In November 2007, Bruce Katz (here) presented the challenges of the “mega” urban world. The exquisite logic of Blueprint for American Prosperity was this century’s “Rachael Carson” moment. Regrettably, the truth is almost impossible to believe, and as it turns out, no one did. That is a severe problem. Urban containment will not stop outward expansion, nor can policy effectively restrict sloppy suburban and x-urban development. However, policies can make density more attractive and, in doing so, guarantee prosperity.

World Mapper provides similar images of the Blueprint for Prosperity (here)


With less than 6% of the world’s people, it already devours about 40% of its resources, and some critics blame the rich nations for the worst aspects of the population problem. Americans, for example, throw away more than 1,000,000 cars every year, plus 36 billion bottles and 58 million tons of paper. Aside from polluting the land and water, the critics say, this vast consumption threatens to strip the earth of its resources. In the rhetoric of Paul Ehrlich, “America’s pride in her growing population may be compared to a cancer patient’s pride in his expanding tumor.”

The new urban area (U.A.) definitions by the U.S. Census Bureau introduced in 2000 led to the broader use of the mega-region and mega-city terminology and the image (above) from America 2050. If a line drawn in the sand held where America 2050 marked it, a national policy to reduce net density over a vast area on one side of the line could exist. The approach could then include city, state, and federal support for increases to an unknown upper limit for development on the other side of that line. That done, it would solve many problems.

The Northeast megaregion tells of this reality as the original “spread city.” It stretches along the western frontier from the Atlantic Ocean to populate the Appalachians from the Adirondacks to the north and the Great Smokey Mountains of the south.

The Boston, New York, Washington metro area’s skylines exhibit urbanism as if it was an unstoppable glaciating machine. Yet, cities like New York and Boston have proven their potential for renewal despite substantial levels of “move-on” decay. They have confronted racial injustice head-on, organized anti-displacement initiatives, championed affordable housing, free public school education, and rebuilt their shrinking “ghost neighborhoods.”

New York City produces a low per capita energy output, a high overall pollution output, a brilliant, and a culturally diverse population. From the streetscape to the waterfront, the beauty is spectacular. Unfortunately, cities in megaregions disrupt natural systems. The lessons of restoration and conservation have great value. Cities serve people. It gives them efficient access to what people want and need and does it well and exposes failures in a way that demands the rise of our best selves to new challenges.


Dense urban living offers relief from the undertow of discrimination based on “life-value” or race, gender, and income.1 The movement toward density reveals internally formed boundaries that alter “density as a monster” with a new criterion for dignity.

From a double bottom line point of view, two forces work in cities. The first is bedrock-to-bedrock geological and hydrological data that improves transit from hub to hub. In addition, the entire stratum of the cost of density is a design choice with long-term returns following high initial investment aimed at social equity. Social boundaries disappear in communities marketed to households earning over 250 percent of the area median income. There are a thousand other ways to eliminate boundaries with tools other than household income in dense urban areas.

The second force measures the efficient city compatibility essential to successful businesses. Efficiency is outstanding when entering an era not of change but sudden change. For example, New York City accomplishes “surprise recovery” by recognizing and defining its slow catastrophes. A good example is an unrelenting rise in rents. Thus, policies to expand supply-side access to “market rate” housing using mandatory “inclusionary zoning” and demand-side rental subsidy within the existing stock got underway.

Zoning regulates the total floor area of a building. The idea of adding total floor area began in Manhattan, but now the city offers a density bonus to developers throughout the city using MIH zones described (here). The bonus produces interchangeable units for households with incomes at 80 percent of the area median income ($77,400 in 2010, $83,600 in 2020).

For example, the HUD calculated median income for a family of four in New York in 2010 was $79,200. Yet, the actual median income for a 4four person household in New York City was only $62,799, over 20% lower. (Source: United States Census Bureau. American Community Survey 1­year data for 2010)

Thus, apartment buildings can be high-functioning social entities using a criterion that adds the idea of “inclusion” to wealth regarding access to quality housing. Including modest-income households in market-rate apartment buildings at an average annual rate of twenty percent in new development is a reasonable goal to incentivize.   The problem is a sudden lack of demand “market rate” production.

Expectedly, the mortgage interest deductions and tax subsidy assigned to the market rate units dwarf the moderate-income households’ financial support. Nevertheless, the ‘suddenness’ of the national 2007/8 housing crisis proved a predictable correction in NYC. Moreover, the changes made to housing affordability in the 2018 change in federal taxes put a subsidy cap at the upper-income end.

