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Coastal WaterfrontAge: Twelve Years on the Coast.

This is another of my recent posts containing the column I wrote in 1987 for California WaterfrontAge a magazine published by the California State Coastal Conservancy during my time as the Conservancy’s first Executive Director. It is also the last one since I soon left after 12 years of actively pursuing the protection of California’s magnificent coastal resources. The Coastal Conservancy was a new type of governmental agency at the time, more directed environmental restoration than the acquisition of parks and open space. Since it’s creation, the Conservancy,  has completed almost 2,500 projects along the California coastline and San Francisco Bay, protected over 400,000 acres of coastal land and restored over 35,000 acres of coastal habitat, built about 215 miles of new trail and spent over 1.4 billion dollars on projects. It works in partnership with other public agencies, nonprofit organizations and private landowners.

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Twelve Years on the Coast, 1973–1985…

 


THIS FINAL Joe’s Corner marks my departure from the State Coastal Conservancy after eight years as its executive officer. It seems an appropriate occasion to reflect on my twelve years in coastal management —  a period which stretches from the early, controversial days of the California Coastal Commission to a calmer era which has seen the Conservancy establish itself and mature to address new and important issues.

I entered the field in 1973 as chief counsel to the newly created California Coastal Commission. With the mandate of the new voter-approved Proposition 20, we faced the urgent task of preventing development that threatened to destroy the resources of the magnificent California coast of which we Californians were so proud. The Commission’s regulatory powers granted to them by a vote of the people of California enabled them, at least temporarily, to accomplish this task, but regulation also led to frustration.

The Commission’s power was essentially a negative one; it could only review those projects that apply for permits. It could not build public accessways to the water, restore degraded marshes, eliminate small lots on previously subdivided property, or achieve any of the other important goals that required positive action.

When The Commission began work on developing the Coastal Plan, it attempted to remedy the inadequacies inherent in temporary regulation. Eventually, they decided on a three-part approach:

First, deal with the immediate and cumulative impacts of proposed development through regulation and the adoption of local coastal protection land use plans prepared and administered by local governments and approved by the Commission as consistent with the Commission approved Local Coastal Plan;

Second, acquire those properties containing important ecological or recreational value by appropriate State and local government agencies and qualified non-profit entities funded through a voter-approved Bond Act and;

Third, create an entirely new agency equipped to take the positive actions to restore and preserve coastal resources, guide development along the coast and provide public access and recreational opportunities for all that the existing regulatory and other agencies were unable to accomplish.

Assigned to write the Governmental Powers and Funding element of the Coastal Plan,  in addition to developing the management structures of the entities to carry out the Coastal Plan, I designed a new agency to be called the State Coastal Conservancy. I developed the concept of this new type of governmental entity based on the lessons learned from observing the successes and failures of redevelopment programs and innovative private non-profit land trusts like the one in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Ultimately the three prongs of the plan were incorporated into three separate pieces of legislation that were passed by the California legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in1976. The three laws together are referred to as the California Coastal Program

The coastal bills touched every interest group in Sacramento, and the lobbying was intense. I took a legislative staff job in 1975 in order to help draft and guide the bills through their rough but exciting passage.

The first prong of the solution, local regulation, has been a slow and sometimes frustrating process, but years of interim state regulation have fundamentally changed developers’ attitudes and have improved the quality of projects they propose on the coast.

The second prong, public acquisition, has been extremely successful: as of this time (1987), 27,000 acres of coastal lands have been bought, providing twenty-two new miles of public coastline. In Sonoma County, for example, most of the coast is now in public ownership where almost none existed before 1972.

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The Sonoma Coast.

 

(Note: Today (2018) approximately one-third of California’s over 1500 miles of shoreline is in park or other environmentally protected lands.)

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Recently (2015) I visited a combined project of the State Coastal Conservancy and the California Parks Department that preserved a long stretch of the Mendocino County Coastline. 

 

The third prong, the State Coastal Conservancy,  is the subject of the remainder of this column.

The Conservancy has a dual mission: to resolve conflicts that surface in the regulatory process and to take innovative steps to solve problems regulation cannot address. In the early years of the agency, these two missions often dovetailed; we were called upon to solve crises which had stymied the planners and regulators. At Oceanside, for example, the city had proposed a wall of shoreline condominiums, unacceptable to the Coastal Commission because it would have blocked off the beach. Through a process of citizen-attended design workshops, the Conservancy was able to help negotiate a plan acceptable to all parties.

In these conflict situations, the Conservancy has tried to break the impasse by bringing an economic viewpoint to bear on the issues. Keeping the hard numbers in mind, the Conservancy has proposed solutions that meet not only the regulatory goals of the State but the economic interests of the local government and the developer.

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Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara California, a Conservancy Urban Waterfront, Public Acess and conflict resolution project. 

 

Our access program was also designed to solve a crisis of sorts — the inability of regulatory authority to open up the beach. We decided not to wait for local coastal planning to finish its tortuous course, but instead to push forward with urgently needed accessways, simple paths or stairways that would allow people to reach the water. In eight years we paid for over 110 accessways that opened up significant portions of the beach in many popular areas like Malibu and Big Sur.

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Beach Access in Malibu.

As the agency has matured, our work evolved from alleviating piecemeal crises to developing long-range and comprehensive solutions. With the access program, now that we have built the most immediately needed accessways, we are looking only at projects that fit into a comprehensive scheme for a given area. In particular, over the past few years, a great deal of our work has been in helping develop integrated programs to revitalize the waterfronts of small cities. Much of the recreational potential of the coast lies in small cities like Oceanside or Morro Bay, and we are designing overall approaches to developing that potential in an economically feasible way. Accessways often form only one component in a strategy that might include pier restoration, park development, and commercial expansion.
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Restoration of the Magnificent Santa Monica Pier was a Conservancy Urban Waterfront Restoration Project.

 

Similarly, in our wetlands program, we are not only funding the restoration of degraded marshes but we are beginning to address the larger problem of managing the watersheds that the marshes depend upon. No matter how well a wetland is restored or how securely it is protected by regulation against filling or dredging, it will not survive if a disturbed watershed dumps silt on top of it. In Tomales Bay, Los Penasquitos Lagoon, and other areas, we are using siltation devices and selected acquisitions to help control those human disturbances to the watershed which threaten the wetlands below.

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Los Penasquitos Lagoon.

I believe the Conservancy’s success will continue to depend even more on how well it can do this kind of problem-solving. Up and down the California coast, wetlands have been saved from encroaching development, access has been improved, and other pressing problems have been addressed. Now it becomes all the more important to preserve and consolidate those gains for future generations.

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Arcata Marsh, a State Coastal Conservancy Assisted Wetlands Restoration Project.

 

Southern California’s wetlands will not survive without management of their watersheds; existing beaches will be overtaxed if new recreational facilities are not developed.

(Note: In 1976 when the Conservancy was created there few if any, wetland restoration projects under weigh and surprising little support for their rehabilitation.The Conservancy took the lead in wetland rehabilitation and that attitude began to change. In 1997, the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, a coalition of several governmental agencies, of which the Conservancy plays a significant role was created to coordinate wetland restitution and rehabilitation along the Southern California coast.)

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Bolsa Chica Wetlands Restoration.

 

The Conservancy has begun the arduous task of tackling these broader and more complex issues of land management. Over the last decade, the only new state environmental agencies created were the Santa Monica Mountains and Tahoe Conservancies, both modeled after the Coastal Conservancy. In an age of hostility toward bigger government, the success which the Conservancy has had and the support it continues to receive are welcome and promising signs for the future.

