Urban Edginess

Where the City Meets its Future.

Tag: Development plan

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.

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The Destruction of Urban Life in the Syrian Saddle Through Misuse of a Common Resourse

While there may be several claimants for responsibility for the current crisis in the Middle East, I believe the following article describes the most likely culprit. Although Climate Change may have exacerbated the situation, as the article demonstrates, not all contributing factors are direct causes. It is simply the Tragedy of the Commons played out on a larger scale.

How Russia and Western Style Capitalism Set the Stage for the Horror that is Syria Today — and no it is not about oil.

Over-exploitation of an ecosystem

The Syrian steppe covers 55% of the country’s territory. This vast steppe land, together with portions from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, has been grazed sustainably by nomadic indigenous pastoralists (Bedouins) for centuries (if not more). Each tribe and clan was linked to certain seasonal pastures and this ensured the sustainability of the grazing — a practice finely calibrated on the need of plant regeneration.

These pastoralists of Arabia are known to have been pioneers in establishing ‘protected areas’ (hema): certain pastures were relieved from grazing, permanently or temporary, in order to allow keeping the whole ecosystem healthy and functional.

The beginning of the ecological degradation and destruction came with the modern state, so keen to uncritically import ideas of maximization of agricultural yields from the Soviet Union: in particular the central government decided to nationalize the steppe in 1958, establishing de facto an open access system — a well known recipe for ecological disaster.

Through this arrangement the customary link between the natural resource and its user was interrupted — abruptly disowning the traditional ecological knowledge of this ancient people. The pastures, not managed and protected anymore by the tribes, started to be over-grazed by free-ranging pastoralists.

A major role in this unfolding disaster was played by affluent urban investors who threw thousands of livestock into the steppe turning the grazing into a large-scale, totally unsustainable, industrial practice.

A similar sort of story of gross mismanagement took place in the eastern part of the Syria’s steppe land, the territory east to the Euphrates, allocated to intensive agriculture via irrigation through underground water.

Water has been pumped from limited underground reserves without much control for decades — so that wells had to be dug every year deeper and deeper with increasing consumption of fuel.

Year by year, desertification sets in.

The alternation of wet and dry periods (sometimes lasting up to 5-7 years) is a key structural and natural feature of this kind of environment. The relentless ecological degradation of this semi-arid fragile ecosystem produced a gradual and steady decrease of its resilience in the face of cycles of droughts made increasingly more severe and frequent by a long-term regional drying pattern linked to the greenhouse effects.

Note that increasing the resilience of ecosystems is actually one of the key natural solutions as adaptation to climate change, as it is currently referred to within the circles of climate change international aid work.

While in the past the steppe was able to recover even following intense periods of droughts, during the past decade pastoralists and farmers have started to complain about a sharp and ineluctable reduction in soil fertility and an increase of frequency of fierce dust storms due to erosion.

An evident desertification process has been on display across the steppe land for quite some time. Recommendations to reduce the ecological pressure on this fragile environment — from myself and others — went unheard.

Ecological crisis fans the flames of rebellion.

Following a recent cycle of intense drought during 2006-2010, the agriculture system eventually collapsed in eastern Syria greatly facilitated by an abrupt halt of government subsidies and consequent soaring prices of fuel for wells.

At the same time, the ecological impoverishment of the rangelands reached unheard-of levels. “The drought only brought to light a man-made disaster,” said a local journalist from eastern Syria to the International Crisis Group in 2009.

This combined ecological crisis of croplands and rangelands created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the rural areas of the country, followed by massive internal displacements, that the government clearly failed to tackle and manage.

For the first time ever Syria, known to be proudly autonomous in terms of food production (and actually even exporting food), had to rely on a massive international emergency food aid in 2008.

It is therefore not a coincidence that the uprising in 2011 started in provincial towns rather than in the major urban centres of Damascus and Aleppo, Francesca De Chatel argues, aptly defining the rebellion as a “rural Intifada” — one in which Bedouin tribes of steppe origin played a key role.

The same sort of conclusions were reached in analyzing the triggers of the Darfur war that that took place from 2003 to 2010 not far from Syria. Darfur suffered from precisely the same sort of over-exploited semi-arid ecosystem, while one again rural and indigenous people were the victims, including nomadic pastoralists.

Gianlucca Serra, UN — FAO.

