Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Housing: Duplexes Forbidden in Most of Lansing

Many North American cities have a lack of middle-density housing (aka the "missing middle") and Lansing is a perfect example.

Lanstronaut Cedar500 created this visualization of where it is legal (black) and illegal (red) to build /convert a residence to a duplex. 

Lansing's form-based code (which is a zoning code) divides parcels into around 23 types: 10 residential types, 2 commercial types, 3 mixed-use, 3 urban style, 3 industrial, and 2 institutional. Of these 10 residential types, Cedar has mapped those that are zoned permissive of duplexes. It's worth noting that merely being zoned to allow duplexes is not enough to build one legally, as each duplex must have certain other features such as required setbacks, yard sizes, maximum lot coverage, and parking.

In Cedar's words:

"New duplexes are not allowed in 80% of Lansing, and 88% of areas with single family homes. A duplex is a way to add affordable unites to an existing area, both adding homes and lowering housing costs. Historically, multi-family homes such as duplexes were banned with the intent of excluding lower income, often minority families from neighborhoods."


Important to note that Lansing does have duplexes operating in areas not zoned for them.

"If we were to change code to allow [duplexes], we could basically put anything we want in there. Zoning code allows for all sorts of rules like 'must be owner occupied', 'an individual can not own more than 6 units in this zone type' etc.

"Also many of Lansing's existing duplexes are actually entirely owner occupied, meaning there is no tenant at all. Both people living in the property own their half, but co-own the entire structure, paying together for repairs and being able to sell their halves at their own leisure. Historically this was a huge way people built their initial equity; making small mortgage payments on a small property instead of permanently kissing the money goodbye via rent, or not being able to afford a starter home at all.

"While clearly the strictest method, the 'duplex must be owner occupied' virtually makes slumlording impossible by limiting someone to a single property, that while they still could let [their property] become dilapidated, they need to live in it too."


This map's data comes from Lansing's open data portal. You can read more about Lansing's zoning codes in their form-based code document.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Lansing River Trail Flood Map

One of Lansing's coolest features is the Lansing River Trail, which, true to its name, hugs the various rivers. For this reason it tends to flood during times of rain.

The United States Geological Survey monitors river levels all over the United States and publishes that data. There are three depth monitoring stations in the Lansing area—one in Sycamore Creek to the south, one in the Red Cedar at MSU, and on in the Grand River in Lady Hill.

Using the heights of the water levels and comparing it to the river trail, we can try to predict which areas are at or under the water level. The image below was algorithmically generated from USGS data. You can see an automatically updating image at this site. If you see an error or omission, please reach out to Lansingography and we will try to update that location.

The map information came from OpenStreetMap. Do you see an error? Maybe you want to become a contributor and make it better for the next person.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Air Quality and Citizen Science

 Yikes! In the last few weeks, heat, wildfires from Canada, and some fires in Northern Michigan have created some very poor air quality across Michigan. Lansing is seeing AQI (Air Quality Indices) in the 200s this week.

Inset above is an illustration of Michigan as a whole (viewable at the EPA's website), but Michigan EGLE and two Lanstronauts also publicly report air quality in the Lansing area, as seen here (and online, live).

Typically, an AQI over 100 can cause health problems for sensitive people. An AQI over 150 can cause problems for the general public with 24 hours of exposure. An AQI over 200 means the risk of health effects are increased for everyone with 24 hours of exposure. 300 is considered an emergency.

Stay safe out there and check on your neighbors and animals!

Monday, June 19, 2023

Lansing's 15-Minute Neighborhoods

Not just sidewalks but also Places to go

Let's talk about 15-minute walkable cities, shall we? Picture this: cities where you have the option to reach all your daily needs within a leisurely 15-minute stroll. These cities are all about making life easier and more convenient for their residents. They're designed with a focus on walkability; to be walkable doesn't only mean being able to walk down a street safely, but includes having a place to go. As Joan Nelson said in the City Pulse, "it is certainly nice to have sidewalks, it’s even better to have sidewalks that take you somewhere."

