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Built Environment Archive
| Posted: September 25th, 2012
When you hear the term “community development,” what do you see? I expect lots of people imagine efforts to fix up poor, run-down neighborhoods: renovating substandard homes, building a new community center or a subsidized apartment building, maybe even opening up a grocery store or pharmacy that employs neighborhood residents. A couple of decades ago, this would have been a pretty accurate summary of the community development field.
But these days, “community development” means a lot more and offers the potential for much greater impact. A new book, Investing in What Works for America's Communities, produced jointly by the Low Income Investment Fund and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, assembles the most current and creative thinking about community development. It includes essays from innovative on-the-ground practitioners (like Angela Blanchard of Neighborhood Centers, Inc.), federal policymakers (Shaun Donovan, Arne Duncan, and Kathleen Sebelius), and engaged scholars (like MIT’s Xav Briggs).
At its best, community development today isn’t just about the built environment or about investments within the borders of a distressed neighborhood, although both are important. It’s also about citywide (or metro-wide) policies that help poor people build skills, work experience, savings, and security for their families. It’s about breaking down the barriers of prejudice that exclude low-income families from neighborhoods with great schools, safe streets, affordable grocery stores, and healthy places to play. And it’s about connecting poor neighborhoods to larger networks of services and opportunities so that poor families can move up and out if they want to.
Urban policy wonks used to waste a lot of time arguing about the relative merits of place-based versus people-based strategies. In her foreword to this new book, Elizabeth Duke of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, rightly declares that this “debate is over and both sides won.”
Filed under: Built Environment 3 Comments »
| Posted: September 12th, 2012
Urban Institute estimates suggest that Millennials - adults roughly 20-34 years old - will form 15 to 18 million new households between 2010 and 2020. Compared with Baby Boomers, a greater proportion of those new householders will remain in big cities, having settled there for the first time as independent adults in their early 20s. Read Rolf Pendall’s article in The Atlantic Cities to understand the causes and implications of this demographic shift.
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| Posted: August 2nd, 2012
A recent post at Atlantic Cities, reporting on an article in the Journal of the American Planning Association, suggests that reining in urban sprawl may produce more costs than benefits. “Smart growth” advocates have vigorously attacked the article for not clarifying the assumptions behind its simulation model of growth and its impacts in 30 English cities.
Less has been said, however, about whether and how the simulations should matter to policymakers on this side of the pond. The same methods applied to American metropolitan areas would likely produce greater benefits and lower costs, for at least two reasons.
First, England’s baseline conditions are much more compact than those in the United States. For example, the median lot size of new single-family houses in Atlanta in the early 2000s was six-tenths of an acre, according to the Census’s American Housing Survey. In Dallas, the median was about a quarter acre. If every lot needs an equal amount of land for streets and community facilities, 100,000 new houses built at the median lot size would need 120,000 acres of land in Atlanta but 50,000 in Dallas. Atlanta’s large lots are at least partly a product of exclusionary zoning by suburban jurisdictions whose minimum lot requirements exceed what buyers appear to prefer in less-regulated metro areas such as Dallas and Houston. Deregulation in Atlanta, and in many other American metropolitan areas, would therefore increase density at the urban fringe. England’s land-use regulations work in just the opposite way, producing densities higher than many households prefer. Even a small increase in density there might reduce satisfaction, while a doubling of density in suburban and exurban Atlanta might even increase overall satisfaction.
At the same time, boosting density at the far-flung margins of America’s fastest-sprawling metropolitan areas will reduce the total number of miles driven by vehicles in the area (measured as “vehicle-miles traveled” or VMT) much more than a similar proportionate increase in England. Boosting density here would sometimes mean shrinking single-family lot sizes from, for example, half acres to quarter acres, while in England it would mean shifting from houses on small lots to townhouses. And the number of destinations one can reach in a given period of time increases much more—and potentially, vehicle-miles traveled will decrease more—when single-family lot sizes shrink.
Second, England expects much less population growth in the coming decades than does the United States. Consequently, new land development naturally will play a smaller part in its path to greenhouse gas emissions than it might in the United States.
