Upzoned

Upzoned header image 1
January 26, 2022  

No Insurance for Wildfire-Prone California

In September of 2020, an article was featured on Upzoned titled, “They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?” It discussed the frustrations that people working on the ground in forest fire management felt, knowing that the fires were being caused by decades of overzealous fire oppression and the lack of controlled burning efforts. They knew that the situation was only going to get worse—and sure enough, nowadays California is having to take a reactive approach to the situation, rather than a proactive one.

Today, host Abby Kinney and Strong Towns Senior Editor Daniel Herriges follow up on this story, looking at the current situation in California. They discuss a new article from POLITICO that highlights a different approach to the problem: discouraging development in hazardous areas from the get go. This is happening primarily because insurance companies are starting to recognize that they cannot continue to insure properties in high-risk areas.

Is this the right answer? It’s certainly a very controversial move, and some argue that we can’t afford to raise insurance rates during a housing crisis. Join Abby and Daniel as they “upzone” this controversy, analyzing it through the Strong Towns lens and exploring why it is that seemingly “nothing will deter people from moving into some of the most disaster-prone corners of the United States.”

Additional Show Notes

January 19, 2022  

Weaponizing Historic Preservation

Today on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn are joined by a special guest: Shomari Benton, the co-founder of Benton Lloyd & Chung (a law firm in Kansas City, Missouri, that specializes in land use and real estate). He is also an avid urbanist, historic preservation advocate, and small-scale developer.

Together, they discuss an article from The Atlantic by Nolan Gray, titled “Stop Fetishizing Old Homes.” Gray takes a rather spicy approach to talking about historic preservation, and how it has ultimately harmed the capacity for many cities across the U.S. to develop a sufficient number of housing units in a housing crisis.

He argues that the fetishization of old homes has encouraged our society to weaponize preservation in a self-righteous pursuit that clouds the more important need of building more housing. According to the author, we need to start getting serious about new construction, as opposed to preserving old housing—which he compares to poorly maintained, unsafe junker cars being forced back into service after their intended lifespan.

What’s the Strong Towns take on this conversation? Find out as Abby, Chuck, and Shomari “upzone” it!

Additional Show Notes

January 12, 2022  

Population Growth and the Housing Crisis

Upzoned is back after a short hiatus for the winter break! To kick off 2022, Abby Kinney and regular cohost Chuck Marohn are looking at an article from Bloomberg, titled “U.S. Housing Crisis Only Gets Worse as Population Shrinks.

While this may seem contradictory, a smaller population does not necessarily result in more affordable housing for those looking for it. The author, Conor Sen, argues that people don’t want to live in places that are shrinking, and there will be even less housing demand in metro areas that were stagnant before the pandemic.

Sen’s suggestion? When thinking about housing dynamics, we should start framing the U.S. as “384 metro areas (plus 50 million Americans who don't live in places big enough to qualify as a metro area) rather than one continuous country.” He argues this could help us understand where in the U.S. we might see continued decline or growth in population, and that national population stagnation could mean that housing affordability issues will worsen over time as people leave declining metro areas.

Abby and Chuck “upzone” this notion of population growth driving the prosperity of cities, analyzing it through the Strong Towns lens—starting with the underlying premise that drives this article’s thesis, in the first place.

Additional Show Notes

December 15, 2021  

Disaster Relief for America‘s Housing Crisis

$75 billion of support for at-risk renters and homeowners was distributed during the COVID pandemic to prevent evictions and foreclosures. Such a level of funding was spurred under the context that our country is facing an unprecedented and unpredictable emergency situation that is requiring disaster relief—but what about when the pandemic ends?

Should we consider reutilizing the systems that have been set up during COVID to distribute federal aid, to alleviate the pressures of the housing market? That’s what host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn discuss on this week’s episode of Upzoned, where they address this “wickedest of wicked problems” through the Strong Towns lens.

Additional Show Notes

November 24, 2021  

The Infrastructure Bill, Racial Equity, and Local Government: How Should the Money Be Spent?

The moment everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived: The $1 trillion infrastructure bill is being signed into law. The bill will deliver $550 billion in new federal investments over the next five years, and includes $110 billion in new spending for highways, bridges, and roads. It also includes $105 billion for transit and rail investments, $65 billion for broadband upgrades, and a whole lot more—everything from investments in airports and ports to environmental remediation.

As one might imagine, the original aspirations of the bill from the perspective of a lot of people were not necessarily met, as the legislation required a consensus from all ends of the political compass. According to a recent article from The New York Times, critics of the bill are not only concerned with the particulars of what is funded, but also how the funding will be administered.

