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Great article about the economics of mixed-use development, something we’re always pushing here at Laurel Park Management. Mixed-use helps makes places walkable and livable. It helps make them better, more beautiful, and more vibrant. So, naturally, it provides an economic boon as well. What’s more, the study below was also performed in Sarasota:

Are cities across the country acting negligently in ignoring the property tax implications of different development types? Joseph Minicozzi thinks so, and he’s done the math to prove it.

The wisdom of man never yet contrived a system of taxation that would operate with perfect equality.
— Andrew Jackson

Downtown Pays
Asheville, North Carolina — like many cities and towns around the country — is hurting financially.

It’s not that Asheville is some kind of deserted ghost town. Rather, it’s a picturesque mountain city with a population of about 83,000 that draws tourists from all over the world, especially during the leaf-peeping season. But it’s also a city that appeals to its residents, who revel in strolling about a true walkable downtown chock-full of restaurants and retail shops featuring locally grown and crafted products. Downtown is not only one of Asheville’s main draws; it also serves as a major driver in helping the city overcome its budgetary doldrums.

Most of us – city planners, elected officials, business owners, voters, and the like – understand that the city brings in more tax revenue when people shop and eat out more. However, we often overlook the scale of the property tax payoff for encouraging dense mixed-use development.

Many policy decisions seem to create incentives for businesses and property developers to expand just about anywhere, without regard for the types of buildings they are erecting. In this article, I argue that the best return on investment for the public coffers comes when smart and sustainable development occurs downtown.

We’ll use the city of Asheville as an example. Asheville realizes an astounding +800 percent greater return on downtown mixed-use development projects on a per acre basis compared to when ground is broken near the city limits for a large single-use development like a Super Walmart. A typical acre of mixed-use downtown Asheville yields $360,000 more in tax revenue to city government than an acre of strip malls or big box stores.

If you were a mayor or city councillor facing a budget crisis, this comparison should serve as an eye-opener, both in terms of your policies and your development priorities. The comparison should also get you thinking about not just how you could encourage more downtown development, but also what kind of development could increase the value of buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods.

It’s not just officials in Asheville who should be asking these questions. In the growing number of diverse cities where we have studied this same equation (such as Billings, MT, Petaluma, CA, and Sarasota, FL) we’ve found that the same principle applies: downtown pays. It’s simple math. keep reading at planetizen.com

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The holidays they are approachin’, so we at Laurel Park Management thought we’d pass along info on this weekend’s appropriately themed events and to-do options in case the spirit moves you. Enjoy!

Atomic Holiday Bazaar: December 10-11

Atomic Holiday Bazaar, Sarasota’s original annual Indie Craft Show returns for its 6th year. Shop local with unusual creators of hand made arts and crafts from Florida, the U.S. and as far as Central America! This is a craft show that won’t make you yawn or cringe!

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Gingerbread Festival: through December 11

Community Youth Development presents the Gingerbread Festival at Westfield Sarasota mall (Macy’s wing), where more than 125 houses created by youth groups, businesses and community organizations will be featured. This year there will also be gingerbread versions of iconic Sarasota landmarks as well as a Iron Chef-style gingerbread house decorating contest performed by professional and youth chefs.

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3rd Annual SRQ Santa Paws: December 10, 10am-1pm, Five Points Park

Bring your friends, family and four-legged friends to this must-see holiday pet extravaganza. Santa Paws will be available for kitty and canine consultation on Dec. 10 from 10 to 1 at Five Points Park and Santa’s little helpers will be capturing photos of the cutest pets to feature in SRQ: The Best Overall Magazine on Florida’s West Coast.

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Holiday Splendor at the Payne Mansion, Selby Gardens: through January 2

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Presents “Holiday Splendor at the Payne Mansion.” The Florida West Coast Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) will expand the scope of its popular Holiday Showhouse in the Mansion for 2011, decking the entire first floor with stunning holiday décor. Talented designers will transform Selby Gardens’ Museum of Botany & the Arts into a glittering Holiday Showhouse, even creating a kitchen on the sun porch.

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From all of us at Laurel Park Management to all of you, Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you enjoy a bounty of good food, friends, family, and fortune…today and everyday.