The benefit-cost ratio from compact development also varies among U.S. metro areas. The gross impact of allowing suburban lots to reach market-equilibrium sizes in metros stretching from Richmond to Birmingham would appreciably reduce vehicle-miles traveled compared with what will occur if lots continue to be so large. In metro areas such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, by contrast, new development is already occurring at relatively high densities, so their path to VMT reduction will depend more on changing how people travel than will be true in Atlanta or Nashville. New development is occurring at low densities in Pennsylvania and Ohio too, but neither of these states is projected to account for much of the nation’s growth.
Ultimately, urban simulation models hold significant promise for decision-making. They offer ways to avoid one-size-fits-all policy prescriptions, showing how and where various policies threaten vulnerable people and important environmental assets. It’s ironic that the main message emerging into the popular consciousness from this article is a one-size-fits-all conclusion that may not apply to a single U.S. metropolitan area—much less to all of them.
[A note on sources: A few people have asked me since the first posting for suggested sources, especially to follow up my contention about density and VMT. Some excellent recent ones include:
Bento, A.M., Cropper, M.L., Mobarak, A.M., Vinha, K., 2005. The Effects of Urban Spatial Structure on Travel Demand in the United States. The Review of Economics and Statistics 87, 466–478.
Boarnet, M.G., Houston, D., Ferguson, G., Spears, S., 2011a. Land use and vehicle miles of travel in the climate change debate: getting smarter than your average bear. In: Hong, Y.H., Ingram, G. (Eds.), Climate Change and Land Policies. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Cambridge, MA.
Boarnet, M.G., Joh, K., Siembab, W., Fulton, W., Nguyen, M., 2011b. Retrofitting the suburbs to increase walking: evidence from a land use – travel study. Urban Studies 48, 129–159.
Salon, D., 2009. Neighborhoods, cars, and commuting in New York City: a discrete choice approach. Transportation Research Part A 43, 180–196.
Salon, Deborah, Marlon G. Boarnet, Susan Handy, Steven Spears, and Gil Tal. 2012. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, Volume 17, Issue 7, Pages 495–508.]
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| Posted: July 24th, 2012
For middle-class families, summer means fun outdoor activities and a break from school schedules. But for many youth from poor, isolated, inner-city communities, it also means too much free time. Middle-class options such as camps, summer jobs, and sports are often either too expensive or not readily available in poor neighborhoods. The lack of high-quality, engaging summer programming means youth may not have a safe place to go while their parents are at work. Even those engaged in daytime activities may not be receiving the quality educational or recreational programming necessary to keep them healthy and to avoid the “summer slide.” Johns Hopkins’s National Summer Learning Association reports that, on average, youth from lower-income families lose two months of learning, or 22 percent of the school year, during their summer break—and those losses are cumulative, meaning that lower-income youth are also less likely to graduate from high school or attend college. Lower-income youth are also more likely to experience negative health outcomes, such as obesity, over summer break. On average, weight gain is three times faster during summer months.
Ensuring that youth are involved in positive summer activities is also important for the strength and safety of a community’s living environment. Teenagers without jobs or a place to go can create a challenge for the people and community around them.
Many public housing authorities, including the communities participating in the Urban Institute’s Housing Opportunities and Services Together Demonstration (HOST), struggle to serve their young residents during the summer, relying on limited resources to reach large numbers of kids.
HOST Portland site—Home Forward, New Columbia, and Humboldt Gardens developments
As part of HOST, Home Forward (formerly the Housing Authority of Portland) developed a package of creative strategies to support families and their children age 0–18 throughout the summer. These programs include family reading hours and Zumba classes, community gardening, summer internships, and volunteer experiences. Run to Live, a mentoring and exercise program for youth, seeks to show kids how daily choices can help support a healthy lifestyle and connects them with peers and a mentor for support and guidance.
Although Run to Live is popular among Home Forward youth, consistently engaging youth in outdoor exercise-driven, summer activity remains a challenge. The Home Forward staff are exploring the idea of providing stipends or rewards for youth who participate in Run to Live on a regular basis.
