Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why planners need resilience

In the 21st century planners across America will have to confront changes never seen before, and innovation will be essential. So will resilience. The national president of the American Planning Association on Thursday recounted for a symposium of planners, architects and developers some of the huge changes ahead, not just nationally but in North Carolina.

Mitchell Silver, planning director for the city of Raleigh, also heads the APA this year and in recent months has been visiting places all over the country. Amid many demographic changes, he said, people don't even agree on what the term "urban" means.
To the Census Bureau, "urban" includes the suburbs, and suburban fringe areas. "For some people the term 'urban' is a popular culture term; it has nothing to do with geography," he said. At one conference in another state, he recounted, a man said to him, "If you're going to talk about 'urban' let me know and I'm going to leave."

But in North Carolina, the state's five top urban areas (Charlotte, Greensboro, the Triangle, Triad and the Virginia Beach metro area) hold 70 percent of the state's population, 75 percent of its jobs and produce 83 percent of the state's GDP.

At the same time, across the nation, 25 percent of all counties have lost population. He showed a map of North Carolina; 2000-2010 seven N.C. counties lost population. "We have to figure out how cities, suburbs and rural areas grow – together," he said.

Mitchell spoke at a symposium Thursday, "Resilient communities, innovation for change," sponsored by the UNC Charlotte Master of Urban Design program, the university's Belk College of Business Master of Science in Real Estate program, and the nonprofit ULI Charlotte.

Huge changes on the horizon that Silver pinpointed:

"The silver tsunami": "By 2030, one in five Americans will be over the age of 65." By 2025 the number of single-person households in the U.S. will equal the number of family households. "By 2030 it'll be a clear majority," he said. That, alone, is a game-changer for communities and how they plan.
For example, he said, the elderly often have to give up driving. Will they be able to get around via public transit? In three years, he said, in metro Atlanta projections show that 90 percent of seniors will live in neighborhoods with poor access to transportation options. Among midsize metros, Raleigh is No. 5 on that list of transportation access for the elderly.

The browning of America: By 2042 no race will be the majority in America – for the first time in U.S. history. Silver showed a time-lapse slide that showed the growing number of N.C. counties where the proportion of the non-white population was rising.

Generations X-Y-Z: By 2009, 41 percent of children born in the U.S. were born to unwed mothers. For a variety of reasons, marriage is no longer the automatic choice for parenthood. And for  Gen Y, Silver said,  “Place matters, not job.”

"People want the experience of place," he said. "Because place matters."

Finally, he made a pitch for planning based on economics. "Strategic planning adds value," he said. His examples (with a tip of the hat to Asheville's Joe Minnicozi, who first ran these types of numbers):
– In Raleigh it takes 600 single-family homes in a 150-acre subdivision to equal the tax value of the Wells Fargo Capital Center, on 1.2 acres in downtown Raleigh.
– A highrise in downtown Asheville on three acres pays off its public infrastructure investment in three years. The return on civic infrastructure investment is 35 percent.
– Also in Asheville, a suburban multifamily complex on 30 acres pays off its public infrastructure investment in 42 years. The return on investment is 2 percent.

2 comments:

misswhit said...

So does his last point mean that we should all be living in high rises downtown?

Dustin said...

"We have to figure out how cities, suburbs and rural areas grow – together" makes a nice sound bite, but it's a misguided idea. After all, as rural areas continue to grow, they eventually become "suburban" areas, and as "suburban" areas grow, they eventually become "urban" areas, for the obvious reason that land area doesn't increase as population does, so as population grows, density increases -- and it's generally density that distinguishes rural, suburban, and urban areas from one another.

In today's world of booming population and potentially severe environmental consequences, we should be glad a lot of population growth is concentrating itself in existing urban and suburban areas rather than concerning ourselves with how to get rural areas to grow, too. The goal should be to use land efficiently -- which will not only benefit the environment but also the economy.

(And I will guess that it was economic concerns that lead Mr. Silver to be concerned about the growth of rural areas. I think we can figure out a way to make them economically vibrant without cramming them full of "growth" -- i.e., people -- and thereby changing their fundamental character as rural areas.)

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