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.

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

What is the competitive advantage for the post-covid city? Doubling down on place values

charlie shares with us an article by Edwin Heathcote, the architecture columnist for the Financial Times, "Can a city be redesigned for the new world of work?."

Since I got involved in urban revitalization I argued that DC had five competitive advantages: 

1. historic architecture
2. an urban design dating from the walking and transit city eras of urban development, therefore supporting walkability, transit, and biking
3. historicity and identity (the nexus of people, historic architecture, and urban design)
4. a transit-centric mobility infrastructure that frees people from dependence on the automobile
5. the steady employment engine of the federal government

Heathcote captures the issues well.  What is the role of the city when telecommuting/work from home supplants the place of office buildings and districts?

The answer is doubling down on the value of place in terms of the special amenities that tend to distinguish center cities from the suburbs--walkability, transit, neighborhoods, commercial districts, nightlife, museums and other cultural assets, great public spaces and parks, etc.

 In some respects, it's merely an extension of points (without the sociological criticism) made in the paper, "The City as an Entertainment Machine" (later expanded into a book), which extends Growth Machine arguments in terms of the post-industrial city and the shifting of focus on knowledge industries, leisure activities, and place qualities.

I argue that a lot of urban policy was developed when cities where losing population and stabilization was the primary goal, staunching outmigration.  Then we went through the period when cities were re-attracting population and growing, although covid has interrupted that growth. But too often, we haven't rearticulated our approach and program for the opportunities presented by a city that can grow.

Photo: Green Minneapolis.

So the kinds of strategies employed first by Hennepin County, Minnesota after recognizing that while the city overall was losing population, certain parts of the city--especially those with parks, rivers, and trails--remained successful, and they aimed to extend those successful qualities to areas that were lagging ("A County and Its Cities: the Impact of Hennepin Community Works," Journal of Urban Affairs 30:3, 2008.)

Over time, Minneapolis made complementary investments of its own, light rail was added to the program, and the city's decline was reversed.

The kinds of initiatives that helped cities revived need to be reassessed and further strengthened and extended and revised for today's circumstances

 Along these lines, at the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote this piece, "From more space to socially distance to a systematic program for pedestrian districts (Park City (Utah) Main Street Car Free on Sundays)," making the point that commercial district revitalization organizations should have been thinking and addressing these issues before the pandemic forced them to ("These Philly suburbs started closing their streets on weekends during the pandemic, and they might never stop," Philadelphia Inquirer).

-- "Extending the "Signature Streets" concept to "Signature Streets and Spaces"," 2020
-- "Why doesn't every big city in North America have its own Las Ramblas?," 2020
-- "Diversity Plaza, Queens, a pedestrian exclusive block," 2020

I have been intrigued by public spaces and interiors that are more flexible, inviting, and "fun."  

For example, last year I did "a session" for a fourth grade class on "interior" design in the classroom, how would the students reshape it, influenced by what they did with their learning spaces online at home.  The biggest issue for the students was lack of comfortable chairs.

Sprague Library, Salt Lake City.

A bunch of libraries in Greater Salt Lake and Summit County are adding different kinds of furniture and spaces (it's an interior equivalent of fun street furniture) and I used some of those photos in the presentation.

There is an article about how public schools are weak in customer service ("Survey: Majority of parents say schools’ customer service needs improvement," K-12 Dive).  From the article:

In a K-12 setting, a customer service mindset means ensuring district staff provide a quality customer experience for people seeking assistance. Districts are adept at outbound communications but have struggled to manage inbound messages as communications channels expanded beyond phone calls and mail to include texts and emails that can be sent around the clock, the report said. 

“Our nation’s public schools have a lot to lose and it is absolutely critical that districts improve customer service to increase family, student, and staff satisfaction,” said Krista Coleman, chief customer officer at K12 Insight, in a statement. “Every interaction is an opportunity to build trust with stakeholders.”

While this criticism can be extended to most services delivered by bureaucratic organizations, it's definitely the case that students in public schools are "customers" too, and thinking about and addressing their comfort likely will have a positive impact on educational outcomes.

Similarly, offices will need to be more inviting to get people to come into work.  Some firms have  been moving that way but many have not, and remain pretty rigid cube farms.

Co-working spaces offer ideas in creating more inviting spaces.

Then you have the hot desk phenomenon. I haven't worked in such a situation, but you could make it like a cool coffee shop etc., rather than just a "race to the bottom" to find a desk.

Offices will go through the struggle between homogenization and flexibility and fun. It's the whole talent and knowledge versus regimentation thing.

So it's the "entertainment city" idea but extending it to many more elements, making work and other spaces "more fun," engaging and active.  The placemaking argument.

-- "Planning for place/urban design/neighborhoods versus planning for transportation modes: new 17th Street NW bike lanes | Walkable community planning versus "pedestrian" planning," 2021
-- "The layering effect: how the building blocks of an integrated public realm set the stage for community building and Silver Spring, Maryland as an example," 2012

A long time ago I heard a software guy talk about apps and "gamification." I'm not into it, but it's a kind of extension of that idea, but for space and place.

Flickr photo by Chiara Coetzee.

The FT article mentions the Prudential Center in Boston, calling attention to how the first two floors of the building are set up to be open and connected and engaging--shopping and food.. 

