Monday, June 29

Following the transportation dollars

If you lend your friend five dollars, it may not be worth your effort keeping tabs on it. But if you dole out $26.6 Billion for transportation infrastructure and job stimulus, it's probably a good idea to make sure it's actually doing what it's supposed to do. This is especially true after the media cycle has moved on. If you're an American citizen, the funds in the federal stimulus package are your money after all.

States were required to have 50% of the funds allocated by June 29th, so this is a good time to see where they stand. Smart Growth America has done much of the data collection and processing for us, and they have released a report today. Each State is ranked by how much of their money is spent on maintaining the current system versus building new capacity, as well well as the proportion allocated to public transit.

Virginia unfortunately does not score well. Only 60% is allocated for maintenance of bridges and existing roads, even though 54% of roads in Virginia are not considered "good" by AASHTO standards. Virginia is using 40% of the funds on building new capacity, new pavement that will presumably have to be maintained into the foreseeable future. These priorities rank the Commonwealth 39th in the nation. By way of contrast, Maryland has allocated 100% of road funds to maintenance. Virginia does rank 12th in the nation on percentage spent on public transportation or non-motorized infrastructure (5.2%). I was surprised to see that Montana wasn't too far behind Virginia, at 3.9%, with way less density overall.

Saturday, June 27

Ebenezer Howard's Garden City concept

In recognition of the first 100 years of city planning as a profession, APA has selected 100 essential books of planning. While I think the word “essential” may be a little strong, considering that most professional planners have probably only read a handful of these, this is a nice departure point for some summer reading. Thanks to Google and the University of Michigan and Harvard libraries, we can download the ones with expired copyrights for free (beats the $$$ for some of these used on Amazon).

Ebenezer Howard would be an intriguing place to start, going back to the turn of the 19th century. Pretty much excoriated by Jane Jacobs in the 1960s as a “decentralist” utopian against real cities, he still has many defenders today. Robert Fishman attributes the more contemporary concepts of transit-oriented development and urban growth boundaries to Howard: “Calthorpe's Portland regional plan is basically Ebenezer Howard's Social City, with some new color graphics.” Peter Hall sees Howard has an anarchist, something he appreciates, and insists that contemporary planning could gain from returning to its garden city roots. Presented here are my reactions to reading Garden Cities of To-morrow for myself, and hopefully I’ll convince you to download a copy for yourself too.

The famous part of the book is the first chapter, where the plans for the Garden City are laid out, but it only makes sense in light of some more foundational principles revealed in subsequent chapters. He goes right into giving precise prescriptions for the new city, down to acreage and expenses. 6000 acres of cheap rural land are to be purchased, 1000 of which are reserved for the city. A 32,000 person population cap is set, after which a new city will have to be colonized.

As far as the design goes, Howard wants to make it as little like the overcrowded London of his day as possible, so public parks and private lawns are everywhere. The roads are incredibly wide, ranging from 120 to 420 feet for the Grand Avenue, and they are radial rather than linear. Commercial, industrial, residential, and public uses are clearly differentiated from each other spatially.

The overall goal for Howard is to combine the traditional countryside with the traditional town. For too long residents have had to make the unfulfilling choice between living in a culturally isolated rural area or giving up nature to live in a city, but "human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together." As he sees it, in a rather Hegelian fashion if you ask me, the two "magnets" of Town and Country that have in the past pulled people in either direction will, in the future, be synthesized into one "Town-Country magnet." Someone just needs to build the first one.

As fantastical as the first chapter hits us (or me at least, especially a "crystal palace" element), Howard is completely earnest in his attempts to get it built. In fact, most of the book can be read as a business model being pitched to potential investors. He assures interested parties that he can get them a 4.5% return. Howard makes it clear that he is not a socialist, and he does not see centralized government playing an initial role. The closest thing I can relate his plan to is a homeowners' association on steroids, he calls it a "quasi-public body," which owns all the land of the city and leases it out to residents. The financial linchpin of the plan is the fact that all of the land is purchased up front, so that the increase in property values generated by the growth will be captured by the community itself. He also assumes that if everything is planned rationally from the beginning, the costly process of retrofitting old infrastructure for new technology can be avoided.

