Stimulus Showdown

When the Democrats’ $825 billion economic stimulus seemed to choose same-ol’ over sustainable, Smart Growth advocates and New Urbanists began turning up the heat. Favoring super highways over mass transit, rail, pedestrian, and biking alternatives incentivized sprawl for decades. And isn’t sprawl part of what got us in this mess? Smart Growth advocates believe investing new money in the same old strategies will only make it harder to achieve goals of energy efficiency and community affordability. Almost all of this federal stimulus money will find its way into state and local government bank accounts. So debates on how to spend it will take place in forums in Washington and in state houses and city halls all over America.

Time to talk to elected officials in your community, as well as Congress. For Smart Growth and New Urbanist perspectives on the infrastructure stimulus, go to Congress for the New Urbanism, Transportation for America or Center for Neighborhood Technology.

Connecting streets and the stimulus. 
To bolster Smart Growth arguments for how to spend stimulus bucks, the latest edition of New Urban News reports on a study of 24 California cities showing that those with the most highly connected street networks have one third the traffic fatalities of cities with poorly connected street networks.  And in the same issue, CNU president John Norquist provides commentary on the stimulus.

- Ben Brown

Designing for the New Economy

The New Urban Guild, an association of some 60 prominent designers with New Urbanist leanings, met January 10 in Miami to formulate a strategy for creating sustainable architecture for the new American future. The Guild is determined to create a new series of building types that not only hit affordability marks but also satisfy ambitious goals of environmental responsibility, energy efficiency, safety, durability, and neighborhood friendliness. While times seem hard, says New Urban Guild founder Steve Mouzon, the new era can reward innovation and a commitment to high design standards.

- Ben Brown

Report from the Real Estate Front Lines

Vince Graham, the New Urbanist developer of the award-winning I’On TND in the Charleston metro area, has a “get real” message for home owners and realtors. Like other established New Urbanist properties, I’On has weathered the current housing slowdown better than conventional suburban projects nearby. Yet owners determined to sell their homes in I’On have had to face the reality that the era of double-digit annual appreciation is over. In fact, recent sales even in I’On have been at prices closer to those of four years ago, as opposed to the record levels of 2006. “Let’s face it,” says Vince, “2006 was an anomaly. Forget about it. A good pricing rule of thumb this year is to consider what homes were selling for at the end of 2004.”

Other experts have echoed Vince’s analysis. Measured over decades, home values nationally have appreciated at annual averages close to the average inflation rate — roughly three percent per year. Which suggests that average home prices nationally, after teasing investors for years at unsustainable appreciation levels, still have room to fall.

- Ben Brown

What We’re Reading: Retrofitting Suburbia

retrofittingConsiderable attention has been paid to development in urban cores and new neighborhoods on the exurban periphery. But in between, the out-of-date and unsustainable developments in existing suburbs also provide enormous opportunities for regeneration. Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs, by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson, is a comprehensive guidebook that illustrates how existing suburban developments can be redesigned into more urban and more sustainable places. Beyond simply re-skinning buildings or changing use, the best suburban retrofits systemically transform their neighborhoods, increasing connectivity and walkability, while contributing to affordability, transit, and sustainability.

- Hazel Borys