Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Night and weekend transit/subway service: Metrorail edition

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I haven't written anything about WMATA's "Safety Surge,"called SafeTrack, the systemwide program for focused track maintenance improvements, resulting in the closure of parts of the system for days at a time, because I just can't get my head around how the region has let the system degrade and get to this point. I've written plenty about the general problems, which more than suffices.

The economic success of the city, but the metropolitan area too, is at risk because the city's competitive advantage is tightly bound with a robust and reliable high frequency, high capacity transit system--specifically subway service. It supports residential and business choices, and facilitates mobility and reduces the impact of automobile traffic in significant ways.

For DC residents, as neighborhoods add population and more local amenities are developed as a result, and with other mobility options -- bus, streetcar, bike, car share, some of the degradation of Metrorail has less impact on day to day quality of life.

But longer term, the city is less competitive, something that the suburbs probably don't care all that much about.

I don't feel like elected officials fully understand what is at stake with Metrorail's failures.
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Yesterday, the Washington Post reported ("Metro general manager proposes permanent end to late-night service") that Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA's General Manager, is suggesting that late night hours on the Friday and Saturday be eliminated, and that Sunday's closing time should be dialed back to 10 pm, to provide more time for system maintenance.

Many comments on the Greater Greater Washington entry on this issue suggests that the proposal is based on the original development of the Metrorail system being focused on daytime commuter services of getting people to and from work -- mostly for suburban residents -- rather than serving intra-jurisdictional travel, especially in DC and Arlington, or non-work or "leisure" trips in the evening and on weekends.

Degradation of the quality of weekend ridership leads to ridership losses. I thought it was funny how the Metrorail spokesman was quoted in the article saying that weekend late night ridership is way down from earlier highs.  Of course it is, weekend service/nighttime service sucks--I mean has significantly degraded over the past few years.

For example, last summer we went to MoCo Ag Fair with the little girl next door.  We got on the train around 9 pm (it was Sunday) at Rockville and we waited between 30 and 45 minutes for the train to leave.  An experience or two like that and you start not using Metrorail at all on the weekends.  That's kind of where we are on the weekends.  We are very thankful for the existence of Car2Go.

Revisiting past comments on the need for an additional track for service redundancy.  The Post article includes this paragraph:
Metro is a two-track system, which means it cannot perform regular maintenance without shutting down one or both tracks. By contrast, the New York City subway can operate 24 hours a day because it has four tracks, allowing crews to take one set of tracks out of service while trains continue to run on nearby tracks.
I have gone back and forth in comments on threads on GGW and here arguing that the design of the Metrorail system was flawed from the outset, because a two track system lacks redundancy:

-- "Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core," 2016
-- "WMATA's recent apology and the real problem that isn't their fault: lack of redundancy, bad design," 2013

about how the industry "rule of thumb" that only hyper-large systems with many millions of daily passengers need additional tracks is misguided, that systems with greater than 700,000 riders, like WMATA, needed at least an additional track to maximize service uptime, especially as the system ages and more maintenance of the infrastructure is required, plus train cars fail more.

Conventional wisdom continues to argue, in the face of all the problems with Metrorail, that the two-track system was the right choice.  (Note that I recognize this is a theoretical discussion now, because the system would have to be completely rebuilt to add tracks to the existing configuration, although it is possible to rebuild and add lines, in order to reduce inter-lining.)

Especially with train failures, which because of how most of the lines inter-line, a failed train acts like a virus spreading its failure across multiple train lines, degrading service for everyone.  Instead of spreading like a virus, being able to shunt a non-functioning train to a third track for removal from the system isolates the problem.

Additional tracks enable extended hours of service. I have been planning to write a piece on planning for late night economies and transit will be an element of the piece.

But the new proposal to cut back weekend service -- which will hurt the nightlife economy in the city and that may play into the preferences of the suburban "partners" who "share" management of the Metrorail system with DC -- also illustrates that subway systems like Metrorail probably needed an additional track and less inter-lining in order to be able to extend service hours, especially later at night, or to offer 24 hour service (something that the London Underground will be doing starting this year, on some lines).

Providing 24 hour transit service versus providing 24 hour subway service.  For years, I have argued that there should be transit service along the Metrorail system when it is closed (Night moves: the need for more night time (and weekend) transit service, especially when the subway is closed").

Overnight transit service map, Toronto.

Other cities have "Nite Owl" or late night bus service, operating when their rail transit system is closed.  This includes Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, and London, among others.

This is also an issue with transit service to the region's airports, which don't have 24 hour metropolitan transit service ("More on transporation to DC area airports").

Note that DC does have almost 24-hour service on some of its major bus lines, but the suburbs don't.  That means we should be distinguishing between DC and the suburbs in terms of consideration of the provision of overnight transit service when the Metrorail system is closed.  Even within DC, parts of the city have way better overnight transit service than others.

-- Night bus map London
-- Night bus map Hamburg
-- Night subway map, New York City
-- Seattle best practice review of overnight bus services (not absolutely definitive)
-- "New, expanded bus routes to provide ‘reliable’ overnight, weekend service," Toronto Star, 5/24/2015
-- Night Tube webpage, Transport for London
-- "Night Tube start date revealed: 24-hour London Underground trains to start in August," London Daily Telegraph

Recommendations

1.  If Metrorail cuts back weekend hours, the WMATA transit agency should create a companion night owl bus service.

2.  WMATA should create a Night Owl bus service along the route of the Metrorail system anyway.  The proposed cutback on Metrorail hours should be the impetus for the creation of a system of overnight bus service for the metropolitan area.

Note that GGW had a post on this issue  a couple months ago ("Let's learn from how Montreal does night bus service"). Comments by Mark DeLoatch and kk are particularly relevant to this recommendation in how such routes could be created, in part from existing services.

Note that this really should be a TPB/Metropolitan Planning Organization function.  WMATA should be the operator, not necessarily the primary transportation planner.

As an example, the easiest line to put into place Night Owl service would be the Red Line.  For Montgomery County Maryland, two DC bus routes start in Silver Spring, and the 30s line starts at Friendship Heights, on the city-county border.

The 30s bus should be extended to Bethesda anyway instead of stopping at the DC-Maryland border, comparable to how the Georgia Avenue and 16th Street lines continue to the Silver Spring Transit Center instead of terminating at the border, traveling more than one mile into the county.  These lines could easily be extended northward to provide overnight service alongside the western leg (30s) on Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike and eastern leg (S or 70s) along Georgia Avenue of the Red Line.

It's harder for other lines, but is doable.

3.  Overnight service within the suburban jurisdictions would have to be provided, complementing the metropolitan-scale overnight bus service paralleling the Metrorail station network

4.  The overnight bus routes parallelling the Metrorail network should allow "flag stops" so that riders can get off the bus between Metrorail stations, so that they can alight closer to their final destination.