In these neighborhoods and cities, you can bid farewell to long commutes and traffic nightmares. Want to grab a some pączki from that QD or Strange Matter down the street? No problem! Need to pick up groceries or grab a bite to eat? Just a short walk or roll away. The idea is to create vibrant neighborhoods where you have easy access to essentials like shops, schools, parks, and even entertainment venues—that are not locked behind a several thousand dollar paywall that requires a parking spot (ie, a personal vehicle).

Why am I driving to the corner store?

I grew up in an area where it was commonplace for my parent to give me a few bucks and empower me to walk to the grocery store to pick up eggs and Fresca (don't judge). I also walked to school and was able to take the bus to community college. I realize that where I live now, I wouldn't trust my child to do the same, because we live on a busy road without sidewalks.

Some areas of the world are very impressive: for example, researchers found that 100% of the citizens in Utrecht, the Netherlands can access nine basic needs—such as food, health care, education and sports within 15 minutes. 

I was curious if Lansing had any 15-minute neighborhoods. In Lansing, we have a patchwork of sidewalks and safe pedestrian paths throughout the city. For example, the awesome Lansing River Trail is getting longer and longer but due to the fact that it lacks a network, one bridge shutdown can cut the city in half for people on foot. We also have several highways cutting through the city (a couple highways which were purposely placed to provide access to white commuters while displacing Black and other minority residents) which interrupt the ability to otherwise reach destinations, creating car-dependency.

You can see that the city of Lansing has put a lot of effort into making downtown a walkable destination: with the addition of the new Meijer City Market, you can reach almost everything you'd want living downtown. That connectivity even extends into the Hosmer neighborhood due to sidewalks and safe roads.

Groesbeck and the northern Foster neighborhood also have a variety of amenities within walking range. (Notably, the part of Groesbeck that is in Lansing township is a 15-minute neighborhood, but only because residents can reach amenities inside Lansing proper.)

Meridian township has also done some work making a few parts of Okemos walkable.

West of MLK lacked walkable destinations. Edgemont Park used to have access to all the amenities in this algorithm, but in the last few years there have been several commercial closures, leaving residents dependent on a personal vehicle to access personal needs.

There were some surprises for me: for example there is one little street (Belaire Ave) on the south side that has access to a bunch of amenities. There's also one building in Delta Charter Township that has access to all of the amenities (it was an auto shop).

Some cities around the world are embracing this concept, transforming themselves into urban havens where you can truly live, work, and play without the hassle of long journeys. They understand that adding walkability as an option fosters a sense of belonging and encourages a more sustainable way of living. Lansing is at a turning point. We recently redid Pennsylvania Ave (removing crosswalks) and Downtown Lansing, (removing bike lanes). Ann Arbor, a city of comparable size, has been consistently near the top of walkability lists and recently added a whole slew of protected bike paths for residents. Which way will we go?

How Was This Visualization Created?

If you are curious about the methodology for this viz:

"Groceries" counted markets (like Don Pablos or Apple Market) and supermarkets (like Meijer or Aldi) but not corner stores or dollar stores.

"Parks" included green spaces that are officially parks (Hawk Island, Ferris) but also green space that was open to the public (Fenner, golf courses).

"Schools" included all elementary, secondary and post-sec schools, colleges and universities (such as LCC).

"Clinics" also included hospitals.

Walkshed was determined by paths, sidewalks and all roads with speed limits of 45 or less. 

A lot of information came from OpenStreetMap. Do you see an error? Maybe you want to become a contributor and make it better for the next person.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Unsafe housing in Lansing: Red tags

Red tagged housing has made the news several times recently, from people's homes burning down, to the City of Lansing suing a property owner who moved his tenants from a red-tagged property into a pink tagged building that he owned. Council member Ryan Kost has been working on reforms to how red tagging is handled. Additionally, the head of code enforcement resigned abruptly last week.

