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(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 315: The Answer is the Arterial

January 6, 2021

This week we’re going back to the 2020 Rail~Volution conference where Peter Calthorpe gave the keynote speech with Allison Brooks of the Bay Area Regional Collaborative. They discuss the next generation of TOD and housing on major arterials.

Below is the full unedited transcript for this episode:

Alison Brooks (2m 31s):
hello, revolution, friends and colleagues. I’m Alison Brooks. And I am excited to join revolution today for what I expect to be a thought provoking presentation and discussion on the future of trans orient development with our keynote speaker, Peter Calthorpe and the early nineties, Peter, the concept of transit oriented development described in his book, the next American metropolis ecology community and the American dream. It was a response to the siloing of transportation and land use suburban sprawl and urban disinvestment.

Alison Brooks (3m 16s):
Since then, Tod has become a field of practice, the foundation of many regional policies and city plans around the world. And revolution has been a valuable venue bringing together the practitioners, community leaders and decision-makers to fine tune and advance the concept and like any established field of practice, especially one that intends to help achieve important social equity, environmental mobility, and livable livability goals in our cities and regions. Tod is not above critical evaluate evaluation. We need to be continually asking the hard questions of ourselves, making sure Tod is meeting its goals as intended, including advancing racial equity.

Alison Brooks (4m 4s):
Some of you may have borne witness to the PechaKucha, the GB Arrington. And I performed in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, entitled I’m breaking up with Todd. The premise being that Tod personified was in fact not living up to his, her or their potential in many places and for a variety of reasons, I’m expecting Peter’s presentation to be a bit more technical, certainly with a lot less swear words, focused on helping us recalibrate Tod as a practice at this time of unprecedented change. As we face climate change, health pandemic, social upheaval, as a heads up, Peter is going to share some examples from California before you roll your eyes and or two now, because you know, we have it all figured out out here.

Alison Brooks (4m 51s):
Just note that the ideas and concepts he’s putting forward are applicable all over the us and being applied in places around the globe. Today’s session will be in two parts, starting with Peter, laying the groundwork and sharing some information about his research and ideas. Then we’ll dig deeper and examine the challenges, opportunities, and implications for our work through the Q and a. So I’m going to say a few words, introducing Peter, and then I’m going to hand it over to him. So Peter Calthorpe 30 year practice has helped solidify a global trend toward the key principles of new organism. He has written a series of books starting in 1986 with sustainable communities and his series of books since then metropolis magazine claims trace the recent history of urban design in its most vital and present manifestations.

Alison Brooks (5m 41s):
Peter is one of the founders and first president of the Congress for the new urbanism, when or of the urban land institutes, JC Nichols prize for visionaries and urban development. He was appointed to the president council for sustainable development and the UN high commission on the new urban agenda. He provided direction for HUD’s empowerment zone during the Clinton administration, and did consolidate a planning programs and helped rebuild some of the country’s worst public housing. His work in Europe, Asia and the middle East has demonstrated that community design with a focus on environmental sustainability and human scale can be adapted throughout the globe. His current work throughout China is focused on developing standards and examples of low carbon cities leading to the publication of Emerald city’s planning for smart and green China and the adoption by the Chinese state council of its design principles.

Alison Brooks (6m 35s):
Peter joined the international multidisciplinary design and engineering firm HDR in 2019. And now I’m going to hand it over to Pete. Peter,

Peter Calthorpe (6m 49s):
Thank you for that. I didn’t realize I could swear. And did I warn you that the dogs may come back as soon as we start this? Can you hear them in the background? Sorry about that. But this is the nature of communication from home. I’m going to go ahead and share, do my share screen, cause I want to quickly go through some slides. This is going to be a little bit about, a little bit more than just Tod. You know, it’s my opinion that we’re been battling global sprawl for. I actually got to a virus that’s been growing slowly for 50 years, but maybe it’s just as pathogenic as the one we have today and ways to defeat it, of course do focus on trend orient development, but that transit orient development really has to be different in different places and obviously different in different times.

Peter Calthorpe (7m 47s):
So let me go through this slide show. This is a book that I’m working on now for the world bank on Indian global sprawl, which will actually lay out some design standards in different three different contexts and quickly I was going to go overseas, but then focus back here in the United States on what, what I think the next generation of Tod will look like China. And some of Asia has perfected something called high density sprawl where the density is high, but the outcomes are just as bad. If not worse than our low density variety here, they’ve given themselves up to automobiles.

Peter Calthorpe (8m 28s):
They were once a bicycle country and the pathology is now being treated with massive investments in Metro. Now these, this kind of investment doesn’t seem to be anything we’re capable of, of perfecting politically, but it is the solution that is being used in China. Here’s a growth area in trenching, a city of 30 million. That’s about, you know, the size of Canada. And this is a small area for four new 4 million new people population basically blanketed with Metro. So I think that this is one solution, but what, what one of the elements is that only 30% of households in China these days have cars, the rest of them don’t.

