Tag Archives: real estate

Toronto: Florida to the Kees with Greater Portland Inc.

Oct. 17, 2015

Richard Florida

Richard Florida, Professor; Co-founder CityLab.com; Sr. editor The Atlantic speaking to our Greater Portland, Inc. group.

Our discussion of “The Next Urban Crisis”  at University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management was another highlight of my Greater Portland Inc. trip to Toronto Sept. 27-30, 2015. There we spoke with professor, author and CityLab co-founder Richard Florida as well as  Real Estate Developer, & Architect in City blogger Brandon Donnelly.  During this discussion Spacing Magazine editor Matthew Blackett  also shared some of the interesting insights I reported on in my Part 1 blog.

Richard Florida expressed his frustration with the Mayor Rob Ford era which declared that the war on the car was over and that the problem was those young, pointy-headed university folks. “In Toronto, everyone still thinks they have the right to drive,” he lamented.  “If there’s an urban crisis, it’s the suburbs,” he said.

Florida reminded us that: “Building urbanism is a lot more expensive than building sprawl” and “The new frontier is the old frontier in the center of the city.” He left us with three points to deal with the next urban crisis: 1)  Build more housing,and make it more affordable; .2)  Build more transit;  3)  Provide a livable minimum wage–reduce the huge bifurcation we see now.

Brandon Donnelly

Brandon Donnelly described the affordability crisis for families and a solution in mid-rise housing. Photo from The Guardian

Brandon Donnelly discussed with us some of the crisis in keeping housing affordable during Toronto’s fast-paced growth. There’s a pressure on prices re: low rise, but high-rise has stayed stable, he said.  He described an Avenues and Mid-rise Building study. “ We see it as a market to build more units for families who are priced out of single family homes,” he said.

He distinguished Towers 1.0 and Towers 2.0.  Towers 1.0, many built in the suburbs, did not take as middle class housing and became largely the affordable housing of today. Towers 2.0 is basically all ownership vs. all tenants in 1.0, he said.  He finds it an encouraging sign that anchor office tenants and retailers are moving into the city as well.

Mid-rise housing

This mid-rise housing was across from a string of parks similar to Portland’s Park Blocks and gets my vote for best place to live in Toronto. Photo by PlanGreen

Park across from mid-rise housing

This park was one of a string of parks across from the mid-rise housing above. It was centrally located on the way to the Distillery District. Photo by PlanGreen

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, former Sec. of Labor, UC Berkley Professor and prolific author.at the Rotman School auditorium. Photo by PlanGreen

On our way out, we had an unexpected opportunity to hear Robert Reich, who was doing a guest lecture at the Rotman School around his book, Saving Capitalism : For the Many, Not the Few. 

I was especially impressed by how many of our group stopped to listen to his talk.  “My aim is to shatter the myths that keep us from taking the action we must take, and to provide a roadmap of what we must do – to rebuild our economic system and restore our democracy.” Reich was saying.

There is  a “huge misunderstanding” that underlies  a false political dichotomy between the so-called “free market” and government intervention. “There is no choice to be made between the free market and government. Government determines the rules of the market. The real question is what those rules are going to be and who is influencing those rules and whether the market is going to be working for the vast majority as a result, or whether it’s going to be rigged in favour of a small minority.” Reich’s book was for sale at a table outside the open-sided auditorium where he was speaking.

At Rotman we had the opportunity to hear some of the most forward-thinking leaders of the day who are dealing with questions around the environment, housing, urbanism, equity, millenials, the creative class, public involvement and the economy.

Ryerson University

The Planning students who attended our reception at Ryerson University were interested in displacement, equity and resiliency issues. Photo by PlanGreen

It was a great segue to our reception and  “Sharing Best Practices between Portland and Toronto” session at Ryerson University Architecture School.  All of the students I met at the reception were from the Ryerson School of Urban and Regional Planning rather than Architecture.  Those students were looking for answers to rising housing costs, displacement, equity, brownfields, resiliency planning in an era of climate change, etc.  I stayed after the session to talk with them. Several promised to look at my blogs on mycoremediation and suggested that one of their professors might be especially interested. So far, no one has followed up but I’m still hoping to hear from them.