5.  WMATA should provide Night Owl bus services for the region's airports, operating when Metrorail service is unavailable to National Airport and Dulles, and later than the current B30 service to BWI Airport, which ends between 10 pm and 11 pm most nights.  This service could be staged from Union Station.

Overnight transit service map, DC Capital Transit system, 1946

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Transport Politic's definitive piece on the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms positions on infrastructure

Last week, I wrote a very short piece on the Republican Party Platform on city-related issues ("A missed opportunity to focus on the Republican urban agenda at the Republican National Convention") focusing on what could a Republican urban agenda look like, recognizing that Republican representation at the federal and state level tends to skew rural and exurban.

I haven't yet looked at the Democratic Party Platform or the position statement on infrastructure of the Democratic Nominee, Hillary Clinton.

Transport Politic has gone through and compared both platforms, created a handy table, etc.  The entry, "Both parties claim support for investing in infrastructure. But how will they do it?" needs to be read widely.

Thank you, Yonah Freemark!

Summary of the respective positions -- from Transport Politic

Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton Republican Party and Donald Trump
Federal role in transportation Expand to emphasize multimodalism; encourage connections between transportation, cities, climate, and social equity Reduce to only encompass highways (GOP); or fund all types of transportation (Trump)
Funding for transportation Roughly double overall spending using business tax reform, create infrastructure bank Do not adjust funding to inflation (GOP); or expand massively through unknown means (Trump)
Transit and intercity rail Increase support to build social equity and combat climate change Eliminate federal role (GOP); or improve (Trump)
Non-motorized modes Improve funding for biking and walking projects Eliminate federal role
Climate change Orient transportation investments toward responding to climate change Do nothing to address climate change; invest in coal
Project management Support union requirements Eliminate union requirements

The need for national transportation mode plans.  One of the things that hurts is not having federal or national transportation plans that Congress acknowledges.

Although for the most part, Congress accepts and lauds the National Highway System comprised of the Interstate Highway System and other road networks.

But they won't adequately fund the system, which is now mostly reaching the end of its useful life and needs money for rehabilitation and improvement.

But other modes often don't have plans, including shipping and ports, biking, transit, and walking.  Of course, even if we had plans, would Congress care?
Amount of space required to transport the user the same number of passengers by car, bus, or bicycle

National Rail Plan.  For example, Congress passed legislation, the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), requiring the creation of a National Rail Plan, complemented by plans created by each state.  (States that pass rail plans can then create regional plans crossing state boundaries.)

But even though there is a National Rail Plan, the Republican-controlled Congress tends to be anti-Amtrak and anti-National High Speed Rail, but pro-privatization, even though most observers consider Britain's rail privatization -- the most significant example of such a program -- to be highly problematic and one that has experienced many setbacks

With regard to the capacity of Interstate freeways, diverting freight movement from trucks to freight rail can add significantly to throughput.

Biking (and pedestrian) planning
.  Other countries demonstrate that in urban areas, bicycling can comprise a significant proportion of daily trips, albeit mostly in cities.

I have a piece discussing "What should a US national bike strategy plan look like?" which outlines setting goals for sustainable mode splits for biking that are much higher than the current national average.  But for the most part, Republicans in Congress--even if they bike themselves--deride biking as an activity for children, not as a serious transportation mode.

Other countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the UK, have national cycling plans.  The UK, with low rates for trips by cycling--like the US--sets a goal for a doubling of trips by bike by 2025. 
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012

The organizing principles for such a plan:

1. Urban Form and how it shapes transportation choices. Include section discussing urban form based on the concepts of Peter Muller (Walking City, Transit City, Recreational Auto Era, Metropolitan City) and how it shapes transportation choices, how we got to where we are today, etc.

2. Transportation Physics and Mobility Throughput. This is pretty basic, that you can move more people by walking or transit or biking in the same amount of space used by cars.

3. Other policies that shape mobility choices and current practice. There was a great piece, "The Petro States of America," in Businessweek about how the US is a major petroleum production nation (that should be obvious) and how that shapes economic and other national policy in multiple ways that support oil production and consumption.

4. Bicycles as toys/bicycles for recreation vs. bicycling for transportation.

5. Creating social and behavioral change through structural-systemic change, social marketing and other processes.  Consider how this article, "Gentle Nudges Work to Get People Exercising" (Wall Street Journal) discusses the adoption of positive health behaviors as routine practices and apply it to sustainable transportation practices.

6.  Differentiating sustainable transportation policy and practice according to spatial form, specifically whether the predominate land form is urban, suburban, or rural.  My piece "Ideas for making bicycling irresistible in Washington DC" discusses this with regard to the urban setting, and the work I did in Baltimore County focuses on suburban oriented practices ("Best practice bicycle planning for suburban settings using the action planning method").

Transit planning.  Similarly, instead of deriding transit as being widely used only in six cities (as Yonah points out, they are incorrect, as the top 10 most populous cities comprise 47% of the base of transit users), transit's effectiveness where it works superlatively should be celebrated!

Because transit is so much more efficient in moving significant numbers of people, Congress needs to learn and acknowledge the factors that lead to success.  Instead, like with the recent hearing on WMATA--the transit system in the DC area--and its safety failures, the House Republicans take the opportunity to denigrate transit whenever they can.

Because transit is so expensive to build and fund, and because metropolitan areas are the most significant economic units and producers in the national economy, there is a justifiable federal role in transit funding and planning.

Ports and shipping.  It's incredible to me that we don't have a national ports planning process.  Because of the expansion of the width of the Panama Canal, ports across the country are expanding.  But there isn't enough business to go around.

Tough choices should have been made to limit wasted investment ("Panama Canal expansion exposes US infrastructure, shipper woes," Business Insider; "The Post-Panamax Effect: How the Panama Canal Expansion is Reshaping America’s Ports," CBRE; "East and West Coast Ports To Battle for U.S. Region After Panama Canal Expansion," C.H. Robinson).

Airports.  I don't know much about airport planning.  I know that there are negatives about the push by Congress to privatize the air traffic control system ("Shuster wants to turn air traffic control over to a nonprofit," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; "Privatizing air traffic control will increase traveler costs," USA Today).

But there are many flaws in the way the airport system works, especially in the limitations on the use of airport-derived funds to fund transit connections that also benefit non-airport users. Similarly, shorter distance airport trips, such as between DC and NYC, would be best shifted to faster rail, were the US to have a high speed rail system.

A framework for national transportation planning
.  I define regional as either multi-state and as two or more metropolitan areas.  I delineate transit networks from this blog entry "Second iteration, idealized national network for high speed railpassenger service"

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this is based on thinking about transportation networks in five overarching dimensions:

1. International -- connections between countries. (The map above shows a couple connections between the U.S. and Canada, and one connection from San Antonio to Monterrey, Mexico through Laredo.)

