“We spoke to UBC professor” Patrick Condon, chair in Landscape and Livable Environments at UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the founding chair of the UBC urban design program.
“What are the potential impacts of the current crisis on transit systems?
“This will be another blow to urban transit, which will be needed to solve the climate crisis. It will likely be a boost to the ride-hailing industry.
“How will it affect the way we design and build cities?
“The rich will withdraw even more behind the protection of doormen and gated communities. Sanitized cars with drivers on call.
“Our current housing inequality in the region needs to be addressed when this is over. It makes no sense to continue a trend where increasingly the rich live in Vancouver and wage earners who provide services to the city are being forced further and further east.
“How will it affect community services?
“I foresee a continued slide in our civic infrastructure and reduced taxpayer support for these functions. I suspect our concerns post-crisis will be more basic: where can I live affordably and how can I access job and services safely.”
“Environmental Quality Committee Chair Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), California State Transportation Agency Secretary David Kim, Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, and … Senator [Brian] Dahle … all noted it is one of the key things California needs to tackle.
“But Transportation Committee Chair Jim Beall (D-Campbell) showed there is still a lot of work to do to educate people.
“‘[Vehicle Miles Traveled] is one way to look at it,’ he said. ‘But we should also look at congestion, at how much time it takes to get somewhere. If a car is running longer, [it stands to reason it] would be polluting more, and also: how much gas it uses … I would even argue that electric cars pollute because more people are stuck in congestion,’ he said.
“Electrify everything, but reduce VMT too
“Secretary Kim and Chair Nichols spoke of the many, multi-pronged efforts being undertaken by the state to tackle transportation emissions, the main one being electrifying everything as quickly as possible.
“‘Electrification has been key to state thinking and regulatory activities in this area,’ said Nichols. Although the state has goals to require that all new vehicles sold in the state be electric by 2045, ‘we need to have allpassenger vehicles on the road be zero-emission by 2045,’ she said. ‘And we’re obviously a very long way from that goal right now.’
“The only way to get there is to reduce driving. ‘We need to reduce VMT per capita,’ Nichols said. ‘Hopefully it would be done in a painless way, and we can generate funding to soften the blow for those who would be excessively burdened,’ she added.
“Secretary Kim also highlighted electrification as a partial solution. ‘Promoting greater use of EVs is clearly a key strategy,’ he said. ‘But also: reducing VMT and encouraging mode shift. We need to have safe, accessible, affordable, reliable, and frequent ways of traveling. The more people walk, bike, and use shared mobility including transit, the better it will be for everyone.’
“The trends, however, are going in the wrong direction, with driving going up and transit use declining, and little shift in biking and walking modes.
“Secretary Kim said that California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) is focusing on what it can do to at the state level to help increase transit ridership, expand bike and walk infrastructure, and promote ‘the right kind of development to help people reduce driving [by] making sure transportation can support affordable infill housing.’
“CalSTA is also, he said, ‘focusing on transportation demand management over highway expansions.’”
For more detailed coverage of the California Senate hearing on transportation emissions, read the full article here. And Susan L. Handy, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis, describes two key policy steps the state can take to meet transportation emissions reductions goals.
By Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times, March 17, 2020
“Many thousands of people all over the world are mourning dead loved ones. I’m lucky; I’m just mourning the city.
“To live in a city like New York, where I’ve spent most of my adult life, is to trade private space for public space. It’s to depend on interdependence. I don’t have a dining room, but I’ve been able to eat in thousands of restaurants. I have no storage space, but everything I needed was at the bodega. I don’t have a home office, but I could work at coffee shops.
“The coronavirus disaster is going to devastate communities all over the country, … but it poses particular challenges for urbanites.
“Social distancing is brutal for everyone, but it’s particularly difficult for people in cities, especially those who live alone and those packed into tiny spaces.
“When this emergency is over, people are likely to emerge into fundamentally changed cities, with economies in crisis, and beloved restaurants, businesses, and cultural institutions gone for good.
“I wonder if our cultural romance with urban living will recover. In recent decades, millennials, who tend to be more averse to suburbia than their parents and grandparents, have helped fuel an urban resurgence. If the shock of the coronavirus is devastating enough, that could change, as more people seek their own personal bunkers.