Jennifer Keesmaat

Jennifer Keesmatt was our featured evening speaker. Image courtesy of York University. http://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2014/11/06/chief-toronto-planner-discussed-urban-spaces-and-achieving-a-sustainable-healthy-city/

Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, is a longtime Toronto resident, a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism (like myself), and a pedestrian advocate.  She had been a principal in the Toronto planning consultancy Dialog prior to taking the job as Toronto’s top planner.   She is also an inveterate user of Twitter @jen_keesmaat–discreetly putting out these tweets while she was on a panel with Portland Chief Planner, Joe Zehnder:

Portland is seeking to create *greenways* throughout neighbourhoods to address stormwater issues. Think “greened” street medians.  Portland has met Kyoto carbon emission reductions, even while growing. “Your midrise is hi-rise for us.” Portland Chief Planner explains that 4 story bldings are causing consternation in his city. Wow. If only.

Mountain Equipment Coop in downtown Toronto

Mountain Equipment Coop in downtown Toronto installed an extensive green roof of 6,500ft.2 during the construction of the building in 1998. Photo courtesy City of Toronto

“I talk about Portland all of the time,” she told us.  We’re growing but our air quality is getting better – as a result of our green roof policy mitigating the heat island effect.  I cringed a bit to think that while Toronto passed the world’s first mandatory green roof program in 2010, Portland discontinued its Ecoroof Incentive in 2012.

In response to moderator Ann Marie’s question about green infrastructure and resiliency in the face of climate change, Keesmaat lamented that she has only three  people working on green streets, a superstar team, but only three.

She did add that Toronto is a city of ravines and that there is an ongoing Ravine Strategy currently being developed.  She will be holding her final Chief Planner Roundtable of 2015 (Dec. 15) on the topic of Toronto’s ravine network.  I did not get the chance to ask her about the re-naturalization of the Don River, but I plan to do that at the next opportunity–maybe via Twitter!

What’s Next Portland? Real Estate in the New Economy

A version of this blog first appeared in the Portland Business Journal shortly after the ULI What’s Next event on March 7, 2012.

The Oregon Chapter of the Urban Land Institute promoted their breakfast seminar based on ULI’s most recent publication: “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy“: A paradigm shift is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change development through 2020

Walking over to the event at the Nines Hotel, I thought about what I hoped to learn.  ULI is a national, even international, thought leader in the real estate industry.  The advertised intent of the seminar was to examine how our region is postured to remain competitive in the 21st century.  I had more short term goals.  I wanted to know how ULI and local business leaders foresee the Portland region and the state getting out of the building slump (and consequent unemployment for planners, urban designers and other built environment professionals) we have been in since 2007.

From an examination of name tags, the audience for this event were largely lawyers, a few planners and a few commercial real estate consultants.  I didn’t see any developers that I recognized—albeit my recognition field is limited.

After a string of men from ULI’s national office in Washington, DC offering their wisdom over the past two years, it was refreshing to have a woman as keynote speaker.  Maureen McAvey started off her talk with the proposition “This is not just another real estate cycle but a fundamental change.”  She went on to make her case through a litany of demographic factors she claims are leading to new trends, e.g.:

  • Gen Y is the largest generation in American history—80 million strong and still growing and
  • The Boomer generation is living longer–“If I retired at 65 and lived to my mother’s age—98—I’d have more than 35 more years to do what?”

I had been wondering when ULI would jump on the jobs bandwagon in a big way. This was the event!  Both in her presentation and in the book, McAvey asked “Where the hell are the jobs?” (resisting her editors plea for more sedate wording).  Even lawyers are outsourcing parts of their business as never expected.  Social Security in 1945 each worker was supported by 42 workers, in 2009 just 3.