Other attractions of density:


The cultures of urban communities are the major contributors to the consumption of non-renewable energy. Still, they represent the smallest per-capita consumers. On one side, public investors demand policies to make cities work through increased efficiencies established with mass and scale. The other side, composed of private investors, requires practices that “follow the money.” Thus, accepting the inevitability of ever-expanding layers of development across the continent.

If either or both are to work, linking the capacity for renewal with a mix of density controlling measures will require new pathways. One path accepts the “ghost town” scenario. It projects the event of decay is no different whether in nature or a city. Parts of the natural system die and renew continuously – why should cities be other? Suppose a ghost town event occurs on the grid. In that case, it may require choosing a fully engineered recovery or steps to “return it to nature” and integrate it into the natural system and off the grid. The other path offers survival through unconditional adaptability of land use to biological systems where “matter” becomes infinitely recyclable. In this environment, land use for the trade would question but not prohibit buildings from reaching into the ionosphere. This path offers abundance if it successfully engineers zero impact on natural systems. Eventually, pathways to density become a matter of national economic priority and are subject to added control. The emergence of the “green district” is a logical first step, but the consequences require examination.

The 80/20 Green District

The waste will not leave the polluted waters of Brazil’s Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Manila Bay in the Philippines, or the poisoned edges of China’s Yangtze River. When oil spills from Prince William Sound to the Gulf of Mexico, it tells more than the story of oil. Its layers of solid detritus lay in heaps throughout the world. The last and most damaging impact is gasses, followed by creating the protective and defensive green district. Wait, what?

The protective purpose of “green district” investment is to specify an economically viable, environmentally beneficial urban world2. Technical strategies have high development costs but offer low operating expenses over the long term. From a strategic point of view, the defensive purposes are harder to recognize. Homeownership moves from a bank and household relationship to a Wall Street and investor affiliation. Public policies support high-income households to secure investment returns. Compromises help affordable housing in an 80/20, high to moderate-income ratio. Lower-income families battle with the progressives for higher wages. The role of the government/private sector is below in a district design program. Note the distribution of benefits.

Source: Mckinsey’s promotion of green district planning and development.

Capital for districts or the many “campuses” of New York and other global cities will be insufficient. The majority of the earth’s population faces predictable quality of life failures. Backed with documentation on this point, the investment sources for the district approach pull on actors with the most celebrated self-interest. Government centers and corporate headquarters will join an ever-widening group of medical, military, and educational institutions searching for low-operating costs.

The district approach supports related goals such as reducing freshwater consumption and improving wastewater management. The elimination of all the stuff that fills landfills, the ocean, rivers, from automobiles to plastic bottles, has less support. It will require investments without high returns on capital. These lesser steps need the practice of unlearning everything. On the other hand, the offer of building sustainable places on the earth is probably the only way to prepare. Every architect, planner, engineer, and public policymaker knows this practice is a short sell. Although a successful technology transfer may be excellent for the world, the green district intends to serve, given the 80/20 population. A global decline is inevitable.3

Green District technical issues are many. The priority locations are near a river and next to (or surrounded by a slowly rising ocean. Early in 2016, local news went national about a tribal community in Louisiana. The Isle de-Jean Charles will get federal support for relocating all its households to a “resilient and historically-contextual community.” The displacement of people happens all the time, but this was a first of its kind, “man bites dog” type of story. The refugees of outright violence and the subtle undertow of real estate economics are well known; others are about fleeing hurricanes, floods, landslides, and wildfires.

This story became news because the few dozen households of this Isle would be outside Louisiana’s multi-billion-dollar levee plan. As a result, they became the nation’s first official climate change evacuees. The district, in this instance, is a vast coastal levee system in anticipation of management similar to the Rhine Valley. (Sources 4

Apply the Isle de-Jean Charles climate change refugees to New York City. The action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two percent of their land. The story on the 98% of households displaced is not well known. Here is the rough math. Apply the $100 million in relocation funds for 20 households to 35,000 families in, let us say, Canarsie, Brooklyn. Using the Louisiana resettlement plan of 20HH/year, the public cost is $175 billion, and it would take a millennium for Canarsie. At 500 HH/year, the price would be $2.5 billion/year, bringing 70 years. Imagine this as doable. The purchased property would be stripped of its toxins and wait for the ocean to come over an artificial reef of foundations. Counter the acidity and make seafood. Preventing the “land poverty” plan currently in play would be a better approach. For a place like Canarsie, the test should be whether a quid pro quo is in areas likely to fill with seawater. Right now, a caveat emptor slap in the face policy is in place. It aims at people that will not change by people who do not see a change at best, and at worst, the plan is clear, let nature’s rising sea do the displacement – same as fires and extreme weather.5

The attention of cities regarding the cost per household could involve several hundred thousand families. Examples such as the Isle de-Jean Charles process allow the idea of serving 35,000 families across Canarsie in Brooklyn or the Hamptons of Suffolk County to become empirical. The action taken in Louisiana occurred when they were down to the last two percent of their land. Can New York or any other city afford to set that standard or hedge that bet that way?