Peter Calthorpe (9m 19s):
So the idea that there would be auto free streets that are dedicated to transit and to bikers and just walking makes all the sense in the world, a radical notion, but it comes back to our sensibility. That public right of ways really are definitive. And in how we allocate that space, determines how we move. What kind of mobility, a large part of the world, the developing world has a disease called low-income sprawl, where the poor are pushed to the periphery in largely informal settlements. And in Mexico city, we looked at what these settlements are like, and they’re all to distance.

Peter Calthorpe (10m 1s):
The average commute, three hours in many cases. And the social housing above has lots of space for cars, encouraging all the wrong forms of mobility, but within the city, the chaos of jitneys and, and privately owned transit service creates chaos. It is truly dysfunctional. This is an environment where infill housing near jobs and culture is important. I’m working today in ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam, a place where 90% of trips are on motorcycles and working with Robert Suvero there.

Peter Calthorpe (10m 45s):
We discovered that a lane of electric motorcycles can carry more passengers per peak hour than the RT or light rail. So there are different forms of transit, whether it’s auto, free streets or electric motorcycles, different cultures, different economies, different parts of the world need to be thought of in creative ways, just to come back to our home ground. We all know what this is a picture of our suburban environment designed largely around automobiles, which is becoming more and more dysfunctional. The antidote was to begin to reshape our cities around rail, light rail, largely and transit oriented development.

Peter Calthorpe (11m 35s):
And to a certain degree, there’s been powerful successes. And the thinking and the form of regional growth often leans towards this strategy. The problem that I’m coming through becoming clearer and clearer on is that we need more transit than we can afford. We need transit to be closer to everybody, to operate quicker and be less expensive to run as light rail moves up to a hundred million a mile in some cases, and then ongoing farebox return deficits lead us to really struggling with getting enough transit in place to make a dent in travel behavior in LA.

Peter Calthorpe (12m 27s):
There’s a lot of potential investment in BRT, which I think is a healthy direction, but I’ll talk about how we can springboard from there forward into even more progressive and interesting ideas of how transit shapes, but let’s go back to basics. I always kind of come to this study that we did for the whole state of California, looking at sprawl versus T Tod. And the takeaway here is just how important it is. The physical environment we shaped determines our behavior. And here’s just looking at three neighborhoods, San Francisco and Berkeley, and the East Bay sprawl.

Peter Calthorpe (13m 9s):
You can see carbon emissions, tripling land consumption up by a factor 15 household DMT also tripling. These are, these are variables that are profound and exist today. So we know if we build the right kind of environments, we can get a much better outcomes. And what are the outcomes? Well, this study looked at business as usual, which is 70% of standard sprawl versus 55%, not urban per se, but town kind of street, a modern version of a street car suburb, low rise, high density, mixed use and walkable.

Peter Calthorpe (13m 51s):
I think you’re all familiar with this, but the, the graphics are stunning or the, the physical results are stunning through 2050 LA looks like this with sprawl and like this same population increase with more compact mixed use development. So the benefits are huge and we can measure them in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in terms of vehicle miles traveled, which translates into a whole range of other impacts in terms of air quality, oil dependencies, and a lot of other things. And household costs, I think more significantly, this is just a map of the LA region showing VMT per household by location.

Peter Calthorpe (14m 36s):
And it tells a fairly blunt story about peripheral expansion. The building energy gets better. Respiratory costs. We can now calculate heart disease and activity related implications. All these different issues are deeply connected. This is a map of walk versus indicators. Infrastructure costs, all the arrows pointed in the same direction, but fundamental change is difficult. This is maybe the most important, which is household affordability. This is just transportation and household utilities, the savings of $10,000 per annum.

Peter Calthorpe (15m 24s):
On average, this is a really important point for the struggling working families of this country. It’s not just what you live in, it’s where you live. And so a whole systems approach is always really key to this. I think that most of you understand how all these factors intersect, but land consumption goes down by an incredible amount. When we start to think about more compact transit oriented. So we understand that there are some big solutions out there and we’re having a hard time getting them done.

Peter Calthorpe (16m 4s):
And this is the real dilemma. And in California, we have a housing crisis primarily for working families, not for the wealthy who can afford to live in Silicon Valley in San Francisco, but for everybody else who does all the real heavy lifting where there we’re only 50% affordable in our state. And we’re about three and a half million households short of where we need to be in of course, a deficit in housing drives, housing costs up and as housing cuffs go up, lower income people move farther and farther to the periphery of that region, where the old formula of drive till you qualify still seems to dominate.

Peter Calthorpe (16m 51s):
But I want to address this. You know, it’s kind of at the heart of what’s going on in America today. I think this is a map done by the center for neighborhood technology. Scott Bernstein, you probably will know you typically foreclosures are evenly spread throughout a region. You know, when downturns happen, when households can meet their needs, it’s it’s across the board, but in a way, which was supposed to be a debacle of wall street and subprime mortgages. And that seems to be where everybody points their finger. The reality is the foreclosures all came in distant, low density suburbs.

