At Lincoln House November 2014

Conservation catalysts

Efforts to protect jaguar habitats from Mexico to Argentina, coastal areas in southern Australia, and vital ecosystems along the Colorado River all have one thing in common: academic institutions have become the lynchpin to making these initiatives happen.

The strategic role of these institutions, from colleges and universities to research institutes and field stations, is documented in a new volume published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Conservation Catalysts: The Academy as Nature's Agent, edited by James N. Levitt. The book is being launched officially today at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia.

Twenty-first-century conservationists are contending with biodiversity loss on an unprecedented scale, compounded by the interrelated threat of climate change. These global challenges call for first-rate talent, highly sophisticated technology, and advanced financial and organizational tools that can be used across jurisdictional boundaries and professional disciplines.

According to Levitt, a fellow at the Lincoln Institute and a pioneer in the implementation of large landscape conservation, academic institutions have quietly become surprisingly powerful and effective catalysts for integrating all these elements into strategically significant and enduring large landscape conservation initiatives.

Conservation Catalysts: The Academy as Nature's Agent gathers more than a dozen first-hand accounts of the long-term impacts academics are making on the ground, from the University of Nairobi to Harvard. With measurable results, their efforts are protecting wildlife habitat, improving water quality, building sustainable economies, and creating better public amenities around the world now and for centuries to come.

Conservation Catalysts: The Academy as Nature's Agent will be available for free downloading in its entirety, as part of the Lincoln Institute's continuing innovations in digital publishing. The book is structured to identify key themes of biodiversity, regional collaboration, and legal and financial mechanisms inherent in conservation at the landscape scale.

The cases detailed include conservation efforts in Trinidad & Tobago, the Colorado River Delta, Florida's scrub ecosystem, Canada's Boreal systems, Maine's Penobscot River watershed, the Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem and Greater Maasailand, and Australia's Victoria coast. Initiatives covered include the Kenyon College Land Conservation Initiative, the Quiet Corner Initiative at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative of the Harvard Forest, and Colorado College's Large Landscape Conservation Strategy to Save the Colorado River Basin. The book also includes a poem, "Body of Bark," by Caroline Harvey.

A special session is set at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney to mark the book's publication, on Tuesday, November 18th, 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm at the Protected Planet Pavilion. Jim Levitt will be joined by Gary Tabor, executive director of the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, fellow at the University of Montana Center for Natural Resource and Environmental Policy, and author of the chapter on the Crown of the Continent initiative; and Geoffrey Wescott, associate professor at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, and author of chapter on coastal zone management in the Australian state of Victoria.

A critical component of academic institutions as catalysts – students – will also be recognized at IUCN, in the session "Young Conservation Catalysts:Voices of a New Generation", scheduled for Monday, November 17th, 10:30 am - 12:00 pm in Hall 3 Nth Pod. These young leaders are involved in initiatives worldwide. The speakers, Alessandra Lehmen, Brendan Boepple, Delaney Boyd, Fabian Huwyler, and Priscila Steier, have written essays in a competition led by the Lincoln Institute, that will appear at GlobalPost in the Voices section of The GroundTruth Project, a foundation-supported initiative dedicated to training the next generation of foreign correspondents in the digital age. The commentary highlights social justice, innovation, and change.

In addition to being a fellow at the Lincoln Institute in the Department of Planning and Urban Form, James N. Levitt is director of the Program on Conservation Innovation at the Harvard Forest, and a senior fellow at Highstead. He has been instrumental in the formation of the Practitioners Network for Large Landscape Conservation and recently brought together more than 30 leaders from around the world to form an international conservation network.

Community land trusts on the rise

Homeownership has lost its luster since 2008, and no wonder – as Americans lost trillions in wealth, many have turned to renting. But as Lincoln Institute president George W. McCarthy and Harold Simon, executive director of the National Housing Institute, write in an op-ed essay, published in The Boston Globe, there is a third way: shared equity housing, in the form of community land trusts.

In a typical approach, a non-profit takes a long-term ground lease and sells the homes, but not the land underneath, a manageable price to families with low or moderate incomes. If they later decide to sell their home, a cap on resale profit keeps the price low to remain affordable to a new family of similar means.

The approach brings stability to the wild swings that can be characteristic in housing markets. Foreclosures are virtually nonexistent at one of the most successful CLTs in the country, right here in Boston – the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Roxbury, this fall celebrating its 30th anniversary. Our research has shown that conventional loans are eight times more likely to experience foreclosure than CLT mortgages.

Yet, sadly, a legislative technicality is preventing CLTs from scaling up; the FHA says it can't back mortgages for CLTs, in part because of the cap-on-resale-profit provision. "The third path between renting and homeownership is tantalizingly within reach," McCarthy and Simon write. "It would be a shame if bureaucratic entanglements stood in the way."

It's been a big month for shared equity housing, inclusionary zoning, and CLTs. We were interviewed for this story at Next City magazine,The City Where Real Estate Developers and Housing Activists Agree to Agree, all about a small, dense city neighboring Cambridge, where the Lincoln Institute is located. Somerville, Mass. is confronting sharply increased home prices and speculation, in the face of redevelopment schemes, rezoning, and major new transit infrastructure, including the planned extension of the Green Line. Community activists are rightly concerned about displacement and gentrification.

In the interview with the writer, we talked about two strategies: inclusionary housing, in place in Boston and Cambridge, where developers are required to provide a certain percentage of affordable homes as part of any new market-rate private development; and CLTs.

