Bike&Place: A New Modeling Tool to Help Planners Help Cyclists

Washington Street, Houston, Mississippi: Streetscape rendering after implementing downtown, trail-oriented growth. Image Courtesy Brian Morton.

You’d like to bike downtown for your job, to go shopping or to attend an event. Those first few blocks near home seem safe enough, but you get a bit worried when traffic gets heavier. It turns out, you’re not alone in how traffic stress affects your willingness to bicycle. CURS researcher Brian J. Morton has developed a tool that will help town planners design more cyclist-friendly networks around signature places in their community.

In a recent study for the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center (STRIDE), Morton used an open-source software package to create an easy-to-use travel demand model for use by planners working in towns and small cities. Morton’s goal was to build a product that predicts demand for bicycle travel by “interested but concerned” cyclists. Called Bike&Place, Morton’s tool helps planners increase bicycle accessibility.

Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for Portland, Oregon, created a typology of four kinds of cyclists: strong and fearless; enthused and confident; interested but concerned; and “no way no how.” In a national survey, participants were categorized into those four types in the following percentages: 7 percent; 5 percent; 51 percent; and 37 percent. The 51 percent of “interested but concerned” noted that they “like riding a bicycle…and they would like to ride more. But, they are afraid to ride….Very few of these people regularly ride bicycles… [and they] will not venture out onto the arterials to the major commercial and employment destinations they frequent.…They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”

Three small towns in Mississippi were used to develop and test Bike&Place. In Houston, Mississippi (population 3,623), Bike&Place estimates that less than 2 percent of the town’s residential neighborhoods have bicycle access to Courthouse Square, one of the town’s focal points. With an improved network, bicycle access to Courthouse Square could increase to 83 percent.

Morton hopes Bike&Place will make it easier for planners to map traffic stress problem areas and find solutions to make biking less stressful for the large numbers of interested but concerned cyclists and increase the likelihood that they will bike to important community locations. The project report, “Bike&Place: A New Tool for Designing Active, Place-Making Transportation Networks – An Exploratory Study,” provides detailed instructions on how to adapt Bike&Place to other places. For more information on using this tool, contact Morton here.

Editor’s Note: On June 28, 2017, Morton gave a Bike&Place presentation at the 2017 National Regional Transportation Conference in Denver, CO, sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations

Chinese Cities and the Use of Urban Planning to Help Control Air Quality

Rapid growth and greatly expanded motor vehicle ownership and usage have contributed to serious air pollution across China. In 2014 alone, Beijing endured more than twenty days with almost ten times the national ambient air quality limit, causing public health issues. Can better urban form reduce air pollution?

Photo by Bill Rohe

In collaboration with four UNC Program on Chinese Cities (PCC) visiting scholars, Director of the PCC and CURS Faculty Fellow Yan Song recently published a paper in the Journal of Planning Education and Research evaluating this question.

Based on evidence gathered from 157 Chinese cities, this study analyzed the effects of aspects of urban form metrics on concentrations of ambient pollutants. Greater population density, more centralized development and better street accessibility were found to have a significant correlation with lower concentrations of air pollutants, while a higher level of urban sprawl may have a negative impact on air quality.

“The influence of urban form on pollution,” said Song, “is comparable to the effects of other factors like weather conditions.” Cities with urban sprawl are more likely to contain higher levels of air pollution, which should draw wide attention from local governments and planners in China. “These findings indicate that urban form could play a modest, but important, role in improving air quality for Chinese cities,” noted Song.

Click here to read the full here.

Post-Disaster Recovery Plans after China’s Wenchuan Earthquake

At 2:28 pm on May 12, 2008, the Wènchuān dà dìzhèn (literally “Great Wenchuan earthquake”) registered 8.0 on the Richter magnitude scale. As the 21st deadliest earthquake of all time, the Wenchuan (also known as Sichuan) earthquake took more than 69,000 lives and left about 4.8 million people homeless. On November 6, 2008, China announced that it would spend about $146.5 billion over the next three years to rebuild areas ravaged by the earthquake as part of the Chinese economic stimulus program.

Wenchuan

Natural disasters such as this have long been considered one of the major challenges confronting humankind. In recent years, both the incidence and frequency of natural disasters have increased. It is also evident that losses due to natural catastrophic events have increased dramatically over decades.