Peter Calthorpe (17m 36s):
The truth of the matter is we were building too much of the wrong kind of housing in the wrong place. And the only way they could move the inventory was to discount. The point of sale that I think is at the systemic heart of this, our old paradigm that you just keep building sub suburbs farther and farther out. And that gives you your affordable entry-level housing collapsed in Oh eight, and we have no new paradigm. We have no new solution because the politics of infill, as you all know, is, is really ragged, really difficult. I think the answer lies right here in the arterials.

Peter Calthorpe (18m 19s):
We built the suburbs and the inner suburbs around a network of arterials to enhance the car. We lined it with commercial that is dying now because of Amazon and online training. We have these ribbons of decay everywhere, which can become the places that we infill redevelop and create opportunities for transit. I call it grand boulevards in typical arterial dimensions. You can have all of this. You can have good sidewalk environments, bikeways, you can have dedicated lanes for transit.

Peter Calthorpe (19m 0s):
And I’ll talk about what form that takes, and you can even have a few goddamn cars. All right. So that’s a nice idea, but is it an anecdote? Is it just a trivial, put it on the long list, those kinds of things we should be doing, or is it a systemic strategy? Is it really big? So I had, you know, using urban footprint, we went out and did a whole series of studies to look at where, where, and how much of this could happen. And also looking at housing costs, land supply, entitlement costs, construction costs, impact fees, affordable subsidies.

Peter Calthorpe (19m 44s):
These are all the things that stack up. When you have to think about where and how you put housing, and then there’s the politics, which you all know traffic and transportation. Everybody says no more housing here. It’s going to generate traffic change the neighborhood camp character. We can’t afford the community services. Well, that’s always true. If you go low density, we don’t have enough open space. Our schools are overloaded. There’s a whole range of issues here that I think you can actually find systemic solutions to. As I said, we use urban footprint because it allows us to very quickly look at huge databases and proposed scenarios.

Peter Calthorpe (20m 27s):
And the scenario we were looking at here was, well, how much commercial land is there? That’s underutilized. You know, anything on a 0.5 far is under utilized and what kind of economics would surround redeveloping it? So the first solution that came across the boards in California was just use straight Tod straw circles around transit stations and ups, own everything, housing commercial, the whole nine yards. And the backlash was huge. The idea of invading and demolishing a stable residential neighborhoods.

Peter Calthorpe (21m 8s):
It was really not that attractive and in my mind, if not necessary, why do it? And in other circumstances, such as San Francisco, it meant that a large swath of the city would be open for redevelopment. And we’ve seen the impacts of re massive redevelopment in some of our historic affordable housing complexes, huge failures in preservation and in character. So my first book was to look at El Camino. It’s an old strip that runs through the center of Silicon Valley, 43 miles. And it turned out going through our analysis that we could fit a quarter million households on that strip the Mo the software allowed us to identify just commercial parcels, not touching any apartment complexes, not going inside of any single family neighborhoods, just locating, strip commercial along the way.

Peter Calthorpe (22m 7s):
And you know, here’s a picture it’s familiar to everybody, but these boxes, the, these brick and mortar are dying because of online shopping and they’re dying in terms of placemaking. And yet we have zoning controls that pretty much locked us into this. So by replacing all that land with mixed use some multi-family some townhouse, we also get a huge range of affordable environmental impacts, whether it’s water, energy, driving, greenhouse gas, transportation costs, we can calculate all this and put this right alongside.

Peter Calthorpe (22m 50s):
We then took this study of one strip and said, well, what happens if we look at the whole Bay area, it turns out that you’ve got 15,000 acres of what I call gray fields, these parking lots and single story buildings, lining arterials that can produce up to 1.3, 7 million new housing units. And they turn out to be just in the right place, right in the middle of where the job centers are. So the commutes are not so long. It also places density along around 700 miles of arterials, which all can receive additional transit.

Peter Calthorpe (23m 33s):
If you look at fire and flood hazards, you get the same story, which is these locations are very well positioned. And so the same kind of environmental impact results, which is a win when compared to just the average house in a cross-cutting County Alameda. So these are all win-win why can’t we make it happen? The market demand, a lot of people say, well, yeah, but you’re talking about multi-family housing and everybody wants single family. Well, it turns out that actually the real need, the unmet need is for multifamily units by every analysis.

Peter Calthorpe (24m 16s):
And there are many households that would trade a yard in a distant location. If they actually had the means to choose it for a more affordable townhouse or condominium or rental unit, closer to their workplace, closer to the center of action. Now I’m not going to get into the weeds here, but what’s fascinating is the tax space for that. All those gray fields is pretty low because the values are low. The moment you rezone it for higher density mixed use the property taxes, go through the ceiling, you get it in this particular case, $14 billion a year of additional taxes.

