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.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Urbanism/community building obituaries: 2018

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From the better late than never department...

Each year, the New York Times Magazine runs a special issue featuring obituaries of signature people who died in the past year.  While I have written from time to time about people who've died and their contributions to urbanism, comparable to the NYT feature, I have realized it would be good to do a similar piece for people who who have influenced, positively -- or negatively -- urbanism. I wouldn't claim it's a comprehensive list, but hopefully it's somewhat representative.

These are some of the people who caught my attention in 2018
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Jose Antonio Abreu, El Sistema, Venezuela ("José Abreu: Founder of world renowned El Sistema music project dies," BBC); Henry Bridges, Jr., Community School of the Arts, Charlotte, North Carolina ("Charlotte church musician who started school for poor kids dies at 90," Charlotte Observer); Robert Capanna, Settlement Music School, Philadelphia ("What really matters in the arts? Bob Capanna remembrance served as a reminder," Philadelphia Inquirer).; In their respective communities, each created successful music-specific community arts initiatives.

Todd Bol, creator of Little Free Libraries ("Todd Bol, founder of Little Free Libraries, dies").
Younkers in Coral Ridge Mall 4-30-18 02
Bon-Ton Department Stores.  The company, an amalgamation of many regional chains including Bon Ton out of York, Pennsylvania, Carsons (formerly Carson, Pirie, Scott) of Chicago, Bergners of Illinois, Herbergers in the Upper Midwest, Younkers of Iowa, and other companies, shut down over the course of the past summer.  More than 200 stores closed.  Although another company bought the brands and other intellectual property and will be reopening some stores. ("Bankrupt Department Store Chain Carson's To Reopen Suburban Store," CBS Chicago ).

Edwin G. Burrows, co-author of Gotham, a history of New York City ("Edwin G. Burrows, Historian and Co-Author of 'Gotham,' Dies at 74," New York Times). I have it on my nightstand, but haven't finished it...

James H. Cone, Black Liberation Theologist ("Why James Cone Was the Most Important Theologian of His Time" Sojourners Magazine).

Hank Dittmar, co-founder of Reconnecting America, a past chairman of the Congress for the New Urbanism, and director of Prince Charles' foundation focusing on higher quality architecture in the UK,  ("Former Prince's Foundation chief Hank Dittmar dies aged 62," Architect's Journal). My one interaction with him was not positive, he was very dismissive, but he did good work...

Farm Fresh Supermarkets, Hampton Roads and Richmond, Virginia. In March, the company sold 21 stores to competitors and began closing their remaining stores.  The company faced problems before and was bought in the late 1990s by its wholesaler, to maintain the store base as a company.  That company was then acquired by Supervalu, a national food wholesaler, which still owned the chain when they decided to shut it down.

General Electric Transportation.  It's not dead exactly but was sold off to Wabtec, which in turn is a remnant of the old Westinghouse Corporation ("GE's latest sale: Its 111-year-old rail business," CNN).

The roots of the  GE Transportation division go back to electric streetcars and the purchase of Sprague Electric, where Frank Sprague pioneered a variety of technological advances that led to the mass production of electric streetcars and underground subways.  Sadly, once Thomas Edison bought the Sprague assets, he scraped off the Sprague brand and replaced it with his.

The book The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway and the PBS "American Experience" documentary based on it discuss Sprague's work.

Jeremy Gold, actuary, "foresaw crisis in public pensions" ("Jeremy Gold, Actuary Who Warned of Pension Crisis, Dies at 75," New York Times).  Unfunded pension liabilities is driving many local governments toward bankruptcy, and funding pensions from past years crowds out spending on other priorities.

Richard N. Goodwin, White House speechwriter and writer, coined the phrase and concept "Great Society" for President Johnson and wrote other key speeches, including on civil rights ("Richard Goodwin, 86, Kennedy speechwriter and husband to Doris Kearns Goodwin," Boston Glober)).

Gump's Department Store, San Francisco.  I've never been there but it was one of the last of the iconic city-specific independent department stores.  (I sent an email to Hall Department Store in Kansas City, suggesting they take it over, but they didn't., clearly.)

Albert Hirsch, historian  ("Arnold Hirsch, influential historian of urban segregation, dies at 69," Washington Post).  From the NYT obituary:
Professor Hirsch’s best-known book, “Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940-1960,” published in 1983, began as an inquiry into the causes of the urban riots that racked American cities in the late 1960s, including the disturbances that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Unlike the Kerner Commission and other bodies that focused on the proximate causes of the civil unrest, Professor Hirsch focused on the period immediately after the Great Depression and, in particular, the two decades following World War II. In that period, millions of AfricanAmericans moved from the South to the North in a second Great Migration as transformative as the earlier one, which lasted from 1890 to 1930.

Most ended up in hypersegregated neighborhoods, often in cheaply constructed and poorly maintained public housing that, in the 1970s, would become emblems of urban decay and malaise.

Segregation, Professor Hirsch found, was not a natural process, or the mere outcome of individual prejudice and choices, but was rooted in institutional interests, including profitseeking.
Love Sculpture by Robert Indiana in John F. Kennedy Plaza, Philadelphia.  Photo by Alec Rogers for the Association of Public Art.

Robert Indiana, artist-sculptor, known for large sculptures that became icons of public art, in particular the LOVE sculpture first installed in Philadelphia, and then elsewhere ("Robert Indiana, Pop Purveyor of Love, Hope, and American Darkness dies at 89," ArtNews).

The installation of his works in cities across the country brought renewed attention to public art as an element of urban design and placemaking.

George S. Kaufman, real estate developer, Astoria Studios, Queens, New York ("George S. Kaufman, Who Revived Astoria Studios, Dies at 89," New York Times). The studio complex in Astoria was the original unit of the company that became Paramount Studios and was brought back to life after decades of decline and besides supporting television and movie production work is also home to the Museum of the Moving Image.  It also spurred revitalization in the nearby residential and commercial districts.

He was the first chair of the business improvement district in the Garment District in Manhattan and helped to found the Sinatra High School of the Arts in Queens.

Charles Lazarus, Toys R Us.  Ironically, the toy store Toys R Us went bankrupt and shut down in  he US less than one year before the main person behind the company also died.  Lazarus had worked for the parent company, which owned discount department stores.  The parent went bankrupt but they realized there was a viable business in Toys R Us, which they rapidly expanded.

But the company's stores were suburban for the most part, except when they bought the iconic NYC store FAO Schwarz, which among its stores, was the landmark store on Fifth Avenue, and featured in a scene of the Tom Hanks movie "Big."

Getty Images.

Jane Maas, advertising, executed the "I Love New York" campaign which was a transcendent branding and marketing campaign for the State of New York, originally aimed to increase demand at Upstate ski resorts, which became a model for other city and state tourism marketing programs ("Jane Maas, a Pioneer for Women in Advertising, Dies at 86," New York Times).