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The morning sun wakes me. It is warm but no longer carries the burn of summer; the orange light is pleasant, inviting. I wake gradually, as does the dog. The cat is stretched out on the wood floor in a bath of warm light. He half opens a single eye to watch me walk across the apartment and out to the porch, the dog following, but he soon grows bored and returns to his sleep.

I brew a pot of coffee and sit on the front stoop, the front door left open. The dog noses through the garden and along the sidewalk and I find the morning news on the radio. It is still early, the slightest chill in the air, and the sun on my face is lovely. I lie back on the wide top step of the front stoop and soon the dog and the cat both join me. My wife is awake now. She pours herself coffee and watches us. She smiles and begins her own morning ritual, watering the plants, reading over a piece she wrote the day before. The dog watches, sees when she has finished, and licks my face.

We walk through Laurel Park. Down Hawkins Court, slowly to enjoy the wonderfully car-free brick lane. We see the brick paving revealed on Madison where the blacktop has worn away and talk of how wonderful it would be if all of Laurel Park was again paved in brick. I would get rid of the sidewalks and invite everyone to enjoy the street. There is a stretch on Oak where several houses, instead of being set back, are built to the sidewalk edge. The effect is friendly, cozy. I find myself walking there intuitively, whether it is the direct way or not.

On Main Street we stop at C’est la Vie for croissants and a second cup of coffee. We both studied French in high school, and even if I can’t find the courage to speak it I enjoy its music as the waiters and waitresses banter, sometimes with francophone patrons. Several people, tourists and residents, stop us to say hello to the dog as we walk down Main Street toward Island Park and the bayfront. She ignores them good-naturedly. Sometimes she looks up at us and smiles, in her way.

Passing Media on Main we reminisce about Sarasota News & Books, much as the old-timers did about Charlie’s. We speak of the characters we’ve known there. Of the memories that have yet to fade.

The dog knows we are nearing Island Park. She loves it there, as do we. Other dogs greet her and us, other dog owners do as well. She and I trace the seawall and look to the water for passing fish. On the west side of the park we wade into the shallows and the dog barks at seabirds, bites gently at seaweed on the rocks. We can see Bird Key, Lido Key, Siesta Key. Longboat Key to the north. Cars and bicyclists and pedestrians are crossing the bridge to St. Armand’s Circle.

As we near O’Leary’s we find an empty bench and eat our pastries. We sip our coffee. We watch people and smile when they look our way. We again raise our faces to the sun. The dog busies herself at the water’s edge and we listen with our eyes closed to her snuffling and the lapping of tiny waves. It is a beautiful day.

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There are interesting stirrings afoot in the United States these days. From the Tea Party movement to the current Occupy Wall Street protests, Americans are making themselves heard. These two populist uprisings are generally thought to have opposing idealogical foundations, but maybe they share more common ground than is obvious at first glance. The Tea Party is a reaction to perceived government mismanagement, while the Wall Street protests are reactions to perceived corporate greed. In both cases those elected or appointed to powerful positions are being taken to task by the general public. Both are evidence that American democracy hasn’t gone the way of the dodo. Both are proof that we have not become an apathetic people. These are good things!

For those of you who might be interested in attending an Occupy Together event, whether in support or in dissent, Occupy Sarasota will meet today at 10am at the corners of Main Street and Orange Avenue.

While the individuals employed by Laurel Park Management have their own opinions (and will be happy to discuss them with you if approached on the street), LPM itself is more concerned with the airing and sharing of those opinions in a constructive manner—public discussion being one of the core attributes of a vital urban neighborhood—than with supporting any particular political party or movement. We hope Laurel Park will always be a place where neighbors of all political leanings meet and debate and challenge and uplift one another.

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Anyone who’s read this blog from its inception knows that we at Laurel Park Management are big supporters of bicycles and the folks who ride them. To clear up a quick issue of nomenclature, I tend to use cycling when I mean higher speeds, longer distances, stretchier clothes, and bicycling when I mean cruising around, running errands, dressing normally. I’ve written here before about how ideally suited Sarasota is to both cycling and bicycling—bicycling being the subject at hand—but I’ll repeat the key points quickly before moving on to the point of this post…that, for many of us, replacing a car with a bike is not only viable but really pretty smart (if you’re scoffing at me right now or labeling me as one of those enviro-wackos trying to destroy America, please reserve judgment until the end).