The decision for how half the money is spent falls on the states, meaning that states that are not aligned with what the federal government envisions for infrastructure spending (particularly with regard to racial equity) could neglect projects that would remediate the negative impacts of past infrastructure decisions, and potentially invest in projects that make matters worse.

This week on Upzoned, regular host Abby Kinney and special guest Strong Towns Board Member John Reuter take this article from The New York Times and “upzone” it. That is, they examine it through the Strong Towns lens—which was already plenty skeptical of the infrastructure bill to begin with, as our readers and listeners know!

Additional Show Notes

November 17, 2021  

The ”Bikelash” Phenomenon (and Why It Shouldn‘t Scare Local Leaders)

You may have noticed that bike lane projects tend to draw ire from neighborhood residents, but once they’re actually in place, residents realize they like their community when it’s more people centered and less car centered. Moreover, they tend to vote to reelect local leaders who implemented the bike projects in the first place.

A recent article from The Guardian examines this pattern in different international cities, where new bike infrastructure is first created, and, subsequently, the local leader (usually a mayor) who led the project gets reelected. This, in spite of the backlash (or, if you like, “bikelash”) that such bike projects get in angry tweets and article headlines.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are the subject of this week’s episode of Upzoned—hosted by special guests Strong Towns Program Director Rachel Quednau (who also hosts The Bottom-Up Revolution) and Strong Towns Board Member John Reuter.

By the way, it’s also Member Week at Strong Towns, and podcasts like Upzoned wouldn’t be possible without the support of our members! So join today to support the movement and help get this message out to more people who, like you, believe in making our places stronger and more financially resilient.

Additional Show Notes

November 10, 2021  

”Zillow Offers”…Homes to Investors, Not Homeowners

For the past couple of years, the website Zillow has expanded their business model into the home speculation and flipping game. The “Zillow Offers” program offers cash for homes, followed up by Zillow going in and implementing home renovations—and the company planned to do this with thousands of homes in 2021.

Yet now, two months before the year has even ended, Zillow announced that not only would it no longer be buying homes, but it also needs to offload thousands of the homes it did buy —and not to homeowners and landlords, but to institutional investors. Additionally, the company will be laying off 25% of its workforce, and estimates that it’ll lose over half a billion dollars.

Why? That’s the question on today’s episode of Upzoned: Using a recent article from The Verge as a springboard for discussion, host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn discuss the possible reasons why Zillow has had to reverse course on its foray into the home-flipping business.

Additional Show Notes

November 3, 2021  

The Gathering ”Swarm” of Small-Scale Developers

It’s no secret here at Strong Towns that the many places that urbanists consider to be the most enduring and timeless and wonderful—from small towns to big cities—were the result of incremental development. In other words, they weren’t the result of careful planning, but rather of a decentralized process with ad hoc adaptation over time.

Rooted in the creation of these places were ecosystems of tradespeople, laborers, lenders, and small-scale developers. The latter, in particular, are the focus of Strong Towns Senior Editor Daniel Herriges’s recent series, Unleash the Swarm: Reviving Small-Scale Development in America’s Cities.

In this week’s special episode of Upzoned, host Abby Kinney talks with Daniel about incremental development, and what work still needs to be done in order to truly build up a “swarm” of small-scale developers across North America.

Additional Show Notes

October 27, 2021  

Regulating by Use

Question: As the demand for office and retail space shrinks (especially with changing workplace habits, the rise of online retailing, and issues with the global supply chain), and demand for residential and warehousing space (think Amazon fulfillment centers) grows, are our zoning codes prepared to adapt to rapidly changing consumer needs?

A recent article from Market Urbanism Report, by author Scott Beyer, says no, and that the way we regulate property primarily by land use has caused major mismatches between what is allowed and what consumers actually want. To address this, Beyer offers two suggestions. First, that cities should become more adaptable by updating their zoning codes to focus on demand for more residential and warehousing space. Second, that we should eventually consider an approach to zoning that leans away from regulating by use, altogether.

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn “upzone” this article, and how it ties in to the larger market urbanism conversation—and what parts of it do and don’t jive with a Strong Towns approach to zoning reform.

Additional Show Notes

October 20, 2021  

The ”Great Supply Chain Disruption”

From ports to warehousing to trucking to railway systems, the supply chain is clogged across the board, and it's causing all kinds of ripple effects on a global scale. It’s just one of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, recently dubbed the “great supply chain disruption” by Peter S. Goodman in The New York Times

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular co-host Chuck Marohn “upzone” Goodman’s article, discussing how what was once expected to be a temporary phenomenon (an unintended consequence of the pandemic lockdowns) is increasingly being viewed as a new reality, one which could require a substantial refashioning of the world shipping infrastructure.

Additional Show Notes

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App