Historians tell the private investment in mass transit as eventual public acquisition. In recent cases, a reversal of the process has occurred. The private operation of prisons is an example. The repair needed to sustain civil society begins in the public realm, making money to pay for it stands in another.

In all cases, the public investment in essential services and the privatization of assets produces the fundamental duality required to specify the cost of innovation, such as green district incubation. Finding out how to stop environmental damage reveals a price tag that few can afford today, and it is not alarming news.

In April 2016, many nation-states signed the Paris Agreement (175 to start and grow toward 195). The agreement aims at reducing GHG and building resilience to global climate crisis defined by the scientific power of conjecture. However, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Iraq, Qatar, Syria, and Yemen could not agree. They are driven primarily by the demand for capital from carbon.

The argument for replacing that capital with a global financing plan began formally in 2016. The cost and method for change build on a vast range of research summaries. A document prepared by Jeffrey D. Sachs and Guido Schmidt-Traub entitled Financing Sustainable Development: Implementing the SDGs through Effective Investment Strategies and Partnerships outlines two main challenges (here). The first is the amount of global capital available to launch public initiatives must be persuasive. The second is the inability of the private sector to release its money. The sad state “transformative” challenge remains as Sachs describes (here), by exposing the “still setting goals” problem.


States subdivide themselves into jurisdictions and give cities, towns, villages, boroughs, counties the authority to determine land use. The growing use of regional boundaries alters the governance hierarchy. The states are steadily becoming creatures of their regions, in the same way the municipalities are creatures of the country. The plethora of municipal boundaries confuses the issue of density. The primary question of the governance problem has an excellent example. The State of New Jersey recently became the first state in the nation to have more than 1,000 inhabitants per square mile.6

New Jersey

New Jersey also has 566 municipalities and almost as many school districts. In the Northeast mega-region where this condition has a 300-year historical context. Governance in this setting presents a very different set of questions regarding every form of land use. Is a functional, statewide political structure for regulating land use and urban density reasonable for small governments? Are the localized, self-interested, governmental jurisdictions within a state like New Jersey more or less likely to destroy efforts to identify and define vital regional or national interests representing the common good? Finally, are these structures so financially unsustainable that they are highly vulnerable to corruption and encourage it?7

There is truth in these criticisms, but the question “are there too many governments” is the wrong one. Drill down to see the required decision categories, describe the rate demanded, or the resource used to assure informed decisions. The critique of “too many governments” quickly reveals itself as one that begs the question. It has never been more critical to have a public infrastructure policy available in the nation. The missing element is a communications structure balanced to the national interest. The quality of one word “density” is sufficiently inclusive of setting it as the fulcrum for debate about the best set of boundaries.

Globally, many urban areas are coastal and thus vulnerable to a steadily rising sea level accompanied by climate change and pandemics. Mitigating these vulnerabilities demands long-term planning and investment. Cities face an increasingly unstable financial system when financing this work using budget planning. It can barely get from one fiscal year to the next. There seems to be only one way out of the swamp, and the risks and consequences of being inside or outside an entirely new set of urban boundaries.

Projecting the quality of national society, we would like to see a public matter in the future. Initiatives such as the New York City “inclusion zone” reduce inequality and add choice through a new housing development. It helps attract people eager to escape the concentrations of poverty caused by previous policies that did not address barriers. States such as Maryland and Oregon have launched similar public investment and incentive policies for guiding growth. These regulatory actions test state/local policy. It articulates a national view of boundaries and barriers. The fragments of an equitable national land-use policy will form as it continues.

In developer negotiations with public agencies, site after site may become the subject of social inclusion, floor area bonuses, “zero lot line” clusters for low gross density to produce high net density with significant open space. Hundreds of creative possibilities to minimize infrastructure costs or maximize social benefits are possible. The key to the structure and tone of these negotiations is the minimum density required for access to everything in all forms of publicly financed or regulated services, from libraries to gas stations. The capacity for a quality of governance restricted by regional urban design criteria stands as the ultimate barrier to effective regional planning and a sense of boundary.

Case Studies

A case on this point far from the northeast is the Quarry Village8 project on the outskirts of Oakland, California. This community self-proposed a “high density” development with three-story construction. It has 950 units on 21.5 acres to produce 44 units per acre. A similar area would be an R4 or R5 zone in New York City to build 40 to 63 units per acre. Quarry Village would house 102 people, give or take 10% in any year. Multiply that times 640 (acres in a square mile), and you get a density of 65,000 people per square mile – similar to Manhattan in New York City at 67,000 per square mile. 