William Murtagh, historic preservationist and first Keeper of the National Register for Historic Places ("William J. Murtagh, 'pied piper' of American historic preservation, dies" Washington Post). The NRHP was created as part of the National Historic Preservation Act, passed in 1966. Listed buildings, districts, and sites have some protection from federal undertakings and are eligible for federal historic tax credits for rehabilitation projects.

Oramenta Newsome, director of the DC branch of the Local Initiative Support Corporation ("Oramenta Newsome of LISC dies," Washington Business Journal).  LISC is an organization that was created to support community development organizations.  Each branch operates somewhat independently.  Some are great, others are not.  I thought the DC branch enabled bad work. ("The community development approach and the revitalization of DC's H Street corridor: congruent or oppositional approaches?," 2013).

J. Paul's Restaurant, Georgetown, Washington, DC.  (I worked there.)  It was a very successful restaurant on M Street NW for a long time, known for a oyster bar in the window.  I think it's interesting because the company, Capital Restaurant Concepts, had more than a dozen restaurants, clustered in Georgetown, Reston, and Baltimore, plus Georgia Brown's Downtown.  Now they are down to one, Georgia Brown's.

It shows how management is important.  (One of the leaders of the Clyde's Restaurant Group died in early January.  His company is going strong with $135 million in annual sales over 13 restaurants.) 

Lee Harris Pomeroy, architect, New York City ("Lee Harris Pomeroy, 85, Dies; Architect Revived Subway Stations," New York Times). From the AIANY obituary:
Lee’s early interest in urban planning influenced his work throughout his career. One of his early adaptive reuse projects, the Henry Street Studios in Brooklyn, involved the conversion of a 19th-century candy factory into studios and housing units for working artists. When the demolition of historic Broadway theaters was proposed to make room for a new Marriott Hotel in Times Square, Lee worked with preservation groups, eventually helping to draft the plan to establish the Historic Broadway Theater District. Lee’s plan for Fulton Street Pedestrian Mall and Transitway in downtown Brooklyn won the Bard Award for Excellence in Architecture and Urban Design from The City Club of New York.
-- LHP Architects webpage (click on subpages for discussion on transportation, planning, and historic preservation projects)


A house in the Concord Green subdivision in Bloomfield Township, Michigan, which was the first subdivision built by William Pulte.

William J. Pulte, mass homebuilder and leader in spreading post-war suburbanization ("Funeral arrangements set for PulteGroup founder," Detroit News).

Along with William Levitt and Kaufman and (Eli) Broad, Pulte Corporation was a builder of subdivisions in many leading markets across the country.  Both Pulte and Kaufman and Broad started in Michigan, but spread out across the country, in lockstep with post-war outmigration and the growth of the American economy.

Dovey Roundtree, attorney ("Dovey Johnson Roundtree, defense lawyer and civil rights warrior," Washington Post). She argued the first (and only) bus desegregation case before the Interstate Commerce Commission, which held that "separate but equal" accommodations were unconstitutional.

Her 1955 victory before the Interstate Commerce Commission in the first bus desegregation case to be brought before the ICC resulted in the only explicit repudiation of the "separate but equal" doctrine in the field of interstate bus transportation by a court  

-- Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company (64 MCC 769 (1955)

Robert S. Rubin, banker, helped to create Brooklyn Heights Historic District, was chair of the Brooklyn Museum when Mayor Giuliani demanded the museum remove an artwork that he termed "pornographic and anti-Catholic."  Rubin stood up to the Mayor and defended artistic expression.

He also was a co-founder of St. Ann's School and a leader in the effort to create new parks on the Brooklyn waterfront ("Robert S. Rubin, Banker Who Defended Brooklyn Museum, Dies at 86," New York Times).
In a letter to the New York Times in 1961, he wrote that the homeowners who had first been attracted there were "among those who feel that a nation or a city too hurried or careless to take pride in its past can have little hope for a worthwhile future."
Alan Sagner, revitalized the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("Alan Sagner, Who Revitalized the Port Authority, Dies at 97," New York Times). Although as a builder, he helped push sprawl further out into New Jersey, and also helped to build social housing for seniors and the disabled in suburbs that were often opposed.

Russ Solomon, founder of Tower Records, which grew into a chain of mostly great stores in prominent locations in center cities, with late hours, events, and great book and magazine sections too.  Record stores died as a result of the Internet and the shift to digital download and streaming of music.  But record stores, like bookstores, were "third places" and building blocks of thriving commercial districts.

Linda Brown Thompson, the name plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education case (which consolidated multiple cases) that led to the Supreme Court ruling in 1954 in favor of school desegregation.  School systems directly part of the case, including DC, had to desegregate effective with the 1954-1955 school year.

Marsha Thompson, arts administrator, helped to create financially sound practices for arts organizations ("Marcia Thompson, Prudent Promoter of the Arts, Dies at 94," New York Times).

Tatsuro Toyoda, spearheaded Toyota's development as a globally significant automobile manufacturer, shifting the US auto market away from being dominated by US-based companies (GM, Ford, Chrysler).

Jonny Walker, Street performer advocating for the rights of buskers, UK
"Renowned busker who campaigned for the rights of street performers," From the article:
... a busy busker who played in more than 50 British towns and cities every year, leading many of his fans in each location to adopt him as their local minstrel. But he was more than just a very good singer and guitar player. As he developed as a street performer he became a leading campaigner for the preservation of street culture in Britain, taking the fight to local councils over the rights of artists, musicians and entertainers to occupy public space and perform.

The son of an Evangelical Anglican vicar, Walker had campaigning in his blood and it was in 2012, in response to new proposals by Liverpool city council to control busking, that he founded the campaign group Keep Streets Live. Later he helped to set up the Association of Street Artists and Performers.


Richard Weinstein, urban planner in NYC (",a href="https://archpaper.com/2018/03/architect-planner-richard-weinstein-passes-away-at-85/">Architect and Planner Richard Weinstein passes away at 85," Architect's Newspaper), who later went on to be dean of the architecture and planning school at UCLA. According to the UCLA obituary:
In this role [as director of planning for New York City], Weinstein helped transform the way cities manage development, insisting that public benefit had to be identified as a fundamental principal of zoning variance. He believed that part of the city’s mandate was to preserve and enrich the life of the public and cultural streetscape as the city grew taller with private investment. Refuting the practice of simply granting variances to developers in exchange for increased taxes, these zoning codes became a new and different means of implementing complex planning objectives.ledge of New York’s complex system of air rights facilitated economic self-sufficiency for the city’s landmarks and simultaneously guided development along predetermined channels.
Projects under these principles included retaining historic Broadway theaters, reviving the South Street Seaport, and using revenue from a residential tower to help fund the Museum of Modern Art.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A brief comment on the connection between newspapers and civic affairs with the offer by a vulture hedge fund to purchase Gannett Newspapers

It's a bit ironic writing a piece in favor of keeping the Gannett Newspaper group intact, because historically they were known for buying newspapers and cutting staff to increase profits.