In this context, post-disaster recovery practices have become more common and research on disaster recovery within the academic community is also increasing. Many of these studies suggest that urgency and uncertainty in the aftermath of disasters lead to short-term decision-making that does not address, or may even amplify, pre-disaster social, economic and environmental weaknesses, which are the main challenges to long-term sustainability. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate sustainability into the disaster recovery process.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) Faculty Fellow and Director of the Program on Chinese Cities Yan Song, Chaosu Li, a UNC Department of City and Regional Planning doctoral candidate, and their colleagues examined 16 local recovery plans developed in response to the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

Through a CURS-supported, National Science Foundation-funded grant, planning documents from the affected areas were analyzed and evaluated, and in-depth interviews with government officials, planners and researchers were conducted. Song and her colleagues found that the local recovery plans do not appear to have sufficiently incorporated concepts of sustainability.

The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The severely devastated town of Jundao in Sichuan Province during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

The report’s findings reveal five challenges for incorporating sustainability into disaster recovery plans. These include: limited inclusion of environmental and equity goals; limitations to local planning capacity; insufficient enforcement tools; inadequate stakeholder engagement; and weak interagency coordination.

“The Chinese central government has emphasized ‘eco-reconstruction’ as the overarching goal for disaster recovery after the Wenchuan earthquake,” explained Song. “Nevertheless, disaster recovery goals at the local level were still economics-oriented.”

Song and her colleagues suggest the following four steps to improve the local disaster recovery planning process:

First, efforts must be made to include sustainability within a plan’s visions and goals. Environmental goals and achievements should be evaluated in the promotion of government officials. Policy frameworks should be formalized, with visions translated into goals encompassing different dimensions of sustainability that can be measured and tracked. For instance, to achieve the vision of providing a sustainable future for its citizens, one goal could be “mitigating secondary flood hazards,” with an objective to “reduce peak runoff volume.” These policy frameworks must be shared with other government agencies to support the implementation of policy action items by other agencies.

Second, data-sharing mechanisms should be enhanced. “We recommend that planning departments at city and provincial levels possess backups of basic data for areas that are prone to natural disasters,” said Song. “Basic ecological, geological and socioeconomic data at the local level should be shared across government agencies.”

The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Photo above: The road heading to Wenyuan, the epicenter of 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. (Wikipedia photo)

Third, planning techniques such as hazard exposure analyses, ecological impact analyses and ecological carrying capacity assessments should be applied during the early stages of the plan-making process to ensure sufficient sustainability considerations. “In the Chinese context, where a top-down approach often plays the primary role in guiding urban planning, the central government can lead in designing tools and policy actions for sustainability,” explained Song.

Finally, interagency collaboration is an important way to alleviate the existing fragmentation in governmental structure. In the current local government setting in China, agencies involved in, or responsible for, sustainability-related issues include the Development and Reform Commission, the Department of Environment Protection, the Department of Land Resources and Planning, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Forestry and Agriculture and the Department of Transportation. Because sustainability touches issues administered by this wide range of agencies, developing a framework for interagency coordination is critical for promoting sustainability.

“It is laudable that China has begun to recognize the importance of sustainability in post-disaster recovery planning,” said Song, “and it is especially notable that sustainability was prominently reflected in State Council policies for post-earthquake reconstruction. While this disaster provided a moment to make a statement about sustainable recovery, it also created a situation in which it was difficult to actually accomplish these goals. It may be that Chinese planning practices are able to achieve greater sustainability in situations that allow for more time and deliberation.”

Better Cities, Better Growth: Lessons for India’s Urban Opportunity

Better Cities, Better GrowthIndia is experiencing an urban transformation with its urban population reaching 420 million in 2015 (33 percent of total). This is expected to nearly double by 2050 to 800 million, with close to 400 million additional people living in towns and cities by 2050 (50 percent of total). By 2031, 75 percent of India’s national income is expected to come from cities and a majority of new jobs will be created in urban areas.

“Given the rapidity of change and long-lived nature of urban form and infrastructure, the decisions that India’s policy makers make in the next five to fifteen years will lock in its urban pathway for decades to come,” said CURS Faculty Fellow Meenu Tewari, associate professor, Department of City and Regional Planning at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “There are real choices to be made.”

Global evidence, gathered in a year-long effort by a team led by Tewari, suggests that an extensive, “sprawled” model of urban growth—with cities oriented around the private vehicle rather than people—can have significant economic, social and environmental costs which undermine prosperity. On the other hand, more compact, connected and coordinated cities can be more productive, socially-inclusive, resilient, cleaner and safer, unleashing the benefits of urban agglomeration.