A standard capable of generating clusters makes the viability of high-quality transit service with access to ‘you name it.’ For example, the ability to walk or cycle to a center offers a “big enough” grocery store, a suite of medical specialists, and access to other essential goods or services.

The central question is, therefore, a bit different. Even though the Quarry Village initiative has obtained a local “exception,” are local agents best for determining the location and development of urban centers such as Quarry Village? Given all the good things about how a project could reduce car ownership from two to one, even zero is reasonable. But, even if it would meet high-level LEED standards, is this criterion alone a reason for location? 

In Oakland, California, should the policy for development still contain the remnants of unlimited expansion? How many samples in each state would be sufficient to implement “go/no-go” policies? Where should American’s look to find the best thoughts on this subject?

Open Space Annexations

Adverse effects give citizens the right to challenge the legality of land-use decisions. In the case of municipal annexation, the parties must express reasonably ascertainable impacts or await the “after the fact” ambiguity of real-world variables. The meaninglessness of “adverse effect” is an old story about successful operations and patient death. 

As annexation is a land-use decision, defining the terms of “harm,” either actual or potential, provides sufficient grounds to petition for legal standing. In this sense, the status of “harm” is potentially broad enough to get past questions about the use of the nation’s natural resources or the impact of urbanization on the preservation of open space in the case of specific annexation.

Near New York City, residents will find six million acres of water filtering forest. Established a century ago (1892), half of it is owned by the state. The other is private land and settlements protected from development. With compromises and land swaps, the “forever wild” provision of the NYS Constitution helps to assure a legal relationship. Outside of Alaska, it is the most significant public and privately protected area in the United States.[9]

Each urbanizing event leads to ripples of unevaluated and unresolved conflicts between the stewards of the environment. The problems stretch across multiple jurisdictions and from dense urban to the wild. There is little opportunity for adjudication until an annexation/consolidation occurs. The only way to prevent annexation in large urbanizing areas is a state boundary line. The case for or against annexation will soon require multi-state legislative authorities. The likelihood that the mutual benefits of managing the development and preservation of regional open space and transit networks dim rapidly.

The PBS series on the nation’s national parks outlined a practical way to define the dilemmas of urbanization (October 2009). In it, William Cronon challenges the idea of the “unchanged wilderness” as incorrect because all ecosystems are constantly interacting with humans.10  His position directs policymakers to be more attentive. In this view, national parks stand for something much more significant than leisure land use. We learn to see the wilderness as layers of history from him, which is non-human. These layers are similar to his father’s stories that he is telling today as a historian. Each level is capable of yielding more than eyes alone could provide. The idea of preserving the great national parks confronts the interpretation of timeless nature as inseparable from human history. The responsibility to exclude enterprise from the wilderness is a way to retain it. How the loss of the wild occurs is clear. It is the “when” that passes early each year. August 20, 2013, was when humanity exhausted nature’s budget of ecological resources for the whole year. (Why? See Overshoot)

Suppose these interpretations of urban and nonurban can shape the American future. In that case, it is reasonable to consider the path this line of thinking would take to develop all open and urban spaces. The idea of public space as a recreational distraction or civic necessity also demands a raw natural world adjacent to the human settlement to which it should connect. It preserves the opportunity to converge the history of nature and humanity. Perhaps in this way, both have a chance to survive for mutual benefit. 

As it stands, the path of urban development in the nation will prop up a set of fragmented “wilderness-like park areas” As land uses, they will press against a variety of low to high-density urban environments with its attendant and relentless loss of diversity.

A complete realignment of urbanization and wild nature is both nurturing and hazardous. Nature is a thing that extends a sense of a universe that is much greater than the governance of human affairs, or as Peter Coates described it, “the opposite of culture”11

It is the Water Stupid

Successful municipal economies yield control of their boundaries to the useless outlines of the Republic as States. For this reason, the body of law governing annexation is nearly as cumbersome as that eminent governing domain. The boundaries of New York City have been the same for over a century, and it thrives as a thriving urban center. New York manages the complexity of its social diversity; it conducts daily battles rooted in zoning, it sustains a quality bond rating. It has re-written the rules of what is and is not a “taking.” In brief, it is a powerhouse of jurists and litigators. Despite the intense political debate, it gets to the truth. 

The origin of New York City’s success is retaining clean water coming in and going out. Still, the initial plan to accomplish this goal has grown to control much more land outside its boundaries than within. Like other cities, two interlocking parts energize the city’s power. One wages a sophisticated, occasionally stealthy war of antidevelopment heartily welcomed by the wealthier suburbs. At the same time, its counterpart offers the prospect, if not the absolute reality, of development in the dense urban center that is without limits. Recently added sweeteners of growing value are enormous economies of scale in environmental protection.