But in the context of a chained up newspaper sector, they do support enterprise reporting on the part of the various newspapers, for example, the Indianapolis Star did an incredible series on the impact of selling tax liens and losing control of area housing stock to non-local firms, the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader did a great series on the importance of learning to read by the age of nine and the various efforts in local school systems, and the Arizona Republic does great reporting on water issues.

And USA Today, criticized as McPaper, does some important reporting too, ranging from test cheating in the DC Public Schools, to treatment of truck drivers at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and just recently, a great digital feature on the various security measures deployed along every mile of the US border with Mexico.

-- "The Wall – An in-depth examination"

But I do find troubling the announcement that Alden Global Capital wants to acquire Gannett ("Newsonomics: Let the 2019 Consolidation Games begin! First up: Alden seeks to swallow Gannett," Nieman Media) because the newspapers that the firm acquires have fewer staff and less local reportage afterwards.

In response the Journalist's Resource initiative of the Shorenstein Media Center at the Harvard Kennedy School offers a couple of interesting articles:

-- "Political polarization increases after local newspapers close"
-- "Civic engagement declines when local newspapers shut down"

The Newsonomics post makes the point that Gannett is now in play, regardless of what happens with Alden. Hopefully, it would mean that Gannett and Tribune Newspapers hook up and remain out of the clutches of private equity. Even in their reduced form, the newspapers owned by Gannett and Tribune "show better" than those owned by Alden, which include the Orange County Register, Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, and the Boston Herald.

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Past entries include:

-- "One more blow against community media: Washington Post drops Thursday "county" news special sections," 2017
-- "Voting vs. civic participation | elections vs. governance," 2016
-- "DC's Current Newspapers introduce weekly e-letter," 2013. Note that post-bankruptcy (last year), the Current Newspaper is a pale copy of its previous form, with almost no news, limited editorials, letters to the editor and op-ed, and what was once the city's best community calendar is now significantly shrunken.
-- "The ongoing tragedy of dying print media, the latest being community newspapers in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, Maryland," 2015
-- "Grassroots communications capability in the city," 2015
-- "Protest as Civic Engagement and the role of the media," 2007

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Monday, January 14, 2019

NBC4 asks if DC can become a concert capital like Nashville, Austin, and New Orleans?

Photo: Destination DC.

-- "Concert Capital: Can DC Become America's Next Big Music Town?"

From the article:
It may be years before D.C. has the reputation of a music city like Austin, Texas, Chicago, Nashville, Tennessee, New Orleans, New York or Los Angeles. Yet the foundation has been laid with a rich history, from the jazz of Duke Ellington to the go-go of Chuck Brown, the R&B of Screamin' Joe Neal to the telecasters of Link Wray, and the punk scene of Dischord Records.

Today, the D.C. music landscape is as vibrant as it has ever been. From big stadium shows to a variety of intimate venues popping up all over town, this buffet of options paints a stark artistic contrast to tired Beltway stereotypes of stuffy lobbyists and pretentious politicians.

"The DMV is exploding with music," Wolf Trap President Arvind Manocha told WTOP.

The creative economy means booming business. Marketing company Destination D.C. said the city saw a record 22.8 million visitors in 2017, spending $7.5 billion and supporting 75,000 jobs. Of the "eclectic cultural travelers" surveyed, 86 percent were interested in "music in nationally known venues," while 68 percent noted "headliner entertainment" as important.
Probably not.

Although technically, I'm arguing a different point, about a being a center for music creation (arts as production) versus being a center for music presentation (arts as consumption).

But it's a fact that Austin, Nashville, and New Orleans, among others are "music cities" because they are a home to performing artists, and there is a creative ecosystem that supports music development and production, as well as venues of all types and sizes to see music performed.

(The same issue of arts as production vs. arts as production is key to understanding DC in terms of the visual arts ecosystem and as a home to working artists.)

Not to mention Austin has its own problems in maintaining its positioning as "live music capital of the US" because (1) there are lots of places that offer music and the audience isn't necessarily growing; (2) the rise in the cost of commercial space means that venues are closing; (3) the reduction in the sales of music through CDs etc. reduces artist income; and (4) the increase in rents and cost to buy a house make it harder for cultural professionals not making a lot of money to afford to live in Austin.

-- "Under threat: Austin's music industry as an element of the city's cultural ecosystem and economy"

And Nashville has its problems, losing many of the original music studios to new development, although housing is still comparatively cheap.


And there have been many issues in New Orleans post-Katrina  

-- "Veteran musicians note changes in New Orleans music scene since Hurricane Katrina," New Orleans Advocate

DC has these same issues.  While it doesn't have tons of venues, it has some, and new ones are being added, which is what has triggered the NBC piece.  The audience isn't necessarily growing and the rising cost of commercial space makes it harder for venues to open and remain open.  Not to mention that the limited amount of Class B and Class C commercial space means that cheap rehearsal and studio space is hard to come by ("Ground up (guerrilla) art #2: community halls and music (among other things)").  And the cost of housing makes it hard for young musicians to come and live in the city and stay here while they develop their chops.

Some other recent articles that are related:

-- "Hip-Hop Museum Preserves Rap Music History in D.C.," Washington Afro-American
-- "The In Series’ Latest Musical Traces A History Of Black Music And Migration On U Street," DCist

and this from a past blog entry, "The song remains the same: DC's continued failures in cultural planning as evidenced by failures with Bohemian Caverns, Howard Theatre, Union Arts, Takoma Theatre..." among others

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There is an interesting exhibit, "Twisted Teenage Plot," at American University's Katzen Arts Center on the artist-driven art rock movement in the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and how it was facilitated by the availability of cheap studio space in post-riot Washington and supported by various arts institutions (the Phillips, the Corcoran, galleries, arts organizations) that at the time were open and available to new ideas, programs, and ways of doing things, and a tight spatial footprint centered around 7th Street NW, Downtown.

Actually, the exhibit on the art produced by the artist-musicians isn't that exciting, but the collection catalog is excellent, featuring the artists, their stories, and their stories of the scene at the time.

This period is an element of the city's recent music history that has been overshadowed by the city's punk movement, which developed a little later in the mid-1980s.  Had bands like the Urban Verbs made it (albeit in my opinion the music isn't quite at the level of Television, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, etc.), the story would be more prominently remembered.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

40th anniversary of the local historic preservation law in DC as an opportunity for assessment

The difference between federal and local laws.  One of the things that's often frustrating in talking about historic preservation is the dichotomy between promotion and protection.

By that I mean that people argue that a building or district is protected by being listed on the "National Register of Historic Places," run by the National Park Service/Department of Interior as one of the elements that derived from the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act.