A comment on City Planning:

“Recent developments in the global system of cities present a curious paradox. With the cost of communications declining almost to zero and substantial, though less dramatic reductions in transport costs, there is now little technical requirement for most kinds of production to be undertaken in any particular location, or for elements of production chains to be located close to each other. This fact has had dramatic consequences for the organization of manufacturing industry. Simple production chains involving the import of raw materials, usually from developing countries, for processing in a specialized centre, have been replaced by far more complex structures.

Yet, in important respects, the dominance of a small number of ‘global cities’ has never been greater. In this paper, it is argued that the dominance of global cities reflects a desire for clustering on the part of finance sector professionals and corporate executives. It seems likely that such clustering provides private benefits by enhancing the value of personal contacts, but reduces the efficiency and profitability of the corporate sector.”
John Quiggin. Abstract to Cities, Connections and Cronyism. 2006.

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.

Security and informal settlements: Bangkok.

Thai people

Thai people (Photo credit: Cak-cak)

Crime in Thailand and in Bangkok:

Several sources rank Thailand among the more crime ridden countries in the world (The Eighth United Nations survey on Crime Trends and the Criminal Justice System (2002), Amnesty International and others). As in many urban areas, this high level of violence, drugs and crime falls heavily upon the poor. In Bangkok, it falls especially hard on the almost 1 million people living the informal settlements that dot the city. The United Nations Seventh Congress on Criminal Justice in a Changing World indicates that there is a statistical relationship between crime rates and migration of the poor into informal settlements in urban areas where the exigencies of survival in their current environment shreds whatever sense of community they may have had in the neighborhoods they left behind.

Proposed solutions to the lack of security experienced by members of informal settlements.

Most programs to address crime focus on helping individuals gain the resources to enable them to leave behind the slums with their endemic crime and poverty. Others believe that amelioration of the crime problem in these informal communities is a matter of more and better policing. Still others believe providing and enhancing infrastructure and health programs to the community could turn the tide of despair and violence.

No doubt each approach needs to be part of the whole solution. Nevertheless, without community building, it seems clear that these informal settlements of the poor and migrants will remain breeding grounds for crime. Security of any kind for residents of informal and poverty-stricken communities begins with the recognition by the residents themselves that they are in fact a community and that they can do something about what happens to it.

While there are a number of community building organizations at work in these neighborhoods of Bangkok, none seems to have crime suppression as a major or primary goal. Perhaps this is a function of the ubiquitous nature of the national police system in the country. On the other hand, it also may be the endemic lack of the basic elements of a sense of community that stunts the growth of this essential indication of a vigorous self-assured populace.

BAAN MANKONG PROGRAM

Although Thailand lacks institutions or organizations focused on public safety and crime suppression outside of the national police system, some programs and organizations in Bangkok build into their operations mechanisms that encourage informal settlements assume control of their destinies and by so doing address their unique security needs. One of the most successful and vibrant initiatives of this type is the BAAN MANKONG PROGRAM.

The Thai government set up BAAN MANKONG in 2003. According to the organization’s spokespeople, the program channels government funds (infrastructure subsidies and housing and land loans) directly to urban poor community organizations. The program allows urban poor communities to be key actors in the housing and other upgrades to their community.

The members of the community control the funding, manage the projects and carry out the improvements. They also undertake most of the building activities themselves, which means most of the funds would remain within the community and work as seed capital for additional investments in housing and community.

Bangkok’s 1,200 urban poor settlements house almost a third of Thailand’s urban poor spread across 50 khets (districts). BAAN MANKONG regards each district as a city. every district does its own survey, forms a joint committee with all key actors and develops a 3 year upgrading program.

The BAAN MANKONG program promotes more than physical upgrading. The communities design and manage their own physical improvements. This helps stimulate deeper but less tangible changes in social structures, managerial systems and confidence within the poor communities affected.

The BAAN MANKONG differs from more traditional approaches to community building in that:

1. The community through their own local organizations controls the funding and the management as well as undertakes most of the building. Government agencies are no longer the planners, implementors and construction manager delivering for beneficiaries. The community now assumes those roles.

2. The community’s needs as defined by the community shapes the nature and amount of funding.

3 Secure land tenure for the residents is negotiated locally in each case through a variety of means such as cooperative land buy, long-term lease contracts, land swaps or user rights..