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Point Cabrillo Light Station, State Park and Restored Light Keepers’ Cottages.

 

 

Five Years on the Bay

 

IN THIS ISSUE commemorating the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, I will offer a few words on how the Conservancy has applied its multiple techniques and programs to San Francisco Bay, which came under the agency’s jurisdiction in 1981. The Bayshore, like the coast, has a regulatory agency – the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission-with the authority to limit harmful development but without the authority to build accessways or restore marshes. The Conservancy’s efforts complement those of the Bay Commission; to make the most of this relationship, the Conservancy has tried to use the comprehensive approaches which evolved out of our coastal experience.

San Francisco Bay is essentially an urban body of water. The Conservancy has therefore aimed its bay programs at urban needs. The ultimate goal of the access program is to create a shoreline trail which connects all the major cities of the bay. Between Oakland and San Jose, the trail is now almost complete. The Conservancy has funded walking trails or bicycle paths at Lake Merritt, Vallejo, Hayward, Benicia, and Palo Alto, and has funded nearly twenty other access projects. In all, the agency is responsible for a total of fifteen miles of new shoreline trails.
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That Inauspicious Beginning has Grown to This Today (2018).  

 

One of the more innovative components of the Conservancy’s access program is its barrier-free work. Five projects from Coyote Point to Benicia will change facilities to make them accessible to handicapped persons; this “retrofitting” includes installing ramps, making curb cuts, and remodeling restrooms.Hopefully, these projects will serve as models for new recreational facilities on the bay.

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Recreation therapist Bonnie Lewkowicz author of trail guides for the disabled and Brett Wilkison from the Coastal Conservancy examining Brisbane Marina to improve wheelchair accessibility.

 

Some of the Conservancy’s other wide-ranging recreational projects include a fishing pier in Napa County and a shoreline park in Berkeley planted with indigenous species. Most recently the Conservancy has funded the purchase of an extensive area along the Carquinez shoreline surrounding Port Costa. This will thoroughly preserve one of the few remaining open spaces and recreational areas in the East Bay.

The challenge which our wetlands program faces in the bay is to create and maintain habitat in urban areas. Potentially one of the most important mechanisms for this is the Conservancy’s new mitigation bank program, which works in conjunction with regulatory agencies.

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The above map shows the extent of Conservancy Wetland Projects Today (2018) in Southern San Francisco Bay.

Developers are sometimes allowed to fill or otherwise damage wetland habitat if they provide for replacement habitat somewhere off the project site. However, compliance with these “offsite” requirements has been disappointing, so the mitigation bank program was designed to make developers comply more effectively. The idea is that the Conservancy will restore certain historic wetlands on the bay and “deposit” their habitat value in a land bank; then developers with offsite requirements will have the option of simply reimbursing the agency for some portion of the habitat value. In this way, habitat replacement is achieved before the developer destroys any wetland, and the Conservancy can reuse the developer’s funds for additional wetland restoration. The Conservancy already has an agreement with the Bay Commission to carry out the program, and a pilot mitigation site on San Pablo Bay may be restored later this year.

Another way to help restore wetlands in urban areas is to use treated wastewater. On the bayfront in Hayward, the Conservancy is cooperating in a project that will use effluent to create 160 acres of freshwater and brackish marsh. The project is similar to the Arcata marsh restoration featured in the second issue of California WaterfrontAge.

Recently the Conservancy has focused on creeks which feed the bay but are threatened by encroaching urban development.

On Rush Creek, in Marin County, the Conservancy is developing an integrated strategy to purchase and restore habitat and to address the upland areas which could threaten that habitat. Projects such as this rely on a whole arsenal of techniques employed in a comprehensive approach.

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Rush Creek 

 

In the years ahead, the Conservancy will continue to help build on the regulatory and planning successes of the Bay Commission. The Conservancy is in an ideal position to play an important role in restoring diked baylands, expanding recreational opportunities, and meeting the other crucial challenges of the future.

 

 

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California WaterfrontAge: Urban Coastal Design — Dana Point and Oceanside.

 

This is the third post of a series in Urban Edginess in which I reproduce a column I had written in a magazine entitled WaterfrontAge published 40 years or so ago by the California State Coastal Conservancy of which I was the Executive Officer at the time. In my prior two posts, I introduced the magazine and its goals, and the concept of urban waterfront design and its difference from more rural coastal protection.

Here, I discuss two specific urban waterfronts. As can be seen in the recent aerial photograph of Dana Point below my optimism as to future development seems misplaced as the two small green swatches labeled Heritage Park and Lantern Bay Park the open space and parkland we required and helped improve so long ago as models for good urban waterfront design have been scarcely replicated. Nevertheless, the photograph of these coastal bluff top open space and recreational areas demonstrate the wisdom of our approach. Imagine what this would have been like if we had not intervened.

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Dana Point.

 

THROUGHOUT THE years I have effectively have been involved in coastal management, I have constantly been struck by how an otherwise commonplace waterfront development can be transformed through the inclusion of public access, both visual and physical. While the land developer’s three basic rules for successful development are location, location, and location, the rules for the public governing the shoreline should be access, access, and more access. Unfortunately, the land developer’s locational requirements and the agency’s access requirements are often considered incompatible. But on the waterfront, private development and public access can work to enhance each other. In urban waterfront design, the rule of access has a powerful effect on the rule of location. On a site near the ocean, for example, if the ocean view is blocked or if the people using the site can’t reach the beach safely and easily, then the site’s proximity to the water is of little value to developers.

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Lantern Bay Park Dana Point,

 

In California, some recent developments have integrated location and access with, I believe, spectacular results. I would like to describe two of these.
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Lantern Bay Park.

 

Above Dana Point Harbor in Orange County rises a sheer bluff. A small coastal canyon splits the face of the bluff and the property behind in two. Some time ago, a developer carved terraces in the bluff to get the fill for the harbor; the bluff now looks like a giant amphitheater facing the harbor. Despite the radical grading, the bluff remains unparalleled for viewing part of the southern California coastline, which could rival the Amalfi coast.

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Lantern Bay Park and The Coast of California.

 

The owner of the property originally intended to build single-family housing on the terraces up the bluff. This would have made the site unusable to the public. Following a long struggle with the California Coastal Commission, the developer agreed to set back the housing well behind the bluff edge on the half of the property upcoast of the canyon; on the downcoast half, he agreed to build a large park and hotel complex. On the upcoast section of the bluff, the developer has constructed a magnificent series of viewing rings connected by a sinuous path winding down from terrace to terrace. The viewing platforms resemble nothing else that I have seen in their extravagant celebration of public access. If one stands on the topmost viewing area, one can see the wide arc of the coast stretching to the south as well as the pathway crossing the canyon and snaking up into the still uncompleted park downcoast. An elegant iron fence separates the viewing terraces from the building pads behind the bluff, which are prepared to take what will certainly be expensive housing. Townhouses and other structures already completed on other portions of the property provide an almost Mediterranean flavor to the area.
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Lantern Bay Park,

 

The variety of style and type in the cosmopolitan collection contrasts markedly with the Visually uninteresting development similar in the area surrounding this property. Further north, in Dana Point, access requirements imposed by the Coastal Commission have reshaped what promises to be another notable coastal development. Already, one of the most elegant hotels in California sits on a spectacular bluff. The original developers wanted to build housing there instead, but the Coastal Commission demanded that the oceanfront property be devoted to visitor-serving development. The irony is especially sharp because the hotel promises to elevate the rest of the development into the sort of resort community developers love.