The NHPA was in part a reaction to urban freeways and urban renewal destroying extant places.  The law is only relevant to "federal undertakings" like building a road or transit system, funding urban renewal, etc.

Local actions by a local or state government are not covered, unless funding for the project includes federal funds. Actions by developers and property owners are not covered at all, because they aren't federal undertakings.

To have the most protection, you need local laws. Some states preclude this (for example in the past few years, the Utah Legislature passed laws making it impossible for the City of Salt Lake to create more historic districts), but that's pretty rare.

I've written about this in terms of "remedies," with laws you have remedies or a course of action when buildings are threatened, without remedies you can only hope you will be successful at persuading a property owner to save a building when they've already decided not to.

-- "Preservation advocacy may be more successful when companies are vulnerable to public pressure: Baltimore County vs. Fairfax County, Virginia vs. Robbinsdale, Minnesota," 2016
-- "The real historic preservation lesson from DC's Uptown Theater is about legal protections and remedies, not activism," 2017

Mary's Blue Room, Capitol HillMary's Blue Room was demolished in the early 1970s by the Capitol Hill Baptist Church for a parking lot.  Ironically, about 30 years later, they sold this and adjoining lots for redevelopment as large rowhouses.

DC passed its own law in 1978, which took effect in 1979.  (DC functions as a state as far as historic preservation is concerned.  There are also some other wrinkles with regard to federal properties and Georgetown because of separate federal laws.)

-- Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978, Washington, DC

There were a number of reasons behind the law, but one was the recognition that despite many neighborhoods like Capitol Hill being on "the National Register" there were many instances where buildings or the neighborhood's architectural integrity were threatened by non-federal undertakings.

2019 is the 40th Anniversary of the DC Historic Landmarks Act.  Last Fall, DC Preservation League sponsored a conference, and actually was quite good, when my expectations were low.

At the conference, in response to a point I made, DCPL director Rebecca Miller made an interesting observation, that since 2019 is the 40th anniversary of the local landmarks and preservation law taking effect, it would be worthwhile to do an assessment of the law/state of preservation/gaps in the city.

DC's local preservation law is one of the strongest in the nation.  The reality is that DC's local law is arguably the strongest in the country. The decision to designate a building or historic district is not subject (in normal circumstances--there is a process of judicial review if the property owner continues to object) to extraordinary review or final approval by either the Executive or Legislative Branches. Neither the Executive nor the Legislative Branches has the legal authority to remove the historic designation of a building, site or district.

Non-property owners can submit nominations for buildings they don't own, providing they have standing as a preservation-related group. Religious buildings are not exempt from the law.

That being said, while protections are significant for buildings and districts that are designated, there are virtually zero protections for buildings that aren't designated.

And it is almost impossible to stop an undesignated building from being demolished or altered in significant and damaging ways unless as an individual building (not a contributing structure in a historic district) it meets the criteria for designation..

Safeway asks for a determination that a building is not historic.  On the HistoricWashington e-list, someone sent an email about how the company that owns Safeway and specifically the Safeway on MacArthur Boulevard in the Palisades neighborhood, has submitted a nomination for the building, but asking for a determination that the building isn't worthy of designation, which is "unprecedented".

-- Submission by Safeway for the property at 4865 MacArthur Boulevard, Palisades, DC

That reminded me of the 40th anniversary of the local law and provides the excuse for summarizing my thoughts about the state of historic preservation in the city.

Gaps in DC's historic preservation practice

1. Lack of a systematic and complete inventory of buildings. With regard to this specific point, about the owners of the Safeway in the Palisades seeking a determination that the building isn't a historic resource, in other cities, there has been a more systematic process for inventorying "all buildings" for their potential to be listed as a historic resource, either individually or as a contributing building to a historic district.

Not having such an inventory makes it hard for property owners to determine the potential for historic status of an undesignated building.

That doesn't mean those cities have either completed the inventories, or acted on the recommendations. (In fact, DC doesn't have a process for reacting to a Section 106 review that recommends whether or not properties/districts should be protected as part of a process that is a federal undertaking.)

When I first got involved in preservation in the early 2000s, a couple years into my involvement, there was a scintillating series of articles in the Chicago Tribune, called Squandered Heritage, about the demolition of buildings there that in preliminary city wide inventory processes had been determined to be eligible for designation.

The print sections were pretty amazing. Usually each article had about two full pages on the inside, with many color photographs (these links are text only).

-- "Squandered Heritage Part 1: Search and Destroy"
-- "Squandered Heritage Part 2: Demolition Machine"
-- "Squandered Heritage Part 3: Alternatives"

Book cover, The Future of the Past A CONSERVATION ETHIC FOR ARCHITECTURE, URBANISM, AND HISTORIC PRESERVATION, by Steven Semes2. New construction as decidedly different or as part of the neighborhood as an "ensemble". Professor Stephen Semes, author of The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation argues that the concept of newly constructed buildings being decidedly new in style--architecture of its time--clashes with the predominate "era of architectural significance" of historic districts--architecture of its place--as an ensemble and that this guidance is damaging to historic districts as intact representations.

From a review of the book in Traditional Building Magazine:
This book rejects the Modernist ideology that is embedded in current preservation philosophy, which has led to government promotion of architecturally dissonant construction in historic places. Instead, Semes argues persuasively that visual wholeness and architectural continuity of historic areas should be the paramount design imperative. In many historic settings, new traditional architecture provides the best route to harmony with existing building fabric, and Semes calls for rethinking preservation policies that have blocked the use of compatibly styled traditional design.
3.  Treat the entire city as a "heritage area" from the standpoint of the design management of the built environment, using the concept of the cultural landscape, so that all buildings would have some basic design review and demolition protections, regardless of whether or not they are listed either individually or as part of an existing historic district.

Otherwise, so many buildings and neighborhoods are unprotected now, and likelihood of protection is slim, e.g., our 1929 bungalow is quite intact, but there is no chance our neighborhood would ever become a historic district, or that a typical building of its type (e.g., bungalow, Craftsman style rowhouse, Italianate frame or rowhouse, Queen Anne rowhouse, etc.) would be able to be designated individually as opposed to being a contributing structure in a neighborhood historic district, except in exceptional circumstances.

In the US, there are two types of heritage areas, either state or federally designated.  I am not arguing that we need to create a formal heritage area in DC.  Rather we can use that framework, that is thinking about the city in its entirety as a cultural landscape, for managing the city's built environment.

Locally, Maryland has a system of state heritage areas, although they have limited additional protections concerning designation and protection and are more focused on tourism development.