Peter Calthorpe (24m 57s):
That’s not counting the share that goes to the state cover schools and things like that. And with that, you could put out bonds for around $34 billion, would that you could split it just 20% of that bonding capacity will buy you a about 20 million a mile on those 700 miles. You can subsidize housing, 30% of the housing with just 10 billion of that 34. So this is a cell financing strategy, largely because the underutilized land is undervalued. We did the same study in LA County, came up with the same results, the old Tod standard, which is, you know, pretty, pretty healthy there because of the BRT approach that’s going on.

Peter Calthorpe (25m 46s):
But we in one County identified close to 20,000 acres story. The punchline here is that this is actually more than enough for the next generation or two of housing. And it would balance our communities in terms of that oversupply of single family. And it would do it in places close to jobs and out of harm’s way, environmentally. Now there is a range of housing types and I’m going to have to rush through all this. And it starts with live work that can sit right on arterial in different forms, and then walk up apartments and a more traditional podium apartments, lofts.

Peter Calthorpe (26m 28s):
You know, it comes in many sizes and shapes and well-known, and many of the developers think this actually is the sweet spot in the market today at TLDs. You can even go high rise. So I’ll wrap up by talking about what I think is the other component. If you have the mixed use ribbons, how do you create the transit? How do you create enough transit to allow that quantity of housing to be infield? It ain’t a autonomous vehicle. So Thomas vehicles are gonna just cost us more BMT. There’s a whole lecture dedicated to that alone, but basically dead head trips and, and zero occupant vehicles will drive the congestion through the ceiling, less vehicles, more congestion.

Peter Calthorpe (27m 22s):
It’s not the right formula for the future and expanding our heavy rail with more light rail is a good thing. It’s the backbone. But what we really need is a network that puts everybody within close range of getting into the transit system. And that’s gotta be cheap enough to build ubiquitously. And that’s, I think where the technology can help us get back to El Camino. You know, you’re in good shape when you can’t tell the difference between a parking structure in a, in a building, but this is what it looks like. This is the hardest Silicon Valley, and this is what it can look like.

Peter Calthorpe (28m 2s):
I showed you this picture before that’s the same hundred and 20 foot, right of way. We all know bus rapid transit is the most cost effective, and it’s the right place to start just dedicated lanes to transit along all those 700 miles would be a giant first step. And maybe the technology is buses in China. Today you have autonomous rapid buses, and that’s one step along the path. Once you’ve got that dedicated right of way. But even more interesting to me is this that they’re studying now in Singapore, which is small autonomous vans on dedicated lanes.

Peter Calthorpe (28m 42s):
You know, autonomy can work a lot sooner on, on a dedicated right of ways than it can anywhere else, largely because the complexity of a mixed environment is a heavy lift for safety. But if you put them on dedicated lanes, as you show here, those autonomous vans can be up and running sooner rather than later in terms of safety and technology. But most importantly, they can all be expressed vehicles on your phone. You can go to a station and say, I’m going to a certain destination. And the whole system can organize, organize itself to get you a vehicle with a few other people in it that are going direct to destination.

Peter Calthorpe (29m 31s):
It may even be the passing lanes aren’t necessary because a vehicle to vehicle communication would allow passing, skip, stop using oncoming traffic planes complicated, but actually well, within the technologies domain now had Fehr and peers sit down with me on this one because nobody believes me when I throw numbers around. And they said, well, clearly, compared to BRT the average speed, excuse me, to LRT. The average speed is improved by 27%. That’s because it’s largely skipped stop direct to destination.

Peter Calthorpe (30m 14s):
The O and M costs are way down by 40%. And that’s obvious there’s no drivers, which is a big part of transit costs. And construction costs could be more than 75%. So we have cheap and fast and easy to operate. That’s something we can make ubiquitous. That’s something that could form the foundation for this kind of grand Boulevard strategy as a next generation of our grill. That idea we played out in these California towns, but I think could be anywhere USA. I leave you with the great Churchill quote about how buildings shape we shape the buildings.

Peter Calthorpe (30m 60s):
Then they shape us. It’s more true about urban design community form. Once we laid down that pattern, it, it begins to really impact our behavior. And so we need to find the right patterns. We need to find a new paradigm, quite frankly, of, of what the next generation of growth looks like because the last one died in 2008 in the middle of the financial crisis. And we have not found a new one we’d just been stuck. So with that, I will just get out of this mode and go into conversation.

Alison Brooks (31m 37s):
Thank you, Peter. That was great and thought provoking. And I’ve organized some questions initially kind of by sector, but we can jump around. I, you know, you painted a really bold picture of a transit oriented future that calls for a truly integrated mix of different types of transit and use of our city streets. And there is also a shift from focus of Tod around fixed, fixed rail, light rail, commuter heavy. Can you comment a little bit more on that? And I guess, I think there’s an important part of this. Like who’s responsible for making that happen. What’s the role of transit agencies or city planners, regional planners, and helping from your perspective, make something like this transition?