2. National -- anchors of a national transportation system, current anchors are the Interstate Highway system, the freight railroad system, and airplane travel. We do not have a robust national passenger railroad network presently, although Amtrak complemented by state support, has a number of heavily used corridors.  Commuter systems operate separate from Amtrak, and don't benefit from its preferred access to freight railroads.

3. Regional -- multi-state connections -- for the most part these don't exist for transit, but do for freight railroad, airplane travel, and the Interstate highway system. The Northeast Corridor railroad passenger service offered by Amtrak is an example of such a transit network.  Inter-state bus services operate more on a regional footprint.

4. Metropolitan -- transit systems like the WMATA subway and bus system, the combined railroad, subway, bus, and waterborne transit services in the NYC or Boston regions.

5. Sub-metropolitan transit systems (in the DC region, locally provided services such as RideOn in Montgomery County Maryland or the Downtown Circulator in DC are examples of services within the subnetwork category of the Metropolitan Transit Network).

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pokémon GO and the lost understanding of how to navigate safely center cities + equality

Pokémon GO is a new virtual reality game where people "collect" game pieces by interacting with "the real world," such as parks, streets, buildings, inside of businesses and organizations, etc. ("This is Pokémon Go, the ambitious AR game bringing pocket monsters to life," The Verge).

The McClatchy Newspapers group published a magisterial article looking at the disparities between higher and lower income communities in terms of where Pokémon GO characters have been populated in public spaces ("There are fewer Pokemon Go locations in black neighborhoods, but why?").

It comes down to how the databases of public sites and places were created.  The databases favored locations in more privileged communities.  And relying on crowdsourcing for choosing locations meant that people more likely to play such games, higher income people, white people, were less likely to add locations in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

There have been many media reports of various incidents involving people playing Pokémon GO in public, and bad things happening to them -- being robbed, getting caught trespassing on private property, etc. Today's papers report on an incident in Las Vegas, where at 4 a.m. a player was accosted by two people, one with a gun, and the player, armed himself, shot the perpetrator ("2 wounded in shooting involving Pokemon Go players in Las Vegas park," Las Vegas Review-Journal. Mostly, though, the incidents end up disfavoring the Pokémon GO players.

It reminds me of my various "learnings" about how to be safe in the city -- don't buy gas at night, be judicious in using ATMs at night, better yet, get cash back from a pharmacy or grocery store as part of a debit card transaction, always lock your bike, don't leave your house unlocked etc.

But since many of us come to cities not having learned these lessons, having lived in relatively safe places, Pokémon GO players, walking around in public, looking at their phones -- when the stealing of smartphones in public places is quite prevalent -- become prey.

How does an app/software firm create help FAQs to cover this?

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In other  Pokémon GO news, there are many reports about tourism agencies and businesses ("Las Vegas businesses catch on to Pokemon Go," Las Vegas Review-Journal) figuring out how to get involved in order to increase visits/purchases.

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Pools in rivers to promote access and awareness

The Potomac and Anacostia Rivers aren't safe to swim in, and in order to become so, way more people need to be engaged, interested, and concerned about river health, including how their actions help or hinder river health.

In the summer, why don't more cities have in-river pools?

Yes, the water has to be highly filtered to be able to be used, but considering how disconnected we are from the rivers in the DC metropolitan area (note that in Colonial Beach, Virginia, about two hours south of DC, there are beaches on the river and the water is safe for swimming).

While there have been various efforts in NYC over the years, Berlin might be the most prominent example, with a pool in the River Spree. Called Badeschiff, it has been operating since 2004, and was designed by a team of Spanish architects, Fernando Menis F.A. Rufino, J.M. Rodriguez – Pastrana with Gil Wilk.

In the DC area, this could be done in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria.

There is a prototype project for the Hudson River in Beacon, NY  (River Pool at Beacon) although they have had clean water issues ("Bacteria found in River Pool, but public never notified," Poughkeepsie Journal) and there is a proposal for a boat-based pool for NYC that will move and filter and release clean water into the rivers. NYC's Plus Pool project has been written up in the NY Post.

Paris has a swimming pool barge, Piscine Josephine Baker, on the River Seine.   It's been open since 2006.

There was a floating pool in the Bronx, sponsored by the Neptune Foundation, but I don't think it is in operation.  For certain it operated from about 2007 to 2013.

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Institutional financial support for employees to buy houses in weak real estate markets

A tried and true formula for building demand in weak real estate markets is for institutions, universities mostly because they alone among nonprofits tend to be well off, to provide financial assistance to employees to buy houses in targeted communities.

University of Pennsylvania did this as part of their University City initiative.

Johns Hopkins University just announced a similar program in Baltimore ("Johns Hopkins ups the ante on 'live near your work' with $36K deal," Baltimore Business Journal), which has a bimodal real estate market.  Basically, neighborhoods along the Charles Street corridor, north and south, are doing well, and neighborhoods outside of this corridor aren't doing nearly as well.

For a decade or longer, JHU has been working on the "East Baltimore Development Initiative," an area adjacent to the JHU Hospital--an area significantly east of the main campus--where they have been developing a biotechnology and life sciences campus and initiative, mixing academic endeavor with space for start up and established businesses.

On September 10th, the University is offering a "one day sale" with $36,000 of financial support, to buy a house in the EDBI zone.

I'd argue this isn't the same as what Penn did.  EBDI bought a few residential blocks and demolished all the buildings, and is now building new houses, which cost $260,000 or more.

Where Baltimore needs help is stoking the demand and stabilizing neighborhoods comprised of extant housing, places like Reservoir Hill, Hollins Market/Pigtown, etc.

Then again, what JHU is concerned about primarily is the success of areas immediately abutting its campuses and facilities.  EBDI qualifies, Hollins Market doesn't.

Same thing with the University of Pennsylvania, which provided less support ($7,500) and also targeted the assistance, albeit to a much larger area around the main campus.  I believe that this program has changed as the residential housing market around the campus has improved.  Now, employees can receive financial assistance towards closing costs, and lower cost loans for renovation.

The University of Chicago has a similar program.  Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island has a mortgage assistance program as well as a program where houses owned by the university but no longer a high priority for university functions are sold to faculty and staff.

Baltimore also has a resident attraction program called Live Near Your Work, which is a joint venture between the City and employers based in the city.  The program aims to recruit more employees to live in the city and "live near their work" to reduce the transportation impact from long commutes.  The City and the employer each contribute $2,500 towards the purchase of a home.  University of Maryland Baltimore participates in the program.  UMB's eligibility area, near the campus, is definitely a weak real estate market, including neighborhoods like Union Square and Sandtown-Winchester.

-- University Employer-Assisted Housing: University-Community Partnerships, Lincoln Land Institute

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program to be featured on CBS "Sunday Morning"

I do try to watch the CBS "Sunday Morning" program.  Typically, I learn about interesting/best practice  initiatives of various sorts.

Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program is slated to be featured this Sunday, July 24th.

The program is wide-ranging, and has been active for more than 30 years, having brought to life more than 3,000 murals, most produced by working artists, often working with community residents.

-- "Murals of Philadelphia," Time Magazine photo essay
-- Mural Arts @ 30, Temple University Press
-- "On Philadelphia's Walls, Murals Painted With Brotherly Love," NPR
-- "David Lynch hates Mural Arts' latest," Philadelphia Magazine, 2014

Lynch is referring to “psychylustro” by Katharina Grosse, a series of seven murals along the
Northeast Corridor in Philadelphia between 30th Street Station and the North Philadelphia stop.


Image: Mural Arts Program.

In legacy center cities, many of these buildings are vacant, or have long since been converted to uses that no longer require freight railroad services.

FWIW, I don't agree with him.  The work is stunning.  Of course he's right that the architecture of industrial buildings in the landscape of railroad corridors was designed to be complementary, and the murals change how we relate to the buildings in the context of the railroad but times have changed.

The work is especially noteworthy considering how it is much more typical for buildings along railroad lines to be tagged by middling works -- mixed in with standout efforts -- or mural programs for railroad corridors that aren't particularly interesting.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

World Summit on the Creative Economy and Creative Industries, 7/257-7/28, Arlington, Virginia

George Koch of DC's Center for the Creative Economy alerts us to the World Summit on the Creative Economy and Creative Industries sponsored by the National Creativity Network.

It will held in Arlington, Virginia from Monday July 25th to Thursday July 28th.  The full agenda is listed here.

Please fell free to share with your colleagues and post where appropriate.

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Community radio station WOWD-LP FM launches in Takoma Park, Maryland

 A few years ago the FCC announced they would be giving out low power radio broadcast licenses, and a group in Takoma organized a successful initiative to get one of the licenses.

It's a low power station designed to serve micro-communities with much tighter signals compared to radio stations trying to reach large sections of a metropolitan area.

Takoma Radio, WOWD-LP FM, 94.3, is a community media initiative serving a broadcast area about 2.5 miles in diameter from its studios in Old Town Takoma, reaching parts of DC and Prince George's County Maryland, in addition to Montgomery County, Maryland, where the station is based.

It launched last Saturday.  It's not at the point of 24 hour/day broadcasting, with around one half day's worth of programming.

Last fall WERA-LP FM, Radio Arlington, 96.7 launched in Arlington County, Virginia.

-- Community Radio | Prometheus Radio Project
-- Low Power FM (LPFM) Broadcast Radio Stations, Federal Communications Commission

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Pro-urban learnings in Cleveland

Another post I should have written in advance of the opening of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland would be pro-urban learnings within the city that are worth knowing and applying to your own setting.

I haven't been to Cleveland for more than ten years so there is more that I don't know than I do know, but I have fond memories of what I learned, attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in 2002. This is a list of a bunch of stuff, not in order of importance.

At its peak, Cleveland was the nation's fourth largest city and was home to many major businesses, including railroads and oil production (Rockefeller interests).  It still benefits from some of that legacy.  At the same time, the Cleveland Metropolitan Area hasn't gained much population in the last 55 years, so growth in the suburbs has come at the expense of the city.  The city still has some large banking and insurance corporations.  Ostensibly, Forest City Development is based there, although its big projects are now far outside of Cleveland.  Health and medical and higher education institutions are leading drivers of the local economy these days.  The city is long past its glory days of manufacturing and iron ore processing.

These great examples of urban policy and practice aren't likely to have much influence on the delegates to the Convention.

- Public Square is a fabulous public space downtown, Tower City, the train station complex fronts it and old, now vacant massive department stores--some as large as one million square feet--are located nearby, when Euclid Avenue was Downtown Cleveland's main shopping street.  Politico has a feature ("The hot new park at the center of the Republican National Convention") on the rehabilitation of Public Square in advance of the Convention.
Jabin Botsford for the Washington Post

- West Side Market is the city's public market in the Ohio City neighborhood, and is open 3 days/week.  I love it.  One of the times I was there, a vendor started talking to me about Ray Oldenburg's book The Great Good Place!

- CDCs.  In the late 1990s, Cleveland's foundations told the community development field that there were too many CDCs for the number of neighborhoods and in order to keep getting funds, they'd have to agree to mergers and accountability systems and metrics.

- Cleveland's foundations.  Like Pittsburgh, Cleveland is fortunate to have a lot of old money parked in foundations that remain committed to investing in the city's future.

- Famicos Foundation is a community development corporation affiliated with the Catholic Church that takes on tough housing rehabilitation projects

- Cleveland Restoration Society is the city-wide preservation organization.  There provide a great deal of resources for rehabilitation of historic properties.  In the past, they were active in taking on tough house rehabilitation projects, with the aim of stabilizing neighborhoods and protecting historic resources.

Note that the problem with maintaining the architectural and historic integrity of houses in weak real estate markets is that the extra costs are often unrecoverable, because housing values don't rise commensurate with such investments.  Strong markets don't have such problems.

- Conservation easements.  Jonathan Sandvik's architecture firm works on large rehabilitation projects, not just in Cleveland.  While most people in the field are familiar with historic preservation tax credits, the firm was a pioneer in also using property easements as a way to generate funds for big projects that needed additional sources of funding in order to move forward.

- Facade improvement program.  Starting in the 1990s, the City of Cleveland was a leader in the development of a great storefront improvement program, at least one decade ahead of DC.

- Transit.  Cleveland didn't junk its heavy rail system and has expanded it a little bit.  I think it's fair to say that the neighborhoods served by the system fare better than those neighborhoods without a rail connection.  But while the heavy rail system is more extensive than Baltimore, it hasn't brought about massive in-migration of population seeking transit access that has been experienced by cities like Washington, DC.

Cleveland, Ohio Shaker Square

Flickr photo by Army Arch.

- HealthLine Bus Rapid Transit.  While I argue that this BRT system is over-touted as a major success and the reason that for the expansion of universities and medical systems that would have expanded anyway, it is an example of a modern BRT system successfully launched in a major city, and we don't have that many such examples.



- universities and Cleveland Clinic.  Like how the universities and hospital systems based in Pittsburgh serve as major anchors for that city in a post-industrial city, the same goes for Case-Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in the University Circle district of Cleveland.

- the Evergreen worker business cooperative initiative ("The Cleveland Model," The Nation).

- Warehouse and Gateway district revitalization initiatives.  The revitalization of these areas adjacent to or in Downtown that have converted warehouse and other large buildings to housing and other post-industrial uses.  It's from the Warehouse District experience that I learned about "aging out," that as residents age, once they get to be in the ir mid to late 30s, they tend to move out as they are less interested in going out at night, less accepting of noise, etc. The Gateway district is anchored by the baseball stadium and basketball arena, not unlike how the LoDo district in Denver is anchored by Coors Field.


