Florida’s 2.5 Billion Dollar Folly

The United Nations and World Health Organization agree that the 11 billion acres of Earth’s surface suitable for food production will only support a world population of 10 to 11 billion people – a reality for the second half of this century. There’s good and bad news in this looming crisis.

Good news: It’s estimated that world population will plateau at 10 to 11 billion because of declining birth rates. Advancements in farming will make Earth’s food production more efficient.

Bad news: Manmade and natural forces take land out of food production every year. When farmland becomes asphalt and rooftops, we see one part of the problem. Natural forces, like desertification, continually reduce arable lands as our planet warms.

While we have the power to reign in our rapid expansion onto farmland, we seem too comfortable with a convenient, but highly inefficient, form of transportation to do so.

Governor DeSantis just approved spending several hundred million dollars to plan a 2.5 billion-dollar toll road expansion between Fort Myers and the Florida-Georgia Line. Tens of thousands of acres of farmland are in its path.

Planning for growth is wise. Planning for car-centric growth is foolish. It gobbles up land at three times the rate when growth in planned around efficient transportation systems.

A recently published comparison of two cities underscores what smart-growth advocates have known for decades. Five-years ago Los Angeles and Vancouver both embarked on huge transportation expansion projects. L.A. spent billions on expanding its highways. Vancouver spent millions expanding and creating dedicated bicycle networks. Both cities have grown into their expanded systems. Los Angles reports equal or slower travel times at every hour of the day, while Vancouver has tripled the number of people who commute by bike with no additional traffic to its highway system.

In spite of decades of evidence and research that could have saved Los Angles from a billion dollar folly, they overlooked settled science that shows roadway expansions actually induce demand to use them until they are very quickly congested as before. In fact, it is so consistently applicable to highway expansion that a 2009 National Bureau of Economic Research (linked here) concluded that the reality of induced demand “eliminates [road] capacity expansions… as policies to combat traffic congestion.”

A wise transportation system integrates many modes. Expanding a single mode network shows that Florida lacks the capacity to learn from the past, and plan a sustainable future.

We can do better, Florida!

Timothy Hullihan is an architect in North Palm Beach, Florida.

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“Debt Free College”? – Please Discuss with Conservatives

Kamala Harris has tweaked a Bernie Sanders talking point. In running through the highlights of her platform in Oakland, California, recently, she said, “Debt-free college for all.” Senator Sanders has expressed the notion of affordable college education by calling for it to be simply “free.” Both positions serve as examples of the overarching difference between liberal and conservative principles.

Stated simply, and in a way that was rarely disputed before American politics became hyper-polarized, Liberals and Conservatives general agree on the big picture issues that need to be solved. But, in crafting policies that deliver solutions, they disagree on the role government should play. Solving the crushing debt that hangs over the typical college graduate today is such an issue, but it is more commonly a Liberal or Progressive talking-point because victimhood needs an oppressor, and government is a ready scapegoat.

Conservatives see small government as an essential component to Democracy, and a majority of the Founding Fathers agreed that self-rule and self-governing aligned well with the rugged individuals who were at the core of our founding.

Clearly, a college education should not be a pathway to debt for the poor, but a pathway to prosperity for the rich. Yet, framing the discussion in these simplified terms makes thoughtful debate less likely. Generations of poor Americas have obtained college educations without significant debt. Scholarships, grants, part-time jobs, and long-term saving plans remain among the choices available today, that were once common pathways to a debt-free college degree. In fact, a resume’ that shows a degree that was earned with a part-time job presents a candidate as a hard working self-starter.

If college becomes free to all, what message does that send to the rugged individuals that are immersed in the more difficult, and often longer, path of working their way to a degree? At what point will the satisfaction of working long and hard to earn something be experienced as an invaluable life-lesson?

Conservatism has had a clownish baby face for the last 2-years, but its core values of small, bottom-up government through individual empowerment should not be thrown out with the bath water.

Mr. Hullihan is an architect, and president of the Kevin Clark Hullihan Foundation.

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Selfie-Culture Need Not Be Selfish

By: Timothy Hullihan

When I read recently in the Palm Beach Post that 259 world-wide selfie-related deaths between 2011 and 2017 was cause for alarm, my thoughts turned to 2 related things.  First, Italo Calvino’s reflection on photography’s potential to warp the temporal realm, and rob us of the deeper existential joys of tangible experiences.  Second, the oft cited frustration over inaction on larger causes of deaths such as those by hand guns and automobiles that number in the 10s of thousands annually in the United States alone.