4. It stimulates changes in the community’s social structure in many areas including crime suppression.

An example of the effect of a BAAN MANKONG project on Bangkok’s informal settlements took place in the Ramkhamhaeng area in Bangkok. Two initial pilot projects sparked off a larger development process involving seven other communities.

The first was Ruam Samakkee, a squatter community of 124 families occupying 0.8 hectares of Crown Property Bureau land. After forming a cooperative and developing a new layout plan for two-story homes with architects, the community negotiated a 30 year lease.

The second was at Kao Pattana where 34 families lived on a marshy 0.8 hectare site also belonging to the Crown Property Bureau. The residents planned to build their own homes on this site but found the landfill cost too high. Seven other communities joined them to prepare a redevelopment plan providing for over 1000 households on 40 hectares in the area. Working with the landowner, the project created new residential areas linked to markets and parks. Although the plan involves reblocking in some areas and relocation nearby in others, everyone will remain in the area with long-term leases through community cooperatives.

Unfortunately for Baan Mankong, the new government suspended funding while it reviewed priorities. About 3 billion baht (Approximately $100 million) remain from the original 6 billion baht authorization.

Recently, about 100 members of the Four Regions Slum Network (FRSN) gathered at the Department of Social Development and Welfare, pressing the government to fund the Baan Mankong instead or another program that focuses on middle-income housing. Nevertheless, a representative for the government indicated that it intends to accelerate spending for the program.

Who is safe? What does in mean to be safe?

One question that can always be asked when analyzing the nature and extent of security available to the poor and the destitute living in the slums of most large cities is, from whom are they to be secure; other residents, outsiders or those ostensibly entrusted with providing that security? Perhaps even more fundamental is the issue of security from what; violence, hopelessness, sickness, fear or something else? In many, if not all cases, these questions are answered best, not by which physical security system the community adopts but rather its ability to grasp control of the means to secure its own protection.

Crime in Thailand and in Bangkok:

Several sources rank Thailand  among the more crime ridden countries in the world, right up there with South Africa, the USA and Columbia (The Eighth United Nations survey on Crime Trends and the Criminal Justice System (2002), Amnesty International and others). According to some reports, Thailand is the #1 producer of opium and heroin in the world. A major transit  point for those drugs is the capital Bangkok. Last year Bangkok had reported, 20,000 assaults, 13,500 burglaries, and 5,000 murders.

As in many urban areas, this high level of violence, drugs and crime falls heavily upon the poor. In Bangkok it falls especially hard on the almost 1 million people living the informal settlements that dot the city like acne on the face of a teenager. The overcrowding and social dislocation experienced in these informal communities are a catalyst for some of their most common difficulties. Problems, such as poor housing and infrastructure, improper waste removal and drainage systems, lack of clean water supply and abundant diseases, contribute to the plight of the residents, exacerbate hopelessness felt by the them and contribute greatly to those communities susceptibility to the plague of crime and violence.

The United Nations Seventh Congress on Criminal Justice in a Changing World indicated that there is a statistical relationship between crime rates and migration of the poor into informal settlements in urban areas where the exigencies of survival in their current environment shreds whatever sense of community they belonged to in the past

Proposed solutions to the lack of security experienced by members of informal settlements:

Most programs to address crime focus on helping individuals gain the resources to enable them to leave the slums with their endemic crime and poverty behind. For example, the Urban Neighbors of Hope (UNOH) primarily provides support to assist children in the hopes that through education some of them can rise above the despair and poverty, leave it behind and take their place in the wider world.

Some believe that amelioration of the crime problem in these informal communities is a matter of more and better policing. Usually the government and the existing police rely most heavily on this approach.

Others promote providing and enhancing infrastructure and health programs to the community. They believe that these programs could turn the tide of despair and violence.

No doubt each approach needs to be part of whole. Nevertheless, without community building, it seems clear that these informal settlements of migrants and of the poor will remain breeding grounds for crime. While there are a number of community building organizations at work in these neighborhoods of Bangkok, none seems to have crime suppression as a major or primary goal. Perhaps this is a function of the ubiquitous nature of the national police system in the country. On the other hand, it also may be the endemic lack of the basic elements of a sense of community that stunts the growth of this essential indication of a vigorous self assured populace.

Some of these elements are well known. They include, for example, defensible land tenure for the residents and community managed and designed public spaces.

As programs like BAAN MANKONG bring revitalization and control over their environment to the informal settlements, we can hope that they will cease to be someplace to escape from, but a home to which one will be proud to return to.

