@ Chapter I, the planning context

This first chapter is the equivalent of: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

It is crammed with more facts and figures than anyone could possibly use. We’ll give you the ones you need to get at least a C on the final exam.

A lot of people are just starting out

For example, Murfreesboro is a young city, younger than you might have imagined.The median age here is only 30.7, meaning half the people living here are older and half younger than that. This figure will rise only slightly in the next 20 years. Ten per cent of the people living here are geezers (Oops! I mean golden-agers) of 65 or more, like me.

Our median income is about $50,000, which is better than Nashville, but only about a third of the same statistic in Brentwood.

Brace yourself. A lot of people are coming

The city has about 124,000 residents now, but that figure is expected to double in the next 20 years. If we keep adding single-family homes, there won’t be enough buildable land to accommodate everyone who shows up in the next two decades.

Housing is a bargain here

Housing is affordable here. If you take median income ($50,000) and divide it into the median house price here (about $175,00), you get a ratio 3.5 times house price to household income. That ratio is significantly higher in Nashville, Brentwood and Hendersonville.

A troubling figure

Only about 24% of us have B.A. degrees or higher.

To give Murfreesboro a grade, the consultant used 14 comparison cities, six others in Tenn. and seven of comparable size in other states. Median household income here ranked 7th of all 15 cities, but income growth is expected to be lower than almost all the others. Housing affordability here is second of the 15 cities, and median home value 4th.

We try to make sense of all the numbers

That’s a lot of statistical stuff to swallow. And we apologize for that. What does it all mean? Our first thought (excuse us) was that the consultant was being paid by the page.

As I read the study, my mind kept drifting back to Fremont, Calif., where I lived and worked from 1973-79. When I arrived, the city’s population was almost exactly what Murfreesboro’s is now. Currently, its population is close to what Murfreesboro’s is projected to be in 20 years.

Fremont was a highly planned city when I lived there. One might say that they were trying to do everything right. I’ve been back a few times since I left. It is far more crowded and less “livable” than the town I knew. The message to me is that even if we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into plannning, the city will never be as livable as it is now.

Moo!

That’s not a case of romantically wishing to have a cow next door. It’s just a warning that we’d better do our best to plan here before we get swamped.

The second thing I drew from this study is how cheaply one can live he good life here. Fremont became part of the explosive growth of Silicon Valley. When I arrived in 1973, I bought a three-bedroom, one-story home for $25,000. Today, the median house price there is $631,000 and the median household income is about $105,000. I wonder how well our story will continue to parallel theirs over the next 20 years.

How are many people going to find good jobs?

The worrisome thing here are the education figures. Technology is moving so fast that my head started to spin in my last five years at Dow Jones. How are those people who don’t have college degrees going to keep up with an economy that becomes more and more demanding each year? And the number of blue collar jobs has been shrinking for several decades.

"This joint is getting crowded."
“This joint is getting crowded.”

@ Chapter 2:: The Major Themes

We put the chicken to work analyzing the second chapter draft of the city’s ambitious effort to plan for the next 20 years. This chapter is too big and encompassing to digest in one sitting. Its scope reaches from land use to water quality and the sinkhole problem.

*       *        *

This section of Chicken’s Notes, which aims to help you pass the final, will focus on a few general principles. If the devil is in the details, that will come later. Parts may seem to repeat what we’ve already noted in the “context chapter,” but we will follow the consultant’s game plan. As one of our readers observed: “The overture is over. Bring on the thespians.”

The overriding theme of this chapter is the explosive population growth the city faces, from about 117,000 last year to an estimated 228,000 in 2035.

Clearly, the plan’s author, from the Texas based Kendig Keast Collaborative, is no fan of single family homes on quarter acre-lots or greater. Nor does he like a city based almost entirely on the automobile. Finally, he wants to discourage development that takes place largely on the fringes of the area surrounding the city.

Here are some of the things the consultant does favor:

Incentives to promote “infill” growth, filling in the spaces of developed areas, where the streets and utilities are either already in place or can be extended easily. Fringe development, the draft argues, drains investment away from the city  Fire and police costs are also cheaper in a city that is compact, rather than one that sprawls.

Higher density growth, especially since the amount of land that is easily buildable will exceed its ability to provide single family housing for all the new arrivals in the next 20 years.

Mixed uses, such as retail stores on the ground floors of buildings in the city with multi-family units on the floors above.

Relaxed requirements in target growth zones on setbacks, building heights and lot coverage. This may necessary if they are to develop in the way to consultant envisions.

A change in the development mix. Right now, development in the city is about 67% residential. That mix will have to shift toward commercial and residential to provide the jobs this growing city will demand.

Tax increment financing to promote redevelopment. The city declares an area of the city to be a redevelopment district draws up a redevelopment plan and then finances it by issuing bonds. Rising property values bring added income to the city. That added income, which stems from redevelopment, is diverted to help pay off the bonds. Another plan to promote redevelopment is freezing taxes for a set period on improvements in the district. It would be limited, however, to improvements  that would not have occurred if the property owners’ tax bills were going to rise right away.

Clustering of development to provide more common open space and to reduce the amount of storm runoff from paved areas.

Keeping homes from infringing upon areas set aside for industrial or commercial use.

– Putting shops and jobs as much as possible within newly developing neighborhoods to minimize the need to drive every day.

Encouraging people to walk more often instead of taking the car everywhere.

More neighborhood parks

Levying impact fees on new residential and non residential development to help pay for the streets, utilities and city services the new homeowners will demand.

– Some way of giving the city more power to annex land it needs to control growth around the edges of the city boundaries.

Expedited city review of projects that serve the city’s needs for infill development.

Structured parking, which means parking within a building rather than on a paved lot in front of one.

 

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