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September 29, 2021  

A Downtown Baseball Stadium in KC: Who Pays?

In a recent press conference, John Sherman, the primary owner of the Kansas City Royals, was asked if the team was exploring the possibility of building a new stadium in downtown Kansas City. This is something that’s been talked about in Kansas City for years, and it’s a question Sherman gets asked often. It made news this time because Sherman publicly acknowledged that, yes, the team was exploring that option (among others) and that he anticipated some level of public funding would be needed.

In this episode of Upzoned, we’re talking about the potentials and pitfalls of a downtown stadium and how much (if any) of it should be paid for by Kansas City taxpayers. Regular host Abby Kinney and co-host Chuck Marohn are both out for the week. Subbing in for them are Rachel Quednau, program director at Strong Towns and host of The Bottom-Up Revolution podcast, as well as John Pattison, the Strong Towns content manager…and lifelong Kansas City Royals fan.

Rachel and John evaluate the case for building a new stadium in Kansas City’s downtown, its risks and rewards, and why the clock is ticking for the Royals on whether or not to pursue this. They also discuss whether or not the economic rationale for public funding—more jobs, more tax revenue, etc.—is likely to live up to the hype.

Then in the downzone, John describes a book that has him taking photographs of his pencil sharpener (the promised pictures are below), and Rachel recommends this weekly digest from her Strong Towns colleagues.

Additional Show Notes

September 22, 2021  

CDOT‘s Proposal for Transit-Induced Pollution

The Colorado Department of Transportation recently drafted a new rule that would require state and local governments to measure and potentially offset greenhouse gas emission impacts of transportation projects.

In this scheme, local government entities would have preset greenhouse gas emission budgets, and would be required to offset emissions if they exceed those budgets when implementing transportation projects. That could take the form of transit services, bicycle infrastructure, zoning decisions that enable density, et cetera. If these public entities do not meet requirements and don't offset emissions, then the state may restrict their use of certain funds. (Note that this is literally the wording of the legislation itself: "certain funds." It doesn't specify which funds.)

This, of course, all comes as CDOT is slated to receive billions of dollars of new funding from the state and the federal government. The intent of the new rule, then, would be to shift conditions that are currently enabling status quo infrastructure investment that would continue to spread Colorado's development pattern out farther and farther.

This week on Upzoned, Abby and Chuck take a look at an article from Colorado Public Radio that tackles this subject and they "upzone" it—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. They talk about what does and doesn't work with the top-down, bureaucratic approach this legislation is taking to address our development and climate issues.

Then, in the downzone, Chuck is following up on old characters, and Abby's gearing up for a fun trip.

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September 8, 2021  

Let‘s Talk Great Streets

This week on Upzoned, we're shaking things up with something a little different: To celebrate the launch of the newest book in the Strong Towns series, Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: Transportation for a Strong Town, host Abby Kinney is interviewing Strong Towns President and author of the book, Chuck Marohn.

In particular, they discuss the fifth chapter of Confessions, which is all about great streets. So many cities bear remnants of formerly great streets—streets that were originally designed to be wealth generators, supporting public space and public activity. Those streets have since degraded in favor of allowing the free flow of cars, to move people in and out of cities as quickly as possible. Undoing this degradation is going to be a vital task for this generation, and generations to follow.

So, have a listen as Abby and Chuck discuss the insights Confessions provides about streets as platforms for building wealth, strategies for planning streets (including the use of a street design team), and more! Then afterward in the downzone, Chuck and Abby are both brushing up on their history, though Chuck's readings place him on the other side of the world, whereas Abby's studies situate her a little closer to home.

And if you're interested in reading more of Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, order it today at wherever books are sold!

Additional Show Notes

September 1, 2021  

American Cities, Through European Eyes (and Vice Versa)

Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn is back on the Upzoned podcast after returning from a family vacation to Italy that included visits to Rome and Venice, among other classic sites. Part of the impetus for the trip, Chuck tells host Abby Kinney, was his desire to show his teenage daughters some of the things that make the traditional development pattern (still the default in many European towns and cities) so superior to the suburban development pattern that holds sway in North America.