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Hotel at Lantern Bay Park, Dana Point.

Dana Point is growing into what some have called the California Riviera. In this case, access requirements benefited not only the people of the state but also the community of Dana Point and ultimately those who own property there.

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View of Heritage Park, Dana Point.

 

In the community of Oceanside, in San Diego County, a much different urban waterfront project is going forward, though it too shows the advantages of integrating public access with private development. Instead of responding to development pressures, as in Dana Point, Oceanside plans to create an urban waterfront that will encourage new development. The City expects its waterfront to benefit physically and economically. Oceanside became interested in the project because its waterfront was badly deteriorated and economically depressed. The city wanted to investigate the commercial potential of the beach, which was not being realized. The first plan which the City Redevelopment Agency prepared focused on the residential and commercial uses of the waterfront property. However, some of the city’s residents were against the massive development proposed, and the Coastal Commission was bothered by the lack of open space, inadequate public access, and problems with traffic and circulation.

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Oceanside Strand.
The Coastal Conservancy was called in to develop a program with the city that would resolve these conflicts. After conducting extensive economic analyses, a series of citizen workshops, and a design competition, the Conservancy produced a plan that met most of the objections.

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Children’s Playground, Oceanside Strand.

 

The final plan approved by the city of Oceanside embarked on an extensive restoration effort. One part of the plan seeks to increase the usefulness and the value of Oceanside’s waterfront by converting a solid block of developed beachfront into a public park, called the Strand Park. As in Dana Point, the park would offer public access close to the commercial and residential development.

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View of  Bluffs and Children’s Playground.

 

As it happened, however, one large parcel of property in the designated block, containing an old apartment building, was too expensive to buy easily. The difficulty this presented was resolved when the new owners, an investment group, made it clear that they intended to rehabilitate the building in a manner consistent with the city’s plans.

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Oceanside Strand.

 

The city of Oceanside and the Coastal Commission have approved this change in the plan, and Strand Park will be designed around the new development. The Conservancy has loaned the city $900,000 to create the park. The requirement of visual and physical
access has not, in the Oceanside project, prevented development. On the contrary, the expensive renovation that this investment group is planning would have been unlikely and certainly would have been less profitable if the City hadn’t been working to enhance the waterfront area as a whole.

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Oceanside Beach and Pier at Sundown.

 

In addition to these economic benefits, the project has brought Oceanside some less expected rewards. The Oceanside Strand Restoration Study received a Meritorious Program Award from the California Chapter of the American Planning Association and a citation for an “outstanding contribution in design” from the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

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Oceanside Strand.

 

In the two very different projects at Oceanside and Dana Point, the rule of access manages to serve both art and commerce and to offer substantial rewards to the public at large, to the waterfront community, and to the private developer.

 

Note: This entire issue of California WaterfrontAge can be found at: http://scc.ca.gov/webmaster/coast_ocean_archives/0101.pdf

 

 

California WaterfrontAge: Beginning.

California WaterfrontAge was a magazine first published by California’s  State Coastal Conservancy about 40 years ago during the time I served as director of the then-new agency. The purpose of the magazine was to introduce the general public to the benefits of reclaiming for the public the nation’s urban waterfronts that forty years ago had been in a sad state of decline. New approaches toward to reverse that decay recently had been initiated in several of the nation’s cities and the State Coastal Conservancy just had been created to provide the leadership for these endeavors in California   In a prior post in Urban Edginess, I reproduced an article I had written in California WaterfrontAge about some of these projects and programs. The following is my introductory column to the first issue of that magazine.

At the beginning of any new endev­or, It Is appropriate to set out Its goals and ambitions. What we in the Conservancy hope to accomplish with the publication of this magazine is a focusing of attention upon the public benefits of sound innovative design in the renewal of our urban waterfront resources.

The name of this magazine-California WaterfrontAge-was deliberately chosen to highlight that this indeed is the “waterfront age.” After a tremendous initial growth followed by a long, slow decline, the waterfronts of our nation are now experiencing profound changes and revitalization. In almost every city with a waterfront, the old industrial and commercial uses are giving way to new recreational and living environments.

In Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and a host of other cities, new commercial tourist attractions have either sprung up or are planned. “Festival Market Places” they are often called, and indeed they are. In other cities, parks and attractions along the waterfront designed to delight both resident and visitor have flourished. In San Antonio and Denver, for example, once-neglected riverways have been transformed into ribbons of parks and trails winding their way through the heart of the city.

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San Antonio Riverwalk.

In creating the “Urban ‘Waterfront Restoration Act of 1981,” the California state legislature stated: California’s urban waterfronts, being often the first part of an urban area to develop and. thus. the first to decay. are in need of restoration in order to be the vital economic and cultural component of the community which they once were.

A state agency, the State Coastal Conservancy, was designated as the agency to coordinate the activities of all other state agencies and all federal agencies that have programs affecting California’s urban waterfronts in order to increase the efficiency and minimize duplication of those programs.” By encouraging sound planning and design and awarding grants for the development of accessways, piers, and other amenities, the

Conservancy has become a major influence in California’s changing urban waterfront scene. More recently the Conservancy, along with the new California Urban Waterfront Area Restoration Financing Authority, has been authorized to provide $650 million in revenue bonds for the restoration of California’s urban waterfronts.

Over $15 million in grants in more than twenty jurisdictions have been awarded by the Conservancy for projects with a direct value of over S100 million and indirect benefits amounting to many times more.

In all cases, the Conservancy has sought to promote waterfront designs which were simple and intuitively understandable, economically feasible. easily accessible. Visually pleasing, and encouraging to those uses dependent upon a location near the water.

First among these values is accessibility. People will travel farther to get to the shore or to a beach than to other recreational destinations. The accommodation of this attraction is a major goal of urban shoreline planning. In the urban waterfront more than anywhere else, the variety of uses, as well as their availability, are the standard against which success must be measured.

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Santa Monica Pier (A State Coastal Conservancy Project).

In Long Beach. the vast range of shorefront uses available to almost everyone more than offsets the clumsy grandiosity of the design. That great accessibility was due in large part to the fortunate coming together of a sensitive city planning director and ‘a state regulatory agency-the California Coastal Commission-determined to require maximum public access.

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Long Beach.

It is the goal of this magazine to highlight those projects and techniques throughout the West which demonstrate these design goals, and which present a vision of the usefulness of urban waterfront restoration and the most effective strategies for achieving it. This column is the first of a series. In future issues, we will attempt to set out some general standards for urban waterfront improvement, as well as offer critiques of specific waterfront programs past and present. We hope you enjoy
California WaterfrontAge!

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Arcata Marsh (A State Coastal Conservancy Project).

 

Note: This entire issue of California WaterfrontAge can be found at: http://scc.ca.gov/webmaster/coast_ocean_archives/0101.pdf

WaterfrontAge: The Urban Waterfront — Morro Bay and Arbroath.

Over 40 years ago, I helped draft the California Coastal Plan. Among the elements of that plan was the Government, Planning and Powers element that I authored and from which the structure of the massive California Coastal Program was drafted into several separate pieces of Legislation including: the creation of the California Coastal Commission to regulate new development along California’s 1500 mile coast; a 300 million dollar bond act to begin purchasing those recreational and environmental lands of irreplaceable value and; the creation of a novel agency the State Coastal Conservancy whose job it was to facilitate the purchase of lands needed for planning purposes (e.g. buffer  areas for coastal cities, consolidation of unbuilt out subdivisions and the like), restoration of coastal reasources threatened or degraded by pre-existing development, urban waterfront restoration, public access and coastal dependant agriculture preservation.