A few philosophical commitments jumped out to me right away as integral to his whole project. First, Howard deliberately tries to steer a course been collective and individual authority, a basic paradox he sees as rooted in human nature. He suggests a pragmatic approach to sorting out where the impetus should be placed. If the municipal authorities do a good job they should keep doing it, otherwise it should be handed over to private enterprise. Ultimately, he sees these two spheres are headed in the same direction. "There is a path along which sooner or later, both the Individualist and the Socialist must inevitably travel." And it leads right to the Garden City. There's the historically progressive synthesis again.

Howard's enthusiastic embrace of progress just drips from every page. He even sees human beings becoming less selfish, as modern advances in science and technology open up frontiers of human flourishing. Newer is better, just as the railroad is better than the stagecoach. After laying out his final vision for a network of brand-new garden cities, what he calls the Social City, he briefly considers whether any of the older cities can be salvaged and readapted. Not really. After a precipitous fall in land values, due to migrants opting to move to the newer garden cities, London will have to be mostly destroyed. Only then might it be refashioned into a modern city.

This brings up what I take to be a fatal flaw in Howard's whole proposal: he has little respect for limits. It comes out loud and clear in this quote:
"Those of us who believe that there is a grand purpose behind nature cannot believe that the career of this planet is likely to be speedily cut short now that better hopes are rising in the hearts of men, and that, having learned a few of its less obscure secrets, they are finding their way, through much toil and pain, to a more noble use of its infinite treasures. The earth for all practical purposes may be regarded as abiding forever." (my italics)
The earth's "infinite treasures"? hmm.

This is why the loss of agricultural land to perpetual greenfield development was of no concern. Even on the little island of England, farmland seemed to go on forever. Howard wanted to use local materials to build extravagant new structures but never considered that they may simply run out. Additionally, he never considers how this build-it-from-scratch attitude matches his belief in constantly expanding technological progress. Why would the Garden City be the final stop of history? Would not it also have to be destroyed and replaced when the newer model arrives? (It actually would have within a few decades, because Howard never considered the prospect of automobiles).

I have some design quibbles too, particularly with how he envisions human traffic flowing through the city, but that wouldn't be fair because Howard was more of a social visionary than a designer or engineer. The layout he sketched was conceptual and he knew it. He also didn't understand how regional economic forces agglomerate. He assumed jobs would just follow people wherever they wanted to go. However, it's best to keep criticisms focused on the a broader philosophical level.

Howard's understanding of metaphysical synthesis, which is a theme throughout the work, was frankly crude. We writes:
"Town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization."
The trouble here is that marriage is seen as an absolute collapsing of identity, when, as many married people soon discover for themselves, the two may become one but the two are also still two. Thomas Sharp, a contemporary to Howard, gives this feisty rejoinder:
"The one age-long certainty, the antithesis of town and country, is already breaking down. Two diametrically opposed, dramatically contrasting, inevitable types of beauty are being displaced by one drab, revolting neutrality. Rural influences neutralize the town. Urban influences neutralize the country. In a few years all will be neutrality. The strong, masculine vitality of the town; the softer beauty, the richness, the fruitfulness of that mother of men, the countryside, will be debased into one, sterile hermaphroditic beastliness."
The problem of "the One and the Many," a unified whole set up against diverse components, has vexed philosophers and theologians for centuries. Christian theologians, at least, gave up trying to decide whether God was one or many by around the 3rd century AD. They just let the paradox be and called him the Triune God. Howard's synthesis, on the other hand, is too neat and simple. It's all unity and little diversity - which, of course, is what Jane Jacobs stepped in to remedy several decades later.

So how am I going to leave this on a positive note? Nobody as well-respected as Ebenezer Howard could be completely off-base. There are lessons to learn from the man. He did have a good grasp on the problems associated with his rapidly industrializing England, which, by the way, seems to me a similar phenomenon to what is now occurring in the developing world. There really is a human proclivity for the "free gifts of nature," which were being pushed away and cut off by dirty factories and crowded streets of 19th century London. Even if it is impossible for humans to indwell nature as he proposes without killing it, we still yearn for the chance to visit, to remain connected.

Howard identified real social inequities arising from industrialization as many of his peers had, and he believed these could best be addressed at the local level, what he dubs a "pro-municipal" scope. Furthermore, I believe his advocacy for rational planning over the chaotic growth of piecemeal evolution has some merit in a rapidly modernizing context. Another Garden City reformer Raymond Unwin puts his finger on why this is the case, but I'll get to that in a future post.