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.

 

 

 

 

The costs of infrastructure development.

Borrowing Under a Securitization Structure

Borrowing Under a Securitization Structure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suburbia:

A report a few years ago from “Strong Towns,” a development think tank, maintains 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 have 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 bankruptcy should growth slow or stop.

English: 800 iii Infrastructure comparison

English: 800 iii Infrastructure comparison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 operation and maintenance were budgeted for. One of the centerpieces of the Reagan Revolution was the abolishing of this practice so that his administration could appear to have cut spending in the budget. 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 incomes 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.

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):

Aggordong to “Strong Towns” a development think tank that concentrates on the costs of suburban growth and development, we are in the third cycle of suburban development in the United States. The first generation of suburbia was built on savings and investment. The second was built and maintained using tons of borrowed money.


Although prepare by “Strong Towns” to reflect US suburb growth patterns, the above chart applies to 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 resembles this.

The real reason why local governments (and larger entities as well) often have to raise taxes or revenue or go bankrupt:

Case study: “Free roads’ are a myth”:

A group of high-value lake properties petition 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)

Infrastructure Costs and Planning

Suburbia

Suburbia (Photo credit: bluekdesign)

A new report from “Strong Towns” a development think tank states 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 in 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 have studied the useful life of an infrastructure investment paid for by borrowing from the private market was less 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 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 in its development in return for the community to assume responsibility for operation and maintenance of the improvements eventually required a tax increase to pay for the maintenance.

It used to be that in embarking on an infrastructure project the costs for operation and maintenance were budgeted for. One of the centerpieces of the Reagan Revolution was the abolishing of this practice so that his administration could appear to have cut spending in the budget. Not only did this practice push-off the burden on to to future generations (like ours today) but by masking the true long-term costs it encouraged the orgy or borrowing that marks current Conservative governmental policy world-wide. This was neither traditional liberal nor conservative orthodoxy, but a cynical ploy to obtain and hold power by pandering to the economic élite.

If in 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 politician to set up his crib.

CHANGES IN THE URBAN WATERFRONT IN CALIFORNIA: Is the Working Waterfront Still Working?

The following is  adapted from an article I had written about Urban Waterfront Development over 20 years ago. Its insights remain applicable today.

INTRODUCTION:

Almost every large city with a waterfront has a waterfront revitalization program planned or operating, as do many smaller cities. From Baltimore to Seattle, from Gloucester to Morro Bay, local governments and private developers are rebuilding the troubled, often forgotten neighborhoods which nurtured the original develop ment. In California, as well as the rest of the nation, the effort is underway to reclaim deteriorated and abandoned waterfront land for other uses. The decline of many ports and concentration of port-related uses in a few large ports have made sizable amounts of land available for other purposes and have presented many cities with unparalleled opportunities to redesign their waterfronts. This paper takes a look at some cities in California undergoing this process and reviews their accomplishments. It also attempts to describe some of the problems faced by communities seeking to revive their waterfronts. Finally, an attempt will be made to evaluate California’s experience in an effort to draw some conclusions as to whether the process is providing viable or sterile waterfronts.

The Waterfront:

The term waterfront obviously includes the shoreline with its piers, wharves, and immediate onshore environs. But the waterfront also includes an area behind the shoreline proper that perhaps are two or three city blocks deep, and which contains and can contain land uses  linked to waterfront activities housed right on the shoreline. Everything from warehouses and marine suppliers to visitor-serving commercial uses and public institutions fit readily into this area. Gordon Cullen, in “The Concise Township,” described the waterfront atmosphere of the fishing-boat community of Brixham on England’s south coast:

“It is combined social and working centre; visitors promenade the quays and treat the fish market as a free entertainment; coloured sails and flags and the whirling wings of seagulls combine to create an effect—that of a busy industrial scene permanently en fete.”

The operative term here is “busy industrial scene permanently en fete,” a scene of commonplace but colorful work, perpetually in celebration. Cullen has described the quality that has traditionally made urban waterfronts such interesting, pungent environments, such a lure to people of all ages and conditions. Unfortunately, with the same phrase he also has described exactly those qualities now being sanitized out of many waterfronts by the process of prettification-for-profit.

San Francisco just before sunset. This panoram...