Shortly after the passage of the legislation in 1976, I became the first executive officer of the Slate Coastal Conservancy. During my tenure, the Conservancy published a magazine entitled “WaterfrontAge.”  It was focused primarily upon the urban waterfront, the use of land acquisitions to control the spread of urban development into existing undeveloped areas along the shoreline and general resource restoration initiatives.

After I left the Conservancy the magazine’s name was changed to “Coast and Ocean.” It’s focus was shifted from the urban environment to the rural environment. This change reflects the tension among those involved in coastal matters between two points of view. Ther are those who believed the emphasis should be on controlling the spread of existing urban development onto highly valuable resource and open space areas and to provide for those urban amenities that would encourage people to want to remain or resettle in those urban areas.(e.g. parks, recreation, visitor-serving uses.) On the other side, there are those who believe that government’s role should be focused primarily upon preventing development wherever it does not currently exist.  Of course, there are those who believe a government should not be involved at all in the business of protecting resources and regulating industrial, commercial and residential development.

Recently, while wandering through the internet, I came upon a copy of the third issue of “WaterfrontAge” from about 35 years ago. In it was my introduction to the issue. I thought it would be interesting to re-published it here to see how well it has aged.

 

I BELIEVE there are two primary elements that reappear in the urban waterfronts we consider exciting and attractive. The first element is a cluster of activities that require a waterfront location — recreational uses such as bathing or boating; commercial uses like fishing, cruise-ship berthing, boat haul-out facilities, and port operations; and environmental uses such as the wildlife sanctuary described in the previous issue of WaterfrontAge. The second element is public access: whether achieved by paths, boardwalks, or promenades, public access adds to the vitality and color of the area and certainly improves the overall value of the waterfront location, both for the public served and for the commercial ventures nearby. The variety of uses on the waterfront-sometimes in startling juxtaposition-attracts a variety of visitors. and public access increases the force of that attraction. However, it seems that these two requirements, access and water-related uses, must exist together to guarantee a lively waterfront.

In addition to these primary elements, the waterfront should provide activities for their support such as boat repair facilities, chandleries, bait shops, restaurants, and even hotels. Beyond this the normal city uses and densities are appropriate.

In my travels, I have found this pattern of waterfront development remarkably consistent in both recreational and working waterfronts. In particular, in Scotland, I happened upon a small fishing Village on the east coast called Arbroath. Its harbor. encircled by walkways and old stone breakwaters, teems with activity; recreational and fishing boats jostle one another; people strolling stop to watch the fishing boats unloading and processing their catch or to watch the fish being smoked. Restaurants, inns, and shops line the streets nearby and overlook the harbor, and the houses of residents peek out over the scene.

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Abroath

Adjacent to all this activity, a small rocky beach is crowded with bathers. But surprisingly, a few hundred yards away and still visible from the harbor, there is a wide sandy beach, backed by a handsome promenade and an empty grassy slope. The beach and its park are often deserted, in marked contrast to the busy harbor area. The contrast suggests a connection between the harbor’s development and its appeal; unlike the solitary beach. the harbor provides facilities, for a variety of activities as well as simple access.

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Arbroath and other well-known waterfront cities arrived at this pattern of development by trial and error. The pressures of competing uses on the waterfront led to the development of a variety of different industries side- by side. In addition. certain industries. such as fishing, boating and lodging enforced the need for public access to the waterfront.
Recently, the State Coastal Conservancy’ has embarked on a number of projects that seek to help establish this pattern in some of California’s urban waterfronts.

In Morro Bay. a small town in San Luis Obispo County. our application of these elements is nearing completion. The Conservancy has had a tremendous influence on Morro Bay’s waterfront.The area is particularly suitable for the Conservancy’s projects because it has
remained largely undeveloped, and our projects can influence the shape of future
development. We decided that it was inappropriate and unnecessary to attempt to redevelop the area so we decided instead to anticipate future growth and provide the structural elements around which the waterfront could develop as the city of Morro Bay grows.

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This meant that our projects aimed to manipulate the existing development pressures
into patterns which would guarantee the long-term health of the waterfront as well as provide public amenities.

The Embarcadero had become crowded with commercial uses which had come to exclude other uses. Our first project was to open the area to public use by planning two public parks at either end of the Embarcadero. From the Embarcadero, the view of Morro Bay’s striking harbor had been gradually cut off by restaurants built over the water on pilings. Ironically, the commercial value of the view had led to the development that threatened that very view, one of the major tourist attractions of the area. One Conservancy project extends viewing platforms from the streets that end at the harbor’s edge; these platforms also provide physical access to the harbor by including ramps leading down to floating docks. The docks are to be used by visiting boaters, who would be able to dock there and visit the city’s restaurants and shops. This improved access has created considerable interest among private developers, who see a likely market for visiting boaters.

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The local commercial fishing industry. containing the largest active fleet in southern California was enhanced by a Conservancy grant for a new commercial fishing pier for tying up fishing boats and unloading the catch. By ordinance, the commercial fishing fleet on the northern end of the Embarcadero is protected from the pressures of lucrative visitor-serving development. However, the city administrator at Morro Bay, Gary Napper, considers the fishing fleet’s activities a major tourist attraction. Visitors come to the pier especially to watch the fish scooped from the boats the dropped in a cascade into the carts on the docks on their way to the nearby processing plant. The push to diversify the uses of the waterfront has included recent plans to make a major fish-processing plant stretching from downtown to the Embarcadero itself, which should improve the quality of that product and provide an interesting fixture for tourists to visit.
Most recently, the initial steps have been taken to provide some public financing for the construction of two hotels to support the rehabilitation of Morro Bay’s waterfront. In contrast to this large-scale commercial development, part of the Conservancy’s program at Morro Bay has been the restoration and preservation of the extensive dune areas north of the town center.

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Mayor Bud Zeuchner considers the economics of the waterfront’s development secondary to the need to preserve the aesthetic value of the setting, which is considerable. He believes that the Conservancy’s projects have successfully combined the conflicting pressures (to develop commerce, to preserve natural beauty, to encourage tourism) into a compatible system. The final product, he anticipates, will be a waterfront where water and land both meet the people and meet the people’s needs. The comprehensive plan which embraces Morro Bay’s waterfront does not allow anyone use to intrude on any other, yet still encourages a great variety of water-dependent uses of the waterfront.

Every effort has been made to pattern Morro Bay’s waterfront after the liveliest urban waterfronts, like that at Arbroath. The Conservancy’s projects have sought to combine commercial, recreational, and environmental elements of water-dependent activity. to juxtapose these uses for more efficiency and interest, and to provide sufficient access to the waterfront to encourage visitors.

Although it remains to be seen if Morro Bay’s waterfront. which is bound to grow, develops into the lively and productive setting we find in the world’s most successful waterfronts, I think a good start has been made.

15560_MorroBayEstuary

The Problem with Electric and Self-driving Automobiles:

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I support the movement toward electric vehicles and self-driving automobiles. They are a necessary component of any comprehensive assault on the looming crisis of human-induced climate change. There is, however, an emerging problem that should be examined and solutions proposed and implemented— the sooner the better.

The automotive system in the United States, as it is in most countries, can be described as predominately individually owned vehicles operated on collectively owned and maintained public rights of way. In the US, this system of right of ways is funded, not from the government’s General Fund, but chiefly by a type of user tax based upon levies on gasoline and other petroleum products used to power the vehicles.

