Category: News

Where the ‘15-minute city’ falls short

By Feargus O’Sullivan, Bloomberg CityLab, March 2, 2021

“The idea of a ‘15-minute city,’ in which residents live within a short walk or bike ride of all their daily needs has been embraced by many mayors around the world during the global pandemic as a central planning tenet.

“But there are dangers of applying a model conceived in Europe to many North American cities, some urban experts warn. Transplanting the 15-minute city template across the Atlantic could be ‘presumptive and colonial,’ said Toronto-based urban designer and thinker Jay Pitter at the CityLab 2021 conference hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute.

“ ‘We’ve actually designed cities to create buffers between us across race and class specifically, and this proposal completely ignores a century of planning interventions that have actually concretized deep social divisions between people,’ Pitter added.

Dan Hill, strategic director of Vinnova, Sweden’s national innovation agency, suggested that “an ambitious goal such as the 15-minute city requires cities to abandon the traditional notion of urban planning as divorced from other policies … such as health care, social services, and environmental policy.”

Pitter further noted, “Some cities, and neighborhoods might go from a 45-minute city to maybe a 20-minute city — and that would be significant progress. Some places will go from 60 minutes to 50 minutes and that too will be significant progress.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

According to a March 15, 2021, East Bay Times article by George Avalos, several ‘15-minute city’ projects are proposed for downtown San Jose and other Bay Area cities. Read that story here.

Return to Northern News here.

Will ending single-family zoning create more housing?

By J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2021

“[In the last week of February], the city councils in Berkeley and South San Francisco took steps to end single-family zoning, with Berkeley promising to get rid of it within a year and South City initiating a study as part of its general plan update.

“But while the movement to allow multifamily buildings in zones previously limited to single-family homes is being embraced as a correction of past discriminatory policies, … whether it will actually increase housing production is a lot more complicated, according to builders and architects.

“Sean Kieghran, president of San Francisco’s Residential Builders Association, said he supports getting rid of single-family only zoning but doesn’t think it will result in many new units.

“ ‘That zoning is a tool to create housing production is a widely held and completely fallacious idea. Just because something is permitted doesn’t mean it happens. It’s very hard to find a vacant lot or tear down at a price that would work,’ said Daniel Solomon, an architect who has worked on three single-family sized lot-to-fourplex conversions.

“The model might work best in more suburban communities with larger lot sizes and less expensive land, said Peter Cohen of the Council of Community Housing Organizations. He said cities getting rid of single-family zoning should focus on who these units will be serving and how they will help solve the region’s affordable-housing crisis.”

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Berkeley begins process to end single-family zoning

By Supriya Yelimeli, Berkeleyside, February 24, 2021

“The Berkeley City Council unanimously denounced the racist history of single-family zoning in the city, beginning a two-year process to change the city’s general plan and introduce more multi-unit housing in every part of the city.

According to UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute, single-family zoning presents a barrier to promoting racial residential integration in the Bay Area.

“[Councilmember] Lori Droste and co-authors pointed out in the resolution that Berkeley was the first city in the United States to enact single-family zoning in 1916 in Droste’s district, the Elmwood. This combined with discriminatory lending practices, redlining, and the Berkeley Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance of 1973 to create deeply segregated neighborhoods.

“Due to the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation from Senate Bill 828, Berkeley is already required to build 9,000 more units in the next several years. Mayor Jesse Arreguín and others have said zoning changes are one of the only ways to accomplish this quantity, and that the choice to do away with single-family zoning was practically decided for them.

“ ‘I’m glad people have realized … that our Black population is almost gone, but we can’t separate that from the policies that got us here in the first place,’ said Councilmember Terry Taplin, rejecting an assertion that ending single-family zoning ‘in predominantly Black areas of the city could potentially further gentrification.’

“[Councilmember Ben Bartlett added, ‘… not only are we the birthplace of [single-family] race zoning, but we are also the birthplace of the Fair Housing Act authored by Berkeley’s own Byron Rumford, which became the Federal Fair Housing Act — a seminal piece of legislation guaranteeing equal access to housing.’ ”

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

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Cities aren’t shrinking because everyone’s moving out, but because no one’s moving in

By Henry Grabar, Slate, February 22, 2021

“Big cities have clearly lost some verve during the pandemic. … The suits at McKinsey report on the ratio of arriving workers to departing ones, as captured by LinkedIn profiles. That ratio is down 27 percent in New York, 24 percent in San Francisco, 13 percent in Boston, and 11 percent in Los Angeles and Seattle. ‘This could be driven either by a greater number of workers leaving these areas or by fewer people entering these areas in 2020 compared to 2019,’ the researchers note.

