The Math That Changes Discussions in Cities and Towns | Urban 3 Team | June 14, 2024

Norm Van Eeden Petersman
Norm Van Eeden Petersman

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References from the Recording

Programming Note

We have one more Office Hours sessions (next Friday) and then we'll take a break until September 6. The fall season will start one hour later than the spring season. 

While our conversations often lead me wishing that I had a recording of it to share with others, I do make a point of recording the Office Hours with guests and the full selection of recordings is available here: 


Comments from Participants

  • We've built VPA maps inspired by Urban3 in our A Better Cobb LC :) Love these maps so much
  • This is from a legislative study in New Mexico: municipal revenue sourcesImage20240614103939.pngImage20240614103944.png
  • What is GRT? Gross receipts tax...sales tax by another name
  • Can you talk a bit about your process for coming up with "expenses per acre" for lifetime infrastructure maintenance type numbers? That's something I've gone down a deep rabbit hole before but never felt confident in my outcome
  • I also could use some help to get data for sales tax revenue per property, expenses per property, etc. I want to write a good public records request on the first know, so that I sound like I know what I'm talking about.
  • The book Strong Towns shows data from Urban3 that compares an Asheville, NC downtown building to a brand new Walmart. At the time they took that data, the downtown building generated 634k in property tax per acre and 83.6k in sales tax per acre, the walmart generated 6.5k in property tax per acre and 47.5k in sales tax per acre. So the downtown building still outperformed in sales tax.
  • What GIS package does Urban3 use? We use Esri GIS software. Specifically ArcGIS Pro
  • Urban 3's work is great, and so I am thinking of learning the GIS you use. (Be it GRASS or QGIS or something else.) (I'm a big fan of open-source/FOSS/FLOSS and experienced with LaTeX and R -- if these things matter.)
  • I learned GIS a few months back and went with QGIS since it's free and was able to generate tons of VPA maps
  • Some cities publish(ed) annual reports with infrastructure quantities. Calgary's library has old ones in the history section. Do some division, and you can get pavement per capita.Image20240614103931.png
  • Certainly here in Greenlee County, Arizona - the Assessor's Office would have all the Property Tax value and the acreage. 
  • my experience is - yes - what key words are needed - as in my town - if you don't ask your question exactly - the staff often will not assist you in clarifying what you are seeking - as in ..."do you mean xxxx.? and then try to help you learn more. My sense is they are afraid of leading a conversation or info request ... for fear of helping you. Sadly - we often don't know the exact terminology etc....and that is what we are seeking an assist with. Big Catch-22.
  • recently I used the term "non-transparent" and was terribly misunderstood. All I meant was... the public is "not clear" on what you are the way you explain it is so....unclear. Catch-22 continues
    • That happened infamously with voter registration in some state. Forget which. Poll workers had guidelines to not give you the same-day registration+voting papers unless you phrased your question in a specific way.
  • In Alamogordo, New Mexico the property tax valuation is broken out into two categories: land value, and improvements. The property in Alamogordo with the highest property tax valuation per acre is...the Alamogordo Police Department main building. I'm not kidding.
  • How can you make the case for the worth of subsidizing or not subsidizing xyz when someone says, "So be it. Better to have exclusionary low-density zoning than chase municipal profits!" (I'm thinking that these people severely underestimate the true cost of suburbia and would be unwilling to pay that price tag ...)
  • Here's one we made for Smyrna, GAImage20240614105041.jpg
  • Is this QGIS-generated? How did you get color shading on different 3D heights? Yes QGIS. I used the 3D symbology color scale. I remember someone saying to use Adobe Illustrator to color in some things.
    • If you're on Linux or BSD ... oooh boy .... maybe Krita or GIMP? The FOSS world is terrible for this part of the worklow.
    • QGIS makes it really easy to do color scales. I just used the same colors as Urban3 so we could more easily compare to maps they've made
  • In New Mexico there are 51 airports. Only two of them, based on hangar rental fees, landing fees...are financially solvent. But the Alamogordo airport recently expanded their main runway to 9,200 feet total length. Why? Forest fires...air tankers to drop retardant...they need a long runway to take off when the are fully loaded. So, that is 'value added' to the region. But how do you put a pricetag on that?
  • Norm I've definitely seen those large shopping malls split up into multiple parcels and skewing the VPA.  For the merging of stacked parcels I ended up writing a python script to merge anything with the same feature ID (not parcel ID) and that's sped up the mapping process


  • Thanks so much for all you're doing!
  • Thanks indeed - most of this is way over my head - will plan to watch AGAIN...
  • Thanks to the Urban 3 crew, and Norm
  • Thank you!

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