San Francisco just before sunset. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Decline of a Waterfront—San Francisco*

Nowhere is this lamentable process so evident as along the San Francisco waterfront. Where once there was an incredibly active scene of shipping, trade, commerce, boat building and repair, of fishing, seafood processing, and all the ship ment systems for these activities, today there remain only pockets of the former life, ghettos of real-life water-related uses. The repair yards and docks of the southern waterfront are still there, and a diminished Fisherman’s Wharf, where commercial fishermen continue to haul in their catch backstage, as it were, of the tourist show.

The bay shore is increasingly bedizened with tourist traps, tangential open spaces, hotels and motels, and within appropriate commercial and institutional uses such as law offices, ad agencies, and the San Francisco Eye Institute. Wharves and piers formerly a bustle with shipping and fishing pursuits that created what Cullen called a “combined social and working centre” have been replaced in many places with a travesty of a real-life waterfront, a public relations marketing figment of a disappearing reality.

Container shipping and automation began to take hold in the Bay Area during the 1960s, but the City and the Port of San Francisco failed to seize their potential and challenges. Consequently, for more than two decades, shipping and cargo steadily drained away to Oakland, Los Angeles, and the Northwest port cities. While automation and containerization produce, perhaps, a less colorful port environment than 19th century tars singing sea chanties or Harry Bridges leading his longshoremen against the shipping magnates, still a working seaport can be a far more interesting tourist lure than the evanescence of souvenir shops and wax museums.

The misjudgments of the ’60s and ’70s are barely beginning to be readjusted for the ’90s, conceivably too late with too little. A container facility has been proposed for Piers 30-31, where the great Matson Navigation Co. floated a flotilla of 24 or so freighters between the two world wars. Pier 50 near China Basin also has been proposed for container shipping. “Love Boat” type cruise ships still tie up on the beleaguered north waterfront, close to the Fisherman’s Wharf, and produce a $70-million-a-year business. Indeed, a recent report by the Port of San Francis co warns of losses to other port cities unless a new expansion program is under taken very soon. There will be little room for this expansion if the waterfront is increasingly occupied by non-maritime uses. San Francisco has negotiated with Israeli and Chinese cargo shippers for their use of Piers 94-96 further south along the Bay between Islais Creek and India Basin, near the industrial-military uses of Hunters Point.

This is in laudable contrast to the continuing push by developers, their design and planning consultants, and such groups as the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) for a waterfront dedicated principally to shops, offices, cafes and restaurants, tourist lures, and some housing, along, no doubt, with the ubiquitous urban decoration of information kiosks, twinkling designer lights and beguiling graphics, mini-parks, stalls for croissant and T-shirt sales, photo-opportunity sites for tourists, and places for performing mimes, all of which are more appropriate to Market Street, Union Square or Columbus Avenue than to a marine environment.

Smaller Cities:

The waterfronts of smaller cities in California, unlike San Francisco, are often characterized by little available land for redevelopment, deteriorated public facilities, abandoned or underused public and private facilities, and inadequate or even non-existent public access to the water’s edge. The scale of development is usually small, so that residential and other uses are mixed in with or very close to the main “working waterfront” activity. Small cities typically had a single primary economic activity, fishing, for example, or tourism and therefore are more vulnerable to impacts resulting from economic changes.

There is often a curious lack of public or civic imagination concerning the opportunities to revive and enhance these small city waterfronts. I believe this response is partially related to a mistrust of urban density, heterogeneity, and activity. This mistrust takes many forms, including a preference for “coarse-grained” zoning and separation of uses, self-contained shopping malls, neatly manicured if antiseptic parks, lack of sidewalk activity, and, above all, no loitering. Many small cities which possess restorable waterfronts began ask or grew into, major centers for fishing (Eureka, Monro Bay), tourism (Oceanside), or other commercial or recreational activities. A sense of its history can provide a solid grounding for a community’s restoration effort.

The two main values of the waterfront, water – or shore-related industries and public use, provide a healthy focus for restoration in small cities. The pervasive “community orientation” found in small communities is a potentially powerful asset in assuring that a restored waterfront in not a sterile or private one. For in these smaller waterfront areas, one very often finds remnants of the vitality, variety, intimacy, and informality that marked them in earlier days. The challenge in such situations is to demonstrate that economic development and environmental enhancement for the public’s benefit can complement each other and are not antagonistic. The small size and scale of development and relative simplicity of small city waterfronts may also provide a great opportunity for enhancement, not replace ment. Scarce financial resources can be concentrated on limited possibilities. Physically, such sites frequently have particular scenic qualities associated with location and development scale that call for a few fairly obvious design solutions to retain a recognizable and desirable waterfront character and to promote public access to the shoreline without conflicting with marine industry. There are sometimes opportunities for mixing economic development and public access through grade or level separations or other “controlled access” approaches. Behind such a public and marine-oriented waterfront edge, a good deal of other development might be permissible without endangering waterfront use and atmosphere.