“Maybe when this ends, people will pour into the restaurants and bars like a war’s been won, and cities will flourish as people rush to rebuild their ruined social architecture. But for now, it’s chilling to witness an entire way of life coming to a sudden horrible halt.”
Northern News presents these excerpts from a 2300-word article. You can read the full article here.
“Vietnam’s economy has … helped the country climb up the global development ladder, and it’s repeatedly been declared a winner of the US-China trade war amid major shifts in production by the world’s biggest companies.
“This growth has fueled a building boom, along with an explosion in car and motorbike ownership. Increased industrial production, widespread construction, and more vehicle emissions might be signs of a healthy economy, but at the cost of health problems for the people living among them.
“Katherine Nguyen moved to the city from San Jose, California, in 2009. ‘It wasn’t a concern at the time,’ she recalls. ‘I never even thought about it. But recently there have been spikes where the AQI turns red (unhealthy) or purple (very unhealthy) on the app.’ Nguyen’s family have responded by installing air purifiers in each living space in their apartment.
“Despite being Vietnam’s most populous city and economic engine, the air quality in Ho Chi Minh City used to be generally better than in Hanoi, the country’s capital. But while the situation has further deteriorated in Hanoi, things aren’t much better in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam as a whole, are often portrayed as lands of bountiful economic opportunities for people across classes. But when the construction and development that boosts economic growth is also generating these impacts to health and quality of life, people have to figure out how to deal with the situation according to their means.
“People working outside, or without the means to afford air filters and high-quality masks, face even more health risks, as they are in the middle of dense traffic for hours at a time. They are also reticent about speaking to the press about their experience, given that the issue is often seen as rather politically sensitive.
“Meanwhile, large-scale potential solutions — mass public transit, for example — are years away from becoming reality. Ho Chi Minh City’s first metro line won’t start operating until 2021 at the earliest, with any further lines expected to take several more years of construction, while Hanoi’s first line has been 99 percent complete for nearly a year, with no opening date in sight.
“As of now, buses are the only form of public transportation, while huge construction projects continue to emit dirt, dust, and other particles into the air, and industrial parks expand capacity to welcome companies escaping the trade war.”
Michael Tatarski is a journalist based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He focuses on the environment, urban development, and social issues. Find him on Twitter @miketatarski.
Seawalls, parks, and elevated buildings can protect against rising tides. But they can also push the price of housing up, and longtime residents out.
By Adam Rogers for Wired.com, February 23, 2020
“Fighting climate disasters is a good idea for the planet, but can have unintended consequences for neighborhoods. ‘In order to construct a green, resilient park or shoreline, we get rid of lower-income housing … and behind it or next to it, you’ll have higher-income housing being built,’ says Isabelle Anguelovski, an urban geographer at the Autonomous University of Barcelona who co-wrote an article about green gentrification in December’s Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS).
“In Philadelphia, Anguelovski and her team studied a program to build flood-fighting infrastructure like parkland, green roofs, and curbside swales to absorb rainwater before it hit sewers. This, too, was an engine of gentrification. ‘What you see on the maps is that the areas that gained the greatest amount of green resilient infrastructure are also those that became the most gentrified,’ Anguelovski says. ‘And the areas that blacks and Latinos have had to move to between 2000 and 2016 have been the areas that got the least infrastructure.’
“ ‘Green gentrification is getting used as a tool to say we shouldn’t be investing in a neighborhood, in these improvements that under-resourced communities deserve,’ says Laura Tam, sustainability and resilience director for the urban planning advocacy group SPUR. ‘The problem is we don’t have effective housing policy that prevents people from being displaced when their neighborhood gets amenities important for any neighborhood, including sewer service, flood protection, and parks.’
“As Anguelovski’s team argued in an article in PNAS last December, local and state governments and planning agencies should have policies that guard against green gentrification. That means requiring developers to build a certain number of affordable homes on-site, guaranteeing residents the right to stay, and figuring out ways to make sure existing affordable housing doesn’t convert to market rate[.]”
Richard Davis, Northern News associate editor, adds:
In 2017, the year-long Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge (RbD) asked experts to design implementable solutions to sea-level rise, severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes that also accounted for critical social issues, such as gentrification.