When my then-girlfriend and I moved to Sarasota several years ago from Los Angeles we sold one of our two cars and used the money to pay for the move across country. We had enough left over to buy a bicycle for each of us, pay off a credit card, and rent an apartment here in Laurel Park. My girlfriend usually took the remaining car to work up the trail, which left me with a bicycle to use for all my daily needs. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Sarasota is flat, the climate is spectacular, most roads have relatively low auto-traffic loads and speeds, and shopping and services tend to be clustered compactly enough to allow bicyclists to cross off several to-do items in quick succession. But it’s too hot during summer, you say? I bicycle year round and find that shade from trees keeps things sufficiently moderate even on the worst days. What about rain? Thankfully, our rain tends to be pretty predictable. I simply pay more attention to the forecast than I used to. Cars can be an issue, partly because the prevailing mentality of drivers here is, let’s say, Darwinian, and partly because most drivers just aren’t used to looking out for bicyclists. And despite the compact clusters sprawl can also be something to overcome. BUT…by and large, SRQ is a fine place to ride a bike, and it could become a spectacular place to ride a bike if we plant more shade trees, paint more (and wider) bike lanes, and take some simple steps to protect current bicyclists while encouraging new ones to join. Why would we want to do such a thing? Isn’t the car the American way (to get around)?

The honest answer is, sometimes. Cars are great for driving relatively long distances, for rural areas, and for a host of other situations. But in an urban context cars can be more trouble than they’re worth. Using a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation has changed how I interact with the city. I see more, hear more. My senses come alive. The world slows to a human speed. Errands have become enjoyable. And, perhaps surprisingly, I can usually accomplish them faster with a bike than I can by car. This is also due to the advantages of proximity that residents of Laurel Park benefit from, of course, but it still caught me by surprise.

Parking a bike is faster and easier than parking a car. It’s also free. Riding a bike improves one’s health, makes no noise, emits nothing smelly or toxic. Bikes take up roughly 1/10th the space of cars while driving, and as little as 1/15th when parked. Then there are the economic benefits: cars cost a lot to buy, and you still have to insure them, maintain and repair them, and fill them with gas. Bikes are cheap, repairs are simple, maintenance is minimal, and fuel costs are already included in your grocery bill. On the rare occasions when I need a second car I rent one. The cost and hassle are both substantially less than with ownership.

Since becoming a daily bicyclist I’m healthier, happier, and my income goes further than it used to. I’m not saying that everyone should get rid of their cars, but most households with multiple cars can probably get by just fine with one car and a new bike. Heck, a few new bikes. People in Copenhagen, for example, use their bikes not only to commute and shop but also to drive their kids to school (see the picture above) and do a million other things we don’t associate with bicycles.

People who haven’t lived there might be surprised to know that Copenhagen has a lot of cars and that the roads are, at times, filled with car traffic just like they are in Sarasota. The difference is mostly one of options…many people there recognize that certain trips are faster, cheaper, and easier to make by bike. The point of all of this is that there are options, there are solutions to every problem, some of which are so simple they escape our view. If you are looking to cut your expenses, improve your health, get more fresh air, and take better advantage of all that our beautiful city has to offer, I highly recommend selling your car (especially if you have more than one) and getting a bike. Or, if that just isn’t feasible, using a bike for as many trips as possible. You won’t regret it.

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Walkscore.com, the top online evaluator of a neighborhood’s walkability, has given Laurel Park a rating of 85 out of 100, good for 3rd place (mere percentage points behind downtown and the Rosemary District) among Sarasota’s 31 ranked neighborhoods. Of course, this only confirms what we’ve long known—Laurel Park’s location is nearly ideal! We can walk to restaurants and shopping, walk to services such as supermarkets and hair salons, walk to parks, walk to the bay, walk to Main Street. For those of us employed downtown, walking to work is a breeze.

Here’s what Walk Score had to say:

Laurel Park is the #3 most walkable neighborhood in Sarasota. This neighborhood is Very Walkable with an average Walk Score of 85. Laurel Park has 1,579 people—or 3% of Sarasota’s population.

Laurel Park is similar in walkability to Downtown and Original Gillespie Park. Laurel Park’s Walk Score is 28 points higher than Sarasota’s Walk Score of 57.

Not too shabby.

 

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