Healthy boundaries emerge that define everything from “a 20 x 100-foot lot” to “the wilderness.” The downside of this approach is governance blunders, especially regarding land use regulation for water. Nevertheless, there is a simple economic menu in these two envelopes, one defiantly antidevelopment and another offers no limits. Reinvented as a duality (land/water) gives users an “in or out” view concerning any boundary for applying a life cycle criterion for the cost.

Once defined with a boundary, the performance becomes accountable to a standard. The combination of private ownership associated with the rules of limits further determines “in and out” options that tend to strengthen an “as is above, as is below” structure for debate. Laws that govern the use of a 20 by 100-foot lot remain compatible with the rules guiding land use throughout the state. Protecting one protects or defends them all. This genius is how community-building supports two permanent and essential elements of tension vital to democracy, decisiveness and accountability. That is, until recently. 

(NYT 5.19.13) Look up May 2022

Urban development policies incentivize because it is preferable to the enforcement of penalties or the provision of subsidies. However, minimizing standards for low-density water treatment, site by site opens hundreds of individual pathways to corruption across a vast landscape of jurisdictions.

The U.S. Constitution strongly supports multiple social and economic power centers to assure a multi-layered political leadership structure. A typical example is the authority of the states to charter cities. A broader case supports the lawful rise of social change movements seeking a means to alter boundaries of all kinds. We see diversity as a source of leadership.

Core issue rooted the nation’s land-use policies entangled in its social problems. The American frontier view of nation-building is part of this, yet, another aspect would highlight the rise of the national highway system. The car would spread the city in a nuclear era. All represent forces aimed at developing the landscape without introducing countermeasures or interventions associated with conservation. Policy: there is plenty of land and water, so use it. These systems are dead. The fallacy here builds on the constant growth assumption. The image (above) from Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust (NYT 5.19.13) illustrates five to 150 ft. Drop-in water from the High Plains Aquifer running from Nebraska to the Texas Panhandle.

When a will of the people strategy is employed, the complaint is about poor leadership. It is more accurately a lack of vision beyond state borders. The frontier has moved. It is no longer out west. The western frontier is everywhere, and it affects everyone all at once.

Triggers and Clocks

Do not blame America’s 20th c. Middle-Class for its good affluence or its fascination with modern invention. The belief in the promise of carefree life remains as easily exploited today as in 1950. Half a century ago, urban design thinking capitalized the street with a car on it. Today it is the opposite. The road has importance without the car, but not without destinations.

Bellevue, an urbanizing suburb east of Seattle, WA, is a good example. It recently completed two 450-foot 43 story towers among five approved. The completed towers hold 543 units on a 10.5-acre site with a 900-car parking structure. Why room for so many cars? Site approvals include a build-out to 900 units and three proposed office towers with a hotel and retail shops pending market conditions.12 In brief, the site will have plenty of reserved parking. Car storage is a key “in the black early” strategy. Still, Bellevue planners probably purchased a nice case of urban congestion down the road. Therein lays the solution.

Given the presumption that congestion is correct and, in this case – inevitable, investment in a plan evaluating routes for off-surface mass transit like Seattle’s monorail can begin an earnest move toward profitability for quick trips. Imagine this occurring at a rate similar to New York’s 2nd Avenue subway. The elevated train on 2nd went down in the mid1940s – the price of steel was high. Still, the pledges for replacement subway broke ground in 1950. It has remained a broken promise, but face it, Manhattan’s Eastside has had its influence in the negative. Even people who live in very dense areas have a problem with more of it.

The introduction of a subway or light rail system demands density triggers. Still, it should not require a planning clock with a half-century hand? Perhaps the attendant exaction process is needed to produce distributive benefits to the city. Housing affordability is the leading example, but it will, of necessity, include a variety of urban design treatments aimed at mobility on a small scale using clean, non-fuel alternatives. The history of mass transit has been “fire, ready, aim.” Mass transit/cluster partners can point before shooting as zoning tips off landowners to the growth of a large, compact city. It also suggests a time interval for planning that frames accountability for direct and unintended consequences. Developers and city administrators are clever enough to work out a tax increment financing deal or similarly creative time value approach like a hedge fund.13

Transit-Oriented Design Case Study

For a century, the zoning rules and tools of local government have promoted low ground coverage for residential uses while expanding coverage with other impervious surfaces to assure vehicular access to everything else. The driveways and decks are uncounted in coverage data required by the retail model. Suburban county and municipal rules and tools abhor density, detest mixed land uses, and resist all regulatory control processes that call for performance measures.14 Even though the quality and space between uses hold no priority, some good news remains. A relatively low overall coverage percentage remains for most regions and the nation. The bad news is low-density land uses continue to spread exponentially, and there is no stopping or questioning this type of growth due to hundreds of local governments per region. Not one of them wants the change that comes with density. 