Since about the turn of the Century, miles driven per person have fallen consistently year after year. Increased mileage rates per gallon of gasoline have risen putting additional stress on the various Highway Trust Funds. Major replacement of aging bridges and tunnels must now use the government’s general funds if they are to be repaired at all.

What will happen to the nation’s roads and highways during the 2020s when electric cars and trucks are expected to make up significant portions of the vehicles using the nation’s roadways? They are now given a free ride. That cannot continue. Solutions should not wait for the crisis to occur that may leave the highway fund in a hole that it may never be able to fill.

Although there appear to be several credible ways to resolve this emerging problem, we are talking about changing a nation’s entire system for funding its most significant transportation network upon which its economy is based. It will take time to work out the politics, procedures, and technologies of any system we settle on.

We should be doing this now before not after the crisis hits us.

Musings on the Recent Coup at the California Coastal Commission.

 

Those who know me know that many years ago I played a role in the fight to protect coastal resources. As chief counsel to the initiative created California Coastal Commission, I managed the development permit process and wrote most of the Governmental Powers and Funding element of California Plan from which the California Coastal Program emerged from the legislature in 1976.

That program consisted of three parts. The first part was to reconstitute the California Coastal Commission with significantly expanded jurisdiction and very specific rules and standards with which to regulate new development.

The second part created a new entity, the California Coastal Conservancy because some resources were too valuable to be left to the vagaries of a regulatory process and their preservation often inconsistent with the mandates and programmatic requirements of the state’s park and wildlife acquisition agencies and finally to restore those resources where pre-existing development damaged or degraded them.

The third element was a bond act to fund the Conservancy and the other land acquisition agencies.

Following completion of the Plan, I joined the legislature as a staff consultant to a Special Senate Committee on Land Use. When the original bill we had drafted reflecting the plan faltered I served as staff for then-Senator Jerry Smith and worked to successfully shepherd all three elements of the plan the program through the legislative process.

Later, I became the first Executive Officer of the Coastal Conservancy and when I left and went into private practice, I sometimes represented, as an attorney, those to whom the markedly increased value we had created for those who obtain a coastal development permit was irresistible.

I write the foregoing as background and evidence that I have some experience in coastal matters that enables me to comment and analyze the importance of the political coup that has recently occurred reflected by the removal of the Commission’s Executive director Dr. Charles Lester who I do not know and about whose competency I have no opinion.

Some have said the coup benefits the development community at the expense of coastal resources. That is undeniably true, but its import more sinister.

The Coastal Commission has been remarkably effective in carrying out its mandate to assure that new development does not irreparably damage irreplaceable environmental and recreational resources along the coast. It is, however, also notable and often missed that, among governmental agencies, its process up until now has been remarkably open to all and free of secret influence and collusion.

Since its creation, the Commission has adopted ever increasingly strict regulations on disclosure and the behavior of all the participants in the process including the staff and the commission itself. Decision making has been brought out into the public arena.

True, I and others have at times criticized the Commission for notable failures to protect a specific resource or the staff for callous behavior and its tendency to avoid preserving or restoring a resource where it could in favor of simply denying development, but on the whole, the process seems to work and has grown over the years to be relatively free of corruption and political influence despite the public fishbowl in which it is forced to operate and the financial strength and political power of many of the interests involved .

Those seeking permits had to rely on those knowledgeable about the Commission’s procedures and provide generally technically competent information to the Commission. The Commission Staff, in turn, had to develop the ability to analyze the information and present their conclusions in public. Communications from those trying to influence Commissioners were disclosed. The public had access to the information and reasonable confidence in the independence and competency of the process.

Now, at least for the largest of development interests, I fear this action to remove the Executive Director has pulled the real decision making back to Sacramento where accountability is often hidden; where money talks and not technical analysis; where laws can be ignored in return for favors.

The Governor, Jerry Brown, cannot continue to deny complicity in this. He has simply chosen bad old government corruption and secrecy over open government.

Is this the end of the Coastal Commission as an effective guardian of the Coast? Certainly it opens the way for the largest and most destructive of developers to have their way with those coastal resources remaining in private hands.

As for the Coastal Program as a whole, it is in generally good shape. For the past 40 years, vast amounts of critical resource lands have been removed from the vagaries of the regulatory process where David Brower once told me, “All our victories are temporary and all out defeats permanent.” Local communities, land trusts, and state agencies have begun the process of restoring those resources on public lands damaged by pre-existing development.

Once during the battle for passage of the various pieces of Coastal Legislation a legislator asked me, “I fly all over California and when I look down I see lots and lots of wild natural lands why do you want to stop development on this little bit?”

“That’s just the point,” I responded. “With all that land, much of it not particularly sensitive, why do you want to build on this irreplaceable resource?”

The real reason why local governments often have to raise taxes or revenue or go bankrupt:

I usually hate it when a post begins with something like, “I was going to write about___ but___.” So I won’t. What I was going to write and did is included at the end of this Diary. It is basically a discussion of some studies regarding growth, development, and physical planning that appear in a blog called, “Strong Towns,” that I found interesting.

What I did decide to do, however, is meander a bit and speculate about some things that the blog suggested to me.

Having a career arc extending from running one of the more active at the time civil rights groups existing during the dark ages of the movement, writing much of the plan and legislation for what still remains one of the nation’s most significant land use control programs, California’s Coastal Program, and administering major portions of it, chairing California’s High Speed Rail Authority, interspersed with attempts to save the world within the counter culture, reforming a state’s mental health laws, a religion’s liturgy, a city’s approach to homelessness and so on as well as succeeding and failing at various professional, personal and financial endeavors more times than I care to admit, I have developed the arrogance to believe wholeheartedly that experience breeds wisdom and I know what I am talking about. I also have never found a run-on sentence I have written that I have not fallen in love with. (Note, for the literalists reading this, actually I do not believe that experience equals knowledge and success implies competence. There is too much anecdotal and scientific evidence floating around that supports that they do not to think otherwise.)

Because of my interest in physical planning and development and its interplay with economic, social and political thought and action, I found the studies described in “Strong Towns” worth noting for the simplicity with which they identify the problems they examine. The authors of the blog write from the perspective of consultants arguing for adaptive reuse of existing urban areas. Despite the potential self-promotion, their analysis appears spot on. They do however, it seems to me, fail to recognize that the syndrome they criticize in the suburbs eventually may repeat themselves even in the “walkable cities” they envision.

About 80% of the posts I have written, here and in other venues like Daily Kos, attempt to address, sometimes well and other times not so well, a simple contention that there may be a ghost in the machine we call humanity. That unless we consider the possibility that humanity rather than the apex of evolution may be little more than a doomed branch of the evolutionary tree and compare the implications of each assumption, we may be limiting our ability to understand what is happening and what needs to be done to assure our own happiness and survival.

For example, Malthus’ analysis of the relationship between population and resources may be only the tip of the iceberg. Consider the following from the ever perceptive Brad DeLong:

“To put it another way: In 1870 the daily wages of an unskilled worker in London would have bought him (not her: women were paid less) about 5,000 calories worth of bread–5,000 wheat calories, about 2½ times what you need to live (if you are willing to have your teeth fall out and your nutritionist glower at you). In 1800 the daily wages would have bought him about 3,500 calories, and in 1600 2,500 calories. Karl Marx in 1850 was dumbfounded at the pace of the economic transition he saw around him. That was the transition that carried wages from 3500 calories per day-equivalent in 1800 to 5000 in 1870. Continue that for another two seventy-year periods, and we would today be at 10,000 calories per unskilled worker in the North Atlantic today per day.
Today the daily wages of an unskilled worker in London would buy him or her 2,400,000 wheat calories.
Not 10,000. 2,400,000.”