- Terminal Tower/Tower City.  The historic train station was converted into an indoor shopping mall in the 1990s.  It was great for saving a historic building complex, and "standing your ground" in terms of retail downtown, but not so great at supporting independent retail.

- Business Revitalization Zoning overlay.  This zoning overlay allows for extranormal review of projects in revitalization districts, to ensure that developments are coordinated and are able to achieve quality incomes in support of the goals and objectives of the district's revitalization objectives. Separately, Cleveland has an Urban Design Review process for major projects.

- the arts tax.  Cleveland has an arts tax that supports arts organizations and initiatives.  While I think it's good to have such a funding system and an open and transparent process for funding arts organizations, I don't like how Cleveland has assessed the tax, on tobacco products ("Cuyahoga cigarette tax for the arts grows in importance as other sources of government support shrink: new report," Cleveland Plain Dealer).

I hate smoking but it doesn't seem reasonable to fund the arts on the backs of typically low-income smokers.  Communities such as Denver and Pittsburgh and Salt Lake have similar funding systems, but they are assessed on property or sales taxes more generally.

- Van Sweringen brothers. The developers of Shaker Square, Shaker Heights, and Cleveland Heights wanted to connect these communities to downtown via a streetcar. The Nickel Plate Railroad system wouldn't sell them access to the right of way necessary to build the streetcar system, so they bought the railroad. And eventually they built Terminal Tower.  These communities followed the classic development of streetcar suburbs, with denser development primarily commercial, retail, and apartments at the core, and lower density housing radiating outward from the core.


- Burnham's Cleveland Mall and City Beautiful.  The Cleveland Mall is probably the nation's most realized "City Beautiful" complex.  It does "explain" why Jane Jacobs wasn't a fan of the movement in terms of its many failures in enlivening public spaces.  Great buildings were constructed, but often at the expense of street life.  The Cleveland Mall is gorgeous but proves the point.

- Heinen's downtown supermarket.  I haven't seen it although I'd been in the bank branch lobby where it is now located.  Back when banks were designed to be "cathedrals of finance" the Cleveland Trust Building lobby with stained glass windows was made to impress.

- Playhouse Square.  Euclid Avenue was home to many of the city's major movie and playhouses.  In the early 1970s, the theaters there, Ohio, State, and Palace Theatres, were bought by a nonprofit for restoration.  An architect assigned to the project realized that the theaters were adjacent and could be connected to each other with a common lobby, which would simplify operations and cut costs.  The Playhouse Square Development Corporation has gone on to be a major force in the area's revitalization (see "Real estate value capture and the arts").
playhouse-square-real-estate

- Gordon Square Arts District.  The arts initiative in Gordon Square is an example of a city- and neighborhood-serving initiative, while Playhouse Square serves arts audiences at the metropolitan and regional scales.

- Stadiums, Arenas, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  These assets have pluses and minuses in terms of their contribution to revitalization, but at the very least, it's much better to have the baseball stadium and arena in the city as opposed to the suburbs, while it's arguable about the football stadium, it does absorb space that might otherwise go unused.  For the most part, these facilities are served by transit, so they have less of a deleterious effect in terms of motor vehicle traffic, compared to suburban locations.

- Norman Krumholtz and advocacy planning.  Cleveland was known as a center of "advocacy planning," a more socially engaged method.  The planning agency also did more than "land use planning and building regulation," it also provided support to other city agencies with the aim of improving operations, policy, and practice.  It's not clear whether this legacy has been maintained into the 21st Century, although some of the earliest successors to planning director Norman Krumholtz were more "advocacy" oriented.

- the KSU urban design studio based in Cleveland.  Kent State University is about 40 miles from Cleveland.  The College of Architecture and Environmental Design has a major base in Cleveland through the Urban Design Collaborative studio and practice center.  It provides a lot of support to citizen planning initiatives, acts on planning contracts, etc.  (For example the Transit Waiting Environments report produced for the transit authority around the turn of the century influenced me deeply at the time.)

- Cleveland State University is urban-focused, like the University of Illinois-Chicago, Wayne State University, Hunter College of CUNY, etc.

- Steven Litt of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is the architecture and art critic for the paper, and he writes plenty of great stories on urban design, museums, revitalization, etc.  He is one of the best writers in the country on these issues and the Cleveland community is fortunate that the local newspaper still assigns someone to this beat full-time, as many newspapers (including the Baltimore Sun) have dropped such coverage.

- Greater Cleveland is home to the First Suburbs Consortium, which was created by suburban communities outside of Cleveland, the so called "inner ring suburbs," to focus on suburban revitalization of those communities. It's one of the earliest examples of a focused suburban revitalization effort. Like Cleveland, these communities suffer similar ills from population outmigration and development further and further from the core of the metropolitan area.

- Cleveland Arcade and the 5th Street Arcade.  Cleveland still has extant and active arcades, which were an early form of "shopping mall."  The Cleveland Arcade dates to 1890.  Granted because of the city's depopulation, they don't show as well today as they did in their heyday.  To profitably use the building, much of the Cleveland Arcade (pictured below) is a hotel.

- There is the Detroit Shoreway CDC Cleveland EcoVillage initiative, a strong sustainable economy effort, the "Cleveland Opportunity Corridor" plan to rebuild a roadway in a manner that supports urban improvement, investment in "old" transit stations, the FreshWater Cleveland blog and e-letter, and many more examples of great programs.

- charlie calls our attention to coverage on the attempt to stabilize the Slavic Village neighborhood ("In  Cleveland, a bid to save a recession-racked neighborhood before tearing it down," Chicago Tribune; Epicentre of the Great Recession: what happened to Cleveland's Slavic Village?," Guardian), although I would argue it's not much different than what CRS and Famicos were doing 15 years ago.
Reuters photo.

- which reminds me of Ohio's nuisance curing process which allows nonprofits to become receivers of vacant, abandoned, and other types of nuisance properties, with the aim of stabilizing and improving the building so that it is a neighborhood asset.  For more than 10 years, I've advocated for a similar process for DC comparable to the Ohio Receivership Statute

- The City of Cleveland was an early leader in tying deposit of funds in local banks to community reinvestment programming.  Low cost rehabilitation loans have been available through CRS in association with this program.

- The Cleveland business community hasn't been fond of elected officials not kow-towing to the Growth Machine.  Former Mayor Kucinich was "run out of town" because he wouldn't buckle and sell the city-owned electric utility to the privately owned Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company.

- Carl Stokes was the first African-American mayor of a large US city.

- Main Street Tremont was one of the first urban Main Street programs, but I never managed to check it out...

