ONCE AND FUTURE REGIONAL PLANNING

“Experts” say that by 2030 there will be 2,000,000 more people, 833,000 new households (dwellings) and 1,600,000 additional jobs in the inner portions of what the US Bureau of the Census calls the “Washington Metropolitan Area.” This area is larger than the Washington Council of Governments membership area and smaller than the National Capital Subregion. A large percentage of these jobs and houses will be in the Virginia portion of the Subregion. Based on the track record of the process used to create these estimates, the numbers are probably as good a prediction one will find.

Where and how these new land uses will agglomerate is of critical economic, social and physical concern. This is an issue that business and environmental interests have been attempting to get governance practitioners to focus on for the last decade. The Smart Growth Alliance, spearheaded by the Washington Chapter of the Urban Land Institute, has been working to get as many stakeholders as possible under one tent to discuss this issue for several years. Their efforts culminated last Tuesday in an event called “Reality Check” at the Ronald Reagan Building.

The Washington Post lead story in the 3 February Metro section “Building Strategies To Map Out Growth” profiles the “Reality Check” session without providing many details or graphics. One can get an idea of what went on from the article but nothing past the usual he-said/she-said reporting.

Gerald Connolly, Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors was searching for a quotable statement and came up with this: “This event is called ‘Reality Check,’ but I think we checked reality at the door.” Cute words and he is half right: “Reality” was checked at the door by the politicians and governance practitioners but it was ON THE WAY OUT AFTER THE SESSION. “Reality” is defined by the maps that the 300 participants adorned with yellow and blue Lego blocks.

There have been two major landmarks of the “regional” allocation of jobs/housing/services/recreation/amenity (aka, human settlement pattern) over the past 220 years; the L’Enfant Plan of 1791 and the Plan for the National Capital of 1960.

The Plan for the National Capital (including the sketches that accompanied the famous six-armed starfish diagram) plus the 60s regional and subregional spinoffs (collectively known as “Wedges and Corridors”) are the closest the National Capital Subregion has come to a “regional plan” in the past 100 years. The “Reality Check” sketches are a fair reflection of the of 21st century reality based on the intent of the Plan for the National Capital.

The Reality Check maps reflect market reality:

o Where jobs are being located at this time as documented by the Activity Centers effort of the Washington Council of Governments and the data on new building construction and building value published by the Washington Post. (See “Where the Jobs Are,” 24 May 2004 at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com)

o The patterns and location where citizens are willing to pay a premium to live and seek services. (See “Wild Abandonment,” 8 September 2004 and “Five Critical Realities That Shape the Future,” 15 December 2003 also at db4.dev.baconsrebellion.com)

The reason these semi-subregional maps reflect reality is that they demonstrate the vast oversupply of land for new urban land uses if these uses are distributed in the patterns that the market documents most citizens desire. These are functional and sustainable patterns and densities at the Alpha Community scale.

The primary elements of “unreality” in these maps is that they do not show:

o Where some land speculators and developers can make the most money in the shortest period of time by scattering urban land uses, especially urban housing in dysfunctional locations

o Where politicians and governance practitioners will continue to allow the agglomeration of dysfunctional human settlement patterns unless there is Fundamental Change

Without the citizen education needed to support the fair allocation of location variable costs, Connolly is right, not about “reality” but about the prospect of the continuing agglomeration of economic, social and physical dysfunction.

EMR


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Comments

  1. Jim Bacon Avatar

    The Washington Plan may be imperfect but, as you pointed out, it does have its uses. And it’s way better than anything produced in the Hampton Roads, Richmond or smaller MSAs in Virginia!

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Why is it that you are so opposed to someone selling land at the market price? Why is it that you cannot understand that the market price depends on the unwillingness of many citizens to pay the premium that you seem to think bespeaks value?

    It is true, some people are willing to absorb the premiums commanded in higher priced locations. As you pointed out in another post, the wealthy command a disproportionate amount of money, and they therefore have far more price elasticity than regular folks. This excess price elasticity artificially inflates the prices above any reasonable value, but these people are willing to pay the price for the privilege of being co-located with others like themselves. For everybody else value is inversely correlated with price.

    This is in no way necessarily correlated with agglomeration, population density, or business opportunity: a good portion of the wealthiest people in the region live in rural Fauquier County.

    There are many perfectly valid reasons people make what appear to be irrational location decisions, but the primary factor in unequal allocation of location variable costs is government interference which includes both positive and negative influences such as building metro or artificially oversupplying farmland.

    In the end, people won’t stand for it, and that is why one participant said the planners had checked reality at the door.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane, VA

  3. E M Risse Avatar

    Readers of Once and Future Regional Planning

    Having reviewed several of Mr. Hyde’s Commentaries as well as e-mails he has sent S/PI directly and letters he has written to community news papers it is clear that there are many points upon which he and S/PI agree. It is also clear that if the time were taken to differentiate facts from impressions and assumptions that most of the remaining differences would disappear.

    What would be left are personal preferences. In a democracy with a market economy those preferences are sorted out by the market and at the voting booth. From what we have been able to determine of Mr. Hyde’s preferences they are not those most valued in the market. That is fine so long as the true costs are equitably allocated and Mr. Hyde is willing to pay the full cost of his locational choices.

    Mr. Hyde’s lengthy expositions are laced with Business-as-Usual excuses, wild non sequiturs and demonstrations of profound geographical illiteracy. This makes it difficult to respond intelligently and sort out fact from myth and fiction.

    Here are two examples from Mr. Hydes 3:02 Posting:

    “Why is it that you are so opposed to someone selling land at the market price?” If Mr. Hyde had read and understood anything S/PI has published over the past 10 years he would know that we support all land owners buying and selling land and improvements at the market price so long as all the land use costs of location decisions are equitably and fairly reflected in the price.

    “… a good portion of the wealthiest people in the region live in rural Fauquier County.” A good portion (30% +/-) of the richest 100 families in Virginia have connections to Fauquier County including primary and secondary homes and land ownership. However, there are over 8,000,000 residents of the Washington Baltimore New Urban Region and only a tiny percentage of those who have incomes over $150,000 a year are among Fauquier County’s 60,000 +/- residents. In fact, as we recall, Fauquier County has one of the higher percentages of citizens in the National Capital Subregion below the poverty line.

    If Mr. Hyde had read and understood anything we have written about land use he would know there is no “rural” in Fauquier County.

    EMR

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