The ground floor of the Unilever Building in HafenCity is set up similarly, with a restaurant-cafeteria open to the public, coffee shop, a  convenience store featuring Unilever goods and "merch," and other public spaces. 

Then again, there is a tension and balance for corporations between permeability and security (e.g., the attack at the Discovery Building in Silver Spring, Maryland, "Police Kill Gunman Holding Hostages at Discovery Channel," New York Times)..

In short, cities are going to have to double down on urban design, placemaking, fun, and co-location. 

Flower chair, Street Furniture Australia.

This is going to require much more serious and ongoing public space management, which cities tend to lack the agility and funding for. So cities have been relying on nonprofit entities--business improvement districts, parks conservancies, etc., to provide this kind of service.  

Although when business leads the process, i.e. BIDs, it can be somewhat sterile, or at least way more top down with fewer opportunities for civic engagement.

Can cities step up and take a more direct, assertive, and agile role in this process?  Is there a way for such commercial and neighborhood revitalization and management programs to be developed and implemented at a scale that doesn't reach that of the groups that typify downtowns and large parks?

I argue that there are plenty of models, such as how San Diego gives commercial districts the option of organizing as either Main Street groups or BIDs, but still getting an add on tax.  San Francisco has similar kinds of options as Neighborhood Service Districts incorporating both residential and business properties, and even a Green Benefits District providing the option for greater investments in public spaces.

The EU funded a Place Keeping initiative focused on providing higher quality public space management ("Place-Keeping: Open Space Management in Practice," "place-keeping – responsive, long- term open space management," Town and Country Planning).

Of course, there are many such publications in the US too, about public space management, business improvement districts, and parks management.  A great book on parks is Learning from Bryant Park.

For example, one of the things I am lobbying for in Salt Lake is to create an evening shift for park maintenance. 

There are six large city parks.  Five are under the city-- Liberty, Pioneer, Fairmont, Jordan, and Sunnyside, and one, Sugar House, is owned by the city and county both, and run by an independent authority (I'm on the board). 

These parks are active as much as 17 hours a day, but they don't have a maintenance shift on for the afternoon and evening.

Montreal positioned its large, "regionally-serving" parks as the "Network of Large Parks," and I think that'd be a good positioning lever in Salt Lake, that the large active parks need more care and service.  And it's in keeping with the new city parks master plan, which calls for parks to be more extensively programmed, at different times of day, and all seasons.

Transit.  No solution for that yet.  The transit network's breadth is built on serving central nodes, with high volumes, and then can be used on a low marginal cost basis to serve different time periods.  Losing that set of nodes and volume of passengers through the decentralization of work disrupts the business model.  Small volume measures like demand-based transit (basically taxi service) doesn't support centrality.


Neighborhood revitalization and management

-- "The need for a "national" neighborhood stabilization program comparable to the Main Street program for commercial districts: Part I (Overall)"
-- "To be successful, local neighborhood stabilization programs need a packaged set of robust remedies: Part 2"
-- "Creating 'community safety partnership neighborhood management programs as a management and mitigation strategy for public nuisance programs: Part 3 (like homeless shelters)"
-- "A case in Gloucester, Massachusetts as an illustration of the need for systematic neighborhood monitoring and stabilization initiatives: Part 4 (the Curcuru Family)"
-- "Local neighborhood stabilization programs: Part 5 | Adding energy conservation programs, with the PUSH Buffalo Green Development Zone as a model

-- "Land use planning is upside down by not focusing on maintaining and strengthening neighborhoods"

Commercial district revitalization and management

-- "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 1 | The first six"
--  "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 2 |  A neighborhood identity and marketing toolkit (kit of parts)"
--  "Basic planning building blocks for urban commercial district revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 3 | The overarching approach, destination development/branding and identity, layering and daypart planning"
-- "Basic planning building blocks for "community" revitalization programs that most cities haven't packaged: Part 4 | Place evaluation tools"

-- Making over New Carrollton as a transit-centric urban center and Prince George's County's "New Downtown"

Transformational Projects Action Planning

-- "Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning
-- "Downtown Edmonton cultural facilities development as an example of "Transformational Projects Action Planning"
-- "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network"
-- "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 1: Overview and Theoretical Foundations"
-- "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 2: Implementation Approach and Levers"
-- "Better leveraging higher education institutions in cities and counties: Greensboro; Spokane; Mesa; Phoenix; Montgomery County, Maryland; Washington, DC," 2016
-- "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector," 2014


-- "City branding versus identity | Branding versus Urban Strategy "
-- "(DC) Neighborhoods and commercial districts as brands," 2012
- - "PL #7: Using the Purple Line to rebrand Montgomery and Prince George's Counties as Design Forward," 2017
-- "World Usability Day, Thursday November 9th and urban planning," 2017
-- "Branding's Not all you need for transit"


-- "What would be a "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for DC's cultural ecosystem"
-- "The SEMAEST Vital Quartier program remains the best model for helping independent retail ," 2018
-- "Revisiting stories: cultural planning and the need for arts-based community development corporations as real estate operators," 2018
-- "BTMFBA: the best way to ward off artist or retail displacement is to buy the building," 2016
-- "BMFBTA revisited: nonprofits and facilities planning and acquisition," 2016
-- "Update: Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets 
-- "The Howard and Lincoln Theatres: run them like the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust/Playhouse Square Cleveland model"
-- "Night time as a daypart and a design product