- Cleveland Restoration Society has a program to save churches (Sacred Landmark Program) and to provide support for the architectural lighting of church steeples with the financial support of the Reinhold W. Erickson Fund of The Cleveland Foundation
St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral is one of the 19 churches participating in the steeple lighting program.

- The United Bank Building in the Ohio City neighborhood is a nine-story building constructed in 1925.  It's an illustration of the point that except in downtown business districts, historically, tall buildings were exceptions, built by special interests and with noneconomic considerations.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The death of former Minnesota Governor, Wendell Anderson and the Minnesota Miracle

1973 Time Magazine cover featuring Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson.

Commonly called the "Minnesota Miracle,_ it was under Wendell Anderson that in 1971 the Minnesota State Legislature passed a pathbreaking financing system for local government, sharing tax revenues between the state and local governments, restricting local governments from passing local add-on taxes in return, and equalizing revenues between wealthy and poorer jurisdictions for municipal and school system functions.

-- Wendell Anderson, former Minnesota governor, dead at 83," Minneapolis Star-Tribune
-- "Wendell Anderson and the Minnesota Miracle," Minneapolis Star-Tribune
-- Minnesota scrutinizes 40-year-old 'Miracle'," Minnesota Public Radio, 2011
-- Overview - Public Education Funding Reform: The "Minnesota Miracle," Minnesota Historical Society
-- Minnesota's Miracle: Learning from the Government That Worked, University of Minnesota Press, 2012

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The Republican Platform and the quest for DC Statehood

Many prognosticators argue that Trump will lose big and this will have negative coat-tail effects on the rest of the ballot, and that it is possible if not likely that Democrats can retake the House of Representatives, as well as the Senate, where there is a good chance for a Democratic majority regardless of how distasteful the Republican presidential candidate happens to be.

I am not so hopeful.  First, the reality is that President Obama's vote tally was suppressed by up to 6% because of race-based voting ("Racial Salience and the Obama Vote" and "Most Say Race Will Not Be a Factor in Their Presidential Vote").  I don't think respondents are being fully honest when they tell poll takers how they'll vote when it comes to Trump vs. Clinton.  

Second, people can distinguish between the top of the ballot and the middle and the bottom, and because Congressional districts have been drawn to favor rural interests, only if the devil himself was running could Democrats win in many of the nation's Congressional districts, since the districts are so rural.

This means that if the Democratic nominee for president wins, and the Senate becomes once again, majority Democratic, it's likely that the House of Representatives will remain in Republican control, albeit with a narrower majority.

So, it will be tough to get DC Statehood (which I am not all that worked up about anyway, "Ho hum: the proposed State of New Columbia Constitution doesn't change very much").  But here's what the Republican Platform has to say about DC proper:
Preserving the District of Columbia
The nation’s capital city is a special responsibility of the federal government because it belongs both to its residents and to all Americans, millions of whom visit it every year. Congressional Republicans have fostered homeownership and open access to higher education for Washington residents. Against the opposition of the current President and leaders of the Democratic Party, they have established and expanded the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, through which thousands of low-income children have been able to attend a school of their choice and receive a quality education.

Republicans have been in the forefront of combating chronic corruption among the city’s top Democratic officials. We call for congressional action to enforce the spirit of the Home Rule Act, assuring minority representation on the City Council. That council, backed by the current mayor, is attempting to seize from the Congress its appropriating power over all funding for the District. The illegality of their action mirrors the unacceptable spike in violent crime and murders currently afflicting the city. We expect Congress to assert, by whatever means necessary, its constitutional prerogatives regarding the District.

[section on expanding access to guns excised]

Statehood for the District can be advanced only by a constitutional amendment. Any other approach would be invalid. A statehood amendment was soundly rejected by the states when last proposed in 1976 and should not be revived.

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There are many weaknesses in this argument and a lot of puffery.

As far as considering statehood is concerned, plenty of Constitutional Amendments took a long time or a re-do.  Once failed, never again isn't about reason or logic.  Regardless, Congress has no business holding hostage the locally generated and derived budget, which is not a federal undertaking--DC's local government shouldn't be forced to shut down because Congress won't pass a federal budget, etc.

Just as Congress is proud of itself for eliminating earmarks, which has benefits and also disadvantages, a Republican Congress so focused on promoting "local control" and limited government vis a vis the federal government ought to acknowledge their hypocrisy in how they choose to cripple local governance in Washington.

They argue that DC is Constitutionally under the authority of Congress and so that status should remain the case evermore, but their oversight of the local affairs is concerned more with grandstanding and being obstructive on purely local matters within the City of Washington through veto power over the local budget and the ability to add riders and requirements for local acts with no input from the local government or its citizens:

- once a Senator forced DC to put a death penalty statute to referendum
- there is a rider on DC preventing it from spending local monies on abortions
- there is a rider on DC preventing it from developing regulations around marijuana use, even though residents passed legislation in favor of legalization.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A missed opportunity to focus on the Republican urban agenda at the Republican National Convention

I didn't think about trying to be prepared well in advance of the Republican National Convention with a post on what would be a reasonable Republican approach to urban issues that is congruent with Republican Party principles.

A couple months ago Aaron Renn of Urbanophile wrote a piece, "A $63 million high school football stadium shows changing Republican values," about how (paraphrased) "Republicans aren't against investing in public/civic facilities so long as they improve quality of life," that there is a recognition that an overfocus on "low taxes" comes with costs.

I meant to write about it.  I'd probably distinguish between (sub)urban Republicans and exurban and rural Republicans. Granted the old Republicans of the Northeast had a civic-infused agenda, albeit with a different perspective on a lot of things.  But for example, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York's 2nd District located in Central Long Island has a pro-transit agenda, given the needs of his constituents, many of whom ride the LIRR.  In the DC metropolitan area, past Republican Congressmembers from Northern Virginia have been amongst the area's major leaders concerning transit matters.

But it's true that reasonable people can agree on some things and disagree on others, and can agree on investing in community.  Although what people think is appropriate to invest in can vary considerably.  Maybe it's high school football centers yes, and senior centers or social service clinics no.

The mayor of Oklahoma, Mick Cornett, is Republican and is currently the chairman of the US Conference of Mayors ("OKC Mayor Mick Cornett Speaks At RNC In Cleveland," News9/OKC).

The "Metropolitan Area Program" he created is a system of planning, funding, and building a wide range of community facilities ("Cornett, Couch Say MAPS 4 Could Be Used To Fix Oklahoma City Street," KGOU) that is a leading national urban best practice.

Utah has had a series of Republican governors doing great things on regional and statewide smart growth planning, the environment, and transit.  (Although the state still goes ape**** about federally-owned lands.)

2.  Republican agenda from Speaker Ryan.  Similarly, I haven't read the Republican Congress agenda document by Paul Ryan titled A Better Way.  Mostly I disagree with his dominant agenda of tax cuts for the rich and diminishment of resources for the less well off, but listening to him on NPR yesterday, his point about needing more nuanced and individualized approaches for social supports makes sense to me.