By coincidence—kind of—the article Chuck and Abby discuss on this week’s episode of the podcast is about the converse: the experience of a European newly transplanted in America. Guillaume Rischard moved to New York City barely a month ago. As a former member of the Luxembourg city’s mobility commission, Rischard writes in Streetsblog, “I have…spent a lot of time looking at how infrastructure moves New Yorkers around.” There are things about New York Rischard wishes more European cities would emulate. But Rischard is kind of shocked by other aspects of the transportation system. Like how much capacity is reserved for moving car traffic…in a city where 80% of the people don’t own cars. Or why street parking is so inexpensive. Or why biking in the city is dangerous, which means the people on bikes aren’t families—as in Europe—but “young daredevil men like me.”

Abby and Chuck talk about why the common cultural knowledge about how to build great places endures in Europe but is fading here. They discuss the importance of making places for people vs. making places for automobiles. (This is a major theme of Chuck’s new book, out next week.) They also talk about how seeing one’s own place—whether you’re in Europe or North America—through the eyes of outsiders can help you see what’s working, what’s not, and how it can be fixed.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck describes a kayak tour that showed his family parts of Venice that even many Venetians may not have seen. And Abby weighs whether it’s finally time to read the Harry Potter series.

Additional Show Notes

August 25, 2021  

We Cannot Rely on Large-Scale Development

Our modern, conventional city-building approach for both infill and greenfield development is overwhelmingly geared toward a broad-scale master planning approach, where a single developer or developer group takes control of a large area to implement their plans.

Such developers are not only in charge of constructing buildings, but also investing in all of the infrastructure, laying out streets, etcetera, etcetera.

A recent article, titled “Against Master Developers,” argues that this all-at-once, large-scale development doesn’t offer the environment in which resilient economic ecosystems emerge, and that the lack of risk distribution among the developers and public entities is inherently fragile. Clearly, it’s a take that’s relevant to the Strong Towns approach, which often contrasts this type of development pattern with traditional, incremental development.

So, this week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and special guest Daniel Herriges, Senior Editor of Strong Towns, “upzone” this article—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Town lens. They parse out the development process and all the components involved in developing a site, in general. They also discuss some of the nuance around how we define the terms “master developer” and “master planner,” and how that relates to the specific usage of these terms, in this article.

Then, in the downzone, Daniel took some time off of work to bring his daughter back to his old stomping grounds, and Abby is getting ready for next month’s Parking Day festival.

Additional Show Notes

August 18, 2021  

You Need to Know About Walla Walla, Washington

Have you heard of Walla Walla? It's a city of 32,000 located in the southeastern region of Washington state, in the Walla Walla valley. Given that it's a fairly secluded place (the closest big cities, Portland and Seattle, are four or more hours away), we wouldn't blame you if it hasn't turned up on your radar.

You should definitely be paying attention to Walla Walla, though, because starting in 2018, it's been quietly adapting zoning changes that have eliminated single-family-only zones.

These changes were prompted by the recognition that the city is growing, but it is unable to grow outward. Walla Walla acknowledged that it must reinvest in itself. So, after a two-year process, the city consolidated its neighborhood zoning districts into one, and reformed the regulations to allow a broad spectrum of neighborhood-friendly uses. The site and development standards have been radically simplified.

On this week's episode of Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and special guest Strong Towns Board Member John Reuter "upzoned" this story—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. They discuss why single-family zoning is ultimately unhelpful for the evolution of communities, and look at Walla Walla as a case study for possible alternatives to single-family zoning.

Then, in the downzone, John has been reading about the toll of racism, and Abby just got back from a hiking trip.

Additional Show Notes

August 11, 2021  

The Reconnecting Communities Act: What Was Promised Vs. What’s Being Delivered

The U.S. Senate has been in the final hours of debating a 2,700-plus-page infrastructure bill. The bill is part of a compromise between Senate Democrats and Republicans, and has thus been subject to heavy negotiations.

One of the things put forth by the administration into the original American Jobs Plan was the idea of a “Reconnecting Communities Act,” which would use $20 billion to undo some of the damage that had been done to urban neighborhoods (and particularly minority neighborhoods) in the early days of highway building. However, that figure of $20 billion has now been brought down to $1 billion.

In other words, out of a $1 trillion bill, a token amount of money has been dedicated to the Reconnecting Communities initiative. Naturally, people are disappointed.