English: The Benicia-Martinez Bridge takes Int...

English: The Benicia-Martinez Bridge takes Interstate 680 across the Carquinez Strait in California. Here Benicia is on the left and Martinez is on the right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Benicia:

The historic community of Benicia lies on the shores of the Straits of Carquinez, the waterway linking San Pablo Bay and the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Established just before the Gold Rush as an ostensible rival to San Francisco, Benicia was California’s capital for a year from 1853 to 1854.

The departure of the capital, and the rapid rise of San Francisco 27 miles to the south as an urban, industrial, and shipping center, left Benicia with the reputation of a city of dashed expectations. But the failure to develop into a metropolis looks, in retrospect, like a boon: today Benicia is a thriving small city with 19th century ambience and unique charm.

Yet there is another far less obvious aspect of Benicia’s heritage. Just off the waterfront at the foot of West 12th Street, and visible only at low tide, are the remains of the Matthew Turner/James Robertson Shipyard, which launched 165 vessels between 1883 and 1903. It was the center of Pacific coast wooden ship building and one of the most significant shipyards in the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Now it is a city waterfront park, one of California’s newest state historical landmarks, and a candidate for listing on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. The city is working with the National Park Service, the State Coastal Conservancy, the Benicia Historical Society, and with private citizens and volunteers to create a unique historical park, archaeological preserve, and recreational facility.

The Matthew Turner Shipyard Park is a precedent for sensitive waterfront recreational development because it is cognizant of a maritime past that is not al ways tangible, but is of interest to the public. The survival, preservation, enhance ment, interpretation, and public use of a nationally significant historic site and its archaeological remains is unusual at a time of active urban waterfront development. As citizens continue to volunteer to bring about the project’s fruition, its value will continue to grow.

English: The Point Arena Lighthouse - on Point...

English: The Point Arena Lighthouse – on Point Arena in Mendocino County, California. Photograph taken from Manchester State Beach (looking roughly south).  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Point Arena:

Point Arena is a tiny incorporated city (pop. 450) on California’s north coast. One mile west of town, at the mouth of Point Arena Creek lies Arena Cove. Prior to the winter of 1983 the cove supported a wharf, batik shop, fishing equipment store, fish packing house, boathouse, skiff rentals, and a café. These facilities and services attracted commercial and sport fishing boats as well sport divers, all contributing to the overall economic activity of Point Arena. The nearest ports of refuge are Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg, to the north, and Spud Point in Bodega Bay, to the south. Each is a twelve-hour run from Point Arena.

In January 1983, storm waves ravaged the cove, destroying the wharf and fish ing packing houses and severely damaging the café and boathouse. No commercial boats could be launched from Point Arena that year, and no fish were landed. Local support business such as restaurants, hotels, and campsites in the area suffered. During the following two years, at least 35 businesses either relocated or closed. The devastation caused by the storm, coupled with the decline of the area’s logging industry, proved extremely debilitating to the local economy.

To redress this state of affairs, consensus grew in the community that the cove should be developed into a full-scale commercial fishing and recreational port and harbor. The city of Point Arena was not eager to be the lead agency in administering a port district, so citizens formed the Arena Port Commission, hoping to create a legal entity that could contract for public agency funding.

The Commission set in motion the procedures for the formation of an official port district. By early 1984 it was developing a phased facilities restoration for the cove.

The city located potential state and federal funding sources for the planned construction. These included the State Coastal Conservancy, California Depart ment of Boating and Waterways, the State Wildlife Conservation Board, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. These agencies’ regulations and policies, however, required that before a final funding commitment was made, the city acquire the necessary land.

The City of Point Arena lacked the financial resources for such a purchase. However, the State Coastal Conservancy, an agency set up in part to fund waterfront restoration projects such as this, was able to provide gap funding, there by enabling the project to go ahead. It approved grants for acquisition of land necessary for the permanent reconstruction of the fishing pier/boat launch facility. This initial boost to one element of a larger waterfront plan catalyzed an economic revival in the community.

