At Lincoln House February 2017

Reimagining infrastructure

Proposals to invest in infrastructure have bipartisan support, amid two big challenges: one, how the projects will be paid for, and two, what type of infrastructure will truly serve the nation and metropolitan regions. Advances in technology and environmental awareness have utterly changed the context for this kind of massive investment; these times require a sophisticated approach, say Lincoln Institute senior fellow Armando Carbonell and Susannah Drake, principal of dlandstudio, and a contributor to our recently published book, Nature and Cities: The Ecological Imperative in Urban Design and Planning.

As infrastructure built through President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower reaches the end of its lifespan, the U.S. should seize the opportunity to repair and rebuild in ways that "reflect the social, environmental, and technological advances that have occurred over the last half century," they write in an essay published by Planetizen. The challenge is made more urgent by more frequent storms, rising seas and other climate change impacts, they write:

"Green infrastructure systems rethink not only the overarching functions of infrastructure, but also the experience of nature in the city. Municipalities have an opportunity to design and plan in the most comprehensive and cost-effective manner.

"Traditional, inflexible, 'gray' engineering approaches—which require waterproofing of transit systems, tunnels and utilities, or redirecting water with levees, dikes, and barriers—will work better in tandem with more resilient, ecological 'green' approaches, such as using currents and wind to distribute sediment for new barrier islands, reusing dredge materials to create shallows for wetlands, redesigning streets to absorb and filter stormwater, propagating a range of aquatic plants to make an ecologically rich buffer to storm surge, expanding natural flood zones that also function as parks most of the time, taking stormwater from highways, and capturing sheet runoff in sponge parks, among other stormwater-capture systems."

To read the essay in its entirety, visit Planetizen.com, "the independent resource for people passionate about planning and related fields."

Unlocking land value

When a city builds a train station, changes regulations to allow for taller buildings, or attracts an influx of residents and economic activity, the value of land often increases. But who reaps the profits?.

Value capture is a tool designed to ensure that the public receives at least some of the land value generated by government acts and urban development. The value can be used for a range of public purposes from parks to infrastructure.

As rents and home prices reach crisis levels in many places, cities are increasingly using value capture to create affordable housing. At a panel discussion hosted by the Lincoln Institute earlier this month, David Rosen and Nora Lake-Brown of DRA explained how cities are employing value capture in the form of inclusionary housing, a policy to provide a portion of affordable homes in new residential development. Inclusionary housing is often combined with incentives such as density "bonuses," increases in building envelope, fee waivers and exemptions.

Rosen and Lake-Brown were joined by Bryan Glascock, senior advisor for the Boston Planning and Development Agency (formerly the Boston Redevelopment Authority), who explained how the city is incorporating inclusionary housing into the Imagine Boston 2030 planning process. Click here to watch a video of the discussion.

Last week, meanwhile, international experts gathered in Hong Kong for the International Academic Association on Planning, Law, and Property Rights 11th Annual Conference, exploring among other things the use of developer obligations – a value capture tool whereby landowners and developers contribute toward a wide range of public goods, from affordable housing to parks to roads.

Researchers shared cases studies from cities including Kampala, Uganda and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where local authorities are grappling with the challenge of distributing the benefits and costs of urbanization within the context of relatively weak planning institutions, to cities in Colombia, Brazil, South Korea and Italy, where developer obligations and value capture have a much longer, richer history, offering lessons from the evolution of tools and practices over time.

A core issue facing all cities is the choice to use non-negotiable or negotiable developer obligations. Negotiated agreements can be better tailored to the features of individual projects, but they also depend more greatly on the negotiation ability of local officials. Non-negotiable obligations may be favored by others because they offer a level of predictability.

The conference also included a discussion of the institutional and political tensions and challenges of developer obligations.

The Lincoln Institute, a partner in the conference, is stepping up its work on value capture as an element of municipal fiscal health. Lessons from the conference will be compiled in a working paper on developer obligations in a global perspective.

The moment to get cities right

In October, 30,000 people from more than 150 countries converged in Quito, Ecuador to create a blueprint for making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The Habitat III conference marked an important step, but how do we make sure we get urbanization right when so much is at stake?

The Lincoln Institute is scheduled to host the premiere of the mini-documentary, "The Moment to Get Cities Right: Inside Habitat III, The Urbanization Summit of a Generation," shot over the course of the four-day Habitat III conference in Quito, followed by a discussion with President and CEO George "Mac" McCarthy and Tom Dallessio, president, CEO and publisher of Next City, about how best to implement all the follow-up to Habitat III, including the blueprint adopted at the summit, called the New Urban Agenda, as well as Sustainable Development Goals related to urbanization.

Odds & Ends

George "Mac" McCarthy puts Detroit's housing finance challenges in context ... Fellow Daphne Kenyon suggests how to balance fairness with reliable school revenues in Mississippi ... In yet more value capture debate, British Columbia mulls value capture for transit and New York City's High Line presents a case study of missed opportunities ... Pennsylvania educators react to proposal to eliminate school property tax ... UrbanFootprint and the Corridor Housing Preservation Tool are recognized with Scenario Planning Applications Network Innovation Awards ... Separating the value of land and structures ... This month's highlighted Working Paper: Building a Large Landscape Conservation Community of Practice, by Shawn Johnson.

— ANTHONY FLINT & WILL JASON, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Back to top