Calvino’s reflections were recorded in 1970 in a collection of his short stories entitled, Difficult Loves.  He was, of course, lamenting in the time of film and negatives developed by hand – well before the digital age.  He foreshadowed a cultural shift that would move our collective understanding of living from a universal appreciation of our shared connection to all that is beautiful, and, therefore, seeing one’s life as beautiful through our existence in a beautiful realm, to a narrow appreciation of beauty as defined by that which is photographed and commemorated.  Or, as Calvino said, “… the life that you live in order to photograph it is already, at the outset, a commemoration of itself.”

This shift is alive and well today, and is symptomatic of a popular cultural that, as Allan Bloom warned in 1987, increasingly shows signs of being incapable of “reasoning beyond self-interest.” Yet, the notion of living for the interests of others is foundational to all of the world’s major religions, and America’s Bill of Rights.

Self-interest allows us to overlook 2 leading causes of death in America, each about equal in number, and totaling approximately 70,000 in the U.S. each year. The romantic forms of guns and cars of our past are American icons, and speak to why they will, and should, remain part of our culture.  But the life-quenching forms that exist today require meaningful moderation to co-exist in a beautiful realm.  Car-centric lifestyles that seem normal after 70-plus years of promotion create ugly and impersonal places.  Yet, there is a mountain of urban planning data, research and case studies that shows us how to create safer, and more beautiful, livable places by demoting the automobile to equal status with walking, biking, and mass-transit.  Military grade weapons in the hands of Americans struggling with mental challenges has made mass murder so common in America that we are no longer surprised by the carnage.  Yet, understanding the cause has not lead us to a cure because paralyzed politicians prioritize their political future over reasonableness.

In the same way that photography can objectify beauty into a singular notion rather than a connected one, leadership that fails to guide us toward what is good for all, rather than special interest, diminishes the social contract at the essence of this great country’s founding. The selfie-culture is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose our ability to transcend beyond ourselves.

Timothy Hullihan is president of the Kevin Clark Hullihan Foundation

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Effect of fireworks on pets worthy of a neighborly discussion

Many dog owners do not look forward to the 4th of July in the same way that others do. It is not that we are less patriotic, or averse to celebrating the anniversary of our declaration of independence from England.  It’s the illegal fireworks that torture our beloved pets that make the holiday less enjoyable for us.

In Florida the law is pretty simple.  If it launches or explodes, it is illegal.  The law has human safety in mind, but it has the potential to make the Fourth of July less stressful for our 4-legged friends.  It is not clear why so many ignore the law, and enforcement seems virtually absent.  I have been told by frustrated neighbors who have attempted in past years to take the law into their own hands that the launchers believe it is their “right” to do whatever they want on their property.

“Go back in your house.”  “Get off my property.”  “I can do whatever I want on my property.  It is my right.”  These are among the responses to polite neighbor-to-neighbor requests to bring 4-hours of mortar launches to an end at 11:00 P.M. – four hours of misery for the fearful dogs in ear shot.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) — a woman Albert Camus described as “the only great spirit of our time” — wrote brilliantly about the human condition, including the notion of self-ascribed rights.  Like the Founding Fathers, she understood, and explained thoughtfully, that rights and obligations are the essential yin-yang of thriving communities.  In fact, the very foundation of the democracy we celebrate on July 4th is our shared obligation to each other, and the freedom to form a nation based on what we believe collectively is right for all, not just for one.  The founding wisdom of our great country came in opposing the English monarchy that had been dictating to the colonies what was right for England, but not right for us.

So, for neighbors everywhere, and our beloved fearful furry friends, let’s celebrate our obligations to our communities this Fourth of July, for that is the best evidence of a well-made democracy.  Survey your neighbors, or hold a group discussion and decide as a neighborhood what is best for everyone, and the fragile beloved pets that live there too.

Timothy Hullihan, North Palm Beach, is an architect and president of the Kevin Clark Hullihan Foundation.

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Is it too early to think about “President Pence”?

By Timothy Hullihan:

Both Democrats and Republicans should be keenly aware of the timetable established in Amendment XXII, Section 1, of the United States Constitution – especial those of either party that foresee an end to the Trump presidency happening before the present 4-year term comes to a close. Regardless of which side of the aisle someone identifies, a small adjustment in the timing of the transition to a Pence presidency will be important to them. It could add or substrate 4-years to Pence’s eligibility to hold our nation’s highest office.

Republicans should ensure that Trump lasts until at least January 21, 2019, and Democrats should push for his resignation or removal before then. The next president will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021, and 2-years prior to that day is meaningful. Amendment XXII, Section 1, says, “…and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once.”

