Government planning

After the Twisters


David Beito and Daniel Smith compare disaster recovery in two towns devastated last spring by tornadoes:

In Joplin, [Missouri,] eight of 10 affected businesses have reopened, according to the city's Chamber of Commerce, while less than half in Tuscaloosa[, Alabama,] have even applied for building permits, according to city data we reviewed. Walgreens revived its Joplin store in what it calls a "record-setting" three months. In Tuscaloosa, a destroyed CVS still festers, undemolished. Large swaths of Tuscaloosa's main commercial thoroughfares remain vacant lots, and several destroyed businesses have decided to reopen elsewhere, in neighboring Northport.

Bum BUM ba-dum dum. Bum BUM ba-dum dum.

The reason for Joplin's successes and Tuscaloosa's shortcomings? In Tuscaloosa, officials sought to remake the urban landscape top-down, imposing a redevelopment plan on businesses. Joplin took a bottom-up approach, allowing businesses to take the lead in recovery….

Tuscaloosa's city council imposed a 90-day construction moratorium in the disaster area, restricting commercial and residential redevelopment until officials could craft and adopt a long-term master plan. Many of the restrictions remained long after the moratorium officially expired. Joplin, by contrast, passed a 60-day moratorium that applied only to single-family residential structures and was lifted on a rolling basis, as each section of the city saw its debris cleared, within 60 days.

The Alabama city's recovery plan, "Tuscaloosa Forward," is indeed state-of-the-art urban planning–and that's the crux of the problem. It sets out to "courageously create a showpiece" of "unique neighborhoods that are healthy, safe, accessible, connected, and sustainable," all anchored by "village centers" for shopping (in a local economy that struggles to sustain current shopping centers). Another goal is to "preserve neighborhood character" from a "disproportionate ratio of renters to owners." The plan never mentions protecting property rights.

In Joplin, the official plan not only makes property rights a priority but clocks in at only 21 pages, compared with Tuscaloosa's 128.

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  1. Dynamism FTW!

  2. interesting case study. Too bad no one outside of this forum will actually consider its implications. And what the hell does “neighborhood character” have to do with anything? It’s a college town; those tend to have their own character.

  3. They expect a college town to have more resident-owners than renters? WTF are they smoking?

    1. College towns love to bite the hand that feeds.

      1. Ain’t that the truth.

  4. Holy smokes man, its a twister, its a twister. WOw.

  5. Roger Gary 2012

  6. “courageously create a showpiece”

    Indeed. Very courageous.

  7. After tornado, town rebuilds by going green, April 29, 2009|By Betty Nguyen and Jason Morris CNN

    On May 4, 2007, a monster tornado tore through this rural town, killing 11 people and leaving little more than empty slabs and stacks of debris.

    “It forced people to make change. It forced people to say, ‘You know what we have is an opportunity unlike any other community gets,’ ” Hewitt said.

    Two years later, Greensburg is taking its name to heart and striving to become a green community of the future. City and county officials, residents and business owners are leading by example, making Greensburg a national model for environmentally conscious living.

    City leaders are using solar and wind technologies to harness power and geothermal heat. They’re also conserving energy by building with solid concrete, using more natural light, and installing better insulation and state-of-the-art windows.….._s=PM:TECH

    1. So the town government is choosing to rebuild with energy-efficient materials? Great. Not at all relevant to Tuscaloosa’s idiocy, though.

    2. point is planning aint the prob as greensberg proves

      1. It proves nothing of the kind. They’re just now, 2 years after, building one of the demo homes. 2 years to build a fucking house? In 2 years I can build a complete (albeit small) subdivision.

        It also doesn’t say anything about the planning or permitting process. But if it’s 2 years after, and we’re just know getting things built, I’d say the process sucks.

        1. obviously Tuscaloosa’s execution of their plans needs improvement. perhaps they could plan to study greensberg’s equally obvious success.

          1. That article didn’t mention anything about planning; everything sounded voluntary.

          2. You do realize that the insurance all these property owners have time limits for the extra expense homeowners and business incur while they are waiting to rebuild. I assume you are OK with Tuscaloosa’s picking those costs?

          3. You’ll notice that the puff piece you cited mentions nothing about the pace of the rebuilding other than the laughable datum about it taking two fucking years to build a house.