Peter Calthorpe (32m 25s):
Well, you know, I’ve long been a believer in regional planning because of course, mobility cuts across city boundaries. So you say the city’s going to do these kinds of things alone never really works. And so we have regional transportation entities that take care of this stuff. Although we know one of our greatest hurdles is that transit agencies are fractured, you know, around the Bay area. I don’t know how many there are, and they’re not well coordinated. So yes, there’s an institutional issue here, which is to build more transit, which is the armature for more infill and mixed use environments. We’ll take a coordinated effort at the, at the regional scale.

Peter Calthorpe (33m 10s):
Honestly, I think that we need state legislation. We used to have state legislation for redevelopment agencies in the state of California, and that allowed infield to be coordinated at a larger scale. It was abused, but it also allowed for financing to come in to make it happen in a coherent manner, coherent facing. So that’s state level legislation. I think you need that I’ll be even more radical given the, the uneven response by local jurisdictions to infill.

Peter Calthorpe (33m 50s):
Is that a kind way of putting B to B world? You know, it’s interesting to me, it’s an anecdote, you know, along El Camino, you have several cities that have picked up on the idea that it’s great to build something other than parking lots on that strip. And they’ve started doing the infill and they tend to be the more, open-minded less closed off and less wealthy, the really wealthy cities like Palo Alto and Atherton. They don’t want anything to do with any more housing. They’ll take all the jobs, they’ll take all the trips that the jobs create, but they won’t take any more housing.

Peter Calthorpe (34m 30s):
So I think that another thing that could happen at the state level is as of right, you know, New York has had as a rights zoning for a very long time, don’t know my history that well. And it basically says, you know, if it’s zoned a certain way, you can build, you don’t have to go through 20 community meetings and 70 public hearings. You can just do it. If you want wanna variance, then you gotta go through all that rigmarole. So there’s needs to be a baseline. You know, this is what we all agree can and should happen. And each jurisdiction doesn’t seem to be able to get there.

Peter Calthorpe (35m 10s):
And once again, we live in regional worlds. And so when one place says not here, it begins to distort the larger framework. So the affordable housing all ends up in a different town. And as long distance commuting starts and whole sequence of bad results take place because of this local control, which God bless it. I think we need local control for all the fine grain decisions and all the, all the, the kind of idiosyncratic qualities that places have to have, but there needs to be a baseline and the baseline should be fair share in affordable and workforce housing.

Peter Calthorpe (35m 57s):
Every city should take their fair share. So I, you know, I’ve come more and more to believe we need state legislation to make these kinds of big coherent decisions really happen. We can have small demonstration projects. That’s great, but for it to really become the next paradigm, we’re going to need a larger decision. We made a big decision, you know, in the fifties and sixties about suburban sprawl, you know, it became the ubiquitous pattern and it was underwritten at the federal level with, with highway financing and, and mortgage insurance and things like that.

Peter Calthorpe (36m 39s):
So we need some clarity on what direction we’re going in, and we need a series of levels of legislation to support it.

Alison Brooks (36m 49s):
Well, one variable. And you’re leading me into a kind of where some climate change questions, because one variable that plays into this that might help decide it, all of us fizz climate change. And we’re already experiencing the impacts, whether it’s flooding sea level rise, wildfires, extreme heat, and storms, and thinking about, you know, we have to be thinking about how to manage these uncertainties and the risks involved and it’s been leading. And this is an area where I’ve been doing a lot of work. It’s leading me to kind of think about the future in more of a Zen sense of impermanence in our planning.

Alison Brooks (37m 30s):
You know, when, when we’re having to maybe shift places and core assets because of, and things that have cost a tremendous amount of money because of, of risks. So how do you imagine climate hazards and risks impacting how we build, where we build and even the types of transit we use now and into the future?

Peter Calthorpe (37m 55s):
Well, it’s not very complicated. The reality is you can map all those hazards and you can just draw a lines. I mean, there ought to be in terms of future development, there ought to be boundaries and the boundaries, once again, lead us toward back towards until and redevelopment. You know, there are some sites, the redevelopment sites that are, can be underwater, but there’s already people living there and doing things there. That’s where we need to invest money in protection. We don’t need to keep expanding into wildfire songs. And that’s what the ex-urban sprawl, at least in the West coast has led to the once.

Peter Calthorpe (38m 35s):
Again, it is farther away. It’s more expensive to get there and back, and it also tends to be more vulnerable. So it’s a win-win to come back and say, it’s time to mature and start re inhabiting the worst parts of our existing communities instead of going outwards. Now I’m a big believer in both adaptation and mitigation. We got to reduce our, our carbon emissions. And I think we can’t, we just need the political will. It’s the same with land use and, and renewable investments in technology. And by the way, the federal government, if it’s going to have a strategy for climate change, it needs to have a strategy for bigger investments in transit.