Lumina Foundation found that young people in US do not have enough education to compete.  Between now and 2018 Oregon is expected to create 59.000 jobs – but there will not be enough workers with post secondary education to fill those job needs.  America is significantly de-funding its education.

McAvey believes there are some bright spots.  Business and professional sectors and education of all types as well as health care and medical have grown phenomenally. “America is still wildly entrepreneurial and leads in venture capital” she claims.  This is partly due to the creative culture and substantial capital reserves.

The Housing Outlook she presented was similar to what I have heard for the past few years: Apartment living is on the rise. Six million new renter households may be formed between 2008 and 2015, requiring 300,000 new units annually compared with just 100,000 produced in 2010. “But can the industry deliver that amount for the rents at which people looking to rent can afford?” she asked.  Meanwhile, more single-family homes are being occupied by renters, changing the feel and politics of suburban communities.

Seventy-five percent of households in Portland do NOT have children under 18; 47% are non-families, she said. Twenty-somethings on tight budgets prefer places to congregate with friends—in parks, bar scenes, restaurant clusters, and building common areas—and can tolerate smaller living spaces, McAvey claims.

The Regional Panelists consisted of Jill Eiland, Corporate Affairs Manager, Intel Corporation; Keith Leavitt, General Manager of Business Development and Properties, Port of Portland; Sandra McDonough, President and CEO, The Portland Alliance, Wim Wiewel, President, Portland State Universtiy

McAvey went on to ask a softball question of most of the panelists—and most  responded in predictable ways, e.g., Keith Leavitt feels that we need to continue and expand efforts to export wheat and other grain to the world as well as electronics.  “There is a boom in new port developments along lower Columbia River,” he said.”

Sandra McDonough believes that we are hampered by tax policy, physical infrastructure and regulatory framework – a lot of it from the 70’s [referring to Oregon’s land use laws]. “We do not have enough sites for new industrial users,” she maintains.

Wim Wiewel feels we need to move beyond the sad state of education funding from legislatures (not only here, but across the country) and partner more with industry—and with local government.  He was excited to announce “We are working with the Mayor and the County on an Urban Renewal Area for Education.”

McAvey’s question for Jill Eiland was a little more challenging.  “Is Intel going to follow Amazon’s lead and start building highly urban campuses?”

Although I spaced out during Eiland’s answer, she later told me that “Intel has now invested more than $20 billion in Oregon since 1974.  We continue to invest and grow our manufacturing and R&D capacity here.  The Hillsboro site remains Intel’s largest and most comprehensive site anywhere in the world.”  I interpret that to mean don’t expect Intel to move into downtown Portland, or even downtown Hillsboro, anytime soon.

I heard recently that Metro Council Members were cautioned not to talk about climate change.  Governor Kitzhaber and Mayor Adams didn’t mention it in their recent State of the State/State of the City speeches at City Club either.  It seems that ULI got that memo too.

I was a bit baffled to attend an event on trends that made no mention—only guarded allusion to—the two big trend topics of the day in my world: climate change or growing income inequality!  While ULI played up this event as being about a paradigm shift, their Oregon panel members gave only predictable answers that did not reflect much awareness of that shift–none of that Oregon leadership that we witnessed in the last century.  It would seem that we are resting on our laurels rather than embracing the shift. I left with more questions than answers—but eager to read the copy of “What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy” that ULI so generously provided to attendees.

Mary Vogel is founder and principal of PlanGreen, consultants on walkable urbanism.  She is a Board Member and Advocacy & Alliances Chair of the Congress for the New Urbanism Cascadia Chapter where she helps to shape climate change policy.  She is also a member of the progressive business alliance, VOIS.

