New issue coming in 2024!The Urbanist / Winter 2024
After a three-year hiatus, The Urbanist is back! Select articles from the magazine will be published online in early 2024, but members receive the complete issue in the mail.
Become a member by December 31 to receive a print copy in your mailbox.
The “15-minute neighborhood” concept promotes people-centered development as a way cities can improve convenience, affordability, and equity while decreasing air pollution and carbon emissions. In a new policy brief, SPUR Housing and Planning Policy Manager Erika Pinto explores how the 15-minute model could help improve and accelerate San José’s approach to planning for more compact and connected urban development. We spoke with Erika about 15-minute principles and planning for more complete communities.
The concept of the “15-minute neighborhood,” where residents can access essential, everyday services just a short walk or bike ride from home, has gained currency in recent years. San José’s plan to grow by building dense, mixed-use “urban villages” could guide the kind of development that would create 15-minute neighborhoods. SPUR suggests that San José could use the 15-minute framework to implement its urban village plan. We recommend six strategies to enable the creation of these more complete, connected, and equitable communities.
Parks and public spaces are signifiers of civic vitality, and their maintenance, improvement, expansion, and programming often reflect the economic times. These activities can be made sustainable by re-examining place governance — how people and organizations across sectors collaborate to shape a place’s economic, physical, and social dynamics. As San José considers how to deliver on the promise of its public green spaces, it can look to other cities that have created or reformed place governance models.
This year’s Ideas + Action symposium explored the topic of housing policy beyond “zero sum” thinking , where some prosper at the expense of others. Keynote speaker Heather McGhee led an investigation into common conceptions of zero sum thinking, such as “policies that support renters harm homeowners” and “affordable housing leads to declining property values.” Our daylong conversation explored the role that racism plays in these debates and the shifts needed to create something different.
Oakland has launched what it describes as a “once-in-a generation” opportunity to create a visionary blueprint for the city’s future. SPUR sprang to action when the city released its inaugural draft Environmental Justice Element and its draft Safety Element update as part of the city’s 2045 General Plan Update. Our efforts paid off: the city council adopted several of our recommendations, all of which will help economically vulnerable Oaklanders, in particular.
A new SPUR research paper digs into the housing market’s failure to meet the needs of middle-income households. Using a national survey and three case studies of middle-income housing production programs, the paper reveals that the need for middle-income housing is growing, and it's felt nationwide — not just in expensive coastal cities. California can look to innovative programs across the country as models for how to address the state’s housing challenges
The close of the 2023 state legislative year brought a number of big wins for SPUR. Governor Newsom signed nine pieces of SPUR-sponsored legislation that will, among other things, prevent the misuse of environmental review processes to stop or delay new housing, pilot speed safety cameras on streets with high crash rates, and speed up timelines for connecting all-electric buildings and EV charging stations to the power grid.
The San Francisco Bay Area Local Food Purchasing Collaborative, a partnership between 12 Bay Area public institutions, is combining its purchasing power to procure food that is local, sustainable, fair, humane, and healthy. SPUR worked with the collaborative to prepare a roadmap and toolkit of resources to assist policy makers and advocates interested in approaching values-based procurement as a region.
Converting empty offices into apartments could both reanimate downtown San Francisco and provide housing for more people in an area rich in transit, jobs, culture, recreation, and entertainment. In a first-of-its-kind study, SPUR and ULI San Francisco, in partnership with Gensler and HR&A Advisors, explored the physical suitability of converting office buildings to housing and tested the financial feasibility of such projects. Our report lays out six policy imperatives for realizing office-to-housing conversions on a large scale.
Bus riders and other road transit users often don’t get a fair shake when it comes to transportation investments. Making Roads Work for Transit , a recent SPUR report, describes the multiple challenges a typical Bay Area bus trip can entail and argues that continuing to privilege convenience for cars is jeopardizing equity and climate goals — as well as transit’s fiscal sustainability. It lays out a roadmap to greenlight transit-friendly roadway design and operations.
Historically, Santa Clara Street was San José’s “main street.” Today, it is oriented toward vehicle traffic, which can make it an unpleasant, even dangerous, place. The city and its community partners are embarking on a re-envisioning of Santa Clara Street focused on people, placemaking, and programming. Could proposals to “re-enchant” the world’s most famous grand boulevard, the Champs-Élysées, be a model for this planning effort?
Currently, transit delays and unreliability can make riding the bus a nonstarter for those who have other options for getting around. Growing segregation of the transit system is inequitable, unsustainable, and inefficient. Giving transit vehicles priority on Bay Area roads can deliver the speed and reliability improvements needed to get more people on buses and out of cars. SPUR offers 16 recommendations for aligning the interests of transit agencies and local jurisdictions to greenlight these improvements.
The California legislature is considering a temporary toll increase on seven bridges in the Bay Area to avoid severe transit service cuts. The proposed increase has understandably sparked concern about equity. SPUR's deep dive found that most bridge drivers have higher incomes than most transit riders. Because protections can be implemented for people with low incomes who must drive, there’s no reason to let transit collapse. That outcome that would be the least equitable of all.
Revenue Allocations from Soda Taxes in Oakland and San Francisco Continue to Diverge from Advisory Committees’ RecommendationsNews /
Each year SPUR analyzes how Oakland and San Francisco allocate the revenues from their respective soda taxes, which are intended to be spent on improving the health of populations disproportionately impacted by soda consumption and diet-related disease. Five years in, much of the soda tax revenues are consistently funneled to uses that depart from advisory committees’ recommendations.
California will soon provide financial assistance for seismic retrofitting to owners of some multifamily apartment buildings as part of the Multifamily Seismic Retrofit Program, the state’s first program to protect low- to moderate-income renters in vulnerable buildings. Additional funding will be needed to effectively address seismic risk, protect public safety, preserve housing, and support community resilience in the aftermath of severe earthquakes.
Detroit’s downtown renaissance offers lessons for struggling Bay Area’s cities: the health of cities is intrinsically tied to the prosperity of the state, and the revitalization of downtowns is critical to the recovery of neighborhoods. Thanks to community advocacy, Detroit’s city leaders and philanthropic organizations are now funding new initiatives to ensure that future revitalization efforts promote affordable housing and homeownership, workforce development, and entrepreneurship.
How will the Bay Area’s new Transit-Oriented Communities Policy affect existing city plans, including plans not compliant with all of the policy’s requirements? SPUR explored what this regional policy means for a proposed BART station and a light-rail corridor in San José, including how housing and transit advocates think they can use it to advance their goals and how the city has begun to consider its implications for ongoing planning efforts.
A new SPUR report, Making Al Fresco Work , notes that the initiative has begun to transform San José’s urban environment in ways that are consistent with the city’s larger goals of creating vibrant commercial corridors and walkable neighborhoods. We talked with Erika Pinto, SPUR’s San José planning policy manager, about proposed strategies for improving on San Jose’s current outdoor dining review processes and about the role of al fresco spaces in transforming the city’s public realm.
The state’s budget brought a big win for transit, but also an unfinished fight: the Bay Area still faces a sizable gap in operating funds over the next five years just to maintain existing transit service levels. What does the state’s budget include for transit, and what more must be done to transition transit to a sustainable business model?