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Tuesday, January 4, 2011


PLEASE NOTE THAT MY PRIMARY SITE IS NOW LOCATED AT “THE BUILT DOMAIN.NET”. A link is provided in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

            There is a solution to the economic problems of every state and local government, but it requires a new approach to city planning and design that must be built from currently scattered information; and it can take us well beyond the simplistic concept of a balanced annual budget.

Attracting new business to finance past practice is not economic development. It is another Ponzi scheme built on the best of intentions. New revenue is considered a budget solution even though the income per acre may not equal or exceed the jurisdiction’s average annual expense per acre, especially when forecast over time. This lack of planning consideration for the relationships among land development capacity, land use activity and economic yield per acre is the driving force behind the annexation and blight of American cities as they sprawl in a futile search for economic stability.

All residential and commercial land use activities do not produce equal revenue per acre and many do not meet a jurisdiction’s average annual expense per acre. Unfortunately, we do not know the average yield associated with each activity group; and a city’s average expense per acre is simple division but rarely calculated as a planning benchmark for city design and economic development. As a result, economic development is pursued to balance annual budgets without a strategic plan for greater success. This will continue until our plans correlate development capacity options with land use activity and revenue potential.

In military terms, economic development is a tactic employed to achieve an objective. An objective should be part of a strategic plan designed to achieve a greater goal. When the goal is debated and strategy is missing however, tactics support random battles that wander across the landscape. In this case, a strategy to achieve economic stability within physical limits that protect the agriculture, environment and ecology beyond is missing; and it can only be expressed with plans for urban form that adequately shelter activities, improve our quality of life and yield the income needed to meet public expense over time. This expense is a constant source of debate that distracts us from the primary goal. There is a way to address this political problem, but it will remain a subject for another time.

I have tried to focus this message and hope I have made it clear that city and state plans for land use and urban form will directly affect our social and economic welfare. They will also determine the land that will remain to sustain all life on the planet, but the data (intelligence) required to support these plans remains uncollected. In other words, the goal is clear but a strategy has not been filtered from intelligence to lead the power and tactics of economic development toward victory.

The march will begin when we are able to quickly and accurately forecast development capacity options and implications for every acre of land we consume, since a sustainable future will depend on the balance we create between the natural environment of our host and the artificial environment of our presence.

Forecasting is now possible with Development Capacity Evaluation software, but the values entered in its design specification templates produce forecasts with implications that remain to be evaluated. Context evaluation of existing projects with similar values, however, can provide the intelligence required to create economic development strategies with plans and language that can lead us to our goal.

Author Note: Development Capacity Evaluation software is attached to Land Development Calculations, second edition, McGraw-Hill, 2010. Chapter 6 expands on the observations above and is entitled, “Land Use Allocation and Economic Stability”. The book can be found on The first edition was published in 2001 and translated by China in 2007.

The following articles can be read on my blog, Cities and Design. The third article is an expansion of the discussion above. The blog can be found at

1)      "Replacing Density" discusses its leadership weakness and intensity alternative,
2)      "The Limits of Shelter Capacity" provides expanded detail regarding intensity,
3)      “The City is a Farm” discusses the relationship of intensity to economic development,
4)      "The Disorganized Zoning Ordinance" outlines the legislative confusion that impedes leadership progress,
5)       “Examining Architecture” takes a closer look at a piece of the city design puzzle,
6)      “The Variance Trap” illustrates development regulation weakness with a residential forecast model from the Development Capacity Evaluation (DCE) software collection,
7)      “City Design with Space” discusses the overlooked role of project open space with a non-residential forecast model from the DCE collection,
8)      “The Core of Our Built Environment” identifies the nucleus of development capacity
9)      “Ponzi Schemes and Land Use Plans” offers an alternative to annexation and sprawl.
10)     “Where Does Sustainability Begin?” discusses the importance of land in the competition between our natural and built environments.
11)    “Economic Development Is Missing a Strategy” discusses the intelligence and strategic planning required to identify economic development objectives on the road to a sustainable future.

These articles have been deleted but are available upon request:

1)      The Concept of City Design” includes an overview and suggested research agenda,
2)      “Politics and Planning” is an argument in support of the effort, and
3)     “Context Measurement” outlines a suggested research yardstick.

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