The urban centers in low-density areas lie at every station along with the rights-of-way laid out nearly a century ago. There is only one thing missing – a reason to go up and down the line. In the meantime, all anyone needs to do is to look at the rate of land purchases near every train station in the region of every major urban center.

The most recent and bold example is Warren Buffet’s purchase of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. This investment in 21st century energy-conscious transportation is compelling because his other “old technology” bets have been winners. It also stimulates others to discover that Buffet had been doing it for decades.15 In this case, trains move more than goods or people. As the image below suggests, rail could propel an extensive range of investment interest toward some of the most significant undeveloped sections of the United States. (Wiki)

Aside from researching land/rail purchases, another barometer is recent research by the Government Law Center on the number of local law review articles using green and sustainability issues to address land use law and practice.16  Without a doubt, the relatively rural traditions of land use plans need incentives to accept new ways of thinking but make no mistake about the motive for change. Even with “green and sustainability” tags, the task of maximizing investments by reducing risk holds priority. Thus urban planning functions the way banks and lawyers drive it. Without a compelling capital return, it will not offer new ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) or a more sustainable environment. The primary north-south axis of BNSF and its northwest axis links to Cascadia, also known as the northwest hub.

Clearwater Junction & Kittitas

Protect the northwest from what happened to the northeast.

There are many conservation areas amid the Clearwater, Lolo, Flathead, Bitterroot, Nez Perce, and Helena National Forest. The forests of Montana, Idaho, and Washington present the full breadth of a true wilderness. It also represents a mixture of wildlife entrepreneurship at loggerheads with conservation. The value may seem invaluable. It is not. 

A vast range emerges by writing “northwest national forest” into a search engine (See Google Map below). It illustrates the last opportunity to either get it right or turn it all into “parks.” It is hard to imagine areas of this size eventually surrounded and invaded by the never-ending bids of developers to “live in them.” Still, one only needs to look at the “northeast” insert to recognize that all left are parks, and the wild becomes invisible. The two maps below are at the same scale.

Anyone that has been a part of the forest for more than a few days understands why the desire to be in it defines one of the great joys of life, perhaps its meaning. So it is not surprising that resistance is significant when attempts to develop housing through subdivision occur. A recent effort at protection against housing development used only one tool, the threat of predatory attacks. The central argument made by the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department of the State of Montana is through resisting a 200-acre housing development in Clearwater Junction, MT. It began with 119 home site plans, subsequently reduced to 59. The reduction included a variety of plan amendments, including a fence surrounding the property. The developer continued litigation efforts against denials until the Montana State Supreme Court affirmed the community’s rejection.17

As developers continue to produce strident objections to the environmental concerns cited by public authorities, the courts will often point out other ways to seek a remedy based on mitigating potentially harmful impacts. Wells, septic systems, and water resources nearby properties and agricultural lands are central issues. A project’s failure to comply with irrigation laws or eliminate implications on creeks address growth violations and push for the creation of dense “urban clusters” as being far more capable of meeting every objection with tremendous success and more wealth.

Dense urban development has reasonable grounds on which to base a solution to the denial of developers. Yet, in the Richards case, the court found “no effort to refute those objections” with alternatives for a reason – the illusion of wilderness living. It is ironic developers lost on the danger to human life via the threat of predation when access to all of the wonders of life in the wild would remain available to experience except one — the idea of plunking down houses in it. 

Kittitas County in Washington is to the east of the Seattle, Tacoma urban area and known to most national urban development observers and planners as Cascadia. However, at the turn of the century, Kittitas County had a few small towns east of the Snoqualmie National Forest along U.S. 90. It is here where the battle over density and urbanization is in reverse. Still, it is losing the fight for conservation. 

One group, the Kittitas County Conservation Coalition‘s central mission is the “preservation of a rural future.” A benchmark that sparked the formation of this countywide nonprofit was the closure of historic “trailheads” by private landowners. These trails link the past to the present and define a beautiful wilderness. They should not be lost. The hope of this organization seems directly dependent on a fragile but comprehensive statewide initiative. It is the well-known, profoundly examined, and heavily documented Growth Management Act (GMA).