4. Lack of architectural integrity means some buildings shouldn't be designated. When I first got involved, I had less tacit knowledge and so the concept of architectural integrity was somewhat elusive to me. The case of a building on H Street made it clearer. The building

 "was old" but while it dated to the 1800s, sometime in the 1930s it had been subjected to an update of its facade as a kind of "Colonial Revival" which until that time didn't have antecedents in DC's history of its built environment. The loss of the building's architectural integrity made it impossible to "save" the building individually in terms of the historic preservation guidelines/regulation because it didn't meet the standards embodied in the decision-making criteria.

5. Are ordinary commercial buildings worthy of protection? While originally I thought it was important to save every building, the reality is that a box of a building, even if dating to the 1920s or earlier, isn't necessarily noteworthy, and the urban planning side of me understands the argument of "sacrificing" such buildings to more intensely developed projects.

This is the primary issue wrt the Safeway in the Palisades.

OTOH, Safeway had a distinctive building type dating to the 1950s and 1960s that was constructed in DC and across country.  But now in DC, buildings of this design are no longer in their portfolio, having been abandoned to other uses or demolished.
Abandoned Safeway store
This store was in Wheaton, Maryland, but is of the same design.

6. Special design review considerations for Avenues (and Circles). The Comprehensive Land Use Plan says that the avenues are special, but there are no special design review or architectural design requirements for these streets, unless a particular portion is part of a historic district. New buildings tend to be designed in ignorance of the qualities of the historic architecture on these streets. This is true too in the sub-ordinary design of new buildings on triangular lots along avenues and circles.

-- "An argument for the aesthetic quality of the ensemble: special design guidelines are required for DC's avenues," 2015
Dupont Circle Aerial
Dupont Circle.

7. The ouevre of an architect or style overall versus the presence of buildings in DC in making a determination of historicity. In terms of both the Mies van der Rohe designed MLK Library and the now no longer extant brutalist Church of Christ Scientist building on 16th Street NW, is it justifiable to say that yes, these buildings are examples of the work of a particular architect or style, but no these particular examples do not rise to the level of being worthy of designation in DC, even though these may be some of or the only examples of this kind in DC?

Martin Luther King Jr. Library, Washington, DC
Martin Luther King Jr. Library, DC.

Seagram Building
Seagram Building, Manhattan, New York City.

In terms of brutalism, this is relevant to the FBI HQ, maybe the HUD HQ, theoretically the Reeves Building, were nominations submitted for those buildings. In any case, Section 106 reviews (the review process under the NHPA concerning "federal undertakings") will happen wrt the FBI and HUD buildings if changes to those sites are proposed.

8. Historic district review committees. In other cities, each historic district tends to a have a review committee, with members meeting criteria for eligibility for membership similar to that of DC's HPRB.

In DC, we don't have a comparable structure. We do have the Advisory Neighborhood Commission structure where various matters are referred as a matter of course, and some neighborhood historic preservation groups, such as Capitol Hill Restoration Society, have standing committees that weigh in on proposed changes to buildings and districts.

This process often doesn't work that well, in part because there is little substantive training made available to nonprofessionals concerning historic preservation. This is a particular problem with ANCs.

I myself took the "Design" training from the Main Street program four times, which helped quite a bit.

HPO publishes a number of fine materials on various relevant topics. CHRS published a bunch of good topic-specific newsletters, many groups have guidelines publications (like Mount Pleasant), and HPO has been producing guidelines documents with each newly created district. And back in the 1970s, DC published guidebooks for the LeDroit Park and Anacostia districts.

But there needs to be a workshop series too, to help people put this all together. Sometimes reading isn't enough...

But besides the need for a training infrastructure, perhaps a more formal historic district review process should be created for each historic district.  It could be done in conjunction with ANCs, but with a knowledge requirement in line with the federal requirements for certification of such bodies as part of the historic preservation review process.

While I don't know for certain, I presume this had been a two-story Italianate style frame building that has been added to in a way that is stylistically inappropriate.  However, there are examples of taller Italianate rowhouse buildings that could have been referenced to make the addition more appropriate in terms of architectural design.

9.  The dilemma of popups.  Popups are the addition of one or more additional stories to a building, usually a rowhouse, that had been originally constructed as a two-story building.  Most efforts are discordant.

On the other hand, there is the property owner interest of adding more space, and the community interest of adding more dwelling units in a market where demand for living in the city greatly exceeds the supply of housing.
Worst popup ever
Rather than ban the process altogether, I do believe it would be possible by the creation of the equivalent of a pattern book ("History of the Pattern Book," City of Roanoke; "The Institution of Residential Investment in Seventeenth-Century London," Business History Review), to generate much higher quality outcomes.

10.  Lack of support for historic preservation in the context of property rights and the ability of the city to grow.  I argue that preservation "saved" DC during the many decades when the city was shrinking in population and residential choice trends did not favor urban living.  Preservationists stabilized neighborhoods and "kept them up" and then starting around 2000, attitudes and preferences changed and an increasingly number of people wanted to live in the city.

But even though preservation saved the city, many people resent the review requirements that it entails, and it has been difficult to create new historic districts in the face of changing federal and local laws and political sentiments.

I also argue that this is more difficult because outside of sustainability arguments, preservation as a movement was more focused on urban stabilization and now that DC (and many other cities) have the opportunity to grow, a somewhat reflexive opposition to change doesn't help position the preservation movement or argument for the 21st century.

11.  People still have a hard time understanding the concept of a neighborhood historic district.  While most people get the idea of saving buildings that are high art or particularly significant in history, like Mount Vernon, George Washington's plantation, or the Empire State Building, they have a hard time understanding "ordinary preservation," specifically residential neighborhoods, because the buildings don't rise to that level of historical importance.

More resources need to be directed to explaining why this type of preservation is important, why buildings are neighborhoods are important historically as a record and as an explanation for particular periods in society in terms of local, regional, national, international, social, economic, and other conditions.

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How I got involved in historic preservation.  (1) I appreciated the aesthetic qualities of historic architecture, especially the vernacular architecture typical of DC's rowhouse neighborhoods in the core.

(2) I came to believe that historic preservation tends to be the most successful strategy for improving neighborhoods and cities over long periods of time.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Getting vendor/purveyor participation in Restaurant Week promotions: San Diego, January 20th - 27th, 2019

When I was in Southern California last month, I noticed a food service truck on a highway somewhere in Los Angeles County, with a "banner ad" on the side, promoting San Diego's upcoming Restaurant Week, January 20th-27th.

City-wide Restaurant Weeks aim to increase business during slower times of the year ("‘Restaurant Week’ sales uptick averages 23 percent," Restaurant Hospitality).

Usually they do this with a prix fixe type of deal, two courses at lunch, three at dinner, for a set price.

Ideally, the restaurants come up with follow on marketing activities to encourage participating patrons to return sooner rather than later, for full-priced meals ("8 Tips to Increase Revenue with a Restaurant Week Menu," Upserve Restaurant Insider).

In the DC area, a Black Restaurant Week has been developed.

