Planner looks to future

  • Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Leslie Cantu/Journal Scene -- Mitchell Silver

Communities need to start planning for the housing patterns of the future – and they won’t look like the housing of the past, Lowcountry planners and housing advocates heard Friday.
Mitchell Silver, chief planning and development officer for Raleigh and the past president of the American Planning Association, spoke at a Lowcountry Housing Trust housing summit and laid out the numbers on the nation’s changing demographics and needs.
One of the most important messages planners can give the public is that a “no” to one option means a “yes” to something else, he said.
“We don’t talk about the consequences of putting your head in the sand,” he said.
Raleigh came to realize it had to make proactive decisions, he explained. Post-war, Raleigh’s land use grew by three times its population growth, he said.
When he arrived, the city did a “reality check” and realized it would run out of land in eight years if it continued with traditional development approaches, Silver said.
It also realized the most vocal segment of its population, the people most likely to attend public meetings and voice unhappiness, were older residents.
People over the age of 45 represented only about 30 percent of the population but were driving all the decisions, he said.
Similarly, in Dorchester County 63 percent of the population and in Berkeley County 64 percent of the population is aged 45 or under.
The Greatest Generation sacrificed for future generations, Silver said, but he questioned whether the Baby Boomers would do the same.
“Can we give our today for that generation’s tomorrow?” he asked.
By 2025 the number of single person households will equal the number of family households, and by 2050 single person households will be dominant, he said.
Meanwhile, 20 percent of Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2030, he said.
Some 600,000 people over the age of 70 stop driving every year. He asked what would happen to these people who live in communities designed to be dependent on cars.
“This one no community can avoid. It’s coming,” he said.
These factors add up to a need for different development patterns, he said – smaller, greener, more resilient homes with a greater mix of single-family and multi-family homes.
Communities should be built so people can “age in place,” he said. Raleigh just approved a new kind of zoning, a “cottage court,” that allows five units on a combined two-lot parcel.
“Urban” is a bad word to some people, but it doesn’t necessarily mean what people think, he said.
According to the Census Bureau, “urbanized” can refer to any place of more than 50,000 people or to an urban cluster of between 2,500 and 50,000 people, he said.
He also urged reconsideration of commercial development. A downtown high-rise uses less land, creates more jobs and pays more property tax than a suburban Wal-Mart, he said.
Even in a place like Charleston, which values its historic, low-rise skyline, a building of three to six stories can bring more value, he said.
The value of the dense development in Raleigh’s downtown helps to keep residential property taxes low, he said.
For the Lowcountry, Silver recommended working on adding direct flights to the airport and beefing up a university research center.
The counties must work together rather than compete amongst one another for jobs, and they need to do a better job of retaining young people once they graduate from college, he said.

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