The state requires local governments to invest in comprehensive plans and comply with state and federal standards to protect wetlands, streams, farms, and forests. This investment in planning has heightened the debate on questions of growth and density and intensified the role of citizens groups such as the Kittitas Coalition. These issues pit the emotions and traditions of ‘frontier independence’ against the capacity of the state and local planning agencies to manage urban development as it occurs one plat, one PUD, one commercial farming, forest, or retail project at a time. For example, maps on the Kittitas Coalition’s website illustrated changes in land use regulation by zoning designation from 2000 to 2009 before it was removed for viewing online. Perhaps the concern was not to aid developers in recognizing areas where the exponential growth of development interest was occurring in the rural environment.

Increased public involvement in planning is exhausting, but the dialogue on how local governments need to plan and develop housing and services for all income groups has rarely been met with success. The overall density of Kittitas is low at 17 people per square mile. Still, almost half of the housing in the county is rental, and nearly 60% of its 38,000 residents live in urban areas. Public planning helps the community to anticipate and respond creatively to facilities or services. Nevertheless, the overwhelming pressure of exponential population growth throughout the state is unrelenting; it exhausts the GMA and reveals a continuous battle.

From a national planner’s perspective, Seattle and Tacoma look something like Manhattan, to the east a massive federal forest land that looks something like one of New York’s large open spaces such as Central, Prospect, Pelham, or Gateway National Park. While everything is very different in the northeast, from the typography to the trees, places like Kittitas are beginning to look like New Jersey – the super-suburban but most dense state in the union. 

What would happen if I drew a line around Urban Kittitas? Growth would be exponential to an upper, unknown density only limited by one rule inside this line. It was not poisonous to anything and everything outside that line. But, on the other hand, everything outside that line would become essentially wild. The development would be severely limited and comply with the same rule. Would those who found themselves owning and controlling portions of these two worlds recognize the enormous value of each? A hint at this possibility emerged in May 2010, when Jason F. McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council (CGBC), announced a change in mission that envisioned the need to look well beyond buildings and take a regional view. Cascadia’s new mission is “to lead a transformation towards a built environment that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.” 

McLennan also brings to mind how the northeast experienced a similar response to “rapid growth” at the turn of the last century for colleagues and policymakers of Cascadia. Concerns about haphazard growth and lack of coordination influenced the creation of the Regional Planning Association (RPA), linking interests in three states — New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Established in 1922, it published the first regional plan in 1929, just before the Great Depression. RPA has a bottomless archive. It has survived as a nonprofit agency. Given its longevity, it will emerge from its first century as a brilliant critic of the status quo and a strong advocate for regional planning. Moreover, it has the satisfaction of being right or self-correcting. 

Perhaps most telling is the title of RPA’s most recent regional plan, Region at Risk.18  It is likely history will repeat as the central problem remains.   Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) like RPA or the CGBC are insufficient. They are needed instruments for public education but cannot draw the line in the sand that Cascadia is desperately attempting to draw in a kind of “time-delayed” wake enclosed in RPA’s almost desperate warning about the risks. Today RPA’s mission is similar to the original. Still, its demand for social justice, a regional “greensward,” and a seamless regional transit network remain its toughest unheeded challenges.

Those who could grasp the proactive long view have defined the current practice of regional planning as disjointed and incremental. America’s “long tail” vision offers a multi-modal, national transportation system, a diverse and creative multicultural society, and a progressive yet, globally competitive outlook. Instead, we have an oil-addicted road system, increasingly polarized residential enclaves with laissez-fair politics, and the collapse of self-regulation as a viable American value. Perhaps, the lesson here is far too apparent. The Republic is without a lawful means to invoke the practical work that would allow one state to cut across jurisdictional boundaries of another in their mutual interest. 

A vitally important aspect of our urban future is to spend some time looking past our borders for some encouragement. NYC is happy about its positives in NYC, but a good plan for density starts (and keeps momentum) by asking for help in defining new severe problems. You know, those hiding inside the older issues.

I say this because New York’s extraordinary history of support for affordable housing (if not winning the battle) got some help in March of 2015 from the New Jersey Supreme Court. In the same way, New York City looks to the north for its environmental protection (e.g., clean water). Perhaps it should look west and debate the two-edged nature of that calculation toward 2050.

Efforts to get New Jersey’s local governments to provide a fair share of affordable housing establish diversity and assure affordability remains a steep road to travel. Still, the routes taken to date are instructive for the metro region and the nation. In part, the density of New Jersey as a suburban state (yet, the densest in the country) brought to light sharp social and economic divisions stimulated by the so-called “white flight” and “spread-city” period out of New York City and Philadelphia in the 1960s and 70s. The search for remedies to the social, economic issues presented over the next half-century is represented by substantial efforts to link housing to social justice in New Jersey and improved access to quality education and employment for the entire metropolitan region.