Debra Guenther, FASLA, wrote in the July/August 2018 issue of Northern News about landscape design firm Mithun’s experience with RbD in North Richmond, California (Reshaping the bay for sea-level rise and creating affordable housing, pp. 4, 17-18). Building upon the previously developed North Richmond Shoreline Vision Plan, Mithun crafted a four-point strategy that would allow local residents to benefit from green infrastructure investments. These were (1) fostering resilience through paths to home ownership, (2) planting 20,000 trees, which act as natural air filters, (3) integrating marshes into shoreline industrial areas, and (4) encouraging the use of Wildcat Creek Trail.
To learn more about Mithun’s initiative to build green infrastructure in North Richmond along with practices that fostered participatory decision-making and generational wealth building in a historically disinvested community, read the full article here.
Earlier this year, The New York Times’ Real Estate section explored Antioch, California, as a good place to move for more affordable housing and good transit to San Francisco. Besides depicting the city, the article follows two couples who moved to Antioch. We have appended to these excerpts a response to the article from the City of Antioch’s Community Development Director.
Renters and buyers priced out of San Francisco and Oakland are increasingly finding this quiet city on the San Joaquin River, where affordability is ‘number one.’
By Candace Jackson, The New York Times, February 25, 2020
“Antioch is filled with sprawling suburban subdivisions built during various real estate booms, particularly the 1990s and early 2000s.
“Myesha and Elgin Lawson had been looking to buy in Antioch [for] affordability. They said they were able to see several nice homes in their price range of $400,000 to $500,000. Most had at least three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms, and at least 1,400 square feet.
“Most worrying to Ms. Lawson was the commute. The couple, who have a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old, both work in San Francisco. Each weekday, they leave their house at 4 a.m. to drop off the children with relatives who take them to school. Then they drive together to catch the morning’s first BART train into San Francisco, at 4:47 a.m.
“What you’ll find
“Antioch, a 30-square-mile city with about 112,000 residents, has rural, residential, and marine areas, with its northern border formed by the San Joaquin River. It is home to one of the area’s newest Bay Area Rapid Transit stations, [serving] an ‘eBART’ train connecting Antioch to the Pittsburg/Bay Point line. City officials say the station has put Antioch on the map, literally and figuratively.
“ ‘It’s a game-changer,’ said Kwame Reed, Antioch’s head of economic development. The city recently adopted a new slogan — ‘Opportunity Lives Here’ — with prominent BART train ads encouraging more businesses to relocate there.
“‘Antioch had a bad reputation,’ said Mr. Reed, noting the city’s standing as a super-commuter area with a perception of high crime. He’s hoping that the new branding campaign will paint a better image of the city — featuring the waterfront, golf, and hills for hiking.
“What you’ll pay
“Antioch remains one of the more affordable cities in the Bay Area, but prices have been edging upward.
“‘It’s kind of the last bastion of the good commute,’ [Marva Clayton of Intero Real Estate Services] said. ‘But affordability, that’s number one.’”
Read the full article here. In addition to stories of two couples who resettled in Antioch, it describes the “vibe,” or general character of Antioch and its housing, along with tips about schools, the likely cost of a house, the commute, and the local history. The article also includes a slideshow with 17 photos, “The Varied Landscapes of Antioch, Calif.”
CDD response to the article
From Forrest Ebbs, Community Development Director of the City of Antioch:
“The City of Antioch has a compelling story to tell that reflects the patterns of a generation of land use, housing distribution, and employment equity. As the City initiates its comprehensive update to the General Plan, new avenues will emerge for investment, infill, and opportunity throughout the City. The suburban landscape as we know it will undergo major changes as it responds to increasing urban housing inequity, market and environmental constraints, greenhouse gas reduction goals, and the myriad inputs that will ultimately dictate our future.”
“Over the past 10 years, the world has experienced a revolution in transportation. 2012 saw the emergence of Uber, Lyft, and a number of other competitors who changed the way we purchased rides. … Given all these developments, … I offer the following five potential market trends for 2020, as well as advice for what cities can do about those trends.
“VMT from TNCs and E-Commerce will continue to increase, despite pricing efforts
“A growing body of work points to continued increases in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) due to Transportation Network Company (TNC) services like Uber and Lyft, which induce auto travel and pull people from transit. … The economic viability of these TNCs will remain nebulous even as providers integrate autonomous vehicles into certain routes.