Equity planning

-- "Social urbanism and equity planning as a way to address crime, violence, and persistent poverty"
-- "An outline for integrated equity planning: concepts and programs
-- "Equity planning: an update"
-- "Yes, public and nonprofit investments in the city spur further reinvestment and change: is this a bad thing or a complicated thing?"
-- "Social urbanism and Baltimore

-- "Pontiac Michigan: a lagging African American city in one of the nation's wealthiest counties"

Social urbanism

-- "Experiments in Social Urbanism"
-- "'Social urbanism' experiment breathes new life into Colombia's Medellin Toronto Globe & Mail
-- "Medellín's 'social urbanism' a model for city transformation," Mail & Guardian
-- "Medellín slum gets giant outdoor escalator," Telegraph
-- "Medellín, Colombia offers an unlikely model for urban renaissance," Toronto Star

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Monday, August 08, 2022


A couple decades ago I saw a presentation at the National Building Museum by Camilo José Vergara, who specializes in photographing urban decay, showing photos of Los Angeles, including what he called "micro-fortification" of housings around pipes and stuff.  He was very critical, arguing it demonstrated a grim, anti-people approach.

I said that it wasn't about being mean but about reducing vandalism and theft.

The Seattle Times has an article, "Illegally placed concrete blocks have taken over public parking in Seattle. Why are they there?," about guerilla public safety protection measures, where people (business and residents) and placing one and two ton concrete blocks in parking spaces, to prevent large scale use by homeless RV operators.

Flowers brighten one in a line of ecology blocks on South Homer Street in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood in May. People living in RVs are having a harder time finding parking because of the illegally placed barriers. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Yes it's illegal.  But it's an indicator that present laws, regulations, and public safety enforcement and protection systems aren't working, when citizens are driven to extrajudicial measures such as these.

Joe Ingram, right, with the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, offers his services to Seattle parking enforcement officers as they place notices on RVs parked in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Ingram does vehicle residency outreach. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

The solution is creating RV camps.  Seattle has done that with tents, but there have been problems too. It wouldn't be a great solution, it would require 24 hour on site management, but it would get people off the street.  At the same time, laws would have to be changed to disallow such vehicles to be on the street for more than 12 hours, in order to "force" them into RV sites.

RVs line South Hardy Street next to Ruby Chow Park in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood in May. The city told the nearly two dozen RV dwellers they had to move but with parking scarce homeless residents wondered where they could go. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Plus they'd have to be required to do basic clean up maintenance.  The way that the areas become extremely degraded because of lack of care and sanitation around the RVs now is why people are up in arms.

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Camden Yards baseball stadium is 30 years old

The Ringer has an excellent article, "The Baseball Stadium That “Forever Changed” Professional Sports," assessing the contribution of Camden Yards--a throwback designed baseball stadium which opened in 1992--to baseball, other professional sports, and cities.

 Camden Yards in 2003.  Getty Images photo.

It makes excellent points:

-- that the throwback "design" hasn't been a special success economically (although I prefer it myself) or in terms of revitalization

-- but it has helped to draw teams back to center city locations (although there are still exceptions, like the Atlanta Braves, and football teams)

-- but that somewhat unrecognized, Camden Yards is also responsible for ushering in a new era of public subsidy, taking of advantage of perceived urban negatives and the uncertainties present in "declining cities" where teams were considering leaving (and Baltimore's Colts football team had decamped to Indianapolis in 1984, making Baltimore feel particularly vulnerable) which was then seized upon by other sports teams and has cost cities, counties and states many billions of dollars.

-- relatedly that governments tended to take on the responsibility for maintenance, charged low rents, and shared very little in the way of concession and other revenues, making certain annual losses "on the investment"

The article makes the point that baseball stadiums up through WW2 were key civic facilities, and afterwards not so much.  

I think wrt that, the issue is twofold.  First, as "center cities" were supplanted by "metropolitan areas" and suburbanization, civic facilities in the city became less important generally, and team owners were "chasing" their fans and relocating to the suburbs.

But second, and perhaps more importantly, with the rise of television and other entertainments, and vacation and leisure alternatives, baseball in particular became less central as an element of American society.  Why build a "civic cathedral" if baseball no longer held the same place of importance?

It also drills down a bit more on what makes stadiums marginally more economically successful, specifically the ability to spur significant private investment--and acknowledges that mostly it doesn't happen.

It also mentions a point I realized and have written about, that communities that snag the facility can benefit at the expense of the place that had it before, which is an element not captured in economic studies at the metropolitan scale of the impact of stadiums and arenas.  

Although it really depends, and in most instances it's a wash.  One exception is Capital One Arena in DC.  Also Barclays Center in Brooklyn (except NYC! so it's an outlier anyway).


The most significant issue is how well the stadium or arena can be integrated into existing urban fabric, where it's placed in that context--central locations great, not central locations bad, and for larger cities, how well it is paired with transit.