Monday, June 22

Just a little comment about taxes

Pittsburgh has been taxing land and improvements at a different rate since 1913
In the Atlantic’s How to Fix the World issue, Reihan Salam, of the New America Foundation, uses his piece to extol the virtues of a land value tax. This simple economic concept, often attributed to 19th century reformer Henry George, has curiously popped in and out of U.S. public discourse ever since George introduced it over a century ago. Bill Hudnut, of the Urban Land Institute, brought it up a few months ago, and sparked some good online conversation. I have not been able to take a look yet, but the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has just published a set of essays on land value taxation. It has the adamant support of many tax reform nerds but pretty much no interest from the other 99% of the public. That's too bad.

The property taxes currently in use usually assess the value of land and improvements made to the land, or the entire market value of the property. A landowner sitting on a vacant lot is taxed less than one who has put the property to a productive use by building on it. This tax structure ends up not only dampening human productivity in general, but also discouraging landowners from making the highest use of their property. In contrast, The idea of land value taxation is to tax the value of only the land itself. Holding costs would be higher the closer a parcel is to the center of a city, leading to increased pressure for infill development.

James Howard Kunstler makes the connection between tax structure and urban development: “our system of property taxes may be the single most insidious, pathological factor contributing to the geography of nowhere … site-value taxation would encourage more compact town and city development, and would take the development pressure (demand) off property in the hinterlands.”

And this is why I'm bringing it up here.

Land value taxation makes a certain philosophical sense as well. The modern notion of property rights springs from John Locke, who based his understanding of property on the labor the owner "mixes with the land." If you're a farmer, you want to know that you will be able to reap a harvest in the fall from the seeds you plant into the land in the spring. Otherwise, you might not plant at all. However useful the labor theory of property is, there has been a big gaping hole in the logic that Eric Freyfogle, among many others, has clearly pointed out. Often the value of land is socially created. The same farmer can sit on the field doing nothing, and because of the actions of the community around him, he can sell the field after a period of time at great profit. Lockes' labor theory doesn't have a good explanation for land speculation. A land value tax would attempt to capture for public use the socially created value of land, while allowing the owner to be the sole beneficiary of any work that has been added to the land. This strikes me as fair.

Is this yet another noble yet quixotic quest, like eliminating the Electoral College or granting D.C. voting rights? After all, the current system is pretty financially entrenched and any change will result in winners and losers. Even in the face of this, I think land value taxation may have a shot for two reasons: it may be locally implemented and a transition can be phased incrementally. Perhaps certain cities or counties can devise a 10-year transitional period, with the the tax burden shifting a little away from improvements and toward land each year. The clear and advanced notice will help investors adjust themselves in preparation for the change.

Friday, June 19

When is an urban forest large enough?

Forested Canopy in Shenandoah National Park
In the 2007 Comprehensive Plan, the City of Charlottesville set for itself the ambitious goal of creating a 40% tree canopy. At least it seemed ambitious at the time. After performing an analysis of aerial photos this year, city officials realized that 46% of the area is actually already covered by trees. In response, a new Urban Forest Management Plan has been drafted that calls for yet more trees. City Council has reviewed the plan, and everyone who spoke wholeheartedly endorsed making this a reality.

The plan recommends several methods for increasing the scale of natural forest land within city limits, including protecting forested parkland and/or forested private lawns in perpetuity with conservation easements, increasing the tree planting requirements for all new development, and acquiring more public land to be converted into green space. To clarify, we're talking specifically about the 10 square miles within the limits of the City of Charlottesville.

I should stop here and make it clear that I love trees. I've spent two summers living in a national park, getting out into the mountains and forests as often as the opportunity allowed. Deforestation has been a major global problem for many years now, contributing to the rising levels of GhG in the earth's atmosphere due to loss in carbon sequestration potential. Street trees are a wonderful accoutrement to the urban fabric, enhancing the aesthetic value of streets, soaking up particulate matter, and providing energy-efficient shade. Trees are great.
From 2009 aerial-photo study (Enlarged Picture)

But ... and it's pretty obvious where this is going ... there are important differences between urban areas, rural areas, and wilderness areas. They each have their own ecological and economic function, form, and aesthetic properties. As enticing as it is may be to have the best of both worlds, with wilderness/rural/urban all mixed together across the landscape, this strategy of suburbanization has resulted in a number of unintended consequences throughout the 20th century. What was idealized as a rainbow of land types coexisting often turned out, in reality, to become a beige mush of none of the above. And acres of parking lots as a bonus.