This week on Upzoned, regular host Abby Kinney is out on vacation, so Chuck Marohn takes up the mantle of host and invites Strong Towns Board Member John Reuter on to “upzone” this story about the Reconnecting Communities Act—i.e., they discuss it through the Strong Towns lens. They talk about how advocates are pushing back on the Senate’s decision, and the disillusionment people are feeling over what has been promised by the infrastructure bill versus what’s being delivered.

Then, in the downzone, John has been obsessed with a parody of old school musicals, and Chuck has been reading a real page-turner about microbes invading the sun.

Additional Show Notes

August 4, 2021  

Sustainable Source of Income Snatched Away from Seattle’s Black Churches

"Seattle Black Faith Leaders Urge Mayor Durkan Not to Sign Amended Density Bonus Bill," says a recent article from The Urbanist. Since the passage of HB 1377 around 18 months ago, black churches in the city anticipated being able to use their valuable land by providing affordable housing for their communities, as the bill would grant density bonuses to them in exchange for doing so.

However, this initiative has been threatened by a recent decision made by the Seattle city council to introduce a last-minute amendment to the bill. Initial research found that turning churches into housing units would be feasible with income requirements at the 80% area median income level (AMI) but unviable at the 60% AMI threshold. Well…this is precisely what the amendment to HB 1377 does: it shifts the income requirement from the 80% AMI threshold to 60% AMI.

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney is joined by Strong Towns Program Director Rachel Quednau as they "upzone" this story—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. They examine how city leaders in Seattle have essentially shut out minority religious institutions from utilizing this piece of legislation, and why other churches around the country need to pay attention to this story.

Then, in the downzone, Rachel predicts a tomato downpour, and Abby does battle with snakes and spiders.

Additional Show Notes

July 28, 2021  

Where Should We Be Focusing Climate Change Efforts?

A long-established principle of environmental economics holds that the traditional development pattern provides the kind of efficiency needed to decrease resource use on a per capita and a per acre basis. The traditional urban development pattern makes multimodal transportation options work, because not every trip requires an individual to use a car. It also takes pressure off of the surrounding natural areas that are central for keeping our environment healthy.

However, a recent article from CBC Canada argues that COVID-19 has shifted consumer interests from cities back to suburbs. Data shows that in many large cities, people are moving out of dense urban areas due to the pandemic. This is creating new market pressure that is expected to add momentum to the suburban sprawl trend.

Consequently, some Canadian researchers are advocating that we shift climate change focus from cities to suburbia, saying that the reality is that Canada and the U.S. will continue to trend towards sprawl after the pandemic—and that the only pragmatic solution would be to develop policy to mitigate the worst impacts of suburban and ex-urban sprawl.

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular cohost Chuck Marohn "upzone" this story—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. They discuss the article's position that we should give up on trying to set up an urban development pattern, and instead should just try to mitigate the growth of suburbia.

Then, in the downzone, Chuck has been reading about generational theory, and Abby has been getting out on (though not in) the water.

Additional Show Notes

July 21, 2021  

COVID Reveals the Unsustainability of Monoculture Downtowns

As we all know, following World War II, many individuals who had once lived in cities left urban centers to move into newly created suburbs. Retailers and servicers naturally followed their market. This left empty downtown cores with prominent buildings, the uses of which had to evolve over time if they were to survive and remain standing.

This transition bred the urban monoculture of downtown office districts, supported by highways and seas of parking lots. According to CoStar data, in some downtowns 70–80% of all real estate is now dedicated to office space.

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular cohost Chuck Marohn look at an article from The New York Times titled “The Downtown Office District Was Vulnerable. Even Before COVID.“ They “upzone” it—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. They talk about how office-heavy, monoculture downtowns are inherently less sustainable, and how this was the case long before COVID. However, the pandemic has led to shifts in how we think about the future of office work, which in turn has created a heightened uncertainty about what a downtown should be.

Then, in the downzone, Chuck takes a fresh look at—or rather, a fresh listen to—a book he’s read and admittedly mischaracterized before. Meanwhile, Abby attended a wedding in a town close to where she grew up, but which she had never fully appreciated.

Additional Show Notes

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