“If the populations of the nation’s largest cities are truly plummeting, they are in big trouble. In the short term, they’ll have to cut public services and manage mass unemployment as the service sector withers. In the long term, they’ll have to confront the fact that the model behind the urban renaissance of the last 30 years — immigrants and yuppies — is dead.

“But what if all these departures aren’t actually out of step with historical patterns and the problem is instead that no one is coming to take their place?

“A handful of American cities have been dependent on foreign arrivals for almost all their population growth in recent years, including Cincinnati, Birmingham, and Miami. In many larger cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, immigrants have for many decades helped stabilize urban neighborhoods and jump-start local economies.

“[I]nstead of heeding complaints from departing suburbanites about ‘law and order’ or parking, pols ought to double down on the things that make dense urban neighborhoods attractive to the people who still want to live in them. … Clean streets. Better public space. An easy road for small businesses.”

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

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“11 Black urbanists every planner should know”

By Pete Saunders, Planning Magazine, Winter 2021

“In (roughly) chronological order, here is a selection of the many Black urbanists all planners should know:

  1. W. E. B. Dubois (1868–1963)

“His work as an activist is well-known, but he rose to prominence in 1899 with the publication of The Philadelphia Negro…This study was among the first to openly conclude that discrimination was at the heart of the problems plaguing isolated Black urban communities.

  1. Samuel J. Cullers (1918–2005)

“In multiple published essays; through leadership positions in the NAACP, the Sacramento Urban League, and APA; and over the course of a civil rights housing lawsuit, Cullers dedicated much of his career to defeating discrimination in both the planning profession and society at large.

  1. Dorothy Mae Richardson (1922–1991)

“A community activist who fought against redlining in Pittsburgh, Richardson challenged local banks to issue conventional loans for mortgages and housing rehabs in her Central North Side neighborhood. Her efforts led to the founding of Pittsburgh-based Neighborhood Housing Services, along with the national group now known as NeighborWorks America, one of the leading community development institutions.

  1. Mary Pattillo (1970–)

“A current professor of sociology and African-American Studies at Northwestern University, Pattillo has published two important works: Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril for the Black Middle Class, which documents how the Black middle class has a far more difficult time achieving “escape velocity” from the ills of the inner city, and Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City, which illustrates how a uniquely Black version of gentrification emerged in Chicago’s North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhood on the South Side.”

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

What happens when SF’s largest employer goes ‘work from anywhere’

By Laura Bliss and Sarah Holder, Bloomberg CityLab, February 12, 2020

“Salesforce.com Inc. — the anchor tenant of the 61-story building’s Class A office space — has announced a permanent ‘work from anywhere’ policy that lets employees remain on remote or flexible schedules after the pandemic ends. As San Francisco’s largest private employer, the customer-management software giant is a heavy hitter on the list of companies with similar plans set to affect downtown office spaces, including Twitter, Facebook and Square, prompting tough questions about the vitality of the city’s core and overall economy.

“Salesforce’s location choice [in the downtown South of Market neighborhood] offered an example of how, in contrast with peers bunkered down in suburban Silicon Valley or clustered in Mission Bay, the tech industry could be better integrated into civic life.

“After so much baggage attached to Salesforce’s San Francisco footprint, it now faces a potentially emptier future, as does all of downtown. How much emptier isn’t clear yet: A Salesforce spokesperson said that the company plans to evaluate future real estate needs as its business priorities shift.

“Assuming that pattern holds in San Francisco, Kim-Mai Cutler, a partner at the venture capital firm Initialized, expects most workers to sprawl not into other states but into neighboring cities. That could affect San Francisco’s bottom line by reducing local tax revenue, and could complicate gross receipts tax calculations, without making much of a catastrophic dent in the region’s overall population.

“Despite the forecast for turmoil, some also hope that an exodus of commercial lease-holders — tech companies or otherwise — from downtown San Francisco could be a chance to rethink how the urban core is used.

“Perhaps vacant office space could be repurposed into much-needed housing, transforming the area into a more vibrant and affordable residential option than its pre-pandemic profile ever offered, said Molly Turner, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley who specializes in tech’s influence on cities.”

Read the full article here. (~7 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

The Californians are coming. So is their housing crisis.

By Conor Dougherty, The New York Times, February 12, 2021

Californians, fleeing high home prices, are moving to Idaho in droves. Idaho has been one of the fastest-growing states, with the largest share of new residents coming from California. This fact can be illustrated with census data, moving vans — or resentment.

“Housing costs are relative, so anyone leaving Los Angeles or San Francisco will find almost any other city to have a bountiful selection of homes that seem unbelievably large and cheap. But for those tethered to the local economy, the influx of wealthier outsiders pushes housing costs further out of reach.

“As bad as California’s affordable housing problem is, it isn’t really a California problem. It is a national one. From rising homelessness to anti-development sentiment to frustration among middle-class workers who’ve been locked out of the housing market, the same set of housing issues has bubbled up in cities across the country [in] Boise, Nashville, Denverand Austin, Texas, and many other high-growth cities. And they will become even more widespread as remote workers move around.

