Tag Archives: Planning

CT’s Regionalization: Cost-Savings and Service Sharing

Originally published at Global Site Plans

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Unlike most of the United States, Connecticut has no system of county governance. While a regional, “county” government once existed (ceasing in 1960), it didn’t hold much power and had very few functions. Under the laws of the state constitution, 169 towns hold powers similar to that of a city and manage their own administration. To meet the cost-sharing, regional needs of local governments, Connecticut passed a law in 1947 “allowing two or more contiguous towns with planning commissions to form a regional planning authority.” The statute called for these regional planning authorities to be:

“Based on studies of physical, social, economic and governmental conditions and trends and shall be designed to promote with the greatest efficiency and economy the coordinated development of the region within its jurisdiction and the general welfare and prosperity of its people.”

In 1948 the first new regional planning authority, covering New Haven and a few of its suburbs began operation. Planning authorities would gain more importance in Connecticut in 1954 when new federal grants for projects in cities and regional areas became available, but required that administration be done by official regional agencies. Within twelve years of creation, New Haven’s Regional Planning Authority of the South Central Region served all of the towns in its region, fifteen in total. However, there were holdouts to regional planning authorities and a reluctance to mandate all towns to participate in one.

After the state outlined boundaries for fifteen different planning regions in 1957 in an attempt to make them “logical and economical,” there was often contention and negotiation about which planning region a town was allowed to belong to.  Before that legislation, town contiguity in a planning region could theoretically stretch across Connecticut. To encourage participation, incentives were offered, and in some cases, sanctions imposed. Very often, the state would mandate specific activities be regionalized, or perform the project planning itself, overriding the input of the non-participating towns.

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Two state-wide groups supplement the regional planning agencies and provide cities and towns with management and technical assistance, research, and lobbying efforts. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), founded in 1966; and Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), founded in 1975, are governed by boards of elected officials of the member municipalities. CCM currently represents roughly 90% of Connecticut towns, and is a powerful lobby at the capitol. COST, represented by first selectmen, mayors and managers, has also been successful, writing and lobbying the legislation which established the state’s Small Town Economic Assistance Program.

Over time, three types of regional planning organizations have evolved under Connecticut General Statutes: the regional planning agency, the regional council of elected officials, and the newer regional councils of government (COGS), which provide cities and towns a wider ranges of services than the earlier regional planning agencies.  The state has recently consolidated the fifteen regional planning agencies into nine, as part of recommendations negotiated with CCM, COST, and the COGS. As of January 1, 2015, the municipalities within these nine regions must adopt local ordinances to join a single Regional Council of Governments in each of these nine regions.

How is regionalized planning approached where you live? What is the role of government?

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Wauregan Road, Canterbury, CT

“My Road”

UPDATE: The housing market seems to have improved in my neighborhood. The homes listed as vacant are now occupied.

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Historic Aerials: Main St. Over the Quinebaug, Danielson

1934

Danielson, Connecticut and Quebec Square
google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/eNmJ6
UCONN – Historical Aerial Photographs
http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/mash_up/1934.html

1952

1970

1995

2014

And again, if you’d like to play with the maps:
Danielson, Connecticut and Quebec Square
google maps: https://goo.gl/maps/eNmJ6
UCONN – Historical Aerial Photographs
http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/mash_up/1934.html

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MS PAINT ART: BRT Bus

893556_10151344027328176_504800530_oA “surface subway” Bus rapid transit (BRT) bus. Utilizing elevated platforms, of course. Axial straight-shot routes, and these big boys supplemented by feeder buslines or streetcars.

*As much as I love the TransMilenio, the aesthetic of the ‘tracks’ needs improvement.