“Explore more aggressive roadway pricing and cordon zones.
“Consolidation in the Logistics Economy based on the high cost of Last Mile deliveries
“E-commerce and delivery services account for a large amount of traffic, have high costs, and generate low revenue, particularly for the last mile. Inherent economic inefficiencies plague the last-leg of most deliveries — what’s referred to as the ‘last-mile’ to describe the final transport link that many sharing-economy technologies attempt to solve.
“Due to the inefficiency of last-mile home deliveries, … expect mergers and platform changes, not just with robotic delivery, but also potentially with new sharing-economy services for package delivery.
“What cities can do:
“Encourage local drop-off facilities with major logistics providers that allow for consumers to pick up their own packages. UPS and Amazon have already been exploring this model in many suburban locations, where service does not make financial sense.
“Require a certain percentage of deliveries be made via bicycle and pedestrian trips, particularly high-density locations.
“Continued underestimation of the transition to electric vehicles
“Government and the market have continued to underestimate consumer demand for electric vehicles. [However, Tesla exceeded expected productions and became the most valuable car company after delivering the Model 3.]
“What cities can do:
“Make sure to provide EV-ready parking spaces in new buildings and allow for flexibility in parking standards to accommodate EV chargers and meet required Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Many cities in California, for example Palo Alto, are grappling with tension between parking minimums and new requirements for EV and ADA spaces, which require a larger footprint than traditional parking.
“Explore the conversion of on-street parking meters to charging stalls.
“Continued resistance to Transit Platform innovation
“Transit systems have been outcompeted by more reliable, more convenient, door-to-door rides that can be accessed from the palm of your hand.
“A handful of large and small transit operators have found that they can use large mass transit platforms in parallel with smaller door-to-door services to make the system more efficient, convenient, and reliable.
“What can cities do:
“Explore partnerships with providers who can help with system efficiency and service reliability on central lines.
By Maggie Angst, Bay Area News Group, February 27, 2020
“Walking into San Jose’s first tiny home community for homeless residents is like stepping foot inside a miniature gated neighborhood.
“After making your way past the 10-foot gate surrounding the property, 40 tiny homes — 80-square-feet rectangular structures with just enough room for a single bed, desk, shelf, and air conditioning and heating system — stand in neat rows with gravel paths, lined with potted plants, leading from one home to another.
“The unconventional community built on a Valley Transportation Authority site leased by the city on Mabury Road near Coyote Creek offers a mix of stability and compassion for those trying to stay afloat in spite of the region’s chronic shortage of affordable housing.
“ ‘We hope that this will provide the model for everyone being able to see that we can make this work in a community, and that housing for our homeless neighbors can be a great asset for the surrounding community,’ [San Jose Mayor Sam] Liccardo said during the press conference.
“With a building cost of around $6,500 each, instead of hundreds of thousands for permanent housing, Liccardo and other advocates say the cabins offer an effective, low-cost option to get more people off the streets and on their way to becoming stably housed. The full cost of the project, including developing the site and constructing the additional facility buildings, was more than $2 million.
“In addition to the cabins, the community features shared bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities, a kitchen space, and common areas with computers, internet access, and job boards. The community is protected around the clock by a security guard who sits in a patrol station next to the front gate.
“HomeFirst operates the community [and] provides a wide range of services to residents, healthcare assistance, personal finance advice, and career readiness training.
“In addition to the VTA site, another community of 40 tiny homes is planned for a Caltrans site near Felipe Avenue where Highways 680 and 101 intersect. The VTA location was originally expected to open in June and the Caltrans location in August, but challenges with site and lease negotiations delayed [both].”
Prop. E aims to strike a balance by placing new limits on office projects
By Sasha Perigo, San Francisco Examiner, March 8, 2020
“While San Franciscans tracked the results of the presidential primary on March 3rd, an affordable housing ballot measure passed largely under the radar.
“San Francisco’s Proposition E — the Balanced Development Act — passed with 54 percent of the vote.
“The Balanced Development Act was introduced by affordable housing developer TODCO and aims to balance out the construction of office space and affordable housing.
“San Francisco’s office space and affordable housing development are clearly imbalanced.
