jstephens's blog


Los Angeles' Slow Burn

I noticed the da Vinci apartment complex for the first time only a few months ago. How could I not notice it? It looked like a plywood ocean liner beached against the northbound side of the 110 freeway. Rising 4-5 stories at the time, it hovered over the freeway, uncomfortably close to the roadway. I remember hoping that it would have serious soundproofing. And air filtering. 

Not All NIMBYs Are Alike

Last week Harvard history professor Naomi Oreskes defended the public figure that many planners love to hate: the NIMBY. In a column in the Washington Post entitled, “Stop hating on NIMBYs. They’re saving communities,” she argues that "NIMBY" does not deserve the pejorative connotation that many in the planning community naturally ascribe to it.

An Unfortunate Education in Prop 13

As if we needed another story about Prop 13's unintended impacts on education, here's a new twist. 

A Beachhead Against Placelessness

It’s no secret that Walmart stores have caused the entire economies of small towns to decamp for some highway strip and, ultimately, wind up in Bentonville. But at least you know a Walmart when you see it – from miles away, no less.

A similarly insidious trend toward generic placelessness has been taking place in smaller-scale communities, even in many of the places that progressive planners hail as attractive, functioning communities.

California Should Take Off the Gloves

Raw fish will not singlehandedly save urban California. But it can still help.


Secure the Terminal, Secure the City

This week the Huffington Post ran a concerning piece about the recent shooting at Los Angeles International Airport.

Job Creators Need Not Fear Urban Planners

Recently, economist and entrepreneurship expert Carl Schramm announced a discovery in the pages of Forbes.com: “the practice of city planning has escaped reality.” Planners don’t see the big picture. They don’t understand economic growth. They’ve unleashed upon us scourges like live-work lofts, fire stations, and bloated pensions.

Book Review: History of Future Cities

At first glance, the premise of journalist Daniel Brook's History of Future Cities threatens to overwhelm its substance. "What do these four cities...have in common?" asks Brook, as if co-hosting a parlor game with Edward Glaeser, Saskia Sassen, and Jaime Lerner. 

Beware the 'Density Cult'

I love a Parisian stroll as much as the next guy does, but I have friends in the planning community who make me look like Robert Moses. They ride fixies. They build parklets. They live in lofts. They go on urban hikes. Some don’t own cars—in Los Angeles. And I have never heard one of them say, “man, I really wish L.A. was more like Bangladesh.”

Hysteria Over California's Decline Reaches New Heights

Among some conservative circles, it’s become fashionable to say that liberals “hate America” any time Democrats try to do, well, anything.

Giving Main Street a Kickstart

Barrington, Ill.—What can California learn from a sleepy exurb on the edge of nowhere? Not much, I don’t think. California has scarcely ever pretended to care much for small town America. But something that is at once very modern and very old-fashioned is afoot here on Main Street. 

I mean Main Street literally. Barrington has a primary commercial street, and it’s called Main. And in the middle of that street, watching over it calmly and without imposition, stands the Catlow Theater, its neon casting a red glow over the prairie. 

Brown Adds Insult to Injury with Redevelopment Vetoes

Even the most irate objectors to Gov. Jerry Brown's dismantling of redevelopment held out hope that in agreeing to killing redevelopment, the legislature would invent a new, better system for stoking local economic growth. Yesterday, the governor dashed those hopes. 

'Amazon Tax' Puts Positive Spin on Fiscalization of Land Use

On Saturday, California tax law finally catches up with the 21st century: some online retailers -- most notably, juggernaut Amazon.com -- will start charging sales tax for items sold in California if they have warehouse space in the state. Though we always knew there was something fishy about the tax exemption, as a consumer this development does not thrill me. As a citizen of the state, I suppose it's fine. The more money we can raise, the better. 

As an urbanist, however, I say bring on the tax. 

It's No Chongqing, But California Remains a Global Player

At least someone thinks California is going to emerge from its mess. 

Lawmakers Reject Major CEQA Reform (Updated)

Update: Sen. Michael Rubio and Senate Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg have announced that Senate Bill 317, which would have made major changes to the enforcement of the California Environmental Quality Act, has been killed and will not be heard by the Senate.