Also see:

-- "Framework of characteristics that support successful community development in association with the development of professional sports facilities," 2021
-- "Seattle Kraken expansion hockey team sets new standard for transit benefits in transportation demand management: free transit with ticket," 2021
-- "Revisiting "Framework of characteristics that support successful community development in association with the development of professional sports facilities" and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team + Phoenix Coyotes hockey," 2022
-- "Proposal to build new basketball arena in Downtown Philadelphia ," 2022

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Thursday, August 04, 2022

DC's 11th Street Bridge Park project

 Is written up in the Washington Post ("D.C.'s first elevated park will link neighborhoods divided by river") as it nears moving towards construction within the next couple years.

When it was first proposed, I was skeptical--I think as an idea it's cool, but it's in an inhospitable location and isn't near residential areas so there isn't a lot of opportunity for adjacent revitalization, which is what you want from an infrastructure investment of more than $100 million ("Flashy one-offs vs. a program: the proposal for an 11th Street bridge linear park and the rest of the city," 2013; "DC and streetcars #4: from the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street," 2015).  


Then I was invited to serve as a Ward 6 representative on the Design Advisory Committee when they were picking a design for the project.

It led me to write a bunch of great entries about river-based revitalization, planning, East of the River revitalization, parks, etc.

-- "The Anacostia River and considering the bridges as a unit and as a premier element of public art and civic architecture," 2014
-- "DC has a big "Garden Festival" opportunity in the Anacostia River"," 2014
-- "A world class water/environmental education center at Poplar Point as another opportunity for Anacostia River programming (+ move the Anacostia Community Museum next door)," 2014
-- "Saving the South Capitol Bridge as an exclusive pedestrian and and bicycle bridge," 2014

This predated my involvement in that:

 -- "Wanted: A comprehensive plan for the "Anacostia River East" corridor," 2012

But after the design selection process was over, I was no longer involved ("11th Street Bridge Park finalists," 2014).

 The Bridges now.

What's proposed, rendering with the park in place. 

 "New 11th Street Bridge Park design aims for better trail connections," Washcycle

While I remain impressed with the organizing effort, how the group exhibits at festivals and are focused continually on outreach, and have organized many millions in funding to ward off the gentrification and displacement they expect to happen because of the addition of a high quality park to the area, I am back to my position that it's cool but not the best use of resources.

For one, unlike various analogous park infrastructure projects like:

the Bridge Park won't be well located, in the midst of residential areas and otherwise vibrant (or potentially vibrant) places.  It's next to a freeway.  While being over the river is cool, you'll have to make an effort to get to the Park. 

It's more comparable to how Roosevelt Island National Monument is in DC but can only be reached from Virginia ("Revisiting: Access to Theodore Roosevelt Island, a national park in Washington, DC") or how you have to take a ferry to Governor's Island in New York City. 

From a resource standpoint and the success of raising over $100 million, I can't but help but think that those resources would have far greater effect being invested in existing and under-invested parks, recreation facilities, cultural resources, and other civic and community assets in Wards 7 and 8.

-- "Five examples of the failure to do parks and public space master planning in DC," 2021 
-- "Social urbanism and equity planning as a way to address crime, violence, and persistent poverty: (not in) DC," 2021
-- ""Utility" infrastructure as an opportunity for co-locating urban design and placemaking improvements," 2020
-- "Planning for place/urban design/neighborhoods versus planning for transportation modes: new 17th Street NW bike lanes | Walkable community planning versus "pedestrian" planning," 2021

-- "Extending the "Signature Streets" concept to "Signature Streets and Spaces"," 2020
-- "From more space to socially distance to a systematic program for pedestrian districts (Park City (Utah) Main Street Car Free on Sundays)," 2020
-- "Why doesn't every big city in North America have its own Las Ramblas?," 2020
-- "Diversity Plaza, Queens, a pedestrian exclusive block," 2020

For example, the city refuses to fully fund the reconstruction of the Fort Dupont Ice Arena ("Fort Dupont Ice Rink supporters accuse District of mishandling plans for new arena," "This is shameful: In a wealthy hockey town, D.C. kids have nowhere decent to play," Washington Post).

And something I missed some time ago, and have never written up as a dedicated entry, but should be a priority, would be undergrounding DC-295 and I-295 in the vicinity of the Anacostia River.  

I have discussed undergrounding/decking for North Capitol Street, the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, and parts of Connecticut Avenue in the core.

-- "DC and "city repair" of the urban grid," 2020

Freeway undergrounding and removal is a trendy move in urban planning these days ("Can Removing Highways Fix America's Cities?," New York Times).  And these days the US Secretary of Transportation is pushing this as an environmental justice measure ("Pete Buttigieg launches $1B pilot to build racial equity in America's roads," NPR).  DC should get on the bandwagon.

(I also argued that DC should work with Prince George's County to create a "Trail Towns" initiative along the Anacostia River, modeled after the initiative in Pennsylvania along the Great Allegheny Passage.)

SO much needs to be done East of the River that the Bridge Park seems really frivolous.

-- "Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning," 2017
-- "Downtown Edmonton cultural facilities development as an example of "Transformational Projects Action Planning" ," 2018

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Wednesday, August 03, 2022

SmartCar as a city car

The Mercedes produced SmartCar has been discontinued, because the company is undertaking different initiatives to meet US fleet mileage requirements.

This car was used in the Car2Go one way car sharing program that Mercedes launched in the North America and Europe.  

It was a great program but in reality, would only work in a few places ("Car2Go dying: further effects from the rise of ride hailing and damage to the sustainable mobility platform/mobility as a service paradigm"), so it could never scale the way a large corporation like Mercedes would want, and they shut it down, although it still operates in some cities in Europe.