And various commercial districts, not just in DC, often create their own district-specific promotion around a restaurant or "Taste of" positioning, which I think is a good way to boost awareness and business too.

-- Taste of Eighth, Barracks Row Main Street

In fact, this is something I need to add as an element to my body of work on "Richard Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization."

The truck signage for the San Diego Restaurant Week impressed me for a couple reasons.

First, it's creative and out-of-home and will reach different audiences than that from newspapers, tv, and radio stories, as well as from social media. Although I like how this Baltimore Business Journal article ("A by-the-neighborhood tour of Baltimore City Restaurant Week, starting Friday") organizes coverage of the event by neighborhood.

Second, it's a way for vendors to the industry to contribute and participate in the program, a form of business-to-business marketing and support that in turn helps them and their restaurant business customers.

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Thanks to McFarlane Promotions, acting on behalf of San Diego Restaurant Week and the San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association for providing truck photographs.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Winter preparedness, planning and the Walking/Biking/Transit City

DC Department of Transportation ad in the Express promoting snow shoveling, 1/7/2019

Since last year I never used a snow shovel, because the snow that fell once or twice melted within 24 hours, and this year, with some of our rose bushes blooming into January, it's hard to think about "winter."

But weather reports say that winter is coming this weekend, and the Northeast is already getting hit, and of course in the Midwest and West, they've been dealing with snow already for months--I think it snowed as early as late October in parts of Colorado?

But this ad from the Monday Express, by DC Department of Transportation on snow clearance, reminded me that in past years I've usually published an annual piece in November/December as winter looms, on winter preparedness.

-- "A "maintenance of way" agenda for the walking and transit city," 2010 was the first substantive piece, in the face of "snowmageddon" when DC got about 26 inches of snow over about a week through two separate storms
-- "Testimony on the Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act of 2011," 2011
-- "Level of service and maintenance requirements in planning #2: winter maintenance of bike paths," 2012
-- "Agenda setting: snow clearance in the walking-biking-transit city," 2014
-- "Planning for winter weather," 2015
-- "Cataloging the various failures to remove snow in the walking/transit/bicycling city," 2015
-- "Who Knew?: There is a Winter Cycling Federation and annual conference," 2015
-- "Focusing on what's most important: snow on sidewalks or snow on cars?," 2016

Three of the more interesting initiatives discussed:

1.  Rochester, NY clears sidewalks, even in residential areas, when snow reaches a certain depth;
2.  Downtown Holland, Michigan has heated sidewalks so snow melts as it falls
3.  The now annual Winter Cycling Conference.

Unshovelled side of the house, unshovelled street cornersThe biggest and repetitive point is about making snow clearance policies and practices focus equally on pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, not just motor vehicles, especially in the context of how cities tout that they are walking, biking, and transit focused.

But riding last night after dark on Rhode Island Avenue NE in the vicinity of the Rhode Island Metrorail Station I was shocked at how "dark" the sidewalks are in the walkshed of the station, especially on Rhode Island Avenue.

Considering that this station was one of the first to open, making it 42 years old, it's amazing that in those 42 years, the lack of adequate night-time lighting on the corridor around the station hasn't been addressed.

Making my somewhat separate thread of night-time lighting equally relevant to winter preparedness matters.

-- "Night-time safety: rethinking lighting in the context of a walking community," 2014

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Water quality regulation in terms of the "pollutionshed"

I am not the first to coin the term, although I came up with it before doing a Google search, and there are a number of hits, although not usually combined in one word.

For example, this paper, "The Exposure of Disadvantaged Populations in Freeway Air-Pollution Sheds: A Case Study of the Seattle and Portland Regions," proposes the concept of "Freeway Air Pollution Sheds."

I was thinking about this because of a press release from the Rock Creek Conservancy in DC, which is the "Friends" organization for the federal Rock Creek Park, which I will be writing about in a subsequent entry.

Anyway, conservatives generally and the Trump Administration specifically are up in arms calling it "regulatory overreach", about the EPA and its desire to regulate water quality in terms of broadest possible definition of waterways to include wetlands, which is called the "Waters of the United States" rule, under the Clean Water Act.

Instead, conservatives argue that only "navigable waters" should be subject to the regulation.

But so many other sources of water enter rivers, that's why there is the term watershed to begin with, which is defined thusly (from How Stuff Works):
A watershed is an area of land that feeds all the water running under it and draining off of it into a body of water. It combines with other watersheds to form a network of rivers and streams that progressively drain into larger water areas.

Topography determines where and how water flows. Ridge tops surrounding a body of water determine the boundary of a watershed. Imagine turning an open umbrella upside down in the rain. Rain that hits anywhere within the umbrella's surface area would go to the bottom at the center of the umbrella. Any rain that didn't hit the umbrella would fall to the ground. The umbrella is like a watershed; it collects everything that falls into it.
Think of the various water sources that end up in rivers that aren't navigable--meaning, a boat can use the water:

-- run
-- creek
-- stream
-- canals
-- water pipe
-- drainage canal or ditch
-- water retention pond
-- water and sewer pipe systems.

drainage towards Blain Rd
Runoff into and from a drainage ditch impacts watershed and river water quality.  It has nothing to do with the ditch being navigable.

I think making the point that rivers are the primary source of drinking water supplies across the US and terming this in terms of a "pollutionshed" rather than a watershed, would better position the regulation in terms of the public interest.

I also think we need to develop a wider range of cultural and explanatory signage systems to explain how this stuff works and why it matters. The highway signs that say X stream or river is part of a watershed aren't enough.  Nor are notices at sewer entry points stating that this drains into X River.

This is a sign that was on a trail in Santa Ana, California.
Santa Ana River Watershed interpretation sign

The Watershed Company is a design firm that specializes in interpretative signage systems for water-related green "infrastructure."  This is a sign they did for the Las Positas Watershed in Santa Barbara.
Las-Positas-Creek-Interpretive+Signage+-Watershed

Highway signs in the DC region.
Chesapeake Bay Watershed highway sign

SHA-Sign_Anacostia-River-e1506461780979
State Highway Administration sign in Maryland.

As part of the rebuilding of the Kennedy Street NW streetscape, which in part was done with green infrastructure principles, they incorporated some signage/public art into street furniture.
Kennedy Street NW streetscape improvements

One model is the Knoxville Blueways system.
Knoxville Blueways Map_West

More communities need to create "Adopt-A-Stream" programs. Virginia has a program.  But so do many other states.  DC should develop a similar program.

Among a number of best practice examples, Salt Lake County's Watershed Planning and Restoration program stands out.  They have a great handbook, Stream Care Guide: A Handbook for Residents of Salt Lake County.
Stream Care Guide: A Handbook for Residents of Salt Lake County

Salt Lake County and a number of watershed conservancy groups, sponsor annual Watershed Symposium as a training and advocacy measure.

