

Hardly representative and reflective of the dramatic racial and economic changes happening across the country. Looking back, our Comp Plans has not served us well. Just look at our places today and ask can we do better?

road and cyclist Source Pineterst
Source: Pinterest, 2019

Social media and related techniques now offer greater opportunities and options for a sustained public participation process. 

What happens after adoption?

 Approval of the plan is not the end and written in stone. Now the real hard part begins! Will it be implemented or just sit on the shelf and gather dust? It must also change as a place changes.

Here are ways to sustain the plan. 

  • Effective community engagement as discussed above
  • The plan’s policies need to be linked and synchronized to the community’s operating and capital improvement budgets. Every decision made by the elected leaders must be made, consistent with the adopted plan.
  • The political will to invest the time, money and patience to see the process through.
  • Review tied to the annual budget review process to document the status of the plan’s quantifiable goals and objectives. 

New kinds of Comp Plans

But there is hope as communities seek better places through:

  • “Bottom-up”, not top-down planning –  Do It Yourself (DIY)  local solutions
  • Fiscal sustainability  – can we pay for it over the long haul?
  • Environmental sustainability – climate change, flooding, storms
  • The status quo hasn’t kept pace, not good enough for our changing places 

Here are examples of innovative Comp Plans and associated processes, breaking the business as usual mold, making a difference in their communities:

Verdacity photo
Source: https://www.verdunity.com/go-cultivate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Blog?

I am a “professional planner” by education (Master’s City/Regional Planning) and work experience. After graduate school I embarked on a varied career working in the public sector at town, county and regional levels, learning and gaining valuable on the job experiences  about transportation,  infrastructure, land use, zoning, comprehensive plans, community engagement, policy development, how government works and last but not least the political process.

I joined the American Planning Association (APA) to further my planner credentials and after meeting the experience requirements, I was certified as an AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners) – I took the test in 1986 and passed!

But, what is planning (called urban planning or city and regional planning)?architectural-design-architecture-asphalt-2356096 Pixels

The American Planning Association (APA) definition:

              • Is a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient and attractive places for present and future generations.
          • Enables civic leaders, businesses, and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people’s lives.
          • Helps create communities that offer better choices for where and how people live.
          • Helps communities to envision their future.
          • Helps communities find the right balance of new development and essential services, environmental protection, and innovative change.

Change

My planning career changed direction (some say to the dark side) by the leaving the public sector and  working architect-architecture-build-1109541 Pixelsfor several midsize to large engineering/development firms. Now I was on the other side of the table, promoting and advocating for the same projects, where previously I had been the public agency planner writing staff reports recommending denial or approval.

These experiences provided  unique perspectives and so I thought a blog could educate my community, the public and elected officials about planning because I was the “expert”, I knew more than they did! But as I read and researched  blog content, reality hit me between the eyes – I really was not the expert. Planning, the economy  and many other things changed dramatically – and perhaps I hadn’t!public-hearing-source-google-images

The change in planning is manifested by ongoing controversy and conflict locally and around the country about how communities (places) have and are being developed. People don’t know what a planner is and what we do, are frustrated by growth/development issues and quite frankly the planning profession has let communities down. The status quo, the standard processes (that’s how we always do it!) I had learned long ago is no longer the process and solution for the ever-changing dynamics, with failing communities and economic disparities.

 So now my  intent for this blog is to provide a platform about relevant  planning and community development issues, trends, best practices and  then inform, educate and discuss how we can change our communities and the status quo.place june 11 2019

But  a community is really a place, each with unique attributes and context, encompassing the natural and built environments, economy and most important  people who live, play, work and contribute. Together these provide the sense of a place –   Placesense

What’s Next

So my journey continues, knowing I’m not the expert,  but with a passion to learn,  knowing that one size does not fit all, and that change is more effective and lasting from the bottom up – from the places we live, work and play. 

So let me know what you think – what topics should we talk about and  how often to post. Only by discussion and dialogue can we change our places! 

Continue reading “Why Blog?”