Restoration of the cove highlights the importance of any agency like the Conservancy, which can offer expert advice and critical “gap” funding to small cities. The economy of the Point Arena area was tremendously dependent upon the coastal uses of the cove. Yet the city was completely unable to take on even the beginning aspects of the restoration effort without outside assistance. By providing initial funding and helping Point Arena realize one highly visible and immediately useful element of its larger plan, the Conservancy generated the impetus for further self-help and development in the area. Before the wharf was rebuilt, many local residents viewed Point Arena as a dying community. With Conservancy funding and some technical help, a turnaround was accomplished.

Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, California

Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Santa Barbara:

The city of Santa Barbara (pop. 77,000) had a major economic/public access conflict regarding the future of its city-owned Stearns Wharf. The wharf was an historic and much-loved public structure that had evolved into the major regional recreational facility, but had been closed for several years because of severe fire damage and deterioration. With Coastal Conservancy assistance, the apparent conflict between maximum public access on the pier versus a self-supporting public enterprise was resolved. This accommodation arose from a regulatory stalemate in which the city and its developer claimed that the pier could not be rebuilt without a threefold increase in the amount of space devoted to revenue-generating development. The solution was a multiple-source funding arrangement, including the use of a little-known federal loan program (since defunded) arranged for by the Conservancy, as well as city and Conservancy funds. This enabled redesign of Stearns’ uses to leave three-fourths of the deck area available for free public access. In effect, the existing development “footprint” on the pier was rebuilt. The wharf reopened in October 1981, and in its first year of operation the wildly successful restoration grossed over one million dollars and was swarmed over by thousands of people who welcomed back “their” wharf.

Illustrated map/perspective of Eureka, Califor...

Illustrated map/perspective of Eureka, California, 1902. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4. Eureka:

A final example of a small city attempting to come to grips with its waterfront problems is the north coast of Eureka (pop. 25,000). In contrast to the previous examples, Eureka has suffered the severe and successive impacts of major adverse economic shifts in its two primary waterfront-related industries, commercial fishing and timber, over which it has had little or no control. Eureka has attempted to take advantage of its architectural heritage through a program restoring the old central neighborhood immediately behind its extensive if deteriorating waterfront. Attractive as it is, this effort has not yet generated the kind of significant economic revival hoped for by the city. The city’s damp, gray climate and disadvantageous location have limited its tourist and convention appeal. Moreover, there exists a local controversy concerning existence of degraded or threatened wetlands along portions of the city’s waterfront. These marshy areas and their adjacent uplands comprise remnants of the original Humboldt Bay shoreline that existed before European settlement. They are viewed by some as impediments to needed development, even while existing redevelopable areas remain idle.

Recently, the city apparently modified its emphasis on tourism and the kind of wishful convention-center development that has become almost a fashion for many coastal communities seeking an economic shot in the arm. Attempts are now being made to attract coastal-dependant industries that can make ready use of underused waterfront lands, even as the city continues to try various approaches to conserving its dwindling but unique wetland inventory compatible with its development needs. Stimulation of opportunities for other industrial growth, based on local strengths and advantages, may well prove more advantageous for Eureka than the tourist-oriented restorations being attempted farther south.

Conclusion

The waterfront redevelopment phenomenon reflects both private developers’ needs to maximize economic return and a widespread and deep-seated aversion to the diversity and “creative disorder” which historically characterized urban waterfronts. Meanwhile, many cities continue to grapple with the impacts of external industrial change on their waterfront industries, as well as on their own unique community outlooks. Urban waterfronts—whether on rivers, lakes, estuaries, or coastlines—face serious challenges in surviving economic and social change.Yet they also possess special opportunities for revitalization. With increasing metropolitan and small city growth, overuse of national parks, and other pressures on existing recreational facilities, redeveloping these urban waterfronts will gain in importance.

*Portions of this section are taken directly from an excellent article by Jim Burns entitled “Visions of a Vital Waterfront” (California Waterfront Age, Vol 3, No.2 State Coastal Conservancy, Oakland, 1987, pp.20-30). In that article, Mr. Bums goes on to describe the mostly ineffectual efforts by the Port and City of San Francisco and the people of San Francisco to preserve the working waterfront.

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