“San Francisco’s job growth far outpaces all housing construction. Between 2010 and 2015, The City added nearly seven jobs for every new home.
“The Balanced Development Act reduces the 875,000-square-foot cap based on the City’s progress towards state-mandated affordable housing goals. If San Francisco only builds half of its affordable housing goal in a year, the cap is cut in half.
“The Balanced Development Act also offers office developers an opportunity to get around these restrictions. If they build 809 affordable homes for every 1 million square feet of office space, they can jump the line.
“‘The intention behind this … is either we’re gonna build more affordable faster or we’re gonna build office slower,’ TODCO’s Jon Jacobo told the San Francisco Public Press.
“Opponents of the measure argue it will have unintended consequences.
“A report from the non-partisan city economist calculated that Prop. E will hurt the city’s economic growth, causing it to lose out on fees and tax revenue that fund city services.
“Another concern is that the Balanced Development Act could actually reduce the amount of money the City raises for affordable housing. One of the primary ways the City raises money for affordable housing is by levying fees on office construction. If we build less office space, we get less money for affordable housing.
“The city economist report estimates this loss would be between $600 million to $900 million over the next 20 years. That sum could finance roughly 3,000 to 4,500 affordable homes.
“TODCO isn’t convinced. Executive Director John Elberling points out that the city economist’s report doesn’t consider tradeoffs in terms of the human consequences of the housing crisis.
“Their numbers also assume current rates of affordable housing construction, which TODCO wants to accelerate. If the City does, indeed, ‘build affordable faster’ (the campaign’s slogan), it will avoid these costs.
“The last question critics have zeroed in on is: Where should we prioritize the construction of affordable housing?
“The Balanced Development Act says developers building affordable housing as part of their office construction project can circumvent city limits if the housing is built either on-site or in a ‘community of concern.’
“The authors say they included this clause specifically to help expedite the construction of affordable housing in communities that are demanding it.
“There’s huge demand for affordable housing in the Mission, but it’s not being built at the pace residents demand, due to a lack of funds. Mission housing advocates advocated for inclusion of the ‘community of concern’ clause in the Balanced Development Act in hopes of ushering more construction to their community.
“But critics say that requiring affordable housing to be built in communities of concern keeps affordable housing out of wealthy communities, thus furthering segregation. Some have even questioned the clause’s legality.”
“The city compiled the report with the goal of creating 150,000 homes (including 50,000 affordable homes) by 2050 — almost twice the rate of development compared to the past 10 years.
“Here’s what SF Planning has to say about the state of housing right now.
“SF is building more housing lately, but not much relative to the recent past. From 2000 to 2009, the city averaged 2,302 new homes per year, and from 2010 to 2019 that number bumped up to 2,509.
“Affordable housing production ramped up during that time, but also not by much, from 623/year in one decade to 692 in the next.
“Between 1990 and 2015, the number of SF households making 120 percent or more of the area median income (AMI) increased by 80,000, while at the same time the number of low- and moderate-income households declined by over 29,000.
“SF Planning singles out three potential solutions:
“[Under] ‘east side focus,’ the majority of new homes would be built in neighborhoods close to downtown and along the waterfront, stretching down to Hunters Point… To create sufficient density in roughly one-third of the city, SF would have to build taller, between 10 and 24 stories in areas close to jobs and transit. This plan is pretty close to what the city is doing already, meaning it’s more likely to exacerbate existing problems.
“With the ‘transit corridors’ plan, new development would focus on major transit lines [which] would receive significant investments to accommodate additional ridership.’ …Planning argues that since ‘displacement pressures are already widespread in the city,’ the hazards for existing residents are real but largely already accounted for.
“The ‘residential district growth’ plan [would focus] on building more homes in neighborhoods where the number of homes allowed is currently ‘very limited,’ e.g., western neighborhoods like the Outer Sunset. The report argues that … the sheer amount of space to work with means ‘reducing concentrated neighborhood change.’
“A combination of all three approaches may also hit the targets.
“Right now the city’s budget for housing is shy what it would take to spur more affordable housing growth. … ‘The city is projected to nearly meet the funding needed in FY19/20 but has fallen short in the past,’ the report notes, suggesting that more money from things like housing bonds and the gross receipts tax … will be needed.”