Charlottesville happens to be an urban area, at least that's how it's conceived of by many of its residents. The current map of the urban tree canopy is pretty clearly an inverse of the population density map for the city, with the downtown the least treed and the more low-density residential districts showing more trees. Makes sense. More trees appear to mean less people. More forest would seem to mean less city.

So what's the right amount of trees for an urban area? There is a spectrum of options. Brooklyn, New York, recognized by many for it's tree-lined streets, has a 12% canopy coverage. So does Frederick, Maryland. On the other coast, The City of Vancouver has about 20% coverage throughout its jurisdiction. Portland, Oregon clocks in at 26%, mostly on account of its forested hillside parks west of downtown. As the Charlottesville plan notes, American Forests, a national forest advocacy group, recommends for towns and cities east of the Mississippi a 50% canopy coverage for suburban residential areas, 25% coverage for urban residential, and 15% coverage for the downtown.

This seems to me like a reasonable ideal to set. The more suburban a city would like to become, the closer to 50% tree coverage the better. The more urban a city would like to become, the closer to 15-25% tree coverage the better. But perpetual growth of the tree canopy with no limits would not seem to be a prudent way to plan for a city's future.

Tuesday, June 16

The National Building Museum and the mainstreaming of urbanism

The Green Community exhibit at the National Building Museum has been up since last October, but I just recently had a chance to stop in and check it out. As I perused the various displays, it occurred to me that the exhibit is a highly polished and fun way to communicate much of the same things I'm hoping to explore here. According to promotional material, it's a look at "how and why we plan, design, and construct the world between our buildings." It moves beyond advocating energy efficient green building practices to examining where the buildings sit in relation to each other. It moves beyond the hybrid car solution to asking whether gains in automobile energy-efficiency may simply be offset by allowing us to drive more. I won't go into all of the details, but if you're anywhere near D.C. before October '09, I'd recommend stopping in for a quick look.

What encourages me most about this exhibit is the fact that it exists. The National Building Museum is a private institution, not a part of the Smithsonian system. It's donor list consists of many of the major professional organizations of the fields of development, architecture, and planning. A lot of the big construction firms and trade organizations also support the museum. In other words, this is neither the manifesto of some fringe group nor a subversive government plot to control the masses. It's the aspirations of mainstream development.

This is the perfect segue into an insightful post by Robert Goodspeed in Planetizen entitled, "The New Normative Planning." Goodspeed sees a subtle shift in the language used by the American Planning Association. In the past the APA, like many large organizations, opted for neutral platitudes that were likely crafted to appease the broadest range of members. However, in recent years, many of the principles of urbanism, such as mixed-use development, density, and walkable scale, have more and more been accepted as normative by the profession. It's as if Jane Jacobs, once seen as a fiery voice against the establishment, has gradually (I think she would appreciate the gradualism here) worked her way into the profession she set out to attack.

Goodspeed sees this as the beginning of a workable consenus on principles,

"Many of the values of New Urbanism are becoming the profession's mainstream values. We are entering a new era of normative urban planning in America."

Friday, June 12

Housekeeping on Comments

It was just brought to my attention that I do not accept comments from non-Google users. Oops. This was certainly not an attempt to be exclusive or to discourage anyone from weighing in. I just hadn't revisited my settings for a long, long time.

I've now opened the comments up to anyone. I don't foresee myself getting on any power trips and squashing dissenting opinions - if anything, it would be great to get into some constructive dialog around here. I would enjoy that. But if you really just want to let me know how to make $75 an hour selling ads to Google, I'd like you to at least think of a creative way to weave it into the topic of discussion.

Thursday, June 11

Keep the trail and the rail

I'm all about the mission of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. I'm a member. I wear the T-shirt and everything. Yet, in the back of my mind, there has always been this voice saying, "what about the railroads?" The total railroad track mileage in the United States has dropped from a peak of 260,000 miles in the 1930s to under 100,000 miles today. I suppose as long as these are simply abandoned, multi-use trails are great alternative, particularly if they can serve important transportation corridors, but we may just need that track again if we need to put together a sustainable intercity transportation system.

