by William Skink
The Missoula Current helped remind me that there are bigger things afoot than just rampant gentrification and TIF handouts for the private sector.
No, there is a VISION behind the master planning, and the NEW MAN to direct development for the city–Josh Martin–is just the man to take the helm because he believes in the vision of NEW URBANISM.
I’m yelling because I’m just SO EXCITED about what BRIGHT future NEW URBANISM has in store for us. But before we get to that, let’s meet Josh Martin:
A city planner with experience in new urbanism and regulatory reform will take the helm of Development Services in Missoula next month amid a realignment of planning efforts between several key departments.
Josh Martin, who currently serves as director of planning, zoning and building in Palm Beach, Florida, will begin as director of Development Services in February.
“He worked for a legendary mayor named Joe Riley in Charleston, South Carolina, where he helped guide their planning and development efforts,” Mayor John Engen said. “Riley is largely credited with spreading the gospel of new urbanism among mayors, and Martin is a huge urban renewal guy.”
To understand New Urbanism I don’t think it’s helpful to read how they describe their cult because it sounds like this:
NEW URBANISM promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.
I think these people see color-pencil drawings of super cool future places that don’t exist and think they can wish it into existence if you just give their public/private projects public money because it takes money don’t you know to do all that assembled integration stuff.
And don’t get me started with what they think they can do with their erasers.
Anyway, let’s get back to the happy color pencil VISION and see how it matches up with that pesky thing called reality.
Since Josh Martin’s work with a legendary Mayor I never heard in Charleston, South Carolina sounds like a big part of his resume, let’s take a looksie at how some folks were feeling last March:
“Tax increases. Everything is a little more expensive,” said Sherry Snipes Williams, who helped organize the public forum.
West End resident Jason Taylor’s explains, “We’re experiencing hotelification, commodification of residential lands where our communities are being sold to the highest bidder.”
“I see it a lot with the property values going up and pushing people out, says Downtown resident Bobby Teachey.
Call it the high cost of development.
Affordable living has become harder to come by for the middle and lower class.
“African-Americans are moving on out because the cost of living is just too high,” Tameika Euland says.
Well how about that? Sound familiar? I guess Martin will feel right at home in Missoula. If you want to hear a podcast about gentrification in Charleston, this one looks good.
Moving on to Palm Beach, here’s part of Martin’s philosophy that should make developers in Missoula cautiously optimistic:
Martin said he’d like to see zoning reviews become more streamlined. The Town Council shouldn’t have to fiddle with applications for awnings, for example, when staff can handle that.
He’d also like the procedure to be more collaborative and predictable for applicants.
“There are ways to reform the design review so it’s more of a conversation than a judgment day,” he said. “Leading with ‘yes,’ as opposed to ‘no,’ is a big part of that.”
That townhouse project that dragged on and on? Get it through quicker! The condo project on 4th street? It’s so walkable, so NEW URBAN! Public concern about how TIF greases all this? A steel-lined, Gwen Jones Ice Stare.
These urban planners blow newspeak like pixie dust to obfuscate the fact affordable housing is never really addressed by these new urban planners, like in Palm Beach:
“I think we are in an affordable housing crisis in Palm Beach County. The median sales price is $350,000. So, people who make within $60,000 and $90,000, they are still not able to buy a house if they didn’t get assistance,” said Charles.
The financial assistance includes home buying education as they partner with the Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency .
“We provide education, but we also help them to access financing and a little lower interest rate. If you sell within the seven years, you pay us back. After seven years, it’s all forgiven, you don’t owe us anything,” Charles said.
The Riviera Beach Community Redevelopment Agency sounds like it might actually help people. That must be nice. In contrast, Missoula’s redevelopment agency prefers helping out entities, like banks. A specific example was reported on last December when KECI described how Missoula issued a 1.5 million dollar bond to Stockman’s bank, then allowed the bank to purchase the bond, so not only is the city of Missoula giving the bank public money, it’s also paying a 4% interest rate to the bank itself.
According to a professor from the totally not corrupt city of Chicago, this arrangement is very unusual:
In March, the city of Missoula issued a $1.5 million bond to reimburse Stockman Bank for part of their almost $30 million construction project on Orange Street and East Broadway.
According to city documents, the bond was issued to pay for improvements such as “environmental remediation and demolition of vacant buildings on the property, burial of overhead power lines within the public right-of-way and construction of new curb, gutter, sidewalks, lighting and landscaping within the public right-of-way.”
Stockman Bank then purchased that bond, meaning along with reimbursement the city is also paying Stockman a 4% interest rate on that $1.5 million.
“There are a couple of things that are very unusual about that,” University of Illinois at Chicago professor Dr. David Merriman said. “The bank being the beneficiary of TIF funds and then also buying the bond is, in my experience, very unusual.”
Merriman is an expert in TIF. He has studied its use in cities across the country for decades. He said he’s never seen an arrangement like the one between Stockman Bank and Missoula.
You know you’re scraping the bottom of the ethics barrel when an academic who studies TIF in Chicago raises an eyebrow over the financial deference Missoula exhibits toward its private sector.
Well, Missoula is the community Josh Martin will call home for a year or two before he moves along to spread the gospel of New Urbanism to the next gentrifying municipality.
How do I know Martin won’t be here long? Because not staying in a place for too long is a part of his intentional strategy. This is Martin in his own words from one of the above links: “I was very deliberate in never staying in a place too long,” said Martin, a native of northern Kentucky. “You want to maintain a dynamic nature and energy, to keep yourself fresh.”
So, for the next few years, Missoula will have to endure this prophet of New Urbanism who I’m sure is skilled at making gentrification sound like an amazing re-branding of how societies will function, but in reality pushes unwanted density on every scrap of land to maximize profit for developers. The communities Martin has recently influenced continue to struggle with unaffordable housing and gentrification. Missoula should expect the same
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