HOST Chicago site—Chicago Housing Authority, Altgeld Development
UCAN, in conjunction with Project Match, are the youth service providers for the HOST Demonstration’s Chicago site. Their programs are geared toward achievement, competition, motivation, empowerment, and goal setting. With youth under 18 representing more than 50 percent of residents, staff describe the sometimes daunting challenge of meeting the diverse needs of so many young people.
Among the more successful programs are those aimed at older youth and those that provide youth with a financial stipend. Learn and Earn is a CHA program available to HOST participants. The six-week program for 155 youth ages 13–15 that offers career exploration and weekly field trips, along with a weekly stipend. For the Growing Power program, youth ages 16–21 must compete for the 120 slots available to work in Altgeld’s community garden through a summer youth employment program. Participating youth receive a $700 stipend for six weeks of participation. Certain youth are able to work in the garden throughout the year. Another popular activity is the year-round (though space-limited) Martial Arts program that helps youth ages 5–17 focus their energy on goal setting and behavior management, a common struggle for tweens and teens.
The Chicago and Portland HOST sites have made tremendous progress in addressing the needs of their younger residents, though they both struggle to keep their kids engaged in positive, goal-oriented activities. Providing consistent, year-round programming and offering incentives and stipends seem to help maintain participation. The hope is that the activities and mentorship programs they provide will help improve youth outcomes (physical, behavioral, and educational) and promote healthier communities overall. The Urban Institute will be evaluating their progress over the next few years.
Filed under: Built Environment, People, Quality of Life, Urban Culture 3 Comments »
| Posted: July 23rd, 2012
The unemployment rate fell in 90 of the top 100 largest metro areas between the fourth quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012. Of the metros experiencing increases in unemployment, 7 of 10 were located in New York (Albany, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Syracuse, and New York City) and Louisiana (New Orleans and Baton Rouge). Eighty-nine of the top 100, however, still remained above 6% and 11 of these metro areas are still experiencing double-digit unemployment rates. Seven of the 8 metros with the highest unemployment rates are located in California, and 17 of the top 25 metros with the highest rates are located in California or Florida. The three hardest hit metros, Fresno, Stockton, and Modesto, currently have more than 15% of the labor force unemployed. Many of the metros with the lowest unemployment rates are located in the Midwest, including Omaha (4.5%), Madison (4.8%), and Oklahoma City (5.1%). For more see the Brookings Institution MetroMonitor.
Filed under: Built Environment, Economy 1 Comment »
| Posted: July 17th, 2012
Don't miss our latest MetroTrends commentary: US Census Bureau Researchers Todd Gardner and Matthew Marlay analyze exurban population growth since the Great Recession.
Over the last decade, the rate of growth in exurbia far outpaced that of the United States as a whole. Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. population grew from about 281 million people to 309 million people, or about a 10% increase. During the same period, the exurban population grew from about 16 million to almost 26 million people, an over 60% increase. In both cases, the growth rate slowed substantially after 2007: the overall U.S. population grew by 7% from 2000 to 2007 (averaging about 1% annually), but by just over 2% from 2007 to 2010 (only about 0.8% annually). Meanwhile, the exurban population grew by 44% from 2000 to 2007 (about 6% annually), but by only about 12% from 2007 to 2010 (about 4% annually). Click below to see our interactive map.
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| Posted: July 14th, 2012
This week the MetroTrends blog had two types of posts – rigorous empirical analysis of the nation’s economic and social well-being, and explanation and analysis of policies aiming to affect that well-being. That is the mission of Urban and MetroTrends – to improve both sides of the policy process with high-quality, data-driven insight.
Click below to read this week’s posts, and check back next week.
- Gene Steuerle looks at marriage “penalties” and “incentives” in the federal tax code – and wonders if we could address issues of equality and efficiency by rethinking this part of the tax system
- Erica Meade summarizes her research on how the recession affected men’s and women’s unemployment differently – and what those differences could (or perhaps don’t) mean in terms of economic recovery
- Brett Theodos discusses new research on factors that predict who might end up in precarious housing situations – and sheds light on ways to address people’s vulnerabilities before they end up in that housing
- Michael Martinez-Schiferl highlights his new research on WIC – the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children – with a new interactive map. See which states do best in providing benefits to those who are eligible, and which do worst.