That's why I've been getting more excited about the prospect of Rails-with-trails. This concept uses the valuable right-of-way leased to the railroad company to run a trail alongside the tracks. This is one way a trail can be get built in areas where land acquisition costs are prohibitively high, or there isn't much public interest in running easements through private property. Less commonly, this could occur if rail gets built alongside an existing trail. I believe many of the tracks donated by railroad companies to rails-to-trails come with some kind reclamation clause, in case adding more line becomes viable again. It would be good to be prepared for this occasion.

The unfortunate purple line dispute happening on the Maryland side of the DC metro area right now is essentially a question about rails with trails. Opponents of the line do not want to lose any of the Capital Crescent Trail, while purple line advocates respond that both can coexist.

The U.S. DOT conducted a pretty thorough study of rails-with-trails in 2002, in order to determine how safe they actually are and hammer out some design standards. Although liability is still a live issue for railroad companies, there are many strategies, such as fencing or creating a buffer, to mitigate the risk.

From the report:

"Based on the lessons learned in this study, it is clear that well-designed RWTs can bring numerous benefits to communities and railroads alike. RWTs are not appropriate in every situation, and should be carefully studied through a feasibility analysis. Working closely with railroad companies and other stakeholders is crucial to a successful RWT. Trail proponents need to understand railroad concerns, expansion plans, and operating practices. They also need to assume the liability burden for projects proposed on private railroad property. Limiting new and/or eliminating at-grade trail-rail crossings, setting trails back as far as possible from tracks, and providing physical separation through fencing, vertical distance, vegetation, and/or drainage ditches can help create a well-designed trail. Trail planners need to work closely with railroad agencies and companies to develop strong maintenance and operations plans, and educate the public about the dangers of trespassing on tracks.

Railroad companies, for their part, need to understand the community desire to create safe walking and bicycling spaces. They may be able to derive many benefits from RWT projects in terms of reduced trespassing, dumping, and vandalism, as well as financial compensation. Together, trail proponents and railroad companies can help strengthen available legal protections, trespassing laws and enforcement, seek new sources of funding to improve railroad safety, and keep the railroad industry thriving and expanding in its services (freight and passenger).

Thursday, June 4

Everything in its place

I stumbled upon an insightful little book written in 1977, Everything in its Place, about American zoning practice from an anthropological perspective. Judging by the fact that I bought it as a discarded library book for $3, it seems to be mostly forgotten. That’s too bad. Constance Perin, then a researcher at MIT, dug about as deeply into the suburban psyche as anyone I’ve heard from.

The question that launches her investigation is pretty familiar to many of us. How have American communities ended up with strict spatial separation of all different kinds of land uses? Why have we been willing to endure long commutes and social isolation simply to build buffers between ourselves and other kinds of people? The practice of zoning may have started as a simple application of common law nuisance provisions, but it has resulted in a precise mapping of our social class categories onto the built environment. It moved from protecting houses from smokestacks to separating different kinds of people by income, tenure, and age, and indirectly by race.

All of her interviewees, mostly developers, bankers, and planners, explicitly repudiated segregation, but in practice they found themselves passively oriented according to segregated land use patterns anyway. A primary motivation she found was the sheer weight of investment people are asked to place into their homes. Any financial advisor worth her salt will recommend a diverse portfolio, but almost all middle-class Americans do the opposite. They put all of their eggs into one basket – their home. Add to this the indisputable fact that the value of a property is tied up with the value of everything around it, and an element of fear is introduced into the equation. Every consumer of housing is also a producer of used housing, and this their entire product line is encapsulated in one particular property.

Apparently, the phenomenon of being “house poor” is nothing new. She talks with homeowners who had put everything they had into their house, with not even enough left in the budget to fill it with furniture. Tax incentives and a feeling of social obligation compelled buyers to extend themselves as far as possible. Writing from the midst of white flight, she found that even white homeowners who immediately befriended the new black neighbors who moved in started to wonder if everyone else would take to the change as amenably as they had. Were they willing to gamble on it?