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Successful BRT Systems: Characteristics

What do effective Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRTs) have in common?BRT

• Physically segregated busways
• Operation of trunk+feeder buses
• High station platforms
• Fare prepayment, flat fares, free transfers
• Mostly operated by private companies
• High passenger volumes
• High commercial speeds of operation
• Much lower cost than LRT or metro
• BUT: Metro-like appearance
• Distinct identity and good image

 

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“The Great Stink” & Cholera Containment

The prevailing scientific theory the time of the cholera outbreak in London was that cholera was transmitted by foul odor (miasma theory).  The concept of ‘bacteria’ wasn’t understood—many people thought if they couldn’t “see” illness causing bacteria, it wasn’t really there. People trusted the advice of “medical quacks,” instead of common sense cures to tackle the dehydration.

Faraday testing the waters of the Thames, 1855 Punch Magazine, volume 29 Westminster City Archives

Faraday testing the waters of the Thames, 1855 Punch Magazine, volume 29 Westminster City Archives

It was felt that cholera was a socioeconomic disease, associated with those of lower morality and the “poor, stinking masses.” As cities grew in population, the pre-industrial waste infrastructure was unable to handle the excess excrement.  Cities lacked the modern resources we take for granted, such as recycling and safe sewage removal.  Leaky cesspools were the standard method of waste disposal, and these compromised fresh water sources.

The Great Stink ushered in new sanitation laws. In part because the Parliament could no longer tolerate the smell of the Thames River, a new sewer system was constructed which is still in use today.  Public spending increases, which brings new parks into cities to provide fresh air.  By 1875, the Public Health Act would require all houses to have their own sanitation and water.

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ZIM: Soil Poaching, Too

The maximum  fine stipulated for local authorities to charge illegal soil extractors, is not deterrent enough to help fight the rising crime, says Marondera Mayor, Farai Nyandoro.

The maximum $20 fine is not deterrent enough to help fight the rising crime, says Marondera Mayor, Farai Nyandoro.

Most soil extraction is carried out at night when council security officers do not patrol the affected areas. “The practice adversely affected council housing developmental projects, as areas affected by the illegal soil extraction are almost impossible to service for both residential and commercial purposes,” added the mayor.

The thieves even use mechanized earthmoving equipment such as graders, front loaders, tipper trucks and other heavy machinery to illegally extract the soil.

Soil poaching is fast crawling towards farming areas under the jurisdiction of Rural District Councils. Some new farmers desperate to make a living have been accused of selling soil from their properties to the poachers. But analysts say the practice would render farms unproductive in the long run, as it strips away valuable top soil.

The Zimbabwean: Soil poaching on the rise

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Stop-Lights Create Road Danger

The number one cause of car accidents is traffic.

DangerousIntersection

Self-explanatory.

But what IS traffic? Traffic is stacking within the system. Instead of being dispersed through the road network, vehicles are clumped together by automated (and oftentimes inefficient) intersections. Automated traffic controls produce a dangerous driving environment.

The band-aid: improved intersections and interchanges. The solution: multi-modal innovation.

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GIS: Data, Maps, and Imagination

A geographic information system

Using GIS, you can map where things are (ex. wells, bus routes). You can map quantities (ex. number of doctors, or schools in an area). You can map densities (ex. distribution of coverage, or populations. Using GIS you can identify features or ranges (ex. ‘school zones’, street names). Using GIS, you can determine distances between items (ex. proximity to toxic waste). Using GIS, you can map the change of these things over time (ex. changes in land use).

Governments, Environmental Organizations, Utility Companies, Planners, Natural Resources Industries. Governments use GIS to analyze issues to help increase efficiency and improve coordination. Environmental Organizations use GIS to make conservation decisions. Utility companies use GIS to monitor their services and manage assets. Planners use GIS to map and plan for long-term land use. Natural resources industries use GIS to determine the locations and feasibility of their extraction efforts.

USGS Eros is controlled by the federal government and is responsible for collecting and managing data resources on land use in the United States. The United States Census Bureau is controlled by the federal government and it collects information on populations and demographics. National Atlas is (also) managed by the US Department of Interior; it collects maps and geospatial data for use in GIS systems.

“The Geographic Approach” integrates information and mapping, in a way which makes it a tool for understanding our world. The Steps are: Ask, Acquire, Examine, Analyze, and Act. It involves asking a specific question from a location-based perspective, acquiring information and data necessary to analyzing the issue, examining the issue, analysis of the method used to reach your answers, and then finally, acting upon or utilization of the conclusions found. GIS is an important tool in the entire process.

