Planning trends, innovations and shortfalls often take years to materialize. As we head into the decade of “twenty-tens”, it is important to reflect upon the trials, tribulations and triumphs of years past. The following comprises the Editor’s selection of some of the most interesting and important news in planning, design and development over the past decade.
The housing market rise and fall may be considered one of the most pervasive tribulations of thedecade. Intheearly2000’s,thereal-estatemarketwasboomingandhousingpriceswere soaring. Over the years, jobs, incomes, tax revenue and the solvency of lending institutions came to rely on the stability of so-called stratospheric home prices. Mid-decade, housing prices at the national level were said to have peaked; and shortly thereafter, the inevitable major decline in property values led to the housing bubble burst. The rate of foreclosures skyrocketed and communities pulled together in a desperate attempt to counteract the drain on their local economies. Some put the blame on rapacious lenders and mortgage companies while others hold the Federal Reserve responsible for keeping interest rates too low. A few have even argued that land use regulation and city planners are the candidates to blame for the mortgage meltdown. These critics believe that more prescriptive land use planning policies, such as “urban consolidation” and Smart Growth, create a decline in housing affordability. See: How Urban Planners Cause the Housing Crisis Others admit that home buyers prefer smart growth communities, which may raise prices in such areas, but therefore, the answer is to build more smart growth communities to meet the demand and lower prices. See: Evaluating Criticisms of Smart Growth
Regardless of who’s to blame, the realities of this crisis are still felt throughout the nation as people are forced out of their homes, often resulting in entirely abandoned neighborhoods. But many believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The housing calamity has hopefuls predicting that a new era will create more sensible mortgage and loan policies and a shift towards smaller, lower-priced, energy efficient homes. Perhaps this shift is already occurring as thousands of suburbanites return to the city in search of job opportunities, shorter commutes, more affordable homes and walkable communities. Additionally, developers are starting to trade in McMansion floor plans for something smaller and more affordable to the general public. And looking into the future, a growing tide of non-profits and housing advocates are combining forces with HUD to initiate billions of dollars for a green affordable housing initiative. The main goal is to construct or retrofit 75,000 units of affordable housing to meet green building standards. This ambitious initiative also calls for the country’s entire affordable housing stock (approximately 30 million homes) to be retrofit to meet green standards by the year 2020. Hopefully, these types of initiatives and optimistic projections continue to grow and succeed in the twenty-tens.
Smart Growth Initiative
At the beginning of the decade, smart growth skepticism grew largely out of the sprawl industry’s continued success. During this time, many believed that smart growth needed to focus more on market and housing demands, and therefore, would never be successful as long as the sprawl industry continued to profit. Then, in 2003, a nation-wide study and two prestigious medical journals publicized a powerful discovery. A strong correlation was found between sprawling development and major health issues such as obesity, asthma and cancer; one obvious link being automobile dependency. The reports substantiated that commuters by car are more likely to be obese than those utilizing public transit or bicycles. Smart Growth principles help solve this key issue by advocating infill development, mixed land use and walkable communities. And now, especially with the advent of housing market changes, it seems as though the time has come for the Smart Growth Initiative to comfortably take its place in the future of land use planning.
In the San Diego Region, SANDAG has been working with local jurisdictions to identify Smart Growth Opportunity Areas and Smart Growth Place Types; see Designing for Smart Growth, Creating Great Places in the San Diego Region. And the City of San Diego’s recently adopted General Plan demonstrates a guided shift towards more sustainable planning and design, which is in line with many of the smart growth principles. “The City of Villages strategy is to focus growth into mixed-use activity centers that are pedestrian-friendly, centers of community, and linked to the regional transit system,” states the City of San Diego General Plan.