  8. This country is fucked.

  9. I drove through Joplin three weeks after the tornado. It was a sight to see, for sure.

  10. I live in Tuscaloosa. I was wondering why the Mcdonalds here was taking forever to be rebuilt. Most of the buildings that were destroyed are still just empty lots now.

    The city’s fb page was bragging about how fast they were issuing permits for rebuilding. I commented that recovery would be much less expensive and much faster if people didn’t have to go through permitting to replace a window or fix the roof. People flipped their shit on me with the typical “I don’t want car parts and unsafe buildings next door”

    1. car parts?

    2. Well, everyone knows people would only live and work in unsafe buildings if it weren’t for government and permits. Also, it’s your right to make your neighbor do what you want with his property. That’s property rights.

      1. Sam, I think you will agree with me that the situation would be much different if the affected zip codes ended in 06.

  11. In Tuscaloosa, officials sought to remake the urban landscape top-down

    If the fucking peasants would just do as they’re told, they could have their CVS back by now. FUCKING PEASANTS!!11oneoneoen

  12. Northport resident and longtime Hit & Run reader here. I’m so happy to see SOMEONE paying attention to what is happening in Tuscaloosa.

    The situation is actually far worse than the article describes. The city’s initial plan took private property to create a green space, including a public area on Forest Lake. The problem? Forest Lake is a private lake, owned by the owners of adjacent lots. As I understand it, that plan has been modified when the residents of Forest Lake (many of whom are older people of means) threatened to sue “God and everybody,” as we West-Central Alabamians would say.

    1. Unfortunately, the residents of Alberta, another neighborhood substantially affected by the tornado, do not have the same means as Forest Lake residents. The majority black, working-class neighborhood was filled with modest single-family homes before the tornado. Since the storm, Alberta residents have had a very difficult time getting building permits. In some cases, the city refused to issue permits which would have allowed residents to repair moderate damage; while the owners fought the City, the condition of the home would decline from moderate damage to substantial, and the City would threaten to condemn and clear the property. Lo and behold, a realtor representing an undisclosed buyer would show up and offer the owner cents on the dollar for the property and, running out of resources, would sell.

      Did I neglect to mention that Alberta is right beside the University of Alabama, an entity known for throwing its eminent domain weight around?

      There are some fascinating and disturbing articles begging to be written about what has been going on in Tuscaloosa since April 27th.

      1. I hope you keep on commenting – I’d like to hear more. Sounds like a post-Katrina style clusterfuck.

      2. It will be interesting to see how our resident statists respond to that (or if they do). They are convinced that government looks out for the working class and minorities.

      3. It’s a pretty screwed up situation. Little Northport (a “suburb” of Tuscaloosa) is reaping the benefits of an increased tax base due to Tuscaloosa’s failures. Two working-class, predominately-minority, majority single-family dwelling neighborhoods were wiped out…and the relatively high cost of housing in the Tuscaloosa area is putting a crunch on affected families (I mentioned Alberta, but Holt is similar community under county governance which is experiencing similar problems with rebuilding).

        Like I said – there are some pretty infuriating things going on down here. More than one person has suggested contacting the Institute for Justice or ACLU, but when you are working as hard as you can to get your life back in order, get your kids settled in a new home and school (two were destroyed in the storm and there’s a whole separate cluster going on with that situation), work with your insurance company to deal with the new government mandates, and perhaps find a new job (because the new regulations have prevented many businesses from rebuilding), you don’t have the time and resources to take on Goliath.

        And that’s what Goliath – the City, the University, the apartment and condo developers – is counting on.

        1. I was wondering–never having been in such a situation myself–what happens with property taxes? I guess they still insist on them being paid? Do they at least adjust the assessment while you’re stuck waiting on them to approve your permits?

          I would think that a lot with a wrecked building on it is worth less than a lot with an intact building on it. But then again I don’t work for the government.

          1. In Alabama, you can challenge the county’s assessment based on the change in value and request a reappraisal…with all of the time, headache, and cost you can imagine is included in that process.

  13. There is a roofing products company based in Joplin whose main mfg facility is in Tuscaloosa. They were spared in Joplin but the factory building was wiped out in Tuscaloosa. They are still manufacturing outdoors in Tuscaloosa. At least a roofing products can handle that.

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