 

ESRI is maker of GIS programs and their website helps users seeking support, training, and other geospatial and data resources. It was a project of the geographer Jack Dangermond.

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REVIEW: Hayden’s “Building Suburbia”

Analysis and Response to “Building Suburbia, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000” by Dolores Hayden  (it’s super cheap, used, on Amazon)

“Subsidizing Sprawl”

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An example of where one teacher can change everything could be the day I found the book “Building Suburbia” by Dolores Hayden.  I hadn’t considered the planning field prior to that occasion, and I’m not quite sure what my motivation was in picking up “Building Suburbia,” but I was quickly consumed by the material.  Upon reading, I became familiar with much of the jargon associated with the planning field i.e. Greenfields, infill, etc.  It is this initial presentation that made me consider planning as a career avenue, while consuming my head with the idea of “what was this/what will this be” when confronted with any space.  In the book, Hayden describes the types of government-subsidized private developments in order, starting in 1820 America, and continuing to the present.  She classifies the development eras in separate chapters, which begins with “borderlands” (beginning circa 1820’s), “picturesque enclaves” (1850’s), “streetcar buildouts” (1870’s), “mail order and self built suburbs” (1900’s), “sitcom suburbs” (1940’s), “edge nodes” (1960’s), and “rural fringes” (1980’s-present).  It is the subject of “edge nodes” that resonated most with me.  The fact that there was still land and open space in America prior to that point made me think about the areas of open space I’ve seen developed in my life time; as well as realize that land is finite resource.

Dolores Hayden’s presentation of edge nodes focuses on what once was “a dusty, narrow road in Fairfax County, Virginia,” Tyson’s Corner.  No longer the “mom and pop gas station,” the surrounding area now contains “more commercial space than downtown Miami.” Hayden traces the history of Tyson’s Corner and explains that the growth of the area started with a shopping mall, led by a lawyer turned developer, Til Hazel.  Hazel made a career of handling the lawsuits concerning beltway entrance and exit ramps.  He then used that knowledge to his advantage to create what Hayden describes as “a knot of freeways and arterials…unrelated high-rise and low rise buildings, a vast assemblage of houses, apartments, garages, shopping malls, fast-food franchises, and corporate headquarters.”  The language she uses could be applied to hundreds if not thousands of cases similar to Tyson’s Corner.  She points out that much like other cities, class associated retail—“upscale and downmarket”—are located side by side.  Much of this is chain retail, void of local character and seemingly out of place.  Hayden muses at how, in this amalgamation, could “Gucci’s and McDonalds coexist?” The answer lies in the automobile, which brings the city that “has more jobs than bedroom” its workers and shoppers.

Tyson’s Corner was once a just thru point on the beltway, only accessible by automobile and void of any substantial native population.   The placement of freeway entrances and exits precipitated a need to justify the expense.  This wasn’t so much about the individuals desire to locate to Tyson’s Corner, Hayden believes.  Contrary, the new and improved Tyson’s Corner is what the individual was given, as “the activities of automobile manufacturers, commercial real estate developers, and the federal government have been far more important in determining patterns of transportation than consumer choice.” No doubt, many likely pined for the walkable, neighborhood street, as opposed to the wild nature of the eight lane major road and strip development that was haphazardly planned out for them.  Instead, when we conduct ourselves within this framework, its flaws are noticeable through observation.  Hayden brings up one dangerous intersection, which she  “decided to negotiate…(by) car rather than on foot,” calling it “drive to lunch syndrome.”  Why would anyone test their body to the demanding Leeburg Pike carrying “six to eight lanes of fast-moving traffic” and a shopping mall which lacked “an obvious pedestrian entrance?”  I have and it’s dangerous.  I’m sure many would chose to navigate this by automobile as well.  This dangerous environment, Hayden says, is “typical of edge nodes where nothing is planned in advance and all the development takes place in isolated ‘pods’.”