Meenu Tewari

Meenu Tewari

A new synthesis report by Tewari for the India New Climate Economy Partnership focuses on how India can aim to foster a better urbanization — one that promotes more rapid economic transformation, improves the quality of life of city dwellers and curbs the potential harmful spillovers of urbanization, such as congestion, wasteful energy use and unwanted pollution.

The report draws on an innovative blend of nighttime lights (satellite) data and census, environmental and economic data to paint a picture of recent trends in India’s urbanization and the relationships that exist in Indian cities between types of urban expansion and transport connectivity, and economic performance. It looks at the potential nationwide costs of a “sprawled” model of urbanization, as well as noting some of the current policies and institutional conditions that create incentives for such a model of urbanization. Using case studies of four Indian cities—Bangalore, Indore, Pune and Surat—the report delves more deeply into how this model of urban growth might exacerbate key deficits in basic urban services. It concludes by suggesting policy recommendations to accelerate a better form of urbanization.

Chokepoints: Circulation and Regulation in India’s Siliguri Corridor

India's Chicken NeckKnown as the Chicken Neck, the Siliguri Corridor is a precarious sliver of territory connecting India’s ‘mainland’ to its Northeast. Flanked by international borders, the Corridor funnels a myriad of goods and bodies between Nepal, China, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and onward to Myanmar and Southeast Asia.

It is a zone of intense traffic and a critical chokepoint of South Asia. The immense volume of resources and people moving through the Corridor puts enormous strain on its infrastructure, not to mention those charged with securing and governing this unruly space. The Chicken Neck remains interwoven with smuggling, human trafficking, and clandestine activities – all of which can easily hide within its chaotic traffic. Traffic has accordingly become the operative condition of the Corridor’s (dys)function.

CURS Faculty Fellow Townsend Middleton, assistant professor of anthropology, spent the summer of 2016 working ethnographically with customs agents, anti-human traffickers, logistics experts and truck drivers in order to understand the cat-and-mouse interplays of circulation and regulation that shape life in this transit zone.

Chokepoint TrucksThis fieldwork by Middleton and his partners is part of an ongoing National Science Foundation-funded, CURS-supported, collaborative research project examining chokepoints around the world. Work sites include:

  • The Panama Canal: a century-old chokepoint of Atlantic-Pacific shipping and emerging global logistics hub. (with Ashley Carse, human and organizational development, Vanderbilt University)
  • India’s Siliguri Corridor (a.k.a. the “Chicken Neck”): a vital geopolitical connector of India and South Asia to China and Southeast Asia.
  • The Bab-el-Mandeb Strait: a critical shipping lane between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. (with Jatin Dua, anthropology, University of Michigan)
  • Ecuador’s Esmeraldas Refinery: a processing facility where oil from Amazonian oilfields is piped, refined, and exported for global maritime trade. (with CURS Faculty Fellow Gabriela Valdivia, geography, UNC-Chapel Hill)
  • Russia’s Roki Tunnel: a passageway of arms, bodies, and nuclear matter through the Caucasus (with Elizabeth Cullen Dunn, geography, Indiana University)
  • The Sundarbans: a network of chokepoints straddling the India-Bangladesh border and a critical zone of climatological crisis. (with Jason Cons, public affairs, UT Austin)
Townsend Middleton

Townsend Middleton

As chokepoints, these are sites that constrict or choke the flow of information, bodies and goods due to their natural and anthropogenic qualities. They are, by definition, integral yet difficult to bypass. Importantly, what happens at these sites ripples far beyond their immediate surroundings. Indeed, as Middleton’s research is demonstrating, chokepoints are sites where forces of globalization are powerfully exposed.

“Our aim is understand the human dimensions,” explained Middleton. “We are all dependent on chokepoints. Turning ethnographic attention to these sites, we aim to develop new understandings of the global flows and frictions that define the world today.”

Extreme Housing Conditions in North Carolina

Many North Carolina communities are experiencing an affordable housing crisis, which is particularly severe for those who rent. This report examines severe housing cost burden, overcrowding and substandard housing conditions among renters in the state. It identifies areas in our state with extreme housing needs, defined as having relatively high levels of at least two of the following three indicators: severe housing cost burden, overcrowding and the lack of complete kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Interactive Map

In addition to the report, an interactive map of Extreme Housing Conditions in North Carolina can be found by clicking on the map above.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Census tracts with extreme housing conditions were found in 46 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all three geographic regions.
  • As of 2013, more than 377,000, or 28.2 percent, of the State’s rental households experienced severe cost burdens, were overcrowded or lacked critical facilities.
  • The number of severely cost-burdened households increased by 53,737 or 22.5 percent between 2008 and 2013.
  • In eight census tracts, over 60 percent of renter households were severely cost burdened, with the highest percentage being 77.4 percent in a Wake County tract.
  • The number of overcrowded households increased by 20,437, or 45.4 percent, between 2008 and 2013.
  • In six census tracts, over 30 percent of renter households were overcrowded, with the highest rate being 53 percent in a Wake County tract.

The report’s findings indicate that additional efforts are needed to improve housing conditions, reduce overcrowding, and lessen the housing cost burdens of renters in North Carolina. Without decent and affordable housing it is difficult for many families in the state to lead happy and productive lives. These housing problems also increase public health care costs and reliance on social support programs and lower productivity. The combined efforts of state and local governments are needed to reverse the negative trends in housing affordability and overcrowding and improve the quality of life and economic productivity of North Carolinians.

The executive summary can be found here and the full report can be found here.

In addition to the report, an interactive map for Extreme Housing Conditions in North Carolina can be found here.

CURS Researchers Present at Urban Affairs Association Conference

Kirstin Frescoln presenting her research at the Urban Affairs Association conference in San Diego.

Kirstin Frescoln presenting her research at the Urban Affairs Association conference in San Diego.

CURS Researchers Michael Webb and Kirstin Frescoln presented their research at the Urban Affairs Association conference in San Diego last week.

Kirstin’s paper was titled “I Was Scared Over There – Family Well-being After Relocation from a Distressed Public Housing Development.” Her presentation examined how relocation from the Charlotte Housing Authority’s Boulevard Homes development impacted residents’ health and well-being [link to final boulevard report]

Michael’s paper was titled “Counselors or Craigslist? Relationships Between Housing Search Resources and Voucher Holders’ Neighborhood Outcomes.” He used data from our survey of the Charlotte Housing Authority’s Section 8 residents to examine whether residents who relied on counseling services, websites (like SocialServe or Craigslist), friends or family, or just “driving around” moved to higher-quality neighborhoods. You can view his presentation here.

CURS Director Bill Rohe was also at the conference, and led two roundtable discussions – one on the meaning of “self-sufficiency” in housing programs, and another on issues related to leading university-based urban research centers.

Announcing the Fall 2016/Spring 2017 CURS Scholar-in-Residence Opportunity

With support from the Dean’s Office of the College of Arts & Sciences, the Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS) is pleased to solicit applications again for its Scholar-in-Residence Program. The CURS Scholar-in-Residence Program provides an opportunity for faculty members in the College of Arts & Sciences to concentrate on developing major research proposals by providing funds for a course buyout and for proposal development expenses. In addition, the CURS Scholar-in-Residence will have full administrative support from the Center’s financial and clerical support staff. This opportunity will be provided during either the fall semester 2016 or spring semester 2017 based on the candidate’s preference. Laura Lopez-Sanders from the Department of Sociology is the Spring 2016 Scholar-in-Residence. As a result, faculty members from that department are ineligible for the Fall 2016/Spring 2017 program. The complete details of the program and applications are available at http://curs.unc.edu/programs/scholar-in-residence-program/.

Applications are due no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, March 7, 2016. The candidates will be notified of the outcome of the selection process in mid March 2016. 

For further information or an application contact:
Todd Owen, Associate Director
Center for Urban and Regional Studies
Hickerson House; CB# 3410
Phone: (919) 962-3076   Fax: (919) 962-2518
towen@email.unc.edu

Center for Community Capital Awarded $1.05 million grant from JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The UNC Center for Community Capital (CCC) has been awarded a $1.05 million grant from JPMorgan Chase & Co. to conduct three affordable housing and financial capability research and evaluation projects. These projects aim to help under-resourced communities become more vibrant and economically inclusive across the nation.

“We plan to provide a connection between researchers and experts and communities in different parts of the country, and [to] start a dialogue about what works and what doesn’t work in the area of enhancing opportunities, and the role that housing and financial capability have in that,” said Roberto Quercia, Director of CCC, who is co-directing the project with Lucy Gorham, Executive Director of CCC.

The projects include:

  1. CCC will serve as a research partner for three affordable housing organizations that are working to expand financial capability services to their affordable housing clients. The three partner organizations will be the Cleveland Housing Network (CHN), The Resurrection Project (Chicago), and the New York City Housing Authority in collaboration with the New York City Office of Financial Empowerment. CCC’s role will be to provide research and evaluation advisory services to help these organizations document the impact of integrating financial capability services into their affordable housing programs and to inform the larger financial capability and affordable housing fields about best practices and lessons learned from these innovative pilots.
  2. CCC will also research and write a white paper on the potential for financial technology to enhance the delivery and scaling of financial capability services and products to underserved consumers; and
  3. CCC will develop an Opportunity Assessment that JPMC might use in any of its funding sites. The Opportunity Assessment would utilize a two-fold approach: first, the creation of a data-driven index of place-based opportunity that will provide JPMC and its community partners with an important tool with which to assess and refine community development and investment strategies; and second, the use of community-level research that will help residents and community organizations define and take ownership of the vibrancy and well-being of their immediate and broader neighborhoods. The Opportunity Assessment has housing at its center, since the home is the site where residents and opportunity meet. Central to the analysis is one driving question: how can housing be leveraged to promote household and community prosperity?

CURS releases “Boulevard Homes Final Report: Changing Communities, Transforming Lives”

Changing Communities, Transforming Lives CoverThe Center for Urban & Regional Studies has released the Boulevard Homes Final Report: Changing Communities, Transforming Lives. Short for “Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI program funded the demolition and redevelopment of distressed public housing developments throughout the country. Between 1994 and 2010, over 250 public housing developments were redeveloped with support from the HOPE VI program. The Charlotte Housing Authority received a total of five HOPE VI grants during this time.

The most recent HOPE VI grant awarded to the CHA was for the razing and redevelopment of Boulevard Homes, which was physically obsolescent and plagued with crime. The newly constructed development—called the Renaissance—includes 274 apartments reserved for low-income families and 60 market rate units. The Renaissance also includes a K-8 public school (currently under construction) and an early childhood development center that is in the planning stages. The Renaissance West Community Initiative, a non-profit initially funded by the CHA, is coordinating the educational and social services being provided in the development.

Over the past five years, CURS has been evaluating this redevelopment project, with a particular focus on the experience of those who were relocated from the original development. The CHA provided residents with case managers and supportive services while the Renaissance was under construction. These case managers helped residents set self-sufficiency goals, and connected families with services like job training, educational opportunities, and health care assistance.

Building on our previous evaluation reports, this final report provides an overview of the Boulevard Homes redevelopment process and its outcomes. It describes and assesses the redevelopment process, including the design of the new development, the relocation of former residents, the attitudes of the former residents toward the relocation process and outcomes, the supportive services offered to relocatees, and the redevelopment’s impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and much more.

Some of the key findings are that:

  • The CHA used the financial flexibility provided through the Moving to Work demonstration to shift over $14,000,000 into developing the Renaissance and additional off-site replacement housing. Additional CHA funding also allowed the authority to offer enhanced supportive services to the residents who were relocated from the original development.
  • A majority of former Boulevard Homes residents relocated to privately-owned apartments using Housing Choice Vouchers rather than moving to other CHA public housing developments. A large majority of the relocated residents were very satisfied with the relocation process, and with their new housing and neighborhoods. This, to some extent, explains the relatively small number of original tenants who moved back to the redeveloped site.
  • Over time, the intensity of case management services offered to residents decreased as the budget for those services became tight. The most commonly-accessed services for non-elderly residents were occupational training and childcare subsidies, while health care assistance was the most frequently used by for elderly households.
  • The work efforts of the relocated residents substantially increased during the redevelopment process. According to data collected by case managers, the percent of non-elderly/disabled residents working rose from 33% in October 2010, close to the beginning of the project, to 67% in June 2015, close to the end of the project.
  • While it is very early to assess the development’s impacts on the surrounding neighborhood, we note that the neighborhood surrounding the Renaissance has experienced a recent significant increase in home lending activity. In addition, CHA and developer staff believe that conditions are improving in the neighborhood, with a new police station and social service center slated to open nearby soon.

To read or download the full report, please click here.