Even were we to convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy will we as a species also be able to restrain our seeming insatiable desire to consume ever more resources in order to secure better lives? I am not so sure, but at least, if we do eliminate fossil fuels, we will have a little more time to see if we can figure things out.

So let’s look at what “Strong Towns” had to say:

The Real Cost of Infrastructure Development

A report, a few years ago, from “Strong Towns” a development think tank argues that the first generation of suburbia was built on and maintained by savings and investment, but the second was built and maintained by borrowing tons of money. We are now entering the third generation. We are out of savings and investment and easy money, now what do we do?

They also point out that in every case they studied, the useful life of an infrastructure investment paid for by borrowing from the private market was less than the time it took to pay back the loans. What this means is that almost every community that invested in infrastructure by borrowing will likely face the need to substantially raise taxes or file for bankruptcy should growth slow or stop.

Finally, the report found that, in almost every case where a developer paid for or otherwise donated infrastructure improvements as part of its development in return for the community assuming responsibility for operation and maintenance of the improvements, eventually the community required a tax increase to pay for their continued maintenance and replacement.

It used to be that in embarking on an infrastructure project, the costs for future operation and maintenance were budgeted for and automatically carried over to subsequent budgets or, as another way to handle it, operation and maintenance funds were established and funded as part of the original budget. One of the centerpieces of the Reagan Revolution was abolishing this practice so that his administration could appear to have cut spending in the budget while also permitting them to raid the sequestered maintenance funds to use on other programs. I know this because I was high-level bureaucrat during his administration as Governor of California and saw it first hand. Not only did this practice push-off the burden onto to future generations (like ours today) but by masking the true long-term costs, it encouraged the orgy of borrowing that marks current governmental policy worldwide. This was neither traditional liberal nor conservative orthodoxy, but a cynical ploy to obtain and hold power by pandering to the economic elite.

If it comes either to pandering to the rich or pandering to the average person, I know which side of the street I would prefer my elected politicians to set up their cribs.

At this same time, Wall Street and the banking industry were just getting geared up to promote new products to fund government by financing a host of long-term investments that would in fact rarely be paid off. Their representatives prowled the offices of both Governor Jerry Brown and Ronald Reagan as well as the State Legislature arguing that the State’s capital investments were under leveraged. They argued that trough the magic of leveraging existing capital projects money could be freed up to allow the leveraging of future good and needed projects without ever needing to raise taxes. It seemed like magic, money for nothing.

Jerry Brown, as was his predilection, was more than dubious but many of those surrounding him bought into it urging him to consider the parks and natural areas that could be preserved and the jobs created from the projects funded. Brown ultimately gave in, but to his credit, the projects he did agree to were smaller and fewer than those urged on him by his advisors.

The Reagan administration on the other hand, bought into it because many of its senior officials came out of the financial industry (The Democrats had not yet peopled their administrations with ex-financial industry personnel) and it appeared to be a good way to transfer tax revenue and spread profits around to the administration’s supporters while appearing to benefit the economy without raising taxes.

As a result, there followed an orgy of borrowing by all levels of government to fund and pay for capital expenditures. It was seen as a good way to obtain infrastructure without raising taxes. The products themselves were structured by the lenders. The resulting financial structures were often more complex than they had been previously. The legions of bankers, economists and financial advisors that descended on government pushing the loans clearly outmatched the ability of public bureaucrats, whose job it was to protect the public purse, to adequately analyze the fiscal implications of the deals. They were also cowed by the politicians who had bought into the program hook line and sinker and clamored for the projects. They also were pressured to approve the deals by their bosses, many of whom came from the industry and hoped to return there when their stint in government was over.

As a result, questionable loans were made. Things that had not been regularly financed before began to be so. At times, in the case of financing infrastructure projects, exaggerated estimates of the life of what was being financed and things like increased maintenance costs as the infrastructure aged were forgotten.

This system did not collapse like a punctured bubble as it often does in the private market because as my grandfather an owner of a construction company advised (and Paul Krugman confirms), one should contract with the government whenever they can because the government always pays their bills, no matter the state of the economy. The profits may be smaller and the money worth less because of inflation, but you had your money. (Alas, as the financial industry crept further and further into the operation of government, they demanded their profits match those they could receive in private deals. They then began to insist that government guarantee that their profits not be discounted through inflation even though the inflation may have been caused to a great extent by their own activities. As far as I know, not a single investigator has studied how and why this happened.)

Eventually, both Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor climbed aboard the bandwagon. They were followed by a host of political appointees from the industry who given their experience with these things joined government as advisors and executives. Whether they were liberal or conservative they could see nothing amiss. Republicans were happy taxes were not being raised during their watch while the private market got the contracts for the work. Democrats were thrilled for the jobs.

The real reason why local governments often have to raise taxes or revenue or go bankrupt (Hint, it is not from spending on social programs, education or public security):

According to “Strong Towns” as described above, we are now in the third cycle of suburban development in the United States.

Although “Strong Towns” analysis reflects US suburb growth patterns, it most likely also applies to larger areas and their infrastructure development including countries. What we build and pay for with debt [whether public or private] generally has not included accounting for replacement costs or operation and maintenance beyond the infrastructure’s estimated life cycle, which as a rule is less than the payback period on the bonds used to build it in the first place. This would be like borrowing for your weeks food agreeing to pay it back in installments over two weeks, then borrowing the following weeks food on the same terms hoping that somehow the nourishment can be converted into increased earnings. The syndrome compulsive gamblers suffer resemble this.

Case study: “Free roads’ are a myth”:

A group of high-value lake properties petitions the city to take over their road. They agree to pay the entire cost to build the road — a little more than $25,000 per lot — in exchange for the city agreeing to assume the maintenance. As one city official said, “A free road!”

Question: How much is the repair cost estimated to be after one life cycle and how does that compare to the amount of revenue from these properties over that same period?

Answer: It will cost an estimated $154,000 to fix the road in 25 years, but the city will only collect $79,000 over that period for road repair. To make the numbers balance, an immediate 25% tax increase is necessary along with annual increases of 3% with all of the added revenue going for road maintenance.
(See Strong Towns for more examples)

The author introduces their studies with the following:

Since the end of World War II, our cities and towns have experienced growth using three primary mechanisms:

Transfer payments between governments: where the federal or state government makes a direct investment in growth at the local level, such as funding a water or sewer system expansion.

Transportation spending: where transportation infrastructure is used to improve access to a site that can then be developed.

Public and private-sector debt: where cities, developers, companies, and individuals take on debt as part of the development process, whether during construction or through the assumption of a mortgage.

In each of these mechanisms, the local unit of government benefits from the enhanced revenues associated with new growth. But it also typically assumes the long-term liability for maintaining the new infrastructure. This exchange — a near-term cash advantage for a long-term financial obligation — is one element of a Ponzi scheme.

The other is the realization that the revenue collected does not come near to covering the costs of maintaining the infrastructure. In America, we have a ticking time bomb of unfunded liability for infrastructure maintenance. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates the cost at $5 trillion — but that’s just for major infrastructure, not the minor streets, curbs, walks, and pipes that serve our homes.