If that's a Republican agenda, well, I could support it, provided they stop focusing on tax cuts for the rich, see "Can We Find Our Way Back to Lincoln?," New York Times.

3.  The 2016 Republican Platform is bad on transportation.  I think the Republican Party, this year anyway, is disinclined to be pro-urban, seeing "urban" as tied very much to the Democrats and President Obama.

From The 2016 Republican Party Platform | GOP:
America on the Move
Our country’s investments in transportation and other public construction have traditionally been non-partisan. Everyone agrees on the need for clean water and safe roads, rail, bridges, ports, and airports. President Eisenhower established a tradition of Republican leadership in this regard by championing the creation of the interstate highway system. In recent years, bipartisan cooperation led to major legislation improving the nation’s ports and waterways.

Our Republican majority ended the practice of earmarks, which often diverted transportation spending to politically favored projects. In the current Congress, Republicans have secured the longest reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund in a decade and are advancing a comprehensive reform of the Federal Aviation Administration to make flying easier and more secure.

The current Administration has a different approach. It subordinates civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. Its ill-named Livability Initiative is meant to “coerce people out of their cars.” This is the same mentality that once led Congress to impose by fiat a single maximum speed limit for the entire nation, from Manhattan to Montana. Our 1980 Republican Platform pledged to repeal that edict. After the election of Ronald Reagan, we did.

Now we make the same pledge regarding the current problems in transportation policy. We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government.

More than a quarter of the Fund’s spending is diverted from its original purpose. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities. Additional funds are used for bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, and historical renovations. Other beneficiaries of highway money are ferry boats, the federal lands access program, scenic byways, and education initiatives. These worthwhile enterprises should be funded through other sources.   
We propose to phase out the federal transit program and reform provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act which can delay and drive up costs for transportation projects. ... With most of the states increasing their own funding for transportation, we oppose a further increase in the federal gas tax.
The platform also calls Amtrak a boondoggle and isn't supportive of high speed rail generally, except as private initiatives.

There are many problems with these positions.  Foremost is their belief that transportation only equals roads, and that the "highway gas excise tax" should only support roads, and that "complete roads" only make provisions for motor vehicle traffic, not other users, be they pedestrians, bicyclists, or transit users, and that from an optimal throughput standpoint, investing "highway gas taxes" in transit helps to add capacity to roads in the most congested metropolitan areas, which are the linchpins of the US economy.

4.  According to the article, Mayor Cornett's speech at the Convention focused on how Republican mayors are handling urban matters.  It was scheduled at 2pm Monday, which clearly indicates that urban issues, at least for this presidential election, are a low priority.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

DC to launch Cultural planning process: kick off meeting next Wednesday

As can be discerned from the various pieces I've written about DC cultural resources and planning issues from even before I started blogging (in 2005) I am not particularly optimistic that DC is capable of creating a robust, thoughtful, and innovative cultural plan.

Over the past few years, such plans have been produced for Chicago, Boston, and Brooklyn (Culture Forward Planning Document, Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District)--thanks to Christopher for the heads up on the latter. (And many other places have done such plans, and not just in the US.)

People have been critical ("City Arts Crisis: Boston Creates, One Year Later," Boston Magazine) about the planning document in Boston, which I haven't yet read, but they criticized it as a doppelganger of the plan for Chicago, which was criticized as being produced by a planning firm not based locally, but frankly, reading it, I thought the Chicago plan covered the bases very well.

I have a big problem with criticism in planning being about "out of area" planners, because frankly, cities, neighborhoods, organizations, and metropolitan areas function similarly regardless of location even though micro-circumstances differ, even if at the building-by-building and organization-by-organization scale, they are unique.

I don't have time to get to it til next week, but I will write a survey piece about cultural matters in the city, comparable to how I produced such documents/blog entries in association with the city's retail planning, transportation plan, central library planning, and State Rail Plan processes.

Come to think of it, except for the DC State Rail Plan, I don't think those documents had much impact.

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INTERMISSIONDC: a community event on DC, culture and planning July 20, 2016

 INTERMISSIONDC: a community event on DC, culture and planning
  • WHEN
  • Wednesday, July 20, 2016 from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM (EDT) - Add to Calendar
  • WHERE
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - 901 G Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20001 -
The DC Office of Planning is kicking off an eight-month effort to draft a Cultural Plan for Washington DC.   When completed, the DC Cultural Plan will lay out a vision and recommendations on how the government and its partners can build upon, strengthen and invest in the people, places, communities and ideas that define culture within the nation's capital. 

INTERMISSIONDC seeks to bring together residents, artists and planners to engage with one another on issues related to cultural development, preservation, production, expression and consumption. It will consist of a series of structured and unstructured interactive activities, using different media, which allow participants to share their reflections, suggestions and ideas. It is the first of many public events that the DC Office of Planning will host to capture community insight as the Cultural Plan is being drafted. There is no cost for this event.

The DC Cultural Plan is being developed in collaboration with the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment, through the support of the DC Council.

Please complete a short survey to help us prepare for this event: IntermissionDCSurvey

Please click here to RSVP for the event. For additional questions please contact the Office of Planning at Ashley.Stephens@dc.gov.

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Artscape, Baltimore's premier art festival, is this weekend

It's opens today and Sunday hours are til 8pm.  Partly it's an art fair for visual artists, where vendors sell their wares, but there are many complementary events in the performing arts, and many arts-related nonprofits exhibit and participate.

It's pretty cool usually, although I haven't been for a couple years.

-- Artscape

If you go Saturday, you can leave early and take in the Waverly Farmers Market and breakfast at Pete's Diner on Greenmount Avenue.  While I haven't been to the Dupont Circle Farmes Market for awhile, I've always thought that the Waverly/32nd Street Market in Baltimore is one of the best farmers markets in the region.

If you go Sunday, go a bit early and take in the Baltimore Farmer's Market, which is probably the biggest farmers market in the Baltimore-Washington region.

Artscape is sponsored directly by Baltimore City, but in an unusual organizational arrangement, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts is technically an independent nonprofit.  This helps them to sell sponsorships for events like Artscape, but probably also helps to limit the city's liability.  The nonprofit is controlled by the city through board and staff appointments.

In this piece I made some recommendations concerning cultural policy in Baltimore.

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Successful retail today often includes food, experiences, social elements, and isn't rote

I wrote about retail within the last couple weeks but last week the Washington City Paper had an article, "Can coffee and booze coexist with local retail?," about the rise in coffee shop + bike shop combinations.

I didn't think the conclusions were particularly scintillating.

The Bike Rack + Filter Coffee operation at Monroe Street Market in Brookland, next to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.  (What I like is that they have a public air pump outside.  More bicycle shops should do this.)