Senior fellow Armando Carbonell provided more context about CLTs in another piece in Next City that ran a few days later, titled Should Community Land Trusts Rank Higher in the Affordable Housing Toolbox? "One of the things that we think is great about community land trusts is that they are pretty stable even in the face of tough economic conditions," he said.

CLTs can also act as a bulwark against gentrification, particularly, as our research shows, at transit-oriented development sites. The Role of Community Land Trusts in Fostering Equitable Transit-Oriented Development: Case Studies from Atlanta, Denver, and the Twin Cities, by Robert Hickey, senior research associate at the Center for Housing Policy in Washington, DC., was published as a working paper earlier this year.

Finally, the Guardian published this article, Could community land trusts offer a solution to the UK's housing crisis?.

All about redevelopment

Citybuilding is all about redevelopment, writes Lincoln Institute president George W. McCarthy in the current issue of Land Lines -- whether the repurposing of Legacy Cities, or the reconfiguration of informal and unplanned settlement in cities in the developing world. Herewith an abstract of his Message from the President in our quarterly journal:

"When I was a scholar at Cambridge University in the 1990s, my now-departed colleague and friend Wynne Godley would drop by on Sundays to take me to visit one of the ubiquitous medieval churches in the villages of East Anglia. Wynne frequently noted that "a church is more a process than a building. It unfolds over centuries and involves generations of families in its construction and maintenance." He had a keen eye for architectural detail and would point out a buttress or belfry that illustrated distinct technical practices, unusual materials, or both. A single church offered a living, layered record of how successive generations of a community solved the challenge of making and keeping large, enclosed, open spaces for worship feasible and beautiful.

In this way, cities are much like medieval churches. Over time, they illustrate the collaboration of generations of residents, as well as the evolution of economic, technical, and even social tools used to build and maintain them. Rome's marble relics stand testament to ancient values, aesthetics, and building ingenuity, while a modern city thrives around them. Manhattan's iconic skyline, seemingly fixed, is ever in flux, and is now evolving dramatically to respond to 21st-century demands for sustainability, resilience, mixed-use development, and other concerns.

The boundaries of cities evolve, too, and tell another critically important story. The future of the planet may depend on our capacity to understand that story and to develop the tools and collective will to manage the pattern and progression of urban growth.

Shlomo (Solly) Angel documents this trajectory in the Atlas of Urban Expansion, which uses satellite images collected over decades to track the spatial evolution of 120 cities around the world, from Bamako and Guadalajara to Shanghai and Milan. The last half-century of urban growth has provided a cautionary tale about the seduction of sprawl-a path of least resistance that generates quick profits but unsustainable development. Our ability to manage our ecological footprint and minimize our global impact will be tied inextricably to our ability to plan and construct more dense and efficient human settlements. Given the United Nations' prediction that the global urban population will nearly double to 6 billion by 2050, the fortunes of the planet will depend on whether we, as a species, adopt a more appropriate development paradigm over this half-century.

As we endeavor to reinvent our urban settlements, we will confront an old foe - land that is already improved and developed, but needs to be adapted to new uses. While we are not unfamiliar with this highly contentious process, it is safe to say that we have not yet cracked the code on how to manage it ... At the Lincoln Institute, we are keenly aware of the need for new ideas and new practices to facilitate sustainable redevelopment of land that is already developed or occupied. Over the next year, we will begin to build an intellectual enterprise around addressing the manifold challenges of urban regeneration-extracting the lessons learned from earlier efforts in the United States and other developed countries since World War II, finding new and creative ways to finance infrastructure that improves the land under the informal settlements that choke cities in developing countries, or rekindling the fiscal health of legacy cities like Detroit by unpacking the causes of insolvency and testing remedies for it.

The medieval churches that I visited during the 1990s offered lessons in stone. These included innovative techniques and materials that permitted medieval architects to defy gravity. Perhaps more importantly, they were monuments to the communal efforts and long-term commitment of the congregations that built and sustained them over centuries. In the end, human survival might hinge on our ability to override similarly the centripetal forces that undermine collective action, and to build and maintain the social structures and policy frameworks to develop and redevelop our cities for mutual and long-term posterity."

Odds & Ends

Add public health to the agenda in global urbanization: from a symposium as partner with Boston University ... The city as ecosystem, pipes and all ... Write-up, slides and video from the New Jersey Future resilience symposium with Rebuild by Design ... From The Economist: Why a land value tax makes so much sense, yet is so rare ... Follow-up is key in economic development, especially with tax breaks for business, says fellow Daphne Kenyon in Governing ... PRINT Magazine's annual issue for best designs of the year features the cover of Use-Value Assessment of Rural Land in the United States by John Anderson and Richard England ... Our report on zombie subdivisions was cited in this St. Louis Post-Dispatch story on an excess entitlement that is coming back to life ... Fast Company showcased these mesmerizing videos of city growth over 200 years, based on our Atlas of Urban Expansion ... This month's (two) highlighted working papers, in honor of the approval of Detroit's bankruptcy plan: Detroit Property Tax Delinquency: Social Contract in Crisis, by James Alm, Timothy R. Hodge, Gary Sands, and Mark Skidmore; and Tax Base Erosion and Inequity from Michigan's Assessment Growth Limit: The Case of Detroit, by Timothy R. Hodge, Mark Skidmore, Gary Sands, and Daniel McMillen.

— ANTHONY FLINT, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

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