The reason we have this gap is because the public yield from the suburban development pattern — the amount of tax revenue obtained per increment of liability assumed — is ridiculously low. Over a life cycle, a city frequently receives just a dime or two of revenue for each dollar of liability. The engineering profession will argue, as ASCE does, that we’re simply not making the investments necessary to maintain this infrastructure. This is nonsense. We’ve simply built in a way that is not financially productive.

We’ve done this because, as with any Ponzi scheme, new growth provides the illusion of prosperity. In the near term, revenue grows, while the corresponding maintenance obligations — which are not counted on the public balance sheet — are a generation away.

 

____________

Today’s Quote:

“Sicarius… celebrated the feast of the Nativity… with Austrighiselus and the other neighbors…. The priest… sent a boy to invite some of the men to come to his house for a drink. When the boy got there, one of the men he invited drew his sword and did not refrain from striking him. He fell down and was dead…. Sicarius… took his arms and went to the church to wait for Austrighiselus. The latter heard about this and armed himself…. [B]oth parties suffered harm…. Sicarius got away unnoticed… made for his homestead… leaving behind… his silver, his clothes, and four of his servants who had been wounded. After he had fled, Austrighiselus broke into the building, killed the servants, and took away with him the gold, the silver, and the other things. When they appeared later before the people’s court, the sentence was that Austrighiselus was to pay the legal penalty for manslaughter…. Sicarius, forgetting about these arrangements… broke the peace… invaded the home, killed father, brother, and son, and having done away with the servants took all their belongings and their cattle. When we heard this, we grew greatly perturbed…”
Gregory, Bishop of Tours.

“Perturbed?” Freaked out is more likely I would think.

Public Space in Informal Settlements in Bangkok: Bottom up Planning.

English: Wat Arun Bangkok View Photo D Ramey L...

English: Wat Arun Bangkok View Photo D Ramey Logan ” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bangkok a city of contrasts.

Bangkok Thailand is a city of gleaming skyscrapers, elegant shopping centers, spectacular temples and picturesque neighborhoods surrounded by vast areas teeming with those who have left somewhere else in hope of somehow securing a better life. Many of these migrants huddle in informal settlements of often self-built shelters, mired in poverty at times as great as that they have left behind. But, they have two things going for them. One as old as ever in the hearts of most immigrants, hope. The other just as old but requiring renewal wherever the poor and destitute gather, the urge to build a new sense of community where they now choose to live. Few things focus a community’s sense of itself better than its public spaces. In Bangkok today several communities of poverty-stricken migrants, aided by governmental and private organizations, have begun to coalesce around improvements to their public spaces.

Bangkok is a riverine city located on at the center of a vast floodplain. It became Thailand’s capital 300 years ago because its rivers and streams, marshes and wetlands appeared to afford superior defensive capability and better trade and commerce opportunities than the nations prior capital located a few hundred kilometers to the north destroyed by the Burmese, traditional enemies of the Thais.

The internal combustion economy prompted the filling in of many of the canals, wetlands and minor streams to accommodate the motor cars and the industries dependent upon them. Except for the extensive industrial port complexes and a few luxury hotels the city turned its back on its rivers and few remaining canals leaving them as little more than refuse strewn sewers.

Migrants and Informal Communities proliferate.

As Bangkok grew into one of the worlds great megalopolis of over 13 million people crowding into the flood plain along the banks of the Chao Phraya river, a new type of invasion inundated the city. At first people from the rural areas of the country, then the poor of Burma, Laos and Cambodia flooded into the city looking to better their lives and to bask in the excitement and bright lights of the metropolis.

Many of these migrants pressed themselves into large informal settlements along the now mostly forgotten riversides and canals, living in often makeshift housing in extensive slums with poetic sounding names like Klong Toei, Bang Bua Klong, Managkasila and Soi Sengki. In 1997, when the Bangkok Metropolitan Area was smaller than it is today, an estimated over 300 informal settlements existed, housing more than one and a quarter million people (Pacific Consultants International Suuri-Keikaku Co.Ltd., 1997).

With the emergence of the middle class and the exponential growth of international tourism during the past few decades, attention focussed again on these forgotten waterways as underperforming resources. Slum clearance along their banks commenced as both public and private interests sought to realize their long forgotten benefits. Some of these informal communities resisted and with the assistance of both public and non-profit organizations such as Community Organization Development Institute (CODI), Baan Mankong, The Durang Prateep Foundation, Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and many others began to fight back.

Closed environments of the dispossessed.

In Bangkok, like in many other cities, there were primary issues of fundamental importance to the poor communities, such as land tenure, adequate housing, health care and public space. (not jobs so much, the migrants were there because the job opportunities were better here than where they came from. The job issue in Bangkok is one of quality not quantity).

Why is public space, about which this post focusses so important? Because public space is not just parks and open space but includes streets, sidewalks and many other means by which residents interact with each other and the outside world. It affects community and individual health as well as their prosperity. One of the hallmarks of the traditional slums is that they are so often the closed environments of the dispossessed.

Bang Bua Throng: grasping for identity and pride.

The citizens of Bang Bua Throng, a mostly migrant community, located on the northern fringes of the Bangkok metropolitan area recognized that restoring access to and along the waterfront for the entire community could increase distribution of economic benefits to community members. It also would help to focus community identity and pride.

The Bang Bua Throng neighborhood contains about 3.400 families crowded up against the Bang Bua canal. The community, mostly on its own, formed an informal network called ‘Klong Bang-bua Environmental Improvement Network’ in 1999 that organized activities supporting the improvement of the canal and environment. They began earning money by selling recycled wastes collected from within the community. They then pooled the money to embark of community enhancement programs like, fire training for the locals. The Network also negotiated with the land owner (Treasury Department) and related agencies in support of their efforts to securing land tenure for the residents. This activism had its effect. Others took notice.

After addressing the endemic land tenure and housing issues, the community through bottom up planning and with the CODI and the Baan Mankong program’s assistance contributed to the design of a walk-way along the length of the canal. Unlike many waterfront designs, this was not simply an aesthetic venture providing a venue from which to contemplate the beauties of the adjacent canal, but a working access-way. Designed with the needs of the community in mind, it was wide enough for the movement of necessity vehicles but narrow enough to discourage it from being used as a substitute for the adjacent street. It was open for those in the community to use and enjoy as well as the residents of the city at large. It became a focal point of community pride.

Following the implementation or these programs in the community, Kuhn Prapaat a community leader remarked:

“We were a real slum before! There were drugs for sale, and lots of outside organizations did their drugs trading here. There were kids sniffing glue and paint thinner.” “ Back then, a lot of the houses were built on stilts right over the canal, and when one of these houses would collapse – which happened a lot – we would say, that is your problem, not mine!” (Slum Regeneration Bang Bua Bangkok. Veruan Blake)

Some criticism has been leveled that these initiatives like the new walk-way could encourage gentrification, as though preservation of what previously existed had some overarching merit. Gentrification is negative generally only when the existing residents fail to participate in its benefits or if it occurs with such rapidity residents cannot prepare and adapt to it.

Thonglor: ingenuity rewarded.

Other informal communities in the city also recognize the importance of public space to their revitalization. Adjacent to the Thonglor Police Station there are 43 households squatting on a piece of unclaimed land between two property walls only a few meters wide. Cleverly designed homes lean on existing infrastructure and achieve extremely high densities while also providing adequate ventilation for the residents. Narrow walkways outside of the homes have become extensions of interior space and facilitate commercial activity throughout the community. The residents exhibited additional signs of ingenuity by collectively making improvements to the public spaces with salvaged construction material. Again, their efforts have been noticed.