In DC, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, the neighborhood councils that are organized by ward and sub-district, should create Environment Committees.

Committees in ANCs with runs, creeks, streams, and rivers should include purview of these bodies of water in their charge. DC's waters drain into two rivers ultimately, either the Anacostia River or the Potomac River.  In turn, these rivers and their watersheds are part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

There are a number of watershed stewardship training programs.  Anacostia Watershed Society runs such a program, called the Watershed Stewards Academy, but most of the participants are outside of DC.  It would be nice to do a special type of program in association with the development of ANC committees on the environment.

In Baltimore County, the Watershed Public Charter School is being created, with an outdoors curriculum ("Watershed Public Charter School finds a building in Baltimore County," Baltimore Sun).

In New York City, The New York Harbor High School has a waters-focused curriculum.  They organize a lot of their program around a campaign to put one billion oysters in the New York Harbor, as a water filtering initiative.  There was a great documentary about it, recently airing on the Discovery Channel, called "Take Back the Harbor."

I've argued that schools along the Anacostia River, such as River Terrace Elementary School and Anacostia High School, should develop similarly focused environmental curricula.

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Little room for error: small retail business in general and in DC in particular

Final Days: Urban Essentials going out of business sale signLast week, Washington Post writer Paul Schwartzman had a piece, "Amid prosperity, D.C.'s independent retailers struggle to survive," on the seeming increase in failure of small retail businesses in the city.

Years ago, I took him around (actually, he wore me out) to look at popups -- third floors on traditional rowhouse buildings -- for a story.

And later he interviewed me for a story he wrote about the impact of property assessment rates ("Feeling the Pinch Of D.C.'s Prosperity"), something I had been agitating about for years. I stopped testifying about after awhile after realizing that Councilmembers didn't really care to understand why the problem existed.

-- "Avoiding the real problem with DC's property tax assessment methodologies," 2007
-- "Testimony -- Historic Neighborhood Retail Business Property Tax Relief Act," 2006
-- "Forcing Displacement by the disconnection of tax assessment models from public policy goals," 2005
-- "Displacement of retail businesses through increasing property tax assessments," 2005
-- "Revisiting the issue of neighborhood commercial district property tax methodologies," 2013

After Paul's 2007 article, I had a letter to the editor about it, re-emphasizing the point about the disconnect between property values, therefore tax rates, and the value of properties in terms of their revenue capacity in terms of sales/square foot.
My letter in the Post from July 25, 2007

Tax Policy Hurts D.C.'s Local Businesses 


A July 20 Metro Article ["Feeling the Pinch of D.C.'s Prosperity: Small Businesses Cry Out for Relief From Rapid Rise in Property Taxes"] inadequately explained why tax assessments are rising for small commercial property owners in the District.

Regardless of buildings' locations and use, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue values commercial buildings as if they could be converted into downtown office buildings. If the purpose is to turn the entire city over to office buildings and retail chains, then this property tax assessment methodology is working.

The market for downtown property is not local; it involves national and international developers, lenders, and portfolio investors. The market for small-footprint buildings in neighborhood commercial districts is local--in terms of property owners, investors, tenants, sales potential and rents. The solution is simple: differentiated tax assessment methods.

The legislative focus on property tax abatements or tax caps fails to address this fact.

As a result, locally owned businesses will continue to close or relocate to the suburbs, while more and more of the retail identity and uniqueness of the District is lost and the city's retail landscape becomes reshaped into yet another mall, albeit outdoors, featuring national brands.
But while I think the fact that DC commercial retail rents are too high, and that commercial property tax rates -- shaped by the fact that the Central Business District is a national-international real estate market, which reprices value beyond local considerations, and this ends up shaping the value of commercial property across the city, whether or not the commercial district is a part of the national or international real estate market -- independent store owners have other problems.

For example, Dupont Circle and Cleveland Park properties are often owned by national firms, whereas properties Downtown, Georgetown, and Friendship Heights involve both national and international firms.

Years ago, in the entry "Why ask why? Because," I discussed store operations in terms of various "mixes."  But it's about more than that.  Here's what I think is a more comprehensive list of the conditions faced by independent businesses:

1.  Rents are too high relative to sales.  The metric is that a business should pay no more than 4% to 10% of gross revenue in rent, although restaurants pay up to 15%.  In malls and large commercial buildings owned by major firms, after a certain point, tenants also pay out as rent a portion of total revenue.

Based on a calculation of estimated sales per square foot, you can figure out the gross revenue potential of a space, and calculate what the rent "should be" on that basis.

-- "Cleveland Park Retail: My off-hand evaluation, the rents are too high," 2009
-- "Commercial retail rents #2," 2009

At best, a store has a gross profit of 20% before taxes.  Paying more than 10% of gross revenue in rent pretty much wipes out profit.

(2.  Property taxes for retail space are too high generally and in neighborhood commercial districts specifically.)

3.  Size of the Market.  DC isn't that big, about 700,000 residents.  The number varies, but the average resident supports up to 7.5 s.f. of retail space.

Yes, the daytime population swells, but office workers have a very limited range of stuff that they buy, mostly prepared meals, and convenience goods.  A number I've used for years, derived from an economic research firm, said the average office worker supports 2 s.f. of retail and 5 s.f. of quick service food.  Although in the DC context, one study for the SW Ecodistrict found that about two-thirds of federal workers bring their lunch.

Tourists add to the mix, but mostly spend on food and lodging, and some retail.  The lines at Georgetown Cupcake or the busy restaurants at Washington Harbor in Georgetown when often the food isn't that great, demonstrates the value of tourism to retail and restaurant spending in DC.
Cupcakes in Georgetown, Washington, DC
People in line at Georgetown Cupcake.  Flickr photo by Robby Virus.

4.  Too much retail space overall.  With that 7.5 s.f/resident metric, DC can support upwards of 5 million square feet of retail space + some calculation for the spending by daytime office workers and districts.

There is much more retail space than that in the city.  E.g. on 14th Street and H Street NE likely there is more than one million s.f. in each place.

Nationally this is the case too, especially vis a vis the impact of e-commerce.  The US has 4x the retail space per person as the UK or other countries.  That's why so many chains are going under, or closing stores.

5.  Constant addition of new retail districts and space to the city footprint.  While in some respects the city is under-stored compared to the suburbs, the addition of new retail districts like The Wharf , Navy Yard, City Center in Downtown, and Ivy City puts pressure on existing districts, without there necessarily being a commensurate increase in the overall customer base.  Granted some of this space serves regional markets and tourist segments and isn't fully dependent on DC residents for success.

(Some of this space is sold on the belief that because it's located on commuter routes out of the city it will draw non-resident shoppers, but for the most part, most shoppers do their shopping nearer to home and not as part of work trips.)