Essentially, a Pence presidency could last nearly 10-years if Trump lasts long enough to make that possible. Conversely, Pence could be constitutionally limited to just more than 6-years of eligibility if Trump’s exit happens before January 20, 2019.

This is important because a sitting president has an enormous advantage over a challenger in media coverage. The incumbent travels with a press core, and is covered daily whether in residents or not. Assuming the Mike Pence reelection team uses this advantage wisely, Vice President Pence could one day become the 2nd longest sitting president in U.S. history. Republicans will have had 12-years in the White House if that happens.

Democrats will want to shorten a Pence presidency, and Republicans will want to lengthen it. Both need to know this small piece of the Constitution, and form their strategies accordingly.

This was written in memory of my father, William F. Hullihan, a former FAU professor and Constitutional scholar.

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Extending Tri-rail West is an Alternative Worth Considering

By Timothy Hullihan:

(Note:  The following article appeared in the Palm Beach Post on 08/06/2017.  It is republished by the author here.)

As anyone who lives west of the Florida Turnpike in northern Palm Beach County will tell you, traveling north and south is only half their transportation problem. They must first get east to where all of the accommodations for north/south travel are. Extending Tri-rail to Palm Beach Gardens, or Jupiter seems wise until one considers that this is a transportation plan that ignores a region of the county that has few roads, lots of environmentally sensitive land, zero mass transit options, and is about to be crushed by 16,000 new homes and tens of millions of commercial square feet recently approved in the region. Addressing North County’s impending east/west transportation nightmare seems like a higher priority.

Zooming in on the plan to extend Tri-rail north reveals a major obstacle. Tri-rail runs on CSX tracks, and those tracks don’t go to Palm Beach Gardens, or Jupiter. Only FEC tracks do. Somewhere in West Palm Beach a rail connection between CSX and FEC would have to be constructed so Tri-rail can even theoretically arrive at points further north. But, that assumes FEC will allow Tri-rail to use its tracks that will be handling increasing volumes of freight, and the planned Brightline high-speed rail to Orlando in the future.

Zoom in on CSX, and one will see that it already does 2 advantageous things. First, it runs northwest along the Beeline highway adjacent to our North County Airport, and the massive 7 square mile Avenir development, before passing very near Orlando International Airport, and eventually reaching points north of Florida like Washington D.C. Second, it has an established commuter rail system that shuttles 4 million passengers per year between points in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. Recent development approvals just made the existing transportation challenges west of the Beeline Highway foreseeably worse. Isn’t an existing rail line in this region the basis for a more actionable plan for a wiser transportation system?

Imagine if Avenir were planned with a downtown train station that could take passengers to Orlando, West Palm Beach, or Miami. Avenir residents would be blessed with a walkable transit option that is connected to many points north and south. If the developers are serious about creating an urban center, rather than just another cars-only suburb, a train station seems to be an essential component. In reverse, Avenir, as the destination the developers hope it will be, would be able to welcome visitors arriving via rail to their walkable downtown.

If Avenir won’t embrace a Tri-rail extension, the commuter rail should at least be extended to the North County Airport. Again, CSX¬ already passes on its north boundary, and a multi-modal transportation hub in this western region, which is approved for explosive growth, might take a few cars off Northlake and the Beeline Highway.

Northlake Boulevard is the main east/west corridor for an existing western population that has been approved to nearly double in size to over 80,000 people. Northlake Boulevard is only 4-lanes wide. County Engineer, George Webb, estimates that the section of Northlake that runs through Grassy Waters Preserve will need to be 12-lanes wide, but it can only be widened to 6-lanes without encroaching into land that protects an essential drinking water source for West Palm Beach, and a rare habitat for endangered plants and animals. So, a bottleneck is brewing on Northlake Boulevard unless some other form of east/west commuting is planned and created.

Now is the time to address the future transportation challenges of the communities that are dependent on Northlake Boulevard for east/west travel. Before Avenir is built for cars-only, ignoring the CSX line that exists on its north boundary, a better Avenir, and a better regional transportation system could be designed.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect living in North Palm Beach, and is a board member of Sustainable Palm Beach County.

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Lessons from Disney World

By Timothy Hullihan

Disney World offers 2 lessons to city planners that are searching for ways to revitalize a downtown, or declining commercial corridor. Lesson #1: No matter how great a destination, if nobody lives there its sense of place is ephemeral, and, therefore, not the correct foundation for a community, small town or neighborhood. Lesson #2: It is a dynamic pedestrian environment. Its enjoyable sense of place, albeit temporary, is derived from its pedestrian scale and pace. The fun begins when you get out of your car, and it ends when you get back in it.