The City Council is planning to hold special sessions to deal with this housing crisis. (Update: this meeting is available online)

So, where are the areas of Lansing that have been red tagged? Documents provided by Ryan Kost of City Council indicate that there are over 700 red tags currently being monitored, for 655 buildings. The vast majority (~460) of these red tags are by people who own only one single building. It's also true that the vast majority of rental homes inspected by the city pass safety tests.

Last year, the staff of the City Pulse wondered if the red tags were mostly the results of a few bad actors. There are a few repeat offenders. Around a dozen property owners have multiple properties, many of which are red tagged. Some of these have made the news recently. The City of Lansing's Lansing's code enforcement department has already fined these property owners, in some cases thousands of dollars.

For example, according to publicly available data, each of the top three owners of red tagged properties individually own at least 15 properties each, they have at least 5 red tagged properties, and their fines are also each over $9,000.

The neighborhoods with the highest rates of red tagging per building (around 3% red tagged/building) are Willoughby, Old Town/Stadium District, Holmes/Potter-Walsh, Old Forest, and North Town. 

The neighborhoods that with the lowest rates of red tagging per building (less than half a percent of buildings have red tags) are Groesbeck, Moores River Drive, River Forest, Eastern High School, Lady Hill/Creston, North Colonial Village, Benjamin Davis, Scott Woods/Sycamore Park, Sagamore Hills (love that name), and Lewton-Rich.

Below is a map of locations of red tagged buildings. A red tag might mean "tagged Unsafe" or "NEAT unsafe" (properties that have been tagged unsafe for 90 days or more can be referred to the Neighborhood Enforcement Action Team). The darker red means more red tags in a bin; key is in the upper right. Red tags on this map are only safety related: they do not include enforcements about trash, grass, failure to register, construction without a permit, etc. 

Lansingography would like to thank Ryan Kost for providing this data.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Single- vs Multifamily Housing: Lansing Housing Rules

Did you catch Joan Nelson's piece in the City Pulse about "granny flats"? 

The article describes Lansing's "demographic mismatch", that is, our large amount of land dedicated to detached single family housing. As it turns out, single-family zoning covers 83% of Lansing’s residential districts (and 90% of our residential land!) while only 40% of households consist of single families, i.e., parents and their children under 18 years of age.

A detached house is probably what you'd think of as a typical "suburban" home, that is, something that is freestanding (ie, not a duplex), has a yard on a lot of at least 4,000 sqft, and historically houses one family. However, that doesn't really describe most of Lansing; many of us live here temporarily due to jobs or school or because we want to go somewhere else eventually. Others do not want the responsibility of a home yet, or maybe ever. Some live alone and so might purchase a single family home to share with a roommate or to cover all the bill themselves.

Detached family housing zoning restrictions also have their roots in the racist practices used to prevent people of color from owning in all white neighborhoods. 

The Missing Middle

There are a variety of types of multifamily housing types that can be built in theory; much ink has been spilled in recent years about the "missing middle": this is the medium density housing that exists between a single family house and a large apartment building like Fountain Place or the Motor Wheel Lofts.

This multifamily housing could be a condo, duplex, a few cottages with a shared courtyard, a rowhouse, or another type of multiplex. Medium density zones can also have low density housing (a single family home) as well, but the reverse is not true (you cannot build a rowhouse on land zoned for low density, for example.)

Lansing's Zoning/Form Based Code was decided in 2022 (updated from an older zoning plan which has fewer multifamily housing zones) and is publicly available online. Here's where we stand in terms of housing. You can see there are some red areas designated as "downtown" districts, which are typically encouraged to be mixed use and can consist of housing (but also commercial). The blue areas are designated as single or multifamily of various types. The yellow areas are single family detached only.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Lansing Area Free Stands: February 2023

Neighbors helping neighbors

Little free stands: no questions asked groceries and items donated by our neighbors. Here's a map of some of them by size and capacity. Some of the free stands are large cabinets, and some of them even have refrigeration.

If you need something, grab it. If you have extra, leave it.