The boom to create spaces such as Tyson’s Corner began in the early Fifties, according to Hayden, when new legislation allowed “owners to depreciate or write off the value of a building in…a short time.  This created a “gigantic hidden subsidy for the developers of cheap new commercial buildings located on strips.” These new developments were mostly “greenfield,” in their placement; built on what was once open space.  Some housing followed, and “by the mid-1950’s real estate promoters of the commercial strip were attaching it to the center-less residential suburb.”  These practices were enabled further by federal subsidies, “but since these subsidies were indirect, it was hard for many citizens or local officials to know what was happening.”  And the wave took off “in the wake of the tax bonanzas for new commercial projects.”  Many of these roadside strips “boomed” after new tax write-offs were implemented federally, with “over 98 percent of malls made money for their investors.”

When jobs and commerce began moving to edge nodes, “few people wanted to live in them,” charges Hayden.  Her reasoning is that residential lots in edge node areas like Tyson’s Corner are “often the result of spot builders filling in leftover sites with ‘affordable’ housing units.”  Although convenient (debatable) the freeway which gave life to the node also impinges on its desirability.  To make the place more attractive and address the lack of planned center—which would account for public space and public facilities—“private developers responded…by building malls, office parks, and industrial parks as well as fast-food restaurants and motels.”  Assuredly this is done with the individual’s happiness at heart, rather than the profit motive.  Unfortunately, their intentions became “ugly environments” built on “cheap gas and subsidized freeways.” A commute became forced, if one was to take a job in Tyson’s Corner, and almost immediately, in my mind, it makes me consider “commute from where?”  Hayden suggests that the location is likely another edge node.

Upon reading about Tyson’s Corner, it made me wonder: Do we need all of this? It startled me that “by 2000, Americans had built almost twice as much retail space per citizen as any other country in the world.”  The fact that “most of it was in malls,” is also of concern, considering that the 1954 Internal Revenue Code changed to permit “accelerated depreciation of greenfield income-producing property.” Not only is the developments necessity suspect, but “by enabling accelerated depreciation, (government) encouraged poor construction…and discouraged maintenance.”  The disinvestment in these structures created an issue of abandonment, which I have seen readily in my travels across this country.  Quoting Robert Davis, of the Congress for the New Urbanism, from the 2002 Charter, Hayden notes that “‘Shopping centers built only in the 1960s are already being abandoned.  Their abandonment brings down the values of nearby neighborhoods. Wal-Marts built five years ago are already being abandoned for superstores.” Prior to reading this book, I wouldn’t have believed it, even having seen it with my own eyes. Very demonstrative of our throw-away cultural mentality, she continues to quote Davis who finishes by stating “’we have built a world of junk, a degraded environment. It may be profitable for a short-term, but its long-term economic prognosis is bleak.’” I concur.

This environment that was forced upon us with little public input, and with certainly none from the era’s progeny, is indeed ugly and callous, if not sinister, to the pedestrian and those who conduct themselves in that sphere.   Tyson’s Corner is not immune to the abandonment outcome, as new developments continue to break ground daily—it is almost destined to be replaced.  Citing a Bank of America report on sprawl in California, Hayden quotes “‘urban job centers have decentralized to the suburbs…New housing tracts have moved even deeper into agriculturally and environmentally sensitive areas….Private auto use continues to rise.” One consequence is foretold, when reading Til Hazel’s response of “So what?” when informed that twenty-eight acres a day were disappearing because of new construction.  Such a response is disappointing but predictable, and probably similar to the land ethic of other developers of the time.  To him, “The land is a resource for the people to use and the issue is whether you use it well… Is the goal to save green space so the other guy can look at it?”  I charge that it is there for ALL of us to look at—and if everyone had that attitude, there wouldn’t be any land!  There are consequences to the development of places like Tyson’s Corner, and continuing with the Bank of America report… “acceleration of sprawl has surfaced enormous social, environmental, and economic costs, which until now have been hidden, ignored, or quietly borne by society.” Those costs are coming to light more and more.

All from: Dolores Hayden (Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000)

 

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