This photo of the car in a local supermarket parking lot in South Salt Lake City shows one of the key advantages of the SmartCar as a city car--it's small and easy to park.  It got great gas mileage and the electric versions were a dream.

The problem with the market for cars in the US is that it isn't particularly differentiated, with different vehicles for different purposes.

So sure a small car makes sense "for the city."  On the other hand, people tend to buy "one car" to meet a maximal number of their likely and intended uses.  So people aren't going to buy a small car for the city uses when they want a bigger vehicle to accomplish longer trips, carrying more people, etc.

Plus, car dealers aren't motivated to sell small cars because they don't make much money off them (not unlike how bicycle shops aren't motivated to sell low cost city bikes compared to expensive road bikes).

But then that's why the one way car sharing application was so great for cities like DC and Seattle.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Bicyclist deaths-bicycle safety

Will sent me an article about advocates concern about a rise in bicyclist related deaths in DC ("Through tears, a devastated mom demands DC do more to keep cyclists safe," WUSA-TV).  It's an issue in Utah too, although more wrt recreational road biking.

Will made the point that given the "vehicular cycling" orientation that still is the dominant biking policy--mixing bikes and cars instead of separating them--the rise in deaths shouldn't be a surprise.

I'm of two minds of this.  Given that so much of the US road infrastructure is already built, it will take decades to retrofit it to include separated cycling infrastructure.  

And even then, "build it and they will come isn't a particularly robust strategy to increase the number of cyclists.

 New cycletrack on 300 West in Salt Lake City.  The thing is that the road isn't particularly congenial for cycling generally.  But is lined with big box retail, to which I do occasionally cycle.

Cycletrack and sidewalk, Virginia Avenue SE, Capitol Hill, Washington DC

As great new infrastructure is added, we need to redouble our efforts to actually shift people to cycling (I submitted thousands of words about this to the planning process for the Salt Lake City Master Transportation Plan.) 

So we need to address both.

Reading about one of the deaths ("Woman fatally struck riding bicycle in Northwest Washington," Washington Post), as someone who is primarily a vehicular cyclist--riding mostly on regular streets, mixing with cars and trucks--I couldn't help but think that the rider wasn't riding defensively.  

Instead of shifting to the left, placing herself outside of the turning truck, she doubled down and rode/placed herself on the inside of the truck.  

Trucks and cars hitting cyclists while turning right is a large cause of accidents and deaths--in fact it's nicknamed "the right hook" ("Avoiding the right hook," Virtuous Cyclist).

Note that increasingly in the provision of bike lanes, at intersections, the bike lane is shifted to the left, away from the right turn lane.

 Left shift of bicycle lane at intersection to reduce conflicts with right turning motor vehicle traffic, Columbia Road and 18th Street NW, Washington, DC

I see that DC is considering banning right turns on red, and legalizing the Idaho Stop, where cyclists can "run" stop signs if there is no oncoming traffic ("D.C. may end right on red for cars, let cyclists yield at stop signs").

But I was thinking that there needs to be some highly visible defensive cycling classes in public plazas and parks around the city, to build the understanding of how to cycle more safely.

Participants take part in a mass yoga class to mark the summer solstice on Times Square in New York, June 20, 2012. Thousands of yogis gathered on Times Square to celebrate the longest day of the year during the event which features four free mass yoga session at the heart of Manhattan. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand.

If there can be big yoga classes outdoors, why not for bike safety?

Obviously, the League of American Bicyclists has bike safety training, and a lot of communities have programs for children.  

But for the most part, I think it's a huge missed opportunity for city and county park and recreation programs to not offer programming for biking for transportation.

Some bike advocacy groups do, like Bike Easy in New Orleans (Adult programs).  But most don't.  The Summit County/Park City recreation program in Utah offers a lot of mountain bike programming (adults, youth).  It's not exactly biking for transportation ("Revisiting assistance programs to get people biking: 18 programs"), but is a start.


With an extra special emphasis on equity, to increase biking and biking safety amongst all groups--children, people of color, women, etc.

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The state of the residential real estate market

Suzanne was in Portland last week, and one of the places she stayed had a copy of Portland Monthly from last year, with an article about on "Portland Neighborhoods by the Numbers 2021: Nearly every part of town saw an increase in the median sales price last year."  

I really liked the map graphic they used, about price appreciation, which drilled down to neighborhoods rather than the more gross-grained zip code analysis that media tend to use.

I don't know what's up with the real estate market. 

I do think the pandemic generated some frenzied buying, pushing prices up a lot in most markets.  I probably thought that was a new normal, now I am not so sure.

At the time I thought it wasn't covid frenzy, but the result of reaching a kind of peak supply crisis ("U.S. Housing Market Needs 5.5 Million More Units, Says New Reports," Wall Street Journal, 2021) abetted by a massive increase in ownership of single family homes on the part of private equity ("Where Have All the Houses Gone: Private Equity, Single-Family Rentals, and America’s Neighborhoods," Brookings) further reducing supply in the owner market.

We still have the supply deficit and private equity participation.  But the froth is reduced, especially because of the rise in mortgage interest rates.

Most economists predict prices will fall some ("Moody's: Home prices to fall in these 210 housing markets—while these 204 markets will go higher," Fortune).  