Plans are being made in conjunction with the International Program in Architecture and Design (INDA) of Chulalongkorn University to expand the community’s public space to create a flexible gathering space for the community to use throughout the day and provide a clear entry point to this otherwise obscured community. This space could also accommodate after-school activities for children as well seating for community meetings to further enhance their lives.

A community’s pride in its public spaces equates to its pride in itself.

Providing public spaces are not often seen by the members or a community or even outside observers as important to the improvement in the lives of low-income residents. They are sometimes looked upon as extravagances. What these two examples demonstrate is that a communities pride in its public spaces often equates to its pride in itself. Without that pride the alienation generated by poverty is not relieved. Those most successful lacking any attachment will then often leave the community and further impoverish it.

To enhance that sense of pride and identity design of public spaces should begin by building into the design the needs and wishes of the nearby community. Investment in public space should benefit the existing community directly. Public spaces should be designed to be open to all, the surrounding neighborhood as well as the larger urban area.

Community planning: Personal retrospective

Simulation - 7

Simulation – 7 (Photo credit: onestudentry)

 

Over two decades ago I had the opportunity to manage a governmental entity that among other things, was charged with resolving conflicts between development, community and environmental concerns. We developed a process, relatively novel at the time, encouraging those involved or concerned (later to be called “stakeholders”) to solve their disagreements among themselves.

 

The process required a team of technicians that could immediately turn a suggestion into a visual representation. This included someone capable of converting the discussions as they occurred into visual and organized notes for all to see. It also included a compendium of the financial and fiscal resources currently available thus forcing the participants to consider the same type of tradeoffs government and private interests must make in deciding what can be done and how long will it take. Finally it required an entity, in this case our agency, who could more or less on the spot make commitments to carry out or support with financial resources the carrying out of at least initial elements of the agreed upon program.

 

What surprised me the most was not that we were successful in almost all cases, as we were, but that despite the heated rhetoric expressed before regulatory or legislative bodies, or in the media the disagreements were so often so slight.

 

Although conflict resolution techniques and design charrettes continue to be used almost everywhere, our particular intensive program eventually fell into disuse. That was because the urban areas included in our jurisdiction were limited in number and once the specific issues in conflict were resolved in these communities they remained so for a decade or longer. Also the process was management and personnel intensive and inevitably such activities in any organization eventually are replaced by a more procedural and careerist focus.

 

Fast forward to today, modern communications technology and social networking appears to be transforming almost everything we do, from how and where we work to how we entertain ourselves and socialize.

 

In community and urban development we now have all the information we could want at our fingertips although not necessarily organized and usable. A simple internet research shows that we have a plethora online communities dedicated to community action of one kind or another. Yet what happens when these online communities conflict with one another? As anyone who has actually been involved in assisting in the resolution of significant conflicts, good intentions and talking things out are not enough. Not only must thoughts and ideas be converted into a communications medium so that each participant has the same understanding as everyone else, but immediate unbiased response on the technical facts must be available if the enthusiasm and commitment to the process is not to wither and die waiting for it. Finally the facts of the limits must be available in a usable form to the participants.

 

Social media, in regard to community planning provides an advanced medium for sharing of information and ideas and encouraging coöperation and should the participants agree collective action. However, before collective action can occur, especially for something a complex and contentious as community planning the most difficult form of group or collective action is the resolution of those conflicts that more often than not are the reason for undertaking the collaborative planning process in the first place.

 

Modern communications technology and social networks offer the promise of real resolution of community conflicts. Nevertheless, it remains a promise that needs to be addressed.

 

 

 

 

From The Bard to the Sun King: It’s Always Something

In previous posts I focused on the effects of modern mobile communication technology on how and where we live and work and how it alters our lives. I tried to show how those changes impact not just the individuals themselves but society at large. In one of those posts I described how a retired judge used the technology to make it easier to change careers and become a fairly well-regarded sculptor in bronze.

Much more recently, I travelled to New York City where I met up with another artist, the well-known sculptor of many notable public art installations in California and Washington, Brian Goggin. He was on the East Coast working on what he describes as an immersive sculptural installation. A work of art that also will function as a restaurant to be called Preserve24 located at the corner of Houston and Allen Streets in the rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side of Manhattan. His intention is to turn the entire space into a single integrated work of art using primarily re-used materials in an artistically novel design. A design he believes will be “reminiscent of an expedition society.”

I caught up with Brian at a metal shop in Brooklyn where he was busily working on assembling the dramatic sculptural staircase that will lead patrons into the restaurant. The staircase is designed to look like an entrance to the elevated subway line.

I asked him if modern communications technology, mobile phones or applications has made a difference in how he goes about his business as well as where chooses to live and work.

He pointed out that he uses his smart phone and other technology in their most basic form as a tool, to gather information and to communicate visual images, text and vocal information. Nevertheless, he believes that it has made a substantial difference in how he goes about his art.

He describes what he does as similar to a film director creating a team to manifest a project; engineers, welders, carpenters and the like; the artist as director and inventor/visionary. In a way, he mused, his art can be thought of as almost the same type of business as producing flash mobs.

Photos of projects in progress and materials can be sent to his assistant as well as to clients increasing his ability to include visuals with conversation. Changes can be proposed and implemented immediately. There is no longer a need to take slides, duplicate them and send them through the mail. Costs are lowered and time waste reduced. He and his collaborators can work directly from drawings shared through text and email to enable him to work over great distances with his team members .

He can now manage much of his projects, like the one he is working on in New York, from his home in California half of the time. He can work in teams with other artists living and working in places all over the globe to produce a single collaborative work.

He said that although he now can live and work anywhere, he prefers to be where he can still interact directly with other people; conceptualization can occur at home and fabrication at suitable remote sites.

Cities have always been where artists gathered to meet clients, share ideas and fabricate their art works. Now, through modern communication technology, in our cities a new Renaissance may be in store for us as artists regather, not in low-cost deteriorating warehouse districts on the peripheries of urban areas but at their centers.

Peter Grenell director of the San Mateo Harbor District and a keen observer of history as well as an accomplished raconteur once observed:

“Never forget It was just 35 years more or less from Shakespeare to Louis XIV ; From the French and Indian War to the Louisiana Purchase ; From ‘Et Tu., Brute’ to the kid in the manger; From Fred Allen to Laugh-In.”

We tend to look back into history and see social change as a slow process when we view it through the prism of technological transformation or the speed in which the changes are disseminated. But those born into the frugal world of the Bard died in the extravagant age of the Sun King. Many of those that heard the cheers or jeers that accompanied the imperial pretensions of Julius Caesar ended their day’s hearing the whispers of a new king born in the East. Social change is generational. Its scope and reach often technological. But social change is also reflexive. The reaction to the changes also changes things, often in ways that cannot be predicted.

Tomorrows urban areas, impacted by modern communications technology will not be the same as the urban areas of today. The Cities of our fathers or grandparents that were the smoky chaotic centers of industry and trade were not the same as the urban areas of our time; uncertain places, slowly decaying as motorized transportation took people, industry and commerce away to less stressful environments. The Cities of the future, fashioned in part by the effects of the communications technologies of today will be different still, probably in ways we cannot imagine. They will be neither as bleak as feared or as paradisiacal as hoped, but in my opinion the experience of those changes and how we accommodate to them are much of what life is all about. It will be both frightening and exhilarating.

(The above post is taken from my blog that appeared is Smart+Connected Communities Institute.)

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