Bike cafes might be "new" to Washington, but there are plenty of cool examples around Europe (this article from Time Out London lists 15, "London's best cycle cafés") and even the US--some killer bike-oriented bars in Iowa of all places, according to the Des Moines Register ("Beers and bikes popular along High Trestle Trail" and "Windsor Heights bike hub could have cafe, art, music") etc.

Also see the Duvine story "Coffee Bikes and Beer Bicycle Bars and Cycling Cafes Across America" from 2015 and this NBC News story from 2011, "Bike cafés brewing in surprising places."

Food + retail is not new.  Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe, a bookstore-restaurant on Dupont Circle has been a premier example for decades.

Interestingly, in the early 1990s, Boogie's Diner, a food + apparel concept from Leonard Weinglass, founder of the now-defunct Merry Go Round clothing chain, opened in Georgetown but closed a few years ago.  However, the Aspen sibling of the long since closed combo stores in DC and Chicago remained open until a few months ago.

1.  Food yes, retail less.  I mention all the time that since people eat and drink everyday, but buy other goods, especially specialty goods infrequently, retail districts are shifting towards food as a majority of the "retail" storefronts.   This is abetted by a shift to e-purchasing of a wide variety of goods by the higher income demographics also most likely to patronize local shopping districts.

Sometimes I use the term eater-tainment districts to describe this.

Straight up retail can function, but only as a part of ever larger "regional shopping destinations."  At the neighborhood scale it's much harder to pull off, with notable exceptions.  In any case, it's much more boutique-y and the proprietor has to be satisfied with making a living, not getting rich.

Note that because of the shift to food as a greater proportion of "retail spending" narrow limits on the number of hospitality businesses that can locate in commercial districts as part of zoning regulations can be ill-advised, as it is hard to fill retail spaces with retail stores that don't exist (think of the destruction by e-commerce of various retail categories such as office supplies, travel agencies, camera shops, record stores, and bookstores to some extent.

I mention this because approvals for a restaurant in Cathedral Commons have been held up in part by a 20% limit on the number of restaurants in the development.

2.  Convenience retail can hold its own, other categories not so much.  Convenience retail, groceries and gasoline (impossible to purchase online), to some extent hardware and pharmacy, attracts customer who make frequent purchases.  Other retail does not.  E.g., I buy a bike every 4 to 7 years, and accessories infrequently, plus tune up and repair services, but I drink coffee or eat food every day.

I would still dude up much more the coffee bar at Sylvester & Co. in Savannah, but it provides a reason for people to visit the store every day.

So yes, adding coffee to a bike shop can make sense... just as it does for a variety of other retailers.

But plenty of retailers have been doing it for awhile, e.g., in a trip to Savannah years ago, I was impressed by an espresso bar at the back of Sylvester &Co. Modern General Store, a housewares store, and a coffee bar as part of the Paris Market store (clothing, accessories, and housewares), not to mention a coffee bar in a used book store.

Department stores like Macy's in NYC and Harrod's in London are known for the food halls, etc. Recently, Barnes & Noble announced they'd be expanding their coffee corners into more full blown cafes and Urban Outfitters bought an artisan pizza restaurant group ("Why Urban Outfitters Made Its Controversial Pizza Purchase," Fortune  Also see "Why fashion retailers are staging food experiences," from Business of Fashion.  From Fortune:
The move to buy Pizzeria Vetri, a pizza operator with just two locations in operation in Philadelphia, makes little sense at first glance. But analysts that weighed in on the results pointed out that Urban Outfitters and other retailers are suffering from a broader consumer shift in spending. People are spending less money on apparel, and more on trips, dining out and other “experiences.”

“Urban Outfitters has tested adding restaurants to select stores, and we believe these tests have proven successful, likely driving traffic and increasing the amount of time consumers stay in the stores,” said Stifel analyst Richard Jaffe. Jaffe added that there could be a great challenge of operating a new business to integrating it with what Urban already does.
Note that Ikea has long integrated child care areas and restaurants into their stores.

3.  Experiential retail. The trade publications are full of articles about how consumer interest is shifting to "experiences" ("The New Era of Experiential Retail," Stores) and retailers have to make their displays and approaches much more interesting as a result.  Another element is linking the bricks and mortar to digital commerce.

charlie shares with us this article, "Mall Owners Push Out Department Stores," from the Wall Street Journal, about how shopping centers are getting rid of department stores and replacing them with food and what we might call other "active retail" concepts where customers are likely to patronize these businesses multiple times in a week or month instead of a couple times per year.

4.  Social spaces as an element of commodified spaces and the experience.  Rather than just focusing on buying stuff, now customers are looking for spaces to be in and around stuff to buy.  That includes cafes within stores, places to sit, and fun and comfortable furniture, such as the chairs and sofas in places like Barnes & Noble or Starbucks, etc.  Such spaces will migrate to more types of retail stores.  How much of that will be digital as opposed to analog will be interesting to see how it plays out.  Shopping centers are doing this too, in the common areas inside and outside.
OC Mix at South Coast Collection
Outdoor area at the OC Mix at South Coast Collection in Costa Mesa, California.  Photo: Ana Venegas, Orange County Register.

5.  Bifurcation in retail chains between unique and standardized spaces.  I think this means that we'll be seeing more bifurcation of retail in terms of what is presented on the part of chains  Chain retail, which has focused on standardization, will split out a set of stores/companies that remain somewhat standardized, especially among the big boxes, like a Walmart or Best Buy, while another set will shift towards differentiated, creative, special retail.  It will trend higher end, e.g., Room & Board, and for higher cost items, e.g., Apple Store.

In some ways Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie has a been a leader in the differentiated/creative end of chain retail for awhile.  Same with how LAB Holdings in Orange County, California has developed unique retail concepts and centers ("Most Influential 2014: Shaheen Sadeghi led an independent revival in Anaheim" and "Can anti-mall and Packing House developer work his Midas touch," Orange County Register).

6.  Fast fashion/fast retail as experiential.  Another element of "experience" in retail might be the "fast fashion" category ("Fast fashion leader keeps H&M at bay," Wall Street Journal), where stores like H&M, Zara, and now Primark frequently change their apparel inventory on a daily and weekly basis to bring in new looks and colors, and to get rid of what isn't selling.  They price clothing relatively low, so that casual apparel segment has become somewhat disposable, rather than something you buy with the aim of wearing it for years and years.

The frequent change out of inventory makes it a form of experience retail because what's there today might not be there tomorrow and if you skip going to the store for a week or a month you fear missing out.  That's much different from the traditional four-season cycle of clothes marketing that had been practiced by by large retailers for decades, with spring, summer (bathing suits, outdoor apparel), fall (especially "back to school") and winter (coats etc.) being reliable boosts for sales.

But the

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