Filed under: Built Environment, Government, People Add a Comment »
| Posted: July 12th, 2012
People who are disabled, living in poverty, or have little education can be particularly vulnerable to shocks that can affect their life chances. But another class of vulnerabilities has to do with where people live—for example, old housing may be more precarious as it costs more to maintain and overcrowded conditions can have adverse effects on children and parents. We took a look at this connection to ask whether personal vulnerabilities are good predictors of living in precarious housing.
We found that vulnerable people live in precarious housing more often than those without vulnerabilities, controlling for other demographic and regional factors. Some of this concentration was a result of income, some a result of personal and household traits, including race, that still hinder equal housing opportunity. Some vulnerabilities led to different precarious housing conditions. For example, blacks are less likely to overpay or live in overcrowded housing, but more likely to live in multifamily housing (controlling for other factors). Hispanics are more likely to live in overcrowded housing (controlling for other factors).
We find that income matters more than any other single factor in Americans’ ability to avoid precarious housing. Poor families stand out as especially disadvantaged. While perhaps not surprising, it is alarming because these households have the least financial cushion should something go wrong in their housing situation—say if they are forced to move or to make expensive repairs. Individuals and families at the intersection of precarious housing and personal vulnerability are most at risk. They are the households most likely to move frequently as a result of financial stress, leading to potentially damaging instability.
What can be done? Federal support for housing, neighborhoods, and transit systems is key. State and local policies and programs also matter. Regions should play a larger role, but few have developed a robust capacity to act in a coordinated way. And our findings affirm that income supports for the poor (whether in-kind or monetary) will continue to be critical for vulnerable households.
Filed under: Assets and debts, Built Environment, Government 1 Comment »
Rebecca Grace Kassie Bertumen, Jennifer Biess
| Posted: July 2nd, 2012
The Metropolitan Council of Governments recently released the 2012 Homelessness Point-in-Time Count for communities throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. The annual Point-in-Time (PIT) census occurs on a single night in January and counts people staying in emergency shelters, transitional housing, and permanent supportive housing facilities as well as those sleeping on the streets. The data gathered in this snapshot help local governments and homeless service providers define their policies for providing housing and other supportive services. The data also offer a consistent measure of the scope of homelessness nationwide. This year’s PIT shows that while the number of homeless single adults has significantly declined across the region, the number of homeless people in families has increased.
Across nine jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan region, PIT census volunteers counted nearly 11,830 homeless people; the majority (59%) were in the District of Columbia (DC), which has always had the largest number of homeless since the region began conducting the enumeration survey in 2001. From 2008 to 2012, the total number of homeless people in the metro area increased by only 1 percent.
About 53 percent of the region’s homeless are single individuals, and 47 percent are people in families. The share of the homeless in families varies by jurisdiction (see map below). It’s lowest in Montgomery County (39%), and Alexandria (40%), and Frederick County (41%); it’s highest in Prince William County (66%), Loudoun County (58%), and Prince George’s County (57%). DC’s share is below the regional average, at 46 percent. While the number of homeless single adults in the region has declined 13 percent from 2008 to 2012, the number of homeless people in families has increased 23 percent over the same period.
As was true of the region’s homeless population in general, the majority (57%) of homeless persons in families were found in the District. The District’s Continuum of Care is working hard to provide stable housing for many of these families. Half of these families were in transitional housing, but the remaining 31 percent were in emergency shelters and 19 percent placed in motels rooms throughout the District. This year, nearly three times as many families needed to be placed in motels compared to the previous year.
The lack of affordable housing in the District and the foreclosure crisis both contribute to the rise in family homelessness. Using the data gathered from the 2012 PIT census, servicers and government officials should develop policies and services to address the region’s increasing homeless family population and continue to support those that have sustained a decrease in the number of homeless single individuals.
Filed under: Built Environment 2 Comments »
| Posted: June 16th, 2012
Last week, two MetroTrends bloggers tackled two dimensions of the affordable housing challenge facing US metros:
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- Susan Popkin describes a new, evidence-based initiative being launched to help the kids growing up in one of DC’s most dangerous and distressed public housing projects.
- Margery Turner highlights a speech by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan on the potential of housing policies that offer poor families meaningful choices about where to live.