“In city after city, studies have shown that homelessness has a distinct financial tipping point. As soon as the local rent burden reaches the point where renters on average spend more than a third of their income on housing, the number of people on the streets starts to rise sharply, according to researchers at Zillow and elsewhere.

“Cities are built around jobs, and … over the past four decades the U.S. economy has bifurcated into high-paying jobs in fields like tech and finance and low-paying jobs in retail and personal services.

“Some work has to be done in person — and unless companies leaving California expect to do without the services of janitors and security guards — the underlying problem will persist in every next city that has the misfortune of becoming desirable.

“The only way to solve the housing crisis is to address it in every city it visits. Otherwise, we’re just spreading it around.”

Read the full article here. (~ 5 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

New proposed bill sets ambitious offshore wind farm target

By Paul Rogers, The Mercury News, February 11, 2021

“From Scotland to Norway, China to Rhode Island, thousands of giant turbines generate clean energy in oceans around the world. But none is off California’s coast.

“On [February 11], a coalition of labor, industry and environmental groups came together to change that, endorsing a new bill (Chiu, D-San Francisco) that would require California to set a target of constructing 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes, and 10,000 megawatts by 2040.

“The three most likely locations for the first big farms are off San Luis Obispo County, off Morro Bay and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, which will be decommissioned in 2025, and off Humboldt County.

“Labor unions have already endorsed the bill.

“But [offshore wind] technology in California faces major challenges. Although there are a handful of farms with floating turbines in Scotland and other areas, none has been built on the scale that California is considering. And while wind energy costs are coming down, the costs of projects off California’s coast are not yet fully understood.

“One group, Environment California, endorsed the bill Thursday, citing last year’s record wildfires, heat waves and blackouts.

“Most other environmental groups, however, are still wary.”

Read the full article here. (~4 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Analysis: Strategies to lower cost and speed permanent supportive housing production

From UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, February 9, 2021

A new analysis that finds that the 833 Bryant Street project, a housing development for individuals experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, offers a model for building needed housing quicker and at lower cost.

“The development was funded and planned through a collaboration between Tipping Point Community, a Bay Area philanthropic organization, and the San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF), a public-private partnership that produces and preserves affordable housing in San Francisco, with Mercy Housing acting as the developer.

The analysis finds that the combination of the following four factors have put the 833 Bryant Street development on track to achieve these projected time and cost savings:

  • Up front commitment to time and cost savings by funders and developers.
  • Flexible, unrestricted funding through private capital in the pre-construction phase.
  • Streamlined approvals under SB 35.
  • Modular construction. Vallejo-based Factory_OS constructed the units off-site, reducing development times.

Read the full press release here. (~2min.) Access the report here (PDF).

Roundup previously included coverage of construction union disputes over Factory_OS’s business model.

Return to Northern News here.

YIMBYs sue for even more housing via RHNA

By Benjamin Schneider, SF Weekly, February 4, 2021

“YIMBY groups say that the Bay Area’s housing allocation from the state for the 2023-31 RHNA cycle does not adequately account for jobs/housing balance — the ratio between the number of new jobs added and new homes built over a given time period — leading to an artificially low number.

“The YIMBY groups are basing their suit on a study by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Studies, which found that Housing and Community Development (HCD) undershot the Bay Area’s housing allocation by as many as 245,000 homes. The lawsuit specifically highlights the jobs/housing imbalance, which the study calculates could amount to a deficit of about 138,000 homes. In other words, the Bay Area’s housing allocation should be closer to 579,000, not 441,000, according to the suit.

“The Bay Area’s housing allocation increased about 230 percent in the latest RHNA cycle, while Southern California’s allocation increased by more than 300 percent.

“Jennifer Hernandez, a San Francisco-based land use attorney and YIMBY Law advisory board board member, feels this discrepancy is ‘politically influenced.’ The Bay Area has ‘more supporters of the current administration and donors of the current administration than Southern California,’ Hernandez says, in reference to Governor Gavin Newsom. ‘It’s a pretty clear double standard.’

“As cities begin sending their housing plans to the state for adoption, major questions remain in terms of how HCD will interpret two of the statutory requirements in state housing law: whether plans affirmatively further fair housing, and the likelihood that the new zoning will actually result in new housing production. Those factors could force cities to zone for considerably more housing than their RHNA allocation, and in the fancier, more racially and economically segregated parts of town, said Chris Elmendorf, a law professor at UC Davis and one of the authors of the Lewis Center study.

Read the full article here. (~6 min.).

In CP&DR, Chris Elmendorf wrote an editorial discussing the complexity of the YIMBY suit.

Return to Northern News here.