Peter Calthorpe (39m 20s):
And why not the next generation of transit? I mean, why, why invest in the old technology when we got this amazing new technology coming that could really give us ubiquitous transit transit on every arterial means transit is, you know, typically within a half mile of everybody. And if you build a ribbon of urban ism along that environment, you have places to walk and bike to that are meaningful. That aren’t just a parking lot in front of a shopping center. So, you know, there’s winning, there’s a winning a win-win here on profound levels, but, you know, if you think we have challenges and I did work in, in Southern Louisiana after Katrina, we have the capacity to engineer stop a bunch of solutions and they can be beautiful and benign.

Peter Calthorpe (40m 15s):
They can be a barrier islands and wetlands. They don’t have to be rip rap everywhere, but we can afford it. You know what you mean? City is 40% of it or any sluts and they’re there because they don’t have control over their planning. Another, you know, almost doubling of that is going to happen with future growth. Why? Because poor people show up and they inhabit areas that are low lying and cheap, and they create informal settlements. So, you know, there’s, there are different kinds of challenges around the planet.

Peter Calthorpe (40m 55s):
There are always solutions.

Alison Brooks (40m 57s):
Thanks. I’m going to shift us. We have another question from the chat. I’m turn to, that’s asking what your thoughts are on land value, taxation as a solution to sprawl, how, or does this vision change if you apply an anti-racist lens?

Peter Calthorpe (41m 16s):
Well, I don’t know quite how those two fit together, but, you know, I did point out one of the exciting discoveries we made was that the tax increment, when you redevelop is so large, that it can actually underwrite affordable housing, transit, parks, Abubak services. I mean, it’s, it’s kind of a huge, a huge opportunity. So that’s part of the financing knuckle,

Alison Brooks (41m 44s):
And those were the three questions. Those were two questions. So just sorry.

Peter Calthorpe (41m 49s):
I was just trying to see how I worked. One of the most wonderful things I ever got to do is work with Henry Cisneros on the hope six projects of rebuilding public housing and in so many of the worst locations around the United States, and it’s an unsung success. It’s just a huge, when we put in mixed income housing in every one of those big sites, one-third market rate, one-third affordable and one-third public and it’s all rental. So every unit had to work for every market segment and these communities have thrived.

Peter Calthorpe (42m 30s):
They’ve just, you know, and a lot of people said, well, the market rate units, nobody’s going to want to be there. Yeah. It’s just all sorts of economic integration. So I know to me, that’s the most important thing we have to start doing is more diversity and income level in every neighborhood. Well, let me come back to the same old sales job I’m doing here, which is by putting housing on those arterials, that the El Camino cuts right through the heart of Palo Alto and Menlo park and some of the wealthiest places on the planet. And all of a sudden they would have affordable housing in their midst.

Peter Calthorpe (43m 11s):
And a lot of people are frightened by that, but I think it’s actually healthy, doable and something we’ve proven succeeds with the hope six program.

Alison Brooks (43m 21s):
Yeah. That was a note. Thank you. That was a note I made when you were talking about these arterials, you know, you, you mentioned under utilized land is undervalued. And the question that did come up for me was, you know, this notion of gentrification and driving up land values, but you’re saying there’s enough there, you know, these gray fields, these 15,000 acres just on El Camino barrier wide. So you think there’s enough there who’s, who needs to be in that mix to make sure that that value that’s created is going to invest in the right types of housing, the right, you know, all the things that you’re talking about who needs to be part of that solution, how are we gonna make this work politically?

Alison Brooks (44m 10s):
I mean, you know, this isn’t, as you’ve noted this, we’re not operating in a vacuum here, we live in a highly charged political environment, you know, based on your years of experience, how are we gonna, how are we gonna make this happen?

Peter Calthorpe (44m 25s):
Well, you know, this is a perfect opportunity for Trump to say, I told you, so they want to kill the suburbs. But the reality is we’re just dealing with real needs in the world today. And there’s just a tremendous need for more affordable form of living effectively. You know, if we choose not to let the working people’s average wage go up, you know, which it needs to, but anyway, that’ll get me too far field to get into that social equity dimension of all this. But I think that we, there’s no reason we can’t be very sophisticated with state legislation, regional regulations and local standards.

Peter Calthorpe (45m 16s):
All three of those things need to nest together to create a coherent environment. But state legislation can very easily say, well, if there’s tax increment financing, one third of that has to go to subsidize affordable housing. And if you have an as of right stipulation, let’s say you’re as of right, for averages, maybe 30 units per acre, along these strips. It’s not that high to get to these big numbers. You can say, if you have this as a bright gift in return, you have to make sure that there’s 30% affordable, but it didn’t.