She makes the counterintuitive claim that zoning ordinances are actually mostly for the benefit of developers and bankers. As much as developers like to grumble about regulations, in reality these laws serve as an insurance policy for their investments. They do not necessarily enhance value, but they minimize risk. They keep the financial calculations uncomplicated and allow for the application of formulaic principles. Development plans that can isolate the existing conditions and surroundings are more easily replicable at a mass scale.

But it’s not all cold economic calculation. She noticed neighbors fighting against new low-income housing even when it was accompanied with extravagant improvements to the neighborhood. Not only do people identify with their family household but often the social identity spreads through the entire surrounding area. Certain neighborhoods can have status attached to them. Perhaps Glenmore will not evoke the same image if a large apartment complex is built right in the heart of it. And while privacy has always been an important human concern, the means of meeting this need shifted. She found that suburbanites expressed privacy through walls, while urbanites used social rules to maintain privacy.

The shape of land use is formed though a multiplicity of actions by developers and bankers, homeowners bound together as neighborhoods, and public officials responding to pressures from both groups. It has been the modern way to break down the whole into many discrete parts, and this expression has socially mapped itself out onto the metropolitan areas we live in.

Tuesday, June 2

Envisioning the next GM

If you're an American, you're now the proud owner of a car company - at least 60% of one. The official line from both General Motors and the Obama administration is that the federal government will not use its shareholder stake to influence corporate decisions. The government will just let the "new and lean" GM do their thing. Hands off. Everyone recognizes that this is not going to happen, but it's interesting to see how both sides of the aisle are laying out their predictions. Here are two public figures about as far apart as possible, on any scale you would measure with.

David Brooks is not very optimistic about the new arrangement:

"The end result is that G.M. will not become more like successful car companies. It will become less like them. The federal merger will not accelerate the company’s viability. It will impede it. We’ve seen this before, albeit in different context: An overconfident government throws itself into a dysfunctional culture it doesn’t really understand. The result is quagmire. The costs escalate. There is no exit strategy."
Michael Moore, who has a tangled history with GM all the way back to "Roger and Me," is much more optimistic:
"Just as President Roosevelt did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the President must tell the nation that we are at war and we must immediately convert our auto factories to factories that build mass transit vehicles and alternative energy devices ... The things we call "cars" may have been fun to drive, but they are like a million daggers into the heart of Mother Nature. To continue to build them would only lead to the ruin of our species and much of the planet."
Given Brooks' belief that the Obama administration is already in too deep, and cannot possible handle the political fallout from dismantling a major corporation, what is the pragmatic way to proceed? Ought they grab the bull by the horns, as Moore suggests, and spearhead the transition of industrial infrastructure toward more sustainable ends building public transit? Or should they keep pumping more funds into GM so they can continue to produce cars, hoping that one day the company will get back on their feet and make responsible decisions for themselves?

Monday, June 1

Gladly paying for parking

Yesterday, I slipped my credit card into a solar-powered parking kiosk in the Baltimore neighborhood of Fells Point. Two dollars gave me a little receipt to put on my dashboard, which was good for two hours worth of parking in a prime spot on Broadway. I found the open spot within a minute. We enjoyed a walk around the harbor area and a nice dinner at a Fells Point restaurant.

This meter system has been in place in Baltimore for around five years, and it's been popular among business owners, the local government, and the public as a whole. There is only need for one machine per ten parking spots, which reduces street clutter. There's no more shuffling around for change. Meter collection theft is managed. Variable pricing could be a possibility. What's not to like about these new systems that are being installed in cities around the country?

That is if you believe that those who park should pay for their own parking. In some areas, many people still believe motorists have an inalienable right to have their cars stored for free (or at least really cheaply). Matthew Yglesias has an analogy for this particular form of government subsidy.

"It’s overwhelming conventional wisdom in the United States that price controls are bad. If I suggested that the city implement price controls on Diet Coke, people would say that it would lead to shortages. And if I proposed dealing with the ensuring shortages by saying that anyone who wants to build a new building needs to also provide millions of dollars worth of Diet Coke to people in the neighborhood, people would look at me as if I were insane. Creating the Diet Coke shortages is not a favor to anyone—neither fans nor haters of Diet Coke benefit—and the regulatory mandate is an absurd subsidy to Diet Coke drinkers with no conceivable policy justification. It’s bizarre."