Monday, June 17, 2013

Urban wildlife: friend or foe? Plus, TOD sans T?

This week colleague John Chesser is vacationing so Im doing the daily news feed for our two online publications, and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute's homepage. Its a fun part of the job although somewhat relentless, like owning a dairy farm with cows that have to be milked every day, regardless.
Barred owl, urban wildlife. Photo: Liz Odum

But when you do the news feed you find dozens of interesting articles. John kept finding them and sending links around for us, in-house. So we created a special feed from him on the homepage, called Chesser's Choices:

Today, though, you get my picks at interesting articles: 

Valuing Urban Wildlife: Critical Partners in the Urban System or Scary, Disgusting Nuisances? A Columbia University scientist discusses the differing attitudes the public has toward nature in the city. Cute mammals elicit one reaction. Yucky insects? Not so much. As one of the articles headlines  puts it:Who would want to make a corridor for bees? 

Dead malls turned into data center? This article from tells how a dying downtown shopping mall in downtown Buffalo (one described as a superblock eyesore) and one that appears to be not completely dead but mostly dead is bringing in rent by offering vacant retail spaces for a data storage center. (I would not recommend this for Charlottes completely dead Eastland Mall.) 

Some wildlife (cicada) elicits "yuck." Photo: Crystal Cockman
Do people who live in transit-oriented development drive less? Yes, but not for the reasons you think.  People living in TOD neighborhoods do, in fact, drive less. The mass transit is not the reason. A study Does TOD Need the T?  from Daniel G. Chatman of the University of California-Berkeley looked concludes that even without mass transit, people in TOD neighborhoods drive less. An article in the MinnPost reported: 

What he concluded from all this was that it wasnt so much the availability of transit that made people use cars less, but density itself. Higher density means lower on- and off-street parking availability, better bus service and more jobs, stores and people within walking distance. 

OK, putting on my pundit hat for a minute: A question for Charlotte, where traffic congestion continues to be a huge public concern, might be: Why not start requiring more in-town development to follow TOD principles? Today, the citys conventional, suburban-form development standards permeate its zoning ordinance. Developers who want to build TOD must pay, in time and money, for a rezoning. Otherwise, in many cases the standards that apply reflect planning values circa 1970. The city planning department has been engaged in an almost-year-long process to see whether its 20-year-old zoning ordinance needs an update.  I could have saved the city some money. Yes, it needs an update!


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