Community-Based Investment

[I’m struggling to determine alternative ways to build the kind of communities we will need to address climate change and peak oil–and to put myself and other built environment colleagues back to work.  Although I had placed some of what’s below on the Congress for the New Urbanism – Cascadia Google Group awhile back, I decided to publish it as a blog after reading “Opportunity for New Urbanists: Occupy Wall Street” in New Urban News.  To see much movement at all in the real estate development world, we must address the financial and the NUN article does that.  However, as I began to think about it, I realized that the NUN title mis-appropriates the name of that popular movement, taking us in a direction opposite what Occupiers are demanding.]

I recently attended two lectures that call into question the long-term viability of depending upon Wall Street based investments–one by Denis Hayes, President of the Bullitt Foundation, the other by Richard Heinburg, Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute.

Hayes watches the stock market on a daily basis for the Bullitt Foundation.  He says that economists he follows say it has one or two more runs. Because of the “green bubble,” even those may be in question because we have been ignoring environmental externalities that are coming due.

Heinberg had just finished a solid day of consulting with Portfolio 21, an
alternative investment fund in Portland, about moving money from Wall Street.  He is the author of “Power Down,”” The Party’s Over” and most recently, “The End of Growth.”  After showing multiple reasons why Wall Street’s day is over he asked “What does a transition to a new economy look like that doesn’t depend on a model of growth based on cheap energy, reckless consumption and financial speculation?”

The messages from these talks coincided with Occupy Wall Street’s successful campaign
to Move Your Money from the big Wall Street banks.  Although the Occupy
movement set the target date as Nov 5, in Oregon, we had news stories
on the mainstream media of people transferring their funds from big banks
to local credit unions for several weeks before the target date!

It seems that this is the time to strike with popularizing solutions for
people seeking local investments–investments that will help the built environment
industries too.  After Denis Hayes talk, I wrote him asking: *”Would you consider setting up a support arm for the Community-Development Initial Public Offering
(CD-IPO)
  concept pioneered by Market Creek Community Ventures?  Its
investors earned 10% on their money–in 2008 and 2009 when many others were
losing their shirts.”

Market Creek had foundation support from the Jacobs Center for Community Innovation.  Here’s what Jacobs has to say:

Ultimately, all assets and social enterprises in The Village at Market
Creek will be owned by the community. Community ownership is key to
long-term change, providing a way for residents to have a voice in how
resources are used and to benefit from community assets.

A resident-led Community Ownership Design Team worked to find a way to
transfer ownership of Market Creek Plaza to residents. They created a
ground-breaking new tool for building wealth in under-invested areas, the
Community-Development Initial Public Offering (CD-IPO).

It took six years of work, 40 drafts by a legal team, and three attempts
to earn approval for the CD-IPO from the California Department of
Corporations. Working hand-in-hand with residents to design the investor
criteria, the CD-IPO transfered 20% ownership in Market Creek Partners,
LLC, the company that owns Market Creek Plaza, to a preferred group of
investors called the Diamond Community Investors. Another 20% is owned by a
community-foundation, the Neighborhood Unity Foundation, which invested
$500,000 in the Plaza and uses the dividends to fund philanthropic efforts
in the community.

The offering opened on July 5, 2006 and closed on October 31, 2006, with
investments ranging from $200 to $10,000. In total, 415 investors purchased
all 50,000 available units, at $10 per unit, for a total of $500,000. 

In 2008 and 2009, the Diamond Community Investors received a full 10%
return on their investments.

There are other solutions too–like working to lift some limitations on
credit unions, working with local community development banks and
developing a Community Loan Fund.

In Portland, Springboard Innovation is pioneering a Direct Public Offering to build  Hatch, a community-oriented business incubator for social-benefit companies. Hatch aims to serve what founder, Amy Pearl calls “hybrid organizations” by providing space and services for mission-driven organizations.

I see the above as promising ideas to help put New Urbanists and and our friends back to work in addressing the most pressing environmental issue of our day in the way that we New Urbanists do it best–creating walkable neighborhoods.