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News & Notes

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Manchester, England – Photo (cc) Nathan Makan

The Economist: Heading north – Londoners in their 30s are moving out

Central Birmingham is buzzing. The fine square in Brindleyplace is lined with snazzy restaurants, and after 6pm, smartly dressed office workers. In 2003 the city got a globby new branch of Selfridges, a posh London department store, and in 2011 its first craft beer bar took over a former post office. Behind the redbrick factory facades of nearby Bradford Street, the yuppies are also taking over, quietly occupying new flats within.

Many of these go-getters are former Londoners. According to the Office of National Statistics, a record number of 30- to 39-year-olds left the capital in the year to June 2013: a net outflow of nearly 22,000 (and a 25% increase on 2010). They have settled in Birmingham, which attracted the largest number, as well as Manchester, Bristol and Oxford. London has long shed people in their 30s. Mainly they want bigger, cheaper living-space for their children. London’s soaring house prices have exacerbated the trend: the city’s average property price rose by 19% in the past year. It now stands at £402,800 – in Birmingham it is £133,700.

Those fleeing London are often moving jobs, too.

Speed up the commuter rail, build more housing… boom, we’re Manchester or Birmingham.


The Boston Globe: Marty Walsh goes up against boring architecture

Boston needs bolder buildings, and it needs civic leaders who aren’t afraid to permit them. In what could mark a major turn for Boston’s architectural history, Mayor Marty Walsh signaled Wednesday that not everything needs to built in red brick. Unlike predecessor Tom Menino, he personally won’t be deciding what the tops of new buildings should look like. And, most striking of all, non-boring ideas are now welcome in the city.

“Boston is home to the world’s most innovative thinkers — in science and technology, and in business, art, and architecture,” Walsh said in a speech before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. “Our city’s built environment should reflect this culture of imagination. Too often, in recent decades, new buildings have been merely functional. I believe Boston can do better. We should aim for world-class design. Our historic buildings reflect our unique past. New buildings should project the values and aspirations of our growing city. We can balance the old and new.”

not everything needs to built in red brick.


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News & Notes

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Kansas City. (cc) Zach Werner

The New York Times: Millennials Going to Kansas City, to Live and Work

On one of the hottest days of the year in mid-July, Michael Knight, a real estate developer, made note of the torn-up street outside Commerce Tower, which opened in 1965 as this region’s first modern high-rise office structure with a glass curtain wall.

Workers were preparing the road for Kansas City’s $100 million streetcar starter line, which will begin running in 2015. It will include a stop right outside the 30-story office building, and the streetcar is one reason among many that the Commerce Tower Group, of which Mr. Knight is a partner, acquired the property just 70 days after he walked through it for the first time a year ago.

In October, the company plans to begin converting the 500,000-square-foot tower into a $90 million vertical city of residential and office space, and retailing and restaurants. The renovation will also include a Park University satellite location, which already operates in the building, and an early childhood school, among other amenities like a fitness center and a rooftop gathering spot.

I think it is cool that Knight Rider went into real estate.

The number of people living in the central business district has increased about 50 percent, to 20,000, since 2000, according to the Downtown Council of Kansas City. Apartment developers added more than 6,130 units from 2002 through 2012, and occupancy is above 95 percent, according to the Kansas City office of Cassidy Turley, a real estate brokerage firm.

Officials would like to see the current number of downtown residents double.

Officials in Providence seem to have no goals whatsoever about increasing the population in Providence, even with similar demand for downtown living as what is seen in Kansas City.


Governing: Do Cities Really Want Economic Development?

So many cities and regions continue to struggle economically. Even within nominally well-performing places there are pockets that have been left behind. Most of the have-nots in the current economy have been struggling for an extended period of time, often in spite of enormous efforts to bring positive change.

Why is this? Perhaps we need to consider the possibility that these places are getting exactly the results they want: Maybe they actually don’t want economic development.

Jane Jacobs took it even further. As she noted in The Economy of Cities, “Economic development, whenever and wherever it occurs, is profoundly subversive of the status quo.” And it isn’t hard to figure out that even in cities and states with serious problems, many people inside the system are benefiting from the status quo.

This is a something that I’ve been hearing more of around Providence lately; some feel that people in Rhode Island don’t actually want anyone to be successful, especially if those people are from away. I think of the General Assembly reading the Jacobs quote.


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ProJo: Providence City Council OKs tax treaty revision for Capitol Cove development

capitol-cove

ProJo reports that the City Council has approved a tax-stabilization agreement for the Capitol Cove building in Capital Center. The building will continue to house Johnson & Wales dormitories but the developer hopes to build a 169-unit apartment building next door.

The City Council gave initial approval Wednesday night to change in a tax treaty with the new owners of the Capitol Cove complex on Canal Street to let the building continue as a rented college dormitory, a move the developers said was needed to get financing for a new 169-unit apartment project they want to build on a vacant lot next door.

Added to the 134-units the owners of the Regency are planning and the real estate market appears to be showing signs of recovery in Providence.

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News & Notes

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Bloomberg: Icahn Urges Family Dollar CEO to Seek Sale ‘Immediately’

The retailer has been struggling to compete with rival discounters, drugstores and big-box retailers such as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. To combat slumping sales, Family Dollar embarked on a review of its business this year. As part of its turnaround plan, the company is closing about 370 underperforming stores and opening fewer new ones. It’s also lowering prices in a bid to entice shoppers.

‘Consistently Underperformed’

Family Dollar has “consistently underperformed its peers” in same-store sales, total revenue growth, sales per store, sales per square foot, operating margins and capital-structure efficiency, Icahn wrote in the letter, which opened by remarking on the “cordial nature” of the previous night’s discussion.

Meanwhile, in Providence we’re throwing out our zoning regulations to accomodate the “proven business model” of this “consistently underperforming” retailer. Olneyville risks ending up with an empty big box more craptacular than the building that was torn down to make way for it.

Providence Business News: Solomon proposes citywide 15-year tax stabilization plan

“I want to send a loud and clear message to the development community that Providence is open for business,” Solomon said in the news release. “If we don’t bring certainty to this process we are losing a once in a lifetime opportunity to grow our tax base, grow our population and create much needed jobs. I plan to reach out to the developers who have expressed frustration with the process to assure them my plan will remove the politics and uncertainty that has plagued this city for far too long.”

The new system would be based on recommendations issued earlier this year by an economic development task force formed by the city council partly in response to the continued vacancy of the Industrial Trust building.

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News & Notes

Electric car charging.

Electric car charging station in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo (cc) CityofStPete

Grist: States promise to sell one new EV for every 24 people by 2025

They’re starting to step up. Eight states that represent, according to the New York Times, “a quarter of the national car market” just announced they’re going to work together on creating a better system for drivers of electric vehicles. They are, in descending order of population size, California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and they say their goal is to help get 3.3 million new EVs sold by 2025. With a combined population of 79 million people, that means one EV for every 24 people.

How are they going to do it? By creating a system that will give EV owners something only gas-guzzling car drivers have now: certainty about where and when and how they’ll be able to fuel up.

I’m all for things that help improve the environment, but I’ve got to say, I’m a little sad that the environmental press is not being more thoughtful on this story. Reduced carbon emissions are wonderful, but it is not simply the carbon which is problematic, it is safety (for people inside and outside of cars) land-use, household budgets, and more. These are among the things states are supposed to do to encourage electric cars:

  • More charging stations
  • Building codes that require chargers at workplaces and “multifamily residences”
  • Reduced tolls
  • Better parking
  • Cheaper electricity prices

These are all things that encourage more driving; encouraging sprawl, paving land, putting pedestrians and cyclists in conflict with auto-traffic (I don’t think you’re any less dead after getting run over by an electric vehicle than you are getting run over by a gas powered one), and leaving individuals and families tied to the expense of a car (granted, made less so by reducing the costs of powering the vehicle).

Rhode Island seems quite proud of itself for being part of this group of states, but Rhode Island continues to poorly support alternatives to automobile use, namely mass transit and cycling infrastructure.

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WPRI: Is it time for Providence to tax land rather than buildings?

The idea is to shift toward taxing the value of something whose supply won’t change due to tax rates – land – instead of the buildings and other improvements made there. The hope is that doing so would spur development, pushing those who own vacant land to do something with it.

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News & Notes

City at Dusk, Boston (seen from Cambridge), Credit: David Fox

Boston at Dusk. Photo (cc) David Fox for Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

Bloomberg: Boston Booms as Workers Say No to Suburbs: Real Estate

“In the last 24 months, suburban tech firms have been looking to relocate into town,” said Andrew Hoar, president and co-managing partner at CBRE/New England, a joint venture partner with CBRE. “For many other markets it’s the other way around. The young graduates in this town don’t want to commute.”


The Atlantic Cities: The End of Federal Transportation Funding as We Know It

This month marks 120 years since the federal government got involved in funding road transportation. (Strange as it sounds, bicycle advocates did the bulk of the lobbying.) The original Office of Road Inquiry — today, the Federal Highway Administration — was a line item with a budget of $10,000. That was only enough money to build about three miles of road, and the office wasn’t empowered to build roads anyway, but states fought tooth and nail against giving the feds even this incredibly modest level of transport oversight.

Today the federal transportation program faces perhaps its greatest challenge since that shaky start. The most urgent problem is funding. The Highway Trust Fund that pays for America’s road and rail program is heading straight toward bankruptcy. For two decades politicians have refused to raise the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax that populates the trust, even as it steadily loses purchasing power to inflation and fuel-efficient cars. The public has yet to embrace alternative funding sources — road fares or mileage fees on the user-pay side favored by economists; income taxes on the social welfare end — in part because people (mistakenly) believe they already pay a lot for transportation.

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News & Notes

GoLocalProv: Guest MINDSETTER™ Aaron M. Renn: My First Impressions of Rhode Island

Thinking about it this way, the basic problem of Providence (and by extension the rest of Rhode Island) becomes obvious: it is a small city, without an above average talent pool or assets, but with high costs and business-unfriendly regulation. Thus Providence will neither be competitive with elite talent centers like Boston, nor with smaller city peers like Nashville that are low cost and nearly “anything goes” from a regulatory perspective. There’s little prospect of materially changing either the talent/asset mix or the cost structure in the near term even if there was consensus to do so, which there isn’t. So expect struggles to continue, even if there’s a bit of lift from a change in national macroeconomic conditions.


DC Streetsblog: Will Massachusetts Tax Parking Lots to Fund Transit?

Here’s a transportation funding idea that aligns incentives nicely: taxing parking lots to pay for transit.

That’s what one former high-ranking state official is proposing for Massachusetts, ahead of a big announcement by the state Department of Transportation. Earlier this week Governing Magazine looked at the parking lot tax plan, part of a series of policy recommendations laid out by former Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary James Aloisi.


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News & Notes

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Wetlands to provide a storm surge buffer for New York City. Image from Architecture Research Office

Fast Company: A Plan To Hurricane-Proof New York, With A Ring Of Wetlands

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there have been a flurry of ideas on how to deal with the prospect that storms of such magnitude may no longer be once-in-a-lifetime events but the most visible manifestation–if you’re not a polar bear–of the havoc wreaked by climate change.

Seawalls. Levees. The kinds of things the Army Corps of Engineers typically builds to protect low-lying places like New Orleans just aren’t feasible for a place like Manhattan, says Stephen Cassell, the cofounder of New York’s Architectural Research Office. “It’s hard to predict how bad climate change will be,” Cassell says, noting that Sandy’s devastating surge was nearly 14 feet, which wasn’t even the worst-case scenario. “What if we build a barrier and the surge goes beyond that?”

Yes Providence, what if the storm surge is higher than our storm surge barrier?


New York Post: Growing NY through smarter taxes

How might two-tiered taxation work? In New York, land and improvements in residential areas are subject to an 18.6 percent property tax.Thus, land with a taxable value of $10,000 would be taxed $1,860, and improvements with a similar taxable value of $10,000 would owe another $1,860, a total of $3,720. Under a two-tier system, the tax rate for land could jump by, say, 50 percent, while the rate for improvement could be halved.In that case, the owner would pay $2,790 in land taxes and $930 for improvements — keeping the total to $3,720.

But here’s the payoff: The owner’s tax bill under that scheme would climb another $2,790 if he purchased a second lot with a taxable value of $10,000 — but by only $930 if he used that money toward building.Thus, hoarding would be discouraged; development encouraged.

The two-tier property tax has a proven record of success. In 1979, Pittsburgh began taxing land at a rate six times higher than improvements. In the ensuing decade, building permits increased by 70.4 percent.

Via: Nesi’s Notes


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Letter to the campus from P.C.’s President regarding their PILOT agreement

This letter was sent to the Providence College campus by college president Rev. Brian J. Shanley regarding the college’s agreement with the City to acquire public streets in exchange for payments in lieu of taxes:

A Message to the Providence College Community:

Providence College is, and always has been, mindful of the significant role that the city of Providence plays in the decision our students make to attend this institution. Providence is a vibrant city with rich history, great restaurants, and myriad tourist and cultural attractions. It is both an alluring and attractive setting for our students and their families. As the leaders of all of Providence’s higher education and major healthcare institutions have noted on multiple occasions, a financially sound city of Providence is critical for the continued prosperity of each of our organizations going forward. With that in mind, I am pleased to announce that the College has reached an agreement with the City that will benefit both parties. The College has agreed to pay the City $3.84 million over a 10-year period to purchase portions of three City streets: Huxley Ave., which runs through the eastern end of the College campus, and both Wardlaw Ave. and Cumberland St. which are part of the northwest border of the campus across from Alumni Hall. (Specifically, the College will purchase Huxley Ave. from Eaton St. to Ventura St., Wardlaw Ave. from Lucille St. to Cumberland St., and Cumberland St. from Wardlaw Ave. to the property line at 30 Cumberland St.)

The College proposed the purchase of these streets in response to the City’s request for additional payments in lieu of taxes. As you may know, the City reached similar agreements of mutual benefit with Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson & Wales University earlier this year. Mindful of the City’s willingness to structure these agreements on a quid pro quo basis, and knowing that they were hopeful of striking some type of arrangement with all of the major non-profit institutions in Providence, the College felt this was the appropriate time to seek the purchase of these streets.

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If you could buy a city street, what would you do with it?

private-street

Photo (cc) Marcin Wichary

After Brown University and then RISD made agreements with the City to acquire parts of public streets for private parking in exchange for increased payments in lieu of taxes; GoLocal Providence reports that the City will make an annoucement tomorrow that Providence College has now made a similar agreement.

So all this begs the question, if you could buy a public street, which one would you want to buy and what would you want to do with it?

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RIFuture.org: RI Should Lead, Not Follow, On Pot Legalization

Look around and you’ll notice the era of reefer madness is dying a slow death all over the country. Last week, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to to officially legalize it, as Peter Tosh might say. And yesterday Reason.com, somewhat fittingly, broke the story that RI state Rep. Edith Ajello plans to reintroduce a bill that would legalize and regulate marijuana much like alcohol. Maine is considering doing so too.

This is how we would get people from Massachusetts and Connecticut (and further afield) to come here and spend money. People will not be driving past much better casinos in their home states to come to our little joke of a casino in the woods of Lincoln. And unlike gambling addiction and the toll it can take on families and communities, smoking pot doesn’t really hurt anyone else and we all know massive amounts of people are doing it, legal or not.

So, legalize it, tax it, allow for a number of Amsterdam style cafes to allow for the consumption of it (is consumption the right word?). I’ve long said that Providence should position itself as the Amsterdam of New England. We should be the ones to fully shed the Puritanical guilt that pervades the region and embrace ‘sin.’

Follow the link to RI Future to view a short video interview with State Rep. Edith Ajello.

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News & Notes

DC Streetsblog: Oregon Takes the Next Step in Moving Beyond the Gas Tax

Rep. Earl Blumenauer likes to say that Oregon was the first state to adopt a gas tax and it will be the first state to get rid of it. In 2006-2007, the state conducted a pilot study of alternative revenue collection methods, with an eye toward moving to a better system. This fall, they’ll do another pilot, fine-tuning their process for replacing the gas tax with a vehicle-miles-traveled fee.