Starry-eyed politicians, fall for the Lesson #1 trap all the time, while ignoring the long-term fiscal burdens of building and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to support a drive-to economy. Rather than advocating for Disney-quality pedestrian environments where people actually live, work, and play, and infrastructure costs are low, they approve destination after destination that are often short-lived economic vortexes that suck the life out of less novel destinations of the recent past. Collectively, they turn their communities into transient places with very few remnants of a communal past, or hope for a communal future.

Lesson #2 is obvious to anyone who visits Disney World, but a takeaway advocacy for pedestrian oriented communities is much more difficult to obtain. Most community planning regulations are numerically based, rather than form based, so development proposals that check all the empirical boxes for minimum parking and landscaping, and promise “jobs and tax revenues” (by the way, all projects, horrible or brilliant, create jobs and tax revenues), get approved while the potential to form community gathering places that are walkable from adjacent neighborhoods are neither proposed nor encouraged.

The Village of North Palm Beach, Florida recently considered 2 different projects that show why these lessons are important. Both projects should have been influenced by a recently completed village master plan prepared by Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, and a team of consultants that rank among our nation’s top retail planners, economists, urban planners, and architects.  But, the master plan is not yet supported by a zoning in progress ordinance, or a form based development code. The council’s votes on these two projects demonstrate why learning lessons 1 and 2 is so critical.

The first project was a proposal that would continue 45-years of car-centric planning on its main commercial corridor, U.S. Highway One. The master plan showed how 5 different pedestrian-oriented neighborhood gathering places could be formed along U.S. One to revitalize it from its stale car-dominate appearance and feel. The presently vacant land upon which the project, and its 1970s planning principles, is proposed is also featured prominently in the master plan as the place to create North Palm Beach’s signature project for a walkable future – a town center formed around a public green. Residents wrote letters and emails, and attended public meetings to voice their belief in the master plan, and disfavor for continuing the old-thinking that created the challenges on U.S One in the first place. The project was turned down by the local planning agency twice. Planning staff recommended denial. But, by a 3-2 vote, residents and staff were overruled, and the existing urban pattern (building + parking lot = project) the master plan explained as destructive, was allowed to continue onto the last piece of vacant land in the heart of the declining corridor. Jobs and tax revenues!!

The second project is a rebuild of a 50-plus year old country club, also on the U.S. One Corridor. It is present humble form, it is still the place that many residents grew up with. For decades children have ridden their bikes there to swim or have a golf lesson, and families have walked there for meals. Every longtime resident shares fond memories of its glorious past. But, it is out of date. It needs to be repaired, and renewed. During approximately a half dozen community meetings, a clear consensus was formed – the new club needs to be refreshed, but maintained as a community gathering place. However, a series of mistakes are making that an unlikely result.

First, an architect that specializes in private clubs was hired. In spite of an impressive club resume, from day one there has been a clear disconnect between the architect’s desire to create a “resort” (see Lesson #1 about destinations), and the community’s desire for a new clubhouse with the same level of humility.

Second, a restaurateur with 4 or 5-star aspirations was hired to shore-up the architect’s goal to transition the club into a high-end destination that few people in the community want. The restaurateur’s fraudulent resume was recently exposed in a lawsuit, and the residents cheered. This revelation would surely be the end of the 4-star restaurant that would price out 95% of the community that once gathered there. But no, in spite of several large question marks, the restaurateur’s contract was not canceled at a recent meeting.

Third, even though the village master plan presents very clearly the types of projects that will help revive the U.S. One Corridor (and the country club is not one of them), there is a growing level of discussion and innuendo that is close to shaping a misguided consensus that the country club project is the new anchor for the U.S. One Corridor’s revitalization. Again, the master plan shows how to revive the U.S. One, and the country club, unless it becomes a walkable community gathering place, is not part of its recommendations.

So, to summarize, a walkable town center was voted down in favor of another 1970s car-centric development, and an existing walkable community gathering place is being redesigned into a 4-star drive-to destination that will disconnect it from the community that will no longer be able to afford using it.

Disney World is also an expensive place to visit, but families go there in droves because of the pedestrian oriented form of its layout and architecture. Maybe Disney’s Lesson #3 is that people loss their minds, and spend more money than they can afford when they enter charming, pedestrian places. Regardless of the number of lessons Disney can teach us, the North Palm Beach Village Council needs to take a trip there, or to any of a number of places like Asheville, North Carolina, that have revived themselves through form-based planning guidelines before it makes too many mistakes to recover from.

Timothy Hullihan is an architect in North Palm Beach, Florida

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