But not that much ("Rents and home prices are still soaring, but at a slower pace," Washington Post), "The Most Competitive Rental Markets in 2022: Miami Is Red Hot, While Competition in the Northeast Intensifies," RentCafe).

We are seeing that.  

Again, abetted by mortgage interest increases, sales have slowed, and houses that have "defects" of various sorts (poor renovation, needs renovation, poor interior flow, location, etc.) aren't selling very quickly

It does get back to understanding the factors that support long term value, which I've written about in:

-- "The eight components of housing value," (2016)
-- "Revisiting factors influencing housing purchase," (2021)

Decline in attractiveness of center city location with shift to work from home.  But I do think the value of center city location might be diminished somewhat with the decline of the importance of central business districts in response to the work from home trend, which was significantly accelerated as a response to covid ("COVID-19 Pandemic Continues To Reshape Work in America," "As Remote Work Persists, Cities Struggle to Adapt," Pew Research Center).

If people don't have to commute to work as much, and commuting isn't as bad as it was in terms of traffic and the chance for catastrophe in terms of severe delays, maybe people will be less motivated to live in the city in part as a desire to reduce commuting time.

Amenities as a factor in housing choice.  Although a key factor remains, the value of access and proximity to "amenities," from nightlife establishments to museums.  People do seem to be less worried, or more resigned to getting covid--but if vaccinated likely surviving from "just a cold"--so attendance at group events, indoor events, and restaurants and bars and retail is rising.

-- "From more space to socially distance to a systematic program for pedestrian districts (Park City (Utah) Main Street Car Free on Sundays)," 2020 
-- "Extending the "Signature Streets" concept to "Signature Streets and Spaces"," 2020
-- "Planning for place/urban design/neighborhoods versus planning for transportation modes: new 17th Street NW bike lanes | Walkable community planning versus "pedestrian" planning," 2021

Cities may have to double down on strengthening quality of life factors in order to maintain their base of higher income residents and to be able to continue to attract new residents ("Coronavirus intensifies the city vs. suburbs debate in Philly," "These Philly suburbs started closing their streets on weekends during the pandemic, and they might never stop," Philadelphia Inquirer).

Downtown Pella, Iowa.  WSJ photo.

And in some cases, companies especially in less well located places, are investing in amenities in order to be more competitive for workers, who might not otherwise consider them ("Facing Labor Shortages, Pella Reinvents the Company Town in Rural Iowa," Wall Street Journal). From the article:

Pella Corp. has offices and manufacturing plants in more than 30 cities across the U.S. and Canada. But one of the toughest jobs, say executives at this closely held maker of windows and doors, is convincing workers to locate here in its hometown, a rural city of about 10,000 residents 45 miles southeast of Des Moines.

The company and its controlling shareholders—members of the founding Kuyper family and its descendants—set out to change that. They have spent tens of millions of dollars in the past three years on housing, child-care centers, restaurants and an indoor entertainment center, among other things, to retain and attract new workers. More spending is on the way.

“We just didn’t have the amenities that people we were trying to recruit would expect,” says Chief Executive Tim Yaggi, noting that the manufacturer competes with major cities for talent....

The city of Pella’s population, however, has been little changed for decades, and some residents fear changes brought by Pella, the company, could wreck what makes the small city special.

But not meeting Pella Corp.’s needs makes it a flight risk, potentially eroding the local tax base, according to city leaders. The city’s annual budget is $47 million, a fraction of the company’s annual revenue of more than $1 billion. Pella Corp. is able and willing to fund community projects that otherwise might never come to fruition, company executives say.

The steps Pella, the company, is taking evoke memories of old company towns, where employers shaped nearly every facet of community life. It pays for the city’s annual fireworks production and its foundation donates to a range of local causes. ..

“The odds of someone staying in the job are much higher if they live in the community where they work,” says Mr. DeWaard.

Pella, the company, is also remaking the city to be more attractive for out-of-state recruits by covering construction and startup costs for some businesses. ...

Pella, the company, is steadfast with its development plans. It recently committed $6 million to help the city build a 90,000-square-foot recreation center, with three gyms, multiple pools and a rock-climbing wall. These efforts, executives say, will help woo talent.

And public safety.  We can't forget the importance of the value of public safety, for business owners and residents.  Businesses in cities like Seattle are closing because they say the physical environment around their businesses is unsafe ("Seattle business owner calls for action against crime crisis after two break-ins: 'You've got to have police'," Fox News).  

And people won't choose to live in cities if they fear for their safety ("3 in 10 District residents do not feel safe in their neighborhoods, Post poll finds," Washington Post).

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Proposal to build new basketball arena in Downtown Philadelphia

The northeast corner of 11th & Market Streets. The square block between 10th and 11th and Market and Filbert is the site of a proposal to build a new 76ers arena in the Fashion District space over SEPTA's Jefferson Station. Photo: Tom Gralish, Philadelphia Inquirer.

The 76ers propose a new arena downtown, on the site of the "Fashion District" mall ("The Sixers want to build a new $1.3 billion arena in Center City").  