Peter Calthorpe (46m 1s):
So it can very easily be part of legislation. So I think it’s completely feasible. The only thing politically, it can happen. If we can finally get out of our stovepipe mentality, we have the environmental groups over here that are all about climate change and saving open space and habitat. That’s great. We have social equity people for, for affordable housing. We have, I think totally reasonable business people who are concerned about the economy, each one needs to come together and we all need to come together and find that there are common solutions that actually enhance everybody’s future, that we can make a better physical environment, that we can have more affordable housing.

Peter Calthorpe (46m 54s):
And yeah, that jobs grow in regions that aren’t suffering from overpriced housing and transportation costs.

Alison Brooks (47m 2s):
Great. I’m going to bring us to a, something we’re all living in that we’re experiencing right now. And that’s been a little bit of a touch point and the Bay area as of late. So COVID has accelerated remote work or teleworking in unanticipated ways. As, as I’m finding in some research I’m doing in the Berry on remote work, it can have very different impacts and even just different parts of the Bay. We mentioned Santa Clara County versus San Francisco. You know, most people in Santa Clara are single driving, single occupancy vehicles too. They’re in many of, many of the jobs are in the tech sector. Whereas in San Francisco, most people are coming into San Francisco or coming Tran traveling through San Francisco using public transit.

Alison Brooks (47m 48s):
So, you know, I think it’s important to approach something like this. I think many people are looking at remote work as a way to address some of our congestion, greenhouse gas reduction goals. How do you, I guess at least to a larger question, how do you see where and how we work along with where and how we live fitting into the transit airing and future that you’re proposing and what, you know, what are the changes that we might see in how we live based on what you’re thinking about. I want you to have a crystal ball and help predict our future. If you wouldn’t mind Peter.

Peter Calthorpe (48m 25s):
Yeah. Not a problem. It’s a set position. The reality is I think we’re going to work three ways. We’re going to work from home. We’re going to work from neighborhood and then we’re going to work at headquarters. And I think, you know, so those of us lucky, lucky enough to work in a kind of digital service world, that’s going to be easy and it’s going to happen. We’re all experiencing the work from home phenomenon now. And it’s, you know, it can be part of our life, but it can’t be everything, you know, drives. You know, there’s still a little bit too many distractions at home all the time. And we don’t get to interact with other people in truly creative ways.

Peter Calthorpe (49m 6s):
But that neighborhood scale workplace does bring me back to grand Boulevard. So a lot of people say, well, what are you going to put on the ground floor? There isn’t that much retail and you can’t fill it all with coffee shops. I actually think, you know, local work areas, shared worker is like, we work can begin to fill that niche of the place that you can bike to. And you don’t have to go all the way into the main office. It’s decentralized, but it’s not in your attic as it were. So I see those three things fitting together. Once again, reinforcing the idea that we need to infill our way to more mixed use places.

Peter Calthorpe (49m 52s):
And that’s just a really healthy component of what the mix use is going to involve.

Alison Brooks (49m 58s):
It’s interesting because some of the data that we’re collecting, you know, it’s still kind of parsing it out, but if we approach this from a racial equity lens, which, you know, I think we need to do in all of our work, you look at who is able to who’s eligible for remote work and who isn’t. And it really breaks down starkly by income and in many cases, race and where you have people making a hundred thousand or more, you have 76% of the jobs remote work eligible. And if you’re making 40,000 or less, 6% of the jobs are remote work elders, I think it is one of those sayings. You know, we have to be mindful of, do we want to live in regions where it’s, you know, white people are working from home and black and Brown people are out using public transit and driving to their jobs that are not remote work eligible.

Alison Brooks (50m 46s):
I think those are the key. And I think if it’s a split and we’re thinking about community serving where people can go to a library to do remote work or a community center, then you know, those are the types of policy solutions that seems like we need to explore. And this, I don’t know if you have any thoughts.

Peter Calthorpe (51m 3s):
The real issue that you’re raising is the equity issue around affordable housing. And I tend to want to talk more about workforce housing, because unless we can find a systemic solution to workforce housing, to lower middle-class wages, being able to afford a decent convenient place to live, we’re all in deep, deep trouble. And that’s where the biggest economic pain comes from. And I think that until we get a really large scale strategy in place that really delivers enough housing, all housing will be too expensive and all low income populations will suffer more and more.

Peter Calthorpe (51m 48s):
And so we’ve got to find a way to be housing positive at a big scale and, and stop trying to parse this into, well, we can satisfy this category this way in this category, this way in this category, this way, we need a systemic solution to the housing crisis, and that has to be wedded to a transportation strategy.

Alison Brooks (52m 14s):
So you brought up the role that, you know, this state policy and state state action. And I guess for folks that are listening, who are from ACRIS advocacy organizations or, or in the public sector or private sector, you know, this shift on needing state action to help support this affordable housing vision that you’ve, that you’ve outlined is, you know, is that’s a tactic, that’s a tactic and advocacy tactic. I, you know, I’m really thinking about how we operationalize this in, in this political environment where we’re living in. So you’ve, you’ve identified, helped identify kind of the role of the state, the role of regions, the role of localities, and then all the, the different stakeholders that need to be part of this solution.