In 1983, N.J. Council on Affordable Housing was established with the power to require a local jurisdiction to comply with a court order known as the “builders remedy.” The legislature did not renew this power in 1999. Until 2015, and elemental analysis of local government “certification” processes, the New Jersey Supreme Court established a state constitutional right. The state can require local governments exercising its land-use regulatory powers to “make realistically possible the opportunity for an appropriate variety and choice of housing for all categories of people who may desire to live there, of course, including those of low- and moderate-income.”

Those familiar with the Mt. Laurel One (1975) and Mount Laurel Two (1983) decisions will recognize the continuity of this most recent case leading to the re-adoption of the powers of N.J. Council on Affordable Housing (March 10, 2015)19.


  1. The meaning of “life-value” was intensified by Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling in Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing
  2. See: McKinsey and a San Francisco client.
  3. Short selling is motivated by the belief that a security’s price will decline, enabling it to be bought back at a lower price to make a profit.
  4. 4. See: Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees’ – The New York Times Map: (Google) A Louisiana Tribe Is Now Officially A Community Of Climate Refugees HUD Awards $1 Billion Through National Disaster Resilience Competition  A lesson plan for the Isle is offered by the Global One Project. Here.
  5. In 2014, NYC’s planning department published “Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk.”  The analysis examined the architecture of flood risk, its costs, and locations along much of its five-hundred shoreline of rivers and ocean.  The conclusions produced the likelihood of massive displacement one flooding disaster at a time or prohibitive cost in relocation or mitigation.
  6. This is according to Dr. Kenneth T. Jackson recent remarks about New Jersey at the annual (but only second which should tell you something) meeting of the Urban Revitalization Conference sponsored by the Northern New Jersey District Council of the Urban Land Institute. Dr. Jackson is the Jacques Barzun Professor of History and the Social Sciences at Columbia University where he directs the Herbert H. Lehman Center for the Study of American History.  He is also the editor-in-chief of the 1,373-page Encyclopedia of New York City.
  7. Actions exposed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the NJ State Attorney General during the early draft of this paper bore witness to levels of corruption (bribe taking/organ selling) driven largely by land developers and surprisingly a small network of synagogues
  8. Quarry Village is a development concept promoted by the Hayward Area Planning Association.  It envisions a Vauban-like community in the outskirts of Oakland, See: 2787 Hillcrest Avenue, Hayward, CA 94542  (510-885-2331)   ( Also see a Case Tread :
  9. A strong summary of strategies will be found in “Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories ( )
  10. William Cronon’s developed this argument in the essay, “The Trouble with Wilderness”, published in the New York Times, and in Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (1995) Also, see “clips from the PBS show by Cronon are at the link.
  11. Nature: Western Attitudes since Ancient Times by Peter Coates Chapter 1: The Natures of Nature pg 2
  12. The developer is based in Salt Lake City: Wasatch Development Associates
  13. [13] Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a financial tool.  Used will it helps local governments to sell debt in the form of bonds to pay for infrastructure (highways, subways, energy) and aim it at areas that need these improvements.  As land uses change, the neighborhood mix might contain former warehouses, industrial uses where the reinvestment risks are too high in comparison to the same investment options on “green fields”.   In this way older, formerly compact neighborhoods can rid themselves of past errors in the quality of use and retrofit them with innovative housing solutions, with new combinations of private and public transit serving retail/cultural destinations.  When ideas like TIF tie to a “density factor” they give cities a way make right past errors for good reasons.
  14. [14] As mentioned in “Finding Density” the urban center leadership found in Miami 21 (October 2009), brought the “transect” idea forward.  It may change everything in land use management.
  15. [15] On November 3, 2009, Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway announced that it would acquire 77.4% of BNSF for $100 per stock in cash and stock, in a deal valued at $44 billion. The company is investing an estimated $34 billion in BNSF and acquiring $10 billion in debt
  16. [16] See: Sustainability and Land Use Planning: Greening State and Local Land Use Plans and Regulations to Address Climate Change Challenges and Preserve Resources for Future Generations.  The study reviews six initiatives, 1) land use planning process in the nation, 2) state and local climate action plans, 3) emission rules and EIS reviews 4) zoning and regulation, 5) building codes and 6) water management and landscaping initiatives Download article SSRC website:
  17. See Richards v. Co. of Missoula, 354 Mont. 334, 223 P.3d 878 (Richards I) and Richards v. County of Missoula, 366 Mont. 416 (Mont. 10/23/12). 
  18. Cornell University holds a collection of Regional Plan Association’s materials from 1919-1997.  Those materials are available for research by contacting the university library. Packed-in Pyrmont is Australia’s most densely populated suburb find in Australia worthy of an update.
  19. The opinion can be accessed at the deep end here: