TacomaGeekery

Jul. 8, 2008 at 2:02pm

Downtown Tacoma: High Gas Prices

A blessing in disguise?

With all the complaining I've heard about high gas prices lately, I want to bring to light a possible benefit this circumstance could have on the future of downtown Tacoma (and Tacoma at large for that matter). Consider this: rising gas prices also mean a rising pressure on people to live closer to where they work (or work closer to where they live). This is something that people like James Kunstler have touched upon many times, but until recently it has mostly been theoretical.

Yesterday, I read an article that took all this theory and shoved it into reality. Suburban sprawl's poster child, Sacramento, was featured in the WSJ for it's new movement towards greater density and a smarter growth strategy. "Blueprint" growth as it is called, emphasizes density and focuses on locating people's homes closer to where they work, shop, and go to school.

This speaks well for Tacoma's future economic development. It suggests that we are going to see an unprecedented rush of investment into the downtown core as demand shifts from suburbia to urbia. Blueprint growth has arguably always been a good idea, but the recent rise in gas prices is catalyzing its movement into the mainstream. This is what got me thinking about downtown Tacoma and how it will most likely benefit if current trends continue. The Sacramento story gives us an opportunity to see what kinds of roadblocks and challenges we might see in the future as Tacoma's growth continues:

Developers

The Sacramento example showed that most developers initially were very opposed to this whole concept, until they saw that demand was already shifting away from suburban homes in favor of more densely-built townhomes and condos, and that by 2050 suburban subdivisions would simply not be profitable anymore.

Local Government

It was also difficult to sway city and county officials to this new strategy until they too had an opportunity to see projections 25-50 years ahead. Sacramento brought on Mike Mckeever (who helped Portland develop it's smart growth strategy) who presented an interactive computer model of what things would look like 50 years ahead. The effective conclusion was that Blueprint growth made the most sense economically and transportation-wise than continued suburban sprawl.

So enough about Sacramento, we need to figure out where Tacoma and Pierce County are at right now and where we're going. So many of Tacoma's policies on urban development are suburban and are just "dumb." What needs to change and how do we get there? Does anyone in our local government really know what's going on yet?

I'll finish off with some interesting quotes that suggest Tacoma is already exhibiting some of these new trends:

"The prices for a condo in downtown Tacoma seem to favor the professional downsizing couple more than any young person."

- Exit133.com ("Tacoma Condo Roundup", 2005)

"Most teams viewed sprawl as bad. Most teams adhered to the theory that growth should go where the utilities and transportation networks already exist."

- Dan Voelpel, commenting on a recent workshop (The News Tribune, 2008)

comments [13]  |  posted under downtown, tacoma

Comments

by Erik on 7/8/2008 @ 4:01pm
What needs to change and how do we get there? Does anyone in our local government really know what's going on yet?


Tacoma is still unfortunately, still adhering to a massive off-street parking requirement in downtown Tacoma and in the mixed use centers which precludes much meaningful infilling to make walkable communities.

Portland, Seattle, Bellingham, Olympia and San Francisco allow parking to be built on market demands so that some of the empty lots can be infilled.

Tacoma precludes housing being built unless there is a parking space built for each and unit. No shared parking spaces allowed.

The result has created a downtown which is dis invested low density and needlessly expensive downtown based on continued adherence to a 1960s suburban code that now dominates even the building/zoning code for downtown Tacoma.

ebjornson2.googlepages.com/Off-Street4-1...

It also forces Tacoma to be continued to be pocked with surface level parking lots everywhere buildings should be.

Here's a picture of downtown Tacoma showing 7 adjacent surface level parking lots in what should be the heart of the city:



Instead it is just a massive inner dead zone.

Tacomans are also barred from infilling lots where there used to be buildings.


More at:

www.flickr.com/photos/tacoma-urbanist/se...

by escaping slave on 7/8/2008 @ 4:15pm
Gas is not going up. The Federal Reserve Note (a.k.a. the dollar) is going down.

"Oil is traded in dollars. A weak dollar means that foreign investors can buy more oil, which helps drive up the price. And huge institutional investors start buying oil as a safe place to put their money, safer than the dollar or the stock market. "
www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/...

www.gold-eagle.com/editorials_08/katz043...

"According to a transcript published by CNN, King, near the end of the broadcast, asked Fox a question e-mailed from a listener, a Ms. Gonzalez from Elizabeth, N.J.: "Mr. Fox, I would like to know how you feel about the possibility of having a Latin America united with one currency?"

Fox answered in the affirmative, indicating it was a long-term plan. He admitted he and President Bush had agreed to pursue the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas – a free-trade zone extending throughout the Western Hemisphere, suggesting part of the plan was to institute eventually a regional currency."
www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?A...

What will save our falling dollar? The Amero, as has been planned by Vicente Fox and King George Bush.

It seems the growth of Tacoma is more important to people, but don't be fooled into thinking gas is going up. It hasn't gone up in years. Our dollar is falling and our economy is collapsing, but so long as there's chalk art and condos to be had, who cares?

by Nick on 7/8/2008 @ 4:38pm
Actually, the weakening dollar can be blamed for the recent spike in gas prices, but not for the overall upward trend. In fact, the dollar has stabilized since the last rate cut at the end of April but the price of oil has continued to increase (by 10% as of June).

Most agree the best we can hope for is a flattening of gas prices at around $4/gallon over the next year or so. But this is nitpicking over short-term peaks and valleys. We may even see prices drop at some point, but it won't last. Over the long term there is an upward trend which makes it not an "if" but a "when".

Whether it's in 5 years or 15 I can't say, but as oil becomes more and more scarce, it's going to get more expensive (no matter how strong the dollar gets or how pessimistic speculators become).

by izenmania on 7/8/2008 @ 4:46pm
ES, you are also making a semantic argument and treating it as a factual one, because you are defining the phrase differently. When you say "gas prices", yes, you mean the international cost of oil, and there your logic applies. However, the people whom you so proudly correct repeatedly mean "the number of my dollars which I must spend on gas", and your argument is fairly meaningless in that case. Whether the one is going up or the other is going down is irrelevant: at issue to the individual is their relationship to each other.

We can certainly be concerned with the global economic picture, but as individuals functioning in this society we also have to be concerned with how it affects us directly, which is: the number on the sign is bigger.

by Nick on 7/8/2008 @ 4:52pm
It's also not even the size of the number, but the percentage of peoples' incomes that is important. So the most significant number to look at would be the percent of peoples' income being spent on transportation (read: getting to work and back).

by Erik on 7/8/2008 @ 4:54pm
It seems the growth of Tacoma is more important to people, but don't be fooled into thinking gas is going up. It hasn't gone up in years

You may have a point there. However, it doesn't really change what we are faced with because the relative price of gas has certainly increased.

The end result is the same. Its becoming increasingly unsustainable to commute long distances to work in one's SUV every day. Hence, transit use has been increasing greatly.

by KevinFreitas on 7/8/2008 @ 5:01pm
...so long as there's chalk art and condos to be had, who cares?

Wow, pointless jab at a bunch of people who get together to enjoy their Friday at noon together.

Demand for oil is up and I for one hope it keeps going. The focus on density here on the West coast and throughout much of the US outside the East coast is long overdue. Whatever it takes to start tearing down suburbia in favor of more dense settings will help build community and allow land outside to be use for farming or national parks which we can all benefit from.

by Nick on 7/8/2008 @ 5:20pm
Tacoma is still unfortunately, still adhering to a massive off-street parking requirement in downtown Tacoma and in the mixed use centers which precludes much meaningful infilling to make walkable communities.

Yep, that stupid parking requirement is #1 on my "Tacoma pet peeves" list, it's like we're shooting ourselves in the foot every day that it remains in effect. I'd love to see regulations that discouraged building parking downtown (surface lots and buildings built exclusively for parking cars).

by Erik on 7/8/2008 @ 5:26pm
I'd love to see regulations that discouraged building parking downtown (surface lots and parking garages) - how about a parking space tax that would in turn fund public transit?

Some cities actually limit the amount of parking than can be built.

Tacoma could progress by simply doing no harm and let the market decide how much parking should be built.

Also, we keep hearing hearing how much affordability is an issue for housing, yet, much of it is self imposed by the city requiring everything to be designed like a variant of Hanna Heights.

Meanwhile, the billboard outside Tacoma shows a huge counter wracking up suburban homes sales this year, the building of which is heavily subsidized by the county's road building program.

by fredo on 7/8/2008 @ 8:06pm
The people I talk to on the street don't want the height limits raised in the MUCs and don't want the requirement for parking to be diminished in any way. They like the cute little MUCs which in many cases are just sort of dilapidated structures, admittedly possessing a lot of charm and character.

This is going to create a substantial hurdle for the planners who want to increase density. It's going to have to happen, just as Kunstler explains, but here in Tacoma I believe its going to be incredibly difficult to convince the electorate that the old notions about urban planning must be discarded.

A final question: How can we bring large scale development to the existing MUC's with retail on the ground floor, affordable housing above and make sure that the retail retains a strong local flavor? If these units go for class A rents, then the retail mix will be largely National chain businesses.

by escaping slave on 7/9/2008 @ 7:33am
"the number on the sign is bigger."

Yes, because your dollars are worth less.

The more they (Federal Reserve) print money, the more money/Federal Reserve Notes go into circulation to buy up the products, which at the same time decreases the value of the dollars you already possess because now there's more to be had. With more dollars in circulation, prices go up (because there's more dollars to buy the products with). That's how it works. Your dollar is going down in value.

A Federal Reserve Note is an IOU, meaning it still needs to be backed up with something of real value (typically gold or silver). Thanks to Nixon taking us off the gold standard, our paper money has no value.

If oil is scarce, how come gas stations aren't being shut down here in America? How come there aren't gas lines, or signs saying no gas? Wouldn't that means it's scarce? How come job layoffs aren't coming from oil-production jobs, or oil-selling jobs?

Downtown Tacoma will be the future ghetto. You don't have to go far to get what you want, just like people in the ghetto. Everything you need is there, no need to go beyond the boundary/wall. Sounds great.
Ghetto: a section of a city, esp. a thickly populated slum area, inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, pressures, or hardships.

by intacoma on 7/9/2008 @ 9:06am
aint nothing wrong with living in a ghetto

by Nick on 7/9/2008 @ 2:28pm
"Wouldn't that means it's scarce? How come job layoffs aren't coming from oil-production jobs, or oil-selling jobs?"

That's not how it works, this is simple economics. An increase in scarcity means a reduction in supply while demand remains constant or increases. The less oil available, the more valuable it becomes, and the more profitable it is to sell it. So actually the reverse would be (and is) the case. Look at the recent economic explosion in Dubai to see the results of how much more profitable an increasingly rare resource becomes.

If oil was abundant and becoming less scarce, then we would see what you describe. The market would be flooded with supply without enough demand to meet it, driving prices down, making it less profitable to sell, and causing gas stations and oil-related industries to cut back or shut down.

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So, what's almost as fun as sitting in front of a computer all day? Talking about the growth and development of a new Tacoma, duh!

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