This week visitors from the EPA Smart Growth office joined the UDB/Hold the line fray as self described ‘outside observers’. They were invited by the County commission, and boy do they have their work cut out for them.
Thursday’s workshop was a mini battle royale, with the developer/attorney camp led by sprawl advocate Jeffrey Bercow pitted against the smart growth crowd. The speakers from the EPA began their talk by saying that they didn’t come with any preconceived notions, but the fact that they represent a ‘smart growth’ office means that they should begin by making it clear that they support smart growth policies, containing growth within a growth boundary and supporting infill. They made no such claims, only to ask us what we wanted from our UDB. For the record the UDB should: encourage infill, encourage agriculture, provide a buffer between development and the everglades, and discourage sprawl.
Several speakers made excellent points on the smart growth side, while only one speaker came out in favor of sprawl and for moving the line, Jeffrey Bercow (and friend Truly Burton who gave her time for his powerpoint presentation). His points were mostly about how we need sprawl. He cited economic reasons (without flexibility in moving the line housing prices will rise), while also saying that most people don’t want to live in dense, skyscrapers (his narrow definition of infill). I pointed out that that was a result of obsolete, auto-centric zoning codes that prohibit walkable, intermediate building types – not a lack of demand on the side of the market. (A point reiterated by this recent study by Todd Litman about the demand for smart growth housing.)
My biggest suggestion to our friends from the EPA deals with the amount of available land within the line. Available supply within the UDB should be calculated taking into account capacity along ALL corridors, not just within 1/4 mile of rail transit stops. This is the only way of taking into account the real infill capacity within the line, and would extend the horizon of available infill land within the UDB well past the time frame required by the Planning Department.
I could go into Bercow’s presentation, but without the visuals you won’t see how ridiculous it actually was. One point he made that I can’t let slip by was to make the case for sprawl by arguing that jobs centers were too far away, requiring further expansion of the line. Uhhh, what? Yeah, he actually said that. Wonders never cease. He (and Truly) also complained of NIMBY problems when trying to support infill development (definitely a problem), while failing to mention how they are both against the most important infill project in the country: Miami 21. Seems like the only thing they really believe in is whatever their clients pay them to believe in.
Transit Miami friend, and manager of urban planning for the DDA Javier Betancourt said it best in his June 2009 letter to the Miami Herald.
By focusing our collective efforts on revitalizing and expanding existing communities through infill development, we will make better use of our land supply, reduce congestion and preserve our region’s valuable natural resources. At the same time, we will realize a number of economic and urban planning benefits, including better connectivity between businesses and the labor force, more efficient use of our existing infrastructure and across-the-board increases in property values.
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