The Guardian: Paris to return Seine to the people with car-free riverside plan

The pedestrianisation of one of Europe’s most picturesque urban riversides means the death knell for the Seine’s non-stop riverside expressways. These were the pride of Georges Pompidou in the 60s when France’s love affair with the car was at its height. Opened in 1967 by him, under the slogan “Paris must adapt to the car”, the dual carriageway with perhaps the best view in France allowed a speedy crossing of Paris from west to east. But environmentalists have long complained it was a dreadful, polluting waste of architectural heritage.


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Providence FY 2013 Budget Address

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Press release from the Mayor’s Office:

Mayor Taveras Presents FY13 Budget to City Council

A Balanced Approach Protecting Taxpayers and Positioning Providence for Future Growth Proposed budget increases tax revenue without raising tax rates, begins to replenish reserves, counts on pension reform and increased contributions from tax-exempts


PROVIDENCE, RI – Delivering an address that outlined his proposed budget for next year to the City Council, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras today presented his progressive vision for moving Providence beyond its fiscal crisis to focus on jobs, economic growth, public education and public safety. The Mayor also called on the City Council to enact legislation reforming Providence’s unsustainable pension system and reiterated his call for all of Providence’s seven large tax-exempt institutions to contribute more to the city.

The Mayor’s proposed $638.4 million budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 holds the line on city spending, collects increased tax revenue without raising tax rates on homeowners, car owners and businesses, and begins to replenish Providence’s rainy day fund. The FY13 budget also counts on reform of city’s pension system and increased contributions from large tax-exempts.

“This budget shows our city successfully pulling back from the brink and positioning for a new era of growth and prosperity,” Mayor Taveras said during his 23-minute address. “But let me be clear: this budget counts on our ability to finish the difficult work of structural reform. It once again relies on increased support from all of Providence’s large tax-exempt institutions. And it rests on the conviction that Providence must finally fix its broken pension system in the days and weeks ahead.”

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News & Notes

The Atlantic Cities: The Simple Math That Can Save Cities From Bankruptcy

We tend to think that broke cities have two options: raise taxes, or cut services. Minicozzi, though, is trying to point to the basic but long-buried math of our tax system that cities should be exploiting instead: Per-acre, our downtowns have the potential to generate so much more public wealth than low-density subdivisions or massive malls by the highway. And for all that revenue they bring in, downtowns cost considerably less to maintain in public services and infrastructure.


The Hill: Transportation advocates see little hope for pre-election long-term highway bill

Transportation advocates are losing hope for passage of a highway bill before the election following Congress’s decision this week to pass another short-term funding extension.

Instead of approving the multi-year transportation bill that passed the Senate, lawmakers adopted a temporary extension of legislation that already funds road and transit projects. The short-term measure, signed Friday by President Obama, extends federal transportation funding until June 30.


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City: Deadline for Providence Homeowners to Reapply for Homestead Tax Exemption Extended to April 6

Because of changes to the ordinance governing the City of Providence’s homestead exemption, every Providence homeowner is required to reapply this year for the exemption. Due to the large number of applications still outstanding, the Office of the Tax Assessor has extended the reapplication deadline to Friday, April 6, 2012.

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News & Notes – Transportation Bill

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Photo (cc) Steven Damron

Transportation for America: House Ways and Means proposal to end guaranteed funding for public transportation undoes bipartisan agreement since Reagan

After service cuts and fare hikes, House leadership plan gives transit riders more to worry about

Reversing policy begun under President Ronald Reagan, House Ways and Means Committee – at the direction of House leadership – could move Friday to end guaranteed funding for public transportation, and leave even today’s inadequate funding levels in doubt.

The proposal to bar public transit from receiving funds from the federal motor fuels tax is part of a bill coming before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday morning. That bill sets the revenue levels for the five-year surface transportation bill making its way through the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee today.


Politico: GOP highway spending bill ‘the worst,’ Ray LaHood says

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday the House GOP’s highway spending plan is “the worst transportation bill” he’s seen in decades.

“This is the most partisan transportation bill that I have ever seen,” LaHood said in an exclusive interview with POLITICO.

“And it also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen. It hollows out our No. 1 priority, which is safety, and frankly, it hollows out the guts of the transportation efforts that we’ve been about for the last three years,” LaHood added. “It’s the worst transportation bill I’ve ever seen during 35 years of public service.”


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