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer makes the point that the "fashion" initiative had no legs because of white flight and a change in the industry in terms of fast fashion ("White flight and fast fashion meant Market Street never got the attention it deserved. Could the 76ers change that?").  From the article:

The new arena would prove a few things: First, in this town, fashion will never be the game changer sports is. We like to think of ourselves as stylish, but the truth is Philadelphians are more likely to rally around James Harden than around haute couture. More importantly, it will test whether the city really can provide the infrastructure, investment, and urban planning solutions necessary for Center City to realize its full potential.

It will also would prove that it takes an influx of people from outside of the city for Philadelphians — especially those who live in underrepresented communities — to get the amenities we deserve in what’s supposed to be our downtown.

I do think she's right about "white flight" and downtown retail more generally.  For the most part, suburbanites shopping needs are met by options in the suburbs.  

They don't need to shop in the city, and/or they aren't buying such exclusive items frequently enough to go shop in the city.  Although the article points out that some of the stores there, like Century 21 and Ulta, were popular with actual city residents.

It's why Friendship Heights in DC isn't doing so great retail-wise ("Friendship Heights and the production of retail decay") and why DC can't really develop a strong retail center in the core. 

I do believe that basketball and hockey arenas should be located downtown and that they can contribute positively to economic development.

It took me too long to admit that, partly because even though downtown arenas can be "a good thing," they are still oversold and don't accomplish as much as is touted.  That's the point behind this blog entry:

-- "Framework of characteristics that support successful community development in association with the development of professional sports facilities"

which is aimed at identifying the characteristics that make for an arena that is more successful for the local community.

Also see:

-- "Revisiting "Framework of characteristics that support successful community development in association with the development of professional sports facilities" and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team + Phoenix Coyotes hockey"

Frankly, there are plenty of in-city arenas and stadiums that don't have the kind of economic effect that is touted.  So the point should be to shape the project to get the best possible results.  

But you still need a wider ranging plan, because an arena or stadium is only one element of what should be a "transformational projects action plan."

-- "Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning," 2017
-- "Downtown Edmonton cultural facilities development as an example of "Transformational Projects Action Planning"," 2018

Nonetheless, such facilities can reposition downtowns, attract new audiences, contribute to economic development, and ideally leverage existing transit in a way to shift trips from cars.

A big element is the size of the city and transit.  Smaller market cities tend to have weak transit cities, and the majority of patrons drive to the arena or stadium, and this seems to reduce their propensity to patronize local establishments.

Interestingly, a different PI article ("Philly’s next mayor should boost city’s recovery, say biz leaders. ‘We need somebody that smiles.’."), saying the city needs a mayor who is a cheerleader, mentions the arena proposal and uses DC's Capital One Arena as an example of why a downtown arena project is important to Philadelphia:

“Just go to 16th and Market Streets,” Pearlstein said. “That used to be like the 50-yard line at lunchtime. But now Market Street has a long road to recovery.”

The possibility of a new 76ers arena in Center City “could drive midafternoon traffic on East Market Street, which has struggled even with the Fashion District,” Cooper said.

Much like the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., a Sixers stadium on Market between 10th and 11th Streets could “create enough gravity to attract restaurants, offices, and residential buildings, which followed the building of the arena. But we still need improved transit,” Usdan said.

Sports patrons don't spend on non-sports retail.  But such facilities can only do so much, especially because they support such a narrow range of "retail" that the spillover benefits are not as significant as people believe (see It's Hardly Sportin': Stadiums, Neighborhoods and the New Chicago, about how the Wrigleyville commercial district changed to a nightlife district from a mixed use retail district, after the Chicago Cubs stadium added lights and night baseball.)

What if teams aren't so great, with poor attendance?  Plus, what happens when the teams start failing and attendance drops off.  

For example, the Washington Nationals baseball team, now that it's tanking a couple years after winning the World Series, is suffering severe attendance falloff--the team is now 19th of 30 in average attendance.  That has to be hurting all the eating and drinking establishments that have opened around in the Navy Yard area.

Similarly, the NBA and MLB All Star Games and the NFL Super Bowl, when it comes down to it, don't have much effect on the local economy either, especially non-food retail.  This is because much of the money expended on travel and lodging ends up in the pockets of companies that aren't locally based.


Academic writings.  I hate to admit that I never did much of a literature search when I began development the "framework characteristics" pieces, starting first with Sacramento in 2014 ("An arena subsidy project I'd probably favor: Sacramento").  Some of the work supports my argument.  Some is till more positivist than critical-analytical. 

-- "Sports Facilities as Urban Redevelopment Catalysts," Journal of the American Planning Association (2004) 
-- "In Defense of New Sports Stadiums, Ballparks and Arenas," Marquette Sports Law Journal (2000)
-- "Arena-Anchored Urban Development Projects and the Visitor Economy," Frontiers in Sports and Active Living (2022)
-- "Does the arena matter? Comparing redevelopment outcomes in central Dallas tax increment financing districts," Land Use Policy (2021)
-- "Role of Sports Facilities in the Process of Revitalization of Brownfields," IOP Conference Series Materials Science and Engineering (2017)


Economic impact of individual spending by sports patrons.  When I first got involved in urban revitalization, wrt the H Street NE neighborhood in DC ("The community development approach and the revitalization of DC's H Street corridor: congruent or oppositional approaches?," 2013), one of my earliest writings was about cultural assets, given the then presence of the Children's Museum, the fallow Atlas Theater, and the then developing H Street Playhouse (it moved, now it's the Anacostia Playhouse).  