The implementation of such strategies, however, is often a challenging task. Particularly in California, the advent of air quality laws and rules to reduce carbon emissions bring a rivaling force of density deterrents. Tight limits on carbon
Green Building Movement
USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a product of the decade that has established itself as a pillar in sustainable design. Starting from one set of “New Construction” standards published in 1999, LEED has developed into a comprehensive network of six interrelated rating systems covering all aspects in construction and design. The latest version, LEED v3, was launched April 27, 2009 and represents a reorganization of the rating systems combined with a series of major technical advancements focused on the most urgent priorities like improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions. The widespread emergence of LEED has many states requiring certification for both new and renovated buildings. As of January 2010, San Diego has 868 LEED Accredited Professionals (LEED AP), 20 LEED Certified Buildings and 197 Registered Buildings.
The USGBC’s green building initiative continues to grow with pilot programs, such as Healthcare, Retail and Neighborhood Development. The latter will be an especially useful tool in land use planning as it integrates principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building to create the first national neighborhood design program. Stay tuned… LEED Neighborhood Development is expected to open for registration in 2010. More information can be found here.
In other green building news, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced on January 12, 2010 that the California Building Standards Commission unanimously adopted the first-in-the- nation mandatory Green Building Standards Code (CALGREEN). The code requires all new buildings in the state to be more energy efficient and environmentally responsible, and includes a set of comprehensive regulations to take effect on January 1, 2011. “The code will help us meet our goals of curbing global warming and achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 and promotes the development of more sustainable communities by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency in every new home, office building or public structure,” said Governor Schwarzenegger.
Released in 2005, Google Maps dramatically simplified the general public’s ability to access map, free of charge. Google Maps provides high-resolution satellite images for most urban areas in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and parts of many other countries. And as of October 2009, Google Maps has added parcel information, attracting much attention from the real-estate industry. Bing Maps (formerly known as Windows Live Local) is another web mapping service in which users can browse through topographically-shaded street maps, including main points of interest such as businesses, restaurants, metro stations, hospitals, stadiums and other facilities. Bing Maps also offers a bird’s eye view for many locations in over 100 cities in the US, Canada, Japan and over 80 European locations. This view provides four different angles from directly above buildings, thereby providing much more detail than aerial views.
In addition to allowing users to learn more about the land use patterns of the world around them, the technology continues to provide a number of benefits for cities and concerned citizens alike. “Police departments have used Google to map crime trends and target resources; homebuyers can use versions of the software to find pricing data; and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast residents used Google Earth to find out which neighborhoods were devastated, and which were accessible. One lucky Italian even used the software to discover an ancient Roman villa in his backyard. “ [Planetizen]
Last, but not least, are the ghastly attacks of 9/11 that occurred at the early onset of the decade. The aftermath of these attacks initially created what had been termed as “national security sprawl” which engulfed many largely populated cities in an effort to disperse government offices and private firms away from dense city centers. The death of the iconic World Trade Center building caused many to believe that the age of the skyscrapers and megatowers might come to an end. And an overall push for scattered development, gated communities and decentralizing cities was thought to be the answer for an increased sense of security. However, as seen by the growing success of widely accepted sustainable development principles, the planning profession has overcome many of these forecasted, sprawl-related development trends. But despite these efforts, one of the most impacting and lasting consequences continues to be the massive transfer of wealth and resources away from our local needs.
Combined with the economic downturn, this tragedy has impactedtheplanningprofessioninmanyways. Cityplanners have been called on to streamline development procedures and reassess community values in an effort to meet public needs without straining the budget. In rare instances, some cities were even forced to dissolve their planning departments entirely. Nevertheless, the planning profession continues to promote and implement planning policies that respond to major global issues and promote sustainable growth to the greatest extent possible.
These trials, tribulations and truimphs, combined with other significant events, have influenced the planning profession in a number of ways. Here’s to hoping the year 2010 will guide us into a positive and productive decade of the “twenty tens.” One in which we can continue to plan great cities and formulate good policy by learning from the past, while addressing the needs of the future. Please feel free to send your thoughts, comments or related articles to the Editor on this topic for publication in future issues.