Peter Calthorpe (53m 5s):
I think it’s all about coalition building and who often each special each group non-profit group advocacy group goes at it from one dimensionally. You know, you don’t, you shouldn’t be at just that affordable housing advocate. You should be an environmental advocate and a transportation advocate and economic development at all at once is that kind of common ground really needs to be forged. And to a certain degree, that’s what revolution. And there are some organizations that are cross cutting that solve many problems simultaneously. And when you solve many problems simultaneously, that’s when you can build coalitions, that will make a political difference.

Alison Brooks (53m 48s):
And how important is the data behind that, that work, you you’re, you’re doing a lot of data collection. Where do you think, you know, what’s the balance of, of having the data to help make persuasive arguments? Do you think we have all the data we need?

Peter Calthorpe (54m 7s):
Yeah. We have more data than we can consume. I guarantee you that the challenge is extracting intelligence and value out of the data. It’s about asking the right questions and creating the right scenarios. I’m, you know, always been a great believer in scenarios. The what if, what if we did this? What if we did that? You know, and a lot of our regional plans over the decades have been showing regions different versions of their future. And then, you know, they, it becomes crystal clear what the best direction to head in is. And all of a sudden there’s a different attitude about the synthesis between land use and transportation financing environment.

Peter Calthorpe (54m 52s):
So I think the data, the ability to understand the physical landscape precisely, and the ability to shape scenarios and get outcomes is really, really powerful. I mean, just the fact that we can push a button and identify every parcel. And I can actually tell you what the average parcel sizes I can tell you what the average parcel value current value is. I mean, all of that data is available. How many units of housing are there? How many square feet of commercial is there? Everything is at our fingertips. So we can answer really big visionary questions.

Peter Calthorpe (55m 32s):
Quite precisely. It’s just an exciting moment.

Alison Brooks (55m 36s):
Yeah. I’m just going to ask, we have a few more minutes, but I just want my hit on the, the financing piece of this really quickly that, you know, you’ve lifted up the tax increment financing as a concept. What are the other, what are the financial tools that you see that exist? You know, TIFF is challenging in California, but in other parts of the country of Buffalo, there was a contingent of, from Buffalo that are participating in revolution this year that are

Peter Calthorpe (56m 4s):
There a regional plan really well done, beautiful regional plan. You know, I think that the, all the, all the mechanisms are available, just bonding against sales tax, which has often been the way of putting transit dollars together, federal, federal dollars have to be play a really big role. And the fed needs to decide that the future isn’t just a few more freeways. So there are many sources that we were going to have to combine to make a difference. And then, you know, unfortunately we have to think long and hard about the fact that the land use compliment.

Peter Calthorpe (56m 46s):
Those investments has to be made real. In other words, if you build transit without transit or in development, whether it’s a ribbon or a dot, you know, whatever form it takes, you, you’re getting less cost effectiveness out of that transit investment. The other thing of course, is that transit. You can, I think with these new forms, it really will be faster and cheaper, both to build and to operate. And if that’s the case, we can afford a lot more of it. So if you have a bonding capacity, that’s a half cent sales tax or something like that, and you can build, you know, 10 miles of light rail, or you can build a hundred miles of art.

Peter Calthorpe (57m 29s):
I call that autonomous rapid transit, you know, all of a sudden the justification for that tax space and that bonding is much more substantial and it reaches more people. The other reason people tend not to want to vote for transit is they look at the line and they say, well, that’s nowhere near me. Whereas, you know, with this kind of thing, I think it really could be so ubiquitous as to be everywhere. And so I hope that gets at it, but, you know, I do think it needs to start at the federal level. You know, part of the climate solution has to be investment in transit.

Peter Calthorpe (58m 12s):
And once you invest in transit, you have to follow it with land use policy. I want to thank you for your leadership and your continued evolution and thinking about how to make our cities and regions equitable, meet all our climate goals, all the goals that we’ve outlined here. You know, you’ve heard a lot here today. I hope we can all carry forward with these ideas con continually thinking about Tod as a field of practice that is adaptive and responsive to changing conditions. And I just wanna thank, I wanna thank revolution for inviting me and thank Peter Calthorpe for his leadership and make sure you hit up the PK slam this evening. And that should be a lot of fun and enjoy the rest of your conference.

Jeff Wood (58m 59s):
And thanks for joining us. The talking head waste podcast does your project of the overhead wire on the [email protected] Sign up for a free trial of the overhead wire daily or 14 year old daily city’s news list by clicking the link at the top, right of the overhead wire.com. And please, please, please support the pod. We’re going to pitch on.com/the overhead wire many thanks to our current patrons for their ongoing support. And as always, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud, overclass Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. And you can always find a traditional home at USA DOD Street’s blog.org. See you next time at talking headways.


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