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NJ Planners Win The Rip Van Winkle Award

No Dissent from Planners As Rate of Land Loss Accelerates

“The Garden State has just completed its two most sprawling decades in history.”

"The Return of Rip Van Winkle" (John Quidor, 1849) (updated 2/21/13)

I randomly decide to give awards every now and then.

For example, I gave the “Lapdog and Schlock Journalism Award” and the “Heck of a Job, Brownie award. On a more serious note, also “NJ Most Under-reported story Award” (no link available).

After reading today’s Asbury Park Press story “Planners question credentials of Middletown committeeman coordinating N.J. policy“, as a Hudson Valley Boy and Tarrytown Native – the home of Washington Irving – I decided to create and present “The Rip Van Winkle Award”.

Here’s the Wiki on our good friend Rip:

Rip Van Winkle” is a short story by Washington Irving published in June 1819. Set in the Catskill Mountains of New York before and after the American Revolution, the title character is a young married Dutch American of a kind and generous disposition. Averse to profitable labor, he prefers rambles in the mountains, playing with the village children, and sitting in the shade gossiping with his cronies. One day he wanders into the mountains and happens upon the ghosts of Henry Hudson and his crew playing nine pins in a mysterious hollow. He drinks their brew and falls asleep. Twenty years later, he wakes as an aged man and wanders back to his village, where he is astonished by the changes that have taken place.

Today’s Asbury Park Press story is about the disappointment of the NJ professional planning community with the lack of progress by the Christie administration, after planners were “excited“:

Many officials in the New Jersey planning field were excited when Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno announced in July that the state Department of State was to take over the Office of Smart Growth from the Department of Community Affairs and refresh its mandate, said Peter Kasabach, executive director of New Jersey Future, a smart-planning advocacy group.

But planners are also upset by the alleged lack of qualifications of the Christie head of the Office of State Planning. But, I’ll leave that issue alone because the APP story pretty well exposed the ludicrous nature of that claim:

Just like former Gov. Jim McGreevey and Gov. Jon S. Corzine before him, Gov. Chris Christie hired a politician who lacks state accreditation as a licensed planner to direct what is now the Office of Planning Advocacy, said Charles Latini, president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Planners Association.

I mean, doing my best Claude Rains, I’m shocked, just shocked, that there’s politics in NJ planning circles!

And so is Rip Van Winkle Award winner Carlos Rodrigues:

Carlos Rodrigues, who worked in the Office of Smart Growth from 1994 to 2004, said when the state needed a director for the agency in the past, it conducted national searches, seeking experienced professionals with planning backgrounds.

“It was taken seriously,” said Rodrigues, a senior fellow with the Regional Planning Association. “Now we have a mayor as the head of the office? That’s a really, really bad idea. It’s ridiculous.” …

Rodrigues said the Christie administration needs to decide whether it is taking the Office of Planning Advocacy, and its cost to taxpayers, seriously.

“If you’re not going to fix it, then get rid of it,” Rodrigues said. “It’s an embarrassment the way it is, a complete sham.”

But, the larger issues are substantive and performance in nature – stuff you hear nary a word about from the planners.

Bottom line: the entire State Plan enterprise amounts to exactly what my colleague Bill Neil, former head of conservation at NJ Audubon, described. Neil called the NJ State Plan “the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the people of NJ”.

And NJ’s planning community has led the parade in perpetrating this fraud.

The data tell the ugly story. So lets examine, very briefly, how the state plan has performed in terms of achieving it’s goals and objectives.

The NJ State Planning Act was passsed in 1985. Here’s just some of what the Legislature found and set as planning goals, which have come to be described by various slogans, such as “sustainable growth”, “smart growth”, and prevention of “sprawl”:

The Legislature finds and declares that:

a. New Jersey, the nation’s most densely populated State, requires sound and integrated Statewide planning and the coordination of Statewide planning with local and regional planning in order to conserve its natural resources, revitalize its urban centers, protect the quality of its environment, and provide needed housing and adequate public services at a reasonable cost while promoting beneficial economic growth, development and renewal; […]

g. An increasing concentration of the poor and minorities in older urban areas jeopardizes the future well-being of this State, and a sound and comprehensive planning process will facilitate the provision of equal social and economic opportunity so that all of New Jersey’s citizens can benefit from growth, devel-opment and redevelopment;

Have those goals been met? Are we making progresss or going backwards?

Seven years ago, I was astonished by this data that show that since the 1985 State Planning Act – and all that planning – virtually every metric of land use in NJ has gotten WORSE.

In fact, the land development pattern and intensity AFTER the 1985 Act was WORSE than BEFORE the legislation was passsed!

The sprawl indicators examined indicate that throughout the sixteen year study period, the proportion of development that can be characterized as sprawl increased substantially while the proportion of development that is characteristically Smart Growth decreased in terms of Greenfield acres developed. 

The findings indicate that two thirds of the acres developed during the past two decades occurred outside of the OSG’s Smart Growth areas. At the same time development trends became less dense, more fragmented, leapfrogged further and utilized land less efficiently than development patterns pre 1986. These patterns are classic indications of sprawl. As of 2002, New Jersey is falling substantially short of its goal to channel new development that occurs on green fields (e.g., previously undeveloped land) into Smart Growth. (@ page 21 – 22) 

Source:  Tracking New Jersey’s Dynamic Landscape: Urban Growth and Open Space Loss 1986 – 1995 – 2002

But don’t go away yet – since 2002, the problems have gotten even worse.

More recent data are provided in this joint Rutgers/Rowan University Report: “Changing Landscapes in the Garden State: Urban Growth and Open Space Loss in NJ 1986 – thru 2007

What the data show is that is that urban development in the nation’s most densely populated state has continued unabated and in fact gained momentum up through 2007. The data reveals a 7% increase in development rate to 16,061 acres of urbanization per year by 2007, up from the previous rate of 15,123 acres per year during the 1995 through 2002 time period. During the 21 year period since the datasets were first compiled, New Jersey urbanized a massive 323,256 acres (507 sq. mi.) of land adding 26.8% to the state’s pre 1986 urban footprint. (@ page 4-5) …

On a per-capita basis, the land occupied by NJ’s population in 1986 was 0.16 acres (6,941 sq ft) per person. In the 2002-2007 time period, the per capita consumption of land for each new person added to the population was 4.8 times the 1986 rate at 0.76 acres (33,311 sq ft) per person. …

By this measure, considering the density of urban development pre 1986, the Garden State has just completed its two most sprawling decades in history. (@ page 5)

Let me repeat that: development consumed almost 5 TIMES more land per capita AFTER the State Planning Act than BEFORE.

Where have you been, Mr. Van Winkle?


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