“Really Narrow Streets” project in the planning stages in Maine

In Maine, a group of residents are hoping to start a new community based on the principles of urban design advocated by Nathan Lewis at New World Economics and J.H. Crawford at Carfree.com. The group, led by Tracy Gayton, is hoping to attract enough individual investors to buy 125 acres of land which will be home to Piscataquis Village, a community of narrow streets.

They’re using a Kickstarter-like investment model, in which individuals pledge to buy land contingent upon the group reaching the critical mass needed to get the project underway. The development would use covenants to limit building to require attached buildings, arcade sidewalks, and a building height limited to four stories based on the Really Narrow Streets model of dense low- to mid-rise buildings.

On a previous post, some commenters came out strongly against covenants as a means for determining land use restrictions. What do you all think of them here? To me, this case illustrates the effectiveness that covenants have for shaping land use over an area broader than individual lots without the coercion of zoning.

Tracy has created a presentation on the preliminary objectives for Piscataquis Village. He writes:

We envision a settlement evolving organically and growing incrementally. Those people or groups of people that wish to pursue their own, various versions of the Good Life within the bounds of the Village are welcome.

This project reminds me a bit of seasteading, the libertarian vision of a bottom-up society living on a water vessel to escape government coercion and violence. While I believe that most of the initial Piscataquis Village investors are from Maine and wish to continue living there, the projects’ rural location draws attention to the impossibility of a similar village emerging in the open space of, say, Howard County or Loudoun County because the realities of the political planning process would make it impossible to escape street width, parking, and setback requirements.

Best of luck to the Piscataquis Village investors in achieving the freedom to build an urbanist community.

“Upzoning means up yours!” Links

1. The title quote comes from this gem of an LA Weekly article about proposed changes to Hollywood’s zoning code which would allow for taller buildings and denser development. According to the Weekly, “For decades, zoning that governs height and size has preserved thousands of affordable, low-slung, older apartments, bungalows and commercial buildings in Hollywood.” The words “preserve” and “affordable” rarely belong in the same sentence.

2. Once again in New York upzoning is linked with affordable housing. Expanding student housing at NYU also depends on the university providing land and potentially a building for a public school.

3. In San Francisco, an activist is working with developers to achieve upzoning approval for waterfront property. Despite the positive upzoning, on the surface this deal wreaks of crony capitalism. But the real kicker comes from the proposed funding:

First up, the plan to build a high-rise residential tower near the waterfront at 8 Washington St. with funding from the state teachers’ retirement fund.

The plan is being backed by Pak’s business allies, developer Simon Snellgrove and lobbyist Marcia Smolens. The project spokesman is P.J. Johnston, former spokesman for Brown.

Approval of the deal could yield millions of dollars in affordable-housing money to help fund one of Pak’s pet projects, a $32 million apartment complex being built on Stockton Street by the nonprofit Chinatown Community Development Center.

In my job I do a lot of work with pension reform, and this project would be an egregious abuse of CalSTRS, one of the most underfunded public pension plans in the country. Public pension funds should be managed to minimize risks for retirees, employees, and taxpayers, not to provide kickbacks to business interests.

4. Last note on special interests in upzoning: At least some property owners must hope to sell in the future rather than hold on to their real estate forever. In upzoning cases, why don’t we see these groups coming out as loudly in favor of the change as those who oppose increased density in their neighborhoods? Since upzoning in a place like Hollywood will unambiguously make land more valuable, why don’t these stakeholders lobby in favor of the change? If it’s a matter of their financially-driven motive sounding too crass compared to NIMBYs with lofty goals like preserving Hollywood, these bootleggers just need to find themselves some Baptists in the form of density-loving environmentalists.

Market Urbanism Flickr Group

Small streets are all over urban planning blogs right now. Nathan Lewis at New World Economics is leading the way with beautiful images of really narrow streets along with Charlie Gardner at Old Urbanist, Small Streets, and Cap’n Transit. They have all compiled photographs of pedestrian-centric streets from all over the world with very inspiring results. Some of my favorite posts on small streets are here, here, here, and here.

I’ve started a Flickr group with the hopes of providing another way for urbanists to share their own images of beautiful (or not beautiful) streets and talk about city design. I’ve started it off with some of my own photos with a couple of disclaimers. I know nothing about photography except that I’m not good at it, and I’ve never been to many of the cities known for really narrow streets. I hope to add some photos of nice small streets right here in the Mid-Atlantic sometime soon.

I’m sure you all have many better pictures of really narrow streets and pedestrian environments, and I hope you’ll share some. I would suggest flagging your photos as Creative Commons which means that any bloggers would be free to use them with attribution, but if you’d prefer not to allow others to use them, feel free to add them to the group as copyright protected. To add photos to the group, you just have to create a Flickr account, upload photos, and then add away. You can also comment on any of the photos I’ve added or on the group’s discussion board.

“Battle for Brooklyn” playing this weekend. Meetup?

For readers in the DC area, the movie Battle for Brooklyn is playing at the Dome Theater in Arlington this weekend. The film explores eminent domain in the Forest City Ratner development at Atlantic Yards. It will be playing Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with a Q&A with the directors Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley after each screening.

The Atlantic Yards development relied on obtaining many properties through the standard of eminent domain made possible by the Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London . Before the Kelo decision, eminent domain could only be used for public use, accepted to mean government purposes such as road or transit building. That landmark decision widened the potential use of eminent domain to any development that will benefit the public by, for example, increasing the tax base.

Battle for Brooklyn has received positive reviews and has been shortlisted for and Oscar. The film follows the work of Daniel Goldstein, the Jane Jacobs-style community activist who has been leading the losing battle against eminent domain.

I’m planning to attend the  movie this Sunday, January 15th at 6:00 pm. If any of you would like to go to that showing as well, would you like to meet up for drinks before or after? I would suggest Galaxy Hut but I’m open to somewhere closer to the theater also. If you’re interested, please comment or send me an email at emilybwashington@gmail.com.

The film is also playing this week in Chicago, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh. In March it will be in Boston, so check the movie’s website if you’re interested in seeing it in any of these cities.