I touted the spending multiplier compiled by Americans for the Arts, but making the point that spending was likely to be less because it wouldn't involve overnight stays.  

-- Arts & Economic Prosperity 6: The Economic Impact of Spending by Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences, Americans for the Arts

Plus, later I learned that children-based cultural visitation, like going to museums, generates very little additional spending.

Anyway, it would be interesting to drill down and generate a more detailed understanding of sports patron spending.  Is there a difference between people who get to the venue by transit versus driving?  Families versus individuals? Season ticket holders versus occasional attendees?  In-city versus metropolitan area versus out-of-the area in terms of domicile?  How much spending is captured by the team/arena versus off-site venues. Etc.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Quote of the day: homelessness

The Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles on a 22 year old pregnant homeless woman in Los Angeles County.

-- "Pregnant, Homeless and Living in a Tent, Meet Mckenzie"
-- "Letters to the Editor: Homeless, addicted, pregnant — how can a failed city like L.A. possibly fix this?"

From the article:

Mckenzie’s family came out of poverty in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, and for three generations had been buffeted by domestic violence, mental illness and homelessness, and caught up in child welfare cases. Her mother, Cynthia “Mama Cat” Trahan, was taken from her mom at age 5 and placed in foster care. Mckenzie and Cat were homeless on and off during her childhood, and Mckenzie was also put in foster care. 

Young adults who age out of foster care after such heightened trauma are at serious risk of repeating the cycle of homelessness and losing their kids to foster care. It’s an ominous harbinger for Los Angeles, where multigenerational homelessness is not uncommon — and the system is not equipped to meet the needs of people with such profound struggles.

The Quote:

“The homeless system is not designed to address and unpack all of the other systemic failures that have led somebody to where they are today,” said Heidi Marston, who resigned in May as executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

I have made this point before, that people often have pretty simplistic ideas about nasty developers etc.being the reason for homelessness.

But homelessness is mostly a product of profound poverty, often multigenerational, and all the physical, mental, and social health issues that are associated with it.

And the cost of dealing with that is a lot more than "merely" the cost of providing housing.  And it's ongoing.

Not to mention the ongoing dis-coordination between agencies and programs.  Even with case worker assistance, a lot is expected of the program participants, and they tend to be people that don't handle program hiccups very well, which is compounded by poor planning at times by the agencies, and the failure to provide an adequate level of coordinated help.


Monday, July 25, 2022

Canoeing on the Jordan River, one of the events from Latino Conservation Week in Salt Lake County


Who knew there is a Latino Conservation Week, nationally or locally?

-- Latino Conservation Week in Utah

One of the problems of the decrease in print journalism is that it's harder to find out about activities.

The Salt Lake City Weekly still publishes a hard copy.  It comes out Wednesday but I don't always read it right away.

It has a feature called "Citizen Revolt" with six short articles on activism where three list upcoming events. But it doesn't have a full calendar for the week with items like lectures, etc.  The Salt Lake Tribune has an events feature in its weekend edition which comes out Saturday.

Fortunately I read the paper in time to be able to go to this event.  I didn't sign up but there was room.

The Jordan River flows from Utah County through Salt Lake and Davis Counties to the Great Salt Lake, on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley.  

In Salt Lake County, it's mostly comprised of stormwater and releases from the creeks after the point at which drinking water is diverted.  It's about 50 miles long since it's been channelized, but was 250 miles long in its pre-urban development meandering state.  It's a rare river as it has both fresh water and salt water sections.

The effort to revitalize the river is only about 10 years old, and is spearheaded by the Jordan River Commission.

The river is paralleled by the Jordan River Parkway Trail.  So far, there's a fair amount of interpretation signage, especially by the Salt Lake City Parks and Public Lands agency, which has a superb signage program.

They've done a decent job with signage and the creation of trailheads, although there is significant room for iterative improvement.  They don't appear to have a regular program of updating signage and maps.  They have some boat launches, and are in the process of adding more.

We used an informal launch, under the bridge over the river at 3300 South.

Not unlike how I argue that the position of the Potomac River relative to DC's commercial districts is not beneficial for commuter water taxi and ferry services, the Jordan River Parkway Trail doesn't seem to be particularly well placed for providing the kind of integration of biking/walking and neighborhood-community mobility where you can accomplish trips like grocery shopping.  

(Unlike the Northwest Branch Trail in Prince George's County, the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Silver Spring, Maryland and Washington, DC, the Bala Cynwyd Trail in Lower Merion Township outside of Philadelphia, the 606 Trail in Chicago, etc. Also see "Comments on the Central Avenue Connector Trail concept (Prince George's County, Maryland).")

A couple points in Salt Lake City are near a large supermarket and a small but developing commercial district--although I still have to bike the section from North Temple to the Davis County Line to see what other adjacent opportunities might exist.  

But the section I rode for the first time out of the city has no such links--but there are many miles more for me to check out.  Although I have to say I was impressed that the section from 1700 South in Salt Lake City to and past 3300 South in the City of South Salt Lake did not require crossing roads, which was cool.

Separately, Salt Lake County has a Watershed program and a great publication, Stream Care Guide: A Handbook for Residents of Salt Lake County.  The unit sponsors an annual Watershed Symposium, which this year is November 16th and 17th, and is a great example of building community support and engagement.

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