Similarly, the impact of re/new/ed entertainment districts such as H Street or Ivy City puts pressure on existing districts like Adams-Morgan or Georgetown.
New retail space at the Sonnet mixed use building on the 1400 block north side of U Street NW, Washington, DC
New retail space at the Sonnet mixed use building on the 1400 block north side of U Street NW, Washington, DC.

Every new mixed use building adds more supply to the retail space inventory.  But it just isn't in big new districts as greyfield developments..  It's in most every place where new "mixed use" buildings are created, with retail on the ground floor.  For example, this new building on the 1400 block of U Street NW is in place of a parking structure.  It adds housing above, but new retail on the ground floor, where none had previously existed.  While you can argue it will help strengthen the U Street streetscape, tying together north and south and drawing from the energy of 14th Street, it still is adding space likely beyond the demand.

6.  Consolidation and chaining of the retail industry.  Independents are hurt by how the retail sector has become dominated by chains, which enjoy special treatment by vendors, banks, and laws.

One way to counter this is to join buying groups and business services cooperatives, but not all independent stores do this.

7.  Competition/Fit of the business model/lack of robust concept and operations model.  Chances are good that there are other stores selling the same types of goods, so to be successful, a store has to have a good "value proposition."  That might not necessarily be price, it can be quality, service, experience, etc.

-- "Why ask why? Because," 2007
-- "Retail and restaurant check up surveys," 2009
-- "An update to Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization on the failure of wine bar restaurants in DC and Baltimore," 2018

Plus some places may not be that great anyway.  That's why I recommend that more commercial district revitalization organizations contract out for independent third-party evaluations of retail businesses, such as what are called "mystery shopper" evaluations.

-- "Critical analysis and critical analysis of retail, communities, etc.," 2014

(See table below.)

8.  The impact of e-commerce.  Online purchasing shaves off upwards of 10-20% of sales -- and more in certain categories such as office supplies and electronics, and has completely destroyed other categories altogether, such as travel -- reducing the revenue stream, profit margins, and flexibility to face downturns.

9. Location.  Not all submarkets in the city can support every type of retail category or even multiple stores in particular categories.  This gets back to the size of market point, but also a recognition that some commercial districts are "regionally serving" in that they serve multiple neighborhoods and include anchors that draw beyond the immediate neighborhood (and need to do so in order to be successful).

The smallest districts tend to support convenience retail -- food, pharmacy, hardware, gasoline -- and might have one or two specialty stores that may also serve as destinations, e.g. a store specializing in antique lighting in Cleveland Park, etc

10.  Lack of differentiated commercial district coordination mechanisms.  DC has Business Improvement Districts or Main Street programs.  There are plenty of areas that need something different

-- "The "soft side" of commercial district competition," 2006

Typically, across the nation, Business Improvement Districts function in large city commercial districts, especially "Downtown."  Some of the most prominent BIDs in the US are in New York City and Philadelphia, along with DC's Downtown DC BID.  The main actors in BIDs are the property owners.

Main Street groups typically are present in smaller towns and in neighborhood commercial districts that don't have a lot of office buildings.

Barracks Row, Great American Main Street signThe Main Street approach is different from the BID approach in that residents and other stakeholders who don't necessarily own businesses in the commercial district are drawn into the organization, to broaden the range of skills and volunteers able to work on issues.  (In my experience, Main Street volunteers tend to be 10-15 years younger than typical historic preservation group members, and live within a couple blocks of the main commercial street.)  DC began a city Main Street program in 2002.

A hybrid of the BID and Main Street approach is the "Community Improvement District," a special service district (that's what BIDs are) that covers both commercial and residential areas.  Baltimore has a couple, and one in particular, Charles Village, has been very contentious with a group of residential property owners who resent paying towards the SSD.  California has a lot more types of these districts, especially in San Francisco. 

But I have also written about the BIDs in San Diego, which are somewhat unique, in that they use the BID funding mechanism--a fee per $100/property value--but tend to use the more ground up "Main Street Approach" to shape the programming and orientation of the organization.

So the commercial district revitalization organizations in San Diego have the advantage of steady funding from a property tax assessment like a BID, but the broader organizational, programming, and volunteer structure of a Main Street program.  See "Let's Assess the Assessments" from the San Diego Reader.

That's a form that we're missing in DC, and ultimately the lack of steady funding has been the biggest problem for neighborhood commercial district revitalization organizations in the city.  But also some districts need marketing and business support, but not necessarily the Main Street model, etc.

11.  Store sizes are too big relative to sales..  National chains have been buffeted by these changes too and one of the things they are doing besides closing stores or going out of business is shrinking store size.

This reduces inventory and the amount of money tied up in it, increases focus on better selling items that sell more quickly, and reduces fixed costs for rent and variable costs for labor, utilities, etc. 

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In short, I think that many of the stores mentioned in the Schwartzman piece have multiple issues, not usually just one.  Rent/commercial retail property issues are only two. 

From "Retail and restaurant check up surveys":

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Principles for creating complete concepts/identity systems for retail businesses*
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• Understand the needs, preferences, habits, and aspirations of the target audience.
• Good design sells. It is a competitive advantage. Design is systems and processes, not just graphics.
• A disciplined, coherent approach leads to a unified and powerful brand presence.
• Create a distinct position and complete identity for your store/concept.
• Experience and study the competition and learn from their successes and failures.
• Understand traffic flow, the volume of business, and economic considerations of your location.
• The storefront is a mass communications medium that works 24/7 and can attract new customers, influence purchasing decisions, and increase sales.
• Logo and signage expresses the brand and builds on understanding the needs and habits of users in the environment.
• Exterior signage must consider both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
• Design an interior space that is sustainable, durable, easy to maintain and clean, and is energy efficient.
• Consider the dimensions of space: visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and thermal.
• Understand the pyschological effect of light and lighting sources.
• Consider the needs of handicapped customers and those of different ages.
• The shelf is the most competitive marketing environment that exists.
• Align merchandising strategies with displays, advertising, and sales strategies.
• Create an experience and environment that makes it easy for customers to buy, and that inspires them to come back again and again.
• Create an environment that helps the sales force sell and makes it easy to complete a transaction.
• Align the quality and speed of service with the experience of the environment.
• Benchmark the quality and speed of service against the competition.
• Consider all operational needs so that the store delivers on the brand promise.
• Anticipate future growth. Measure, evaluate, change. Constantly ask: is the message clear?; is the content accessible?; is the experience positive?

* This table was built from the section on "creating touchpoints" from Designing Brand Identity (second edition) by Alina Wheeler

Retail's tough in general.  But people eat more than they buy stuff.  The Restoration Hardware in Georgetown, once one of the company's signature stores, is now a Wawa convenience store ("awa is coming to Georgetown. Bid farewell soon to Restoration Hardware," Washington Business Journal).
Restoration Hardware is now a Wawa convenience store, Georgetown, D.C.

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