At Lincoln House January 2017

Picturing urban expansion


The Atlas of Urban Expansion, an open-source online resource with maps, satellite images, and data on spatial changes in cities around the world, has been revised and updated. The new database, a partnership of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, UN-Habitat, and New York University, can be accessed via the Atlas of Urban Expansion page at the Lincoln Institute website.

The Atlas of Urban Expansion now features a global sample of 200 cities, representing the universe of all 4,231 cities and metropolitan areas that had 100,000 people or more in 2010. The aim is to provide a scientific understanding of how the world's cities are growing, and to measure performance and identify trends in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda following the Habitat III global cities summit in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016.

Massive urbanization, accompanied by the rapid expansion of cities and metropolitan regions and the sprawling growth of megacities the world over, is one of the most important transformations of our planet. Developing world cities are set to double their urban population in the next 30 years, and triple the land area they occupy. From 1990 and 2015, the area occupied by cities in less developed countries increased by a factor of 3.5; if that rate continues, the total amount of land taken over by urban land use would be equivalent to the entire country of India.

Much of this explosive growth has been unplanned. Cities in developing countries have been unprepared for absorbing the many millions of the rural poor that are still crowding into informal settlements. The unfettered growth is bad for the environment, increases the cost of delivering basic services, and hinders economic activity and food security. The expanding footprint of sprawling cities, particularly at the outer fringe of fast-growing metropolitan regions, is characterized by a lack of arterial grids, unwieldy block sizes that compromise walking and biking, and inadequate open space.

The Atlas of Urban Expansion provides the geographic and quantitative dimensions of urban expansion and its key attributes in cities the world over. The empirical data and quantitative dimensions of past, present, and future urban expansion in cities around the world are critical for making minimal preparations for the massive urban growth expected in the coming decades.

Related publications available at the Lincoln Institute website include the Atlas of Urban Expansion 2016 Volume I and Volume II; Planet of Cities (2012); Atlas of Urban Expansion (2012); and the Policy Focus Report Making Room for a Planet of Cities (2011).

New England's fiscal health

More than 50 officials from all six New England states gathered last month at the Lincoln Institute to review the region's economic outlook, discuss property tax trends, learn about financing best practices and challenges, and explore research-driven efforts to help small industrial cities prosper. The seminar, Critical Issues for the Fiscal Health of New England Cities and Towns, is part of the Lincoln Institute's effort to promote municipal fiscal health, and was co-sponsored by the New England Public Policy Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The presentations can be viewed on the Lincoln Institute's SlideShare page by clicking on the name of each speaker.

Robert Triest, vice president and director of the New England Public Policy Center, compared the economies of the New England states, reporting that Massachusetts had the region's most robust increase in state revenue and healthiest employment growth since the Great Recession. Susanne Greschner, chief of the Rhode Island Department of Revenue Division of Municipal Finance, described her state's Fiscal Stability Act and innovative fiscal transparency portal. Mary Murphy, manager of state and local fiscal health for the Pew Charitable Trusts, spoke about her latest research, which found that only 22 states monitor local fiscal health.

Catherine Collins, associate director and senior research associate of the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, discussed property tax issues including tax base erosion and green property tax incentives. Lincoln Institute senior research analyst Adam Langley explored a potential role for nonprofit payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) in addressing fiscal stress and suggested that localities approach PILOTs in a collaborative way marked by respectful dialogue, careful use of terminology, and justification for PILOT requests.

John Robertson, legislative director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, shared best practices for New England cities and towns including budgeting for snow and ice removal based on average actual expenditures over time. Ari Sky, CFO of New Bedford, Mass., described how his city has reformed its retirements and benefits funding. From 2006 to 2016, the city increased its funding for pensions and benefits by 60 percent and is now on track to achieve full funding by 2034. Michael Ward, director of municipal services for the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management, shed light on how municipalities can identify and address organizational, operational, and financial challenges, for example, by using technology to make payroll processes more efficient.

Finally, Yolanda Kodrzycki, emeritus director of the New England Public Policy Center, summarized her research on resurgent cities including the importance of cross-sectoral and regional cooperation. Her research led to the creation of the Working Cities initiative of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which was the subject of Tamar Kotelchuck's presentation. Kotelchuck shared experiences from the Working Cities Challenge, including case studies of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which established a school-based hiring initiative and Fitchburg, Massachusetts, which sought to transform a struggling neighborhood with investment and the involvement of Fitchburg State College.

Odds & Ends

As President Trump takes office, U.S. mayors worry about infrastructure finance ... A review in ASLA's "The Dirt" highlights Nature and Cities in the context of climate change and rapid urbanization ... San Francisco looks to harness land value in the fast-changing SoMa neighborhood ... This survey recognizes that the value of land matters ... Detroit's streetlights show virtuous cycle of public investment ... Our partners at PolicyMap packaged the latest Census data with loads of demographic information ... The massive project of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure ... Cities press on their own with climate adaptation ... Pennsylvania may kill the school property tax ... Confronting rising seas in the NY tri-state area (video) ... This month's highlighted Working Paper: Public Acceptability and Land Value Taxation: An Experimental Economics Investigation, by Joshua M. Duke and Tianhang Gao.

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

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