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.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Casebook illustration of agglomeration economies: Kendall Square and biotech

"Agglomeration economies" is a fundamental concept from urban economics. The Geography of Transportation webpage at Hofstra University defines them thusly:
Agglomeration economies are a powerful force that help explain the advantages of the "clustering effect" of many activities ranging from retailing to transport terminals. There are three major categories of agglomeration economies:

Urbanization economies. Benefits derived from the agglomeration of population, namely common infrastructures (e.g. utilities or public transit), the availability and diversity of labor and market size;

Industrialization economies. Benefits derived from the agglomeration of industrial activities, such as being their respective suppliers or customers. This favors the emergence of industrial clusters;

Localization economies. Benefits derived from the agglomeration of a set of activities near a specific facility, let it be a transport terminal (logistics parks), a seat of government (lobbying, consulting, law) or a large university (technology parks).:
The job market and the world economy is much more competitive and operates much faster, making agglomeration or "clustering" valuable again when in the post-war period through the first decade of the 21st century, automobile-centric land use and transportation development paradigms allowed automobility to trump the clustering value of place/location.

The Boston Globe has a nice article about Kendall Square in Cambridge, which is perhaps the leading center for biotech in the US, although San Diego and San Francisco would argue over who is #1 ("The suburbs are cheaper, but they don’t have what Kendall Square has for biotechs: serendipity").

(Also see "Alexandria Real Estate’s empire grows in Kendall Square: The area’s life sciences boom puts the developer on top," BG.)

From the article:
There’s no denser collection of biotech startups, big pharma companies, and venture capital firms anywhere else in the United States, and perhaps on the planet. They’re clustered on either edge of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, and along Main Street heading into Cambridge’s Central Square. And they’re all paying the highest rents in New England: almost $100 per square foot for lab space and $92 per square foot for offices, according to the real estate brokerage CBRE. Both numbers are records.

What makes it worth paying such high rents, when you can be in the suburbs for half the price, or even in other parts of Cambridge for 60 or 70 percent of the cost of Kendall Square? I posed that question to the denizens of the neighborhood — as well as to some who have decamped for more affordable neighborhoods.

Everyone started by talking about a dynamic that’s tough to put a price tag on: serendipitous interactions with people at other companies. “There are countless interactions between biotech entrepreneurs, pharma leaders, and investors that happen virtually every day,” says John Maraganore, chief executive of the publicly traded biotech Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. “I walk to MIT, the Broad Institute, the Whitehead, all the time. I also walk to my partners over at Sanofi and Novartis, and also to potential partners all around the square.”
Clusters can be relative.  I used to believe that only the leading clusters had advantages, that secondary locations had no chance.

Now I don't believe that. There is a place for secondary or peripheral locations. They won't be Cambridge, but they can still be significant centers with opportunities for growth, especially locally.

But you really have to work it:

-- "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector," 2014
-- "Better leveraging higher education institutions in cities and counties: Greensboro; Spokane; Mesa; Phoenix; Montgomery County, Maryland; Washington, DC," 2016

Learning from Europe: Knowledge locations in cities.  In 2013, I wrote about Helsinki, "Helsinki as an example of creative industries driving urban revitalization programs," for the Europe in Baltimore project conducted by the Washington Chapter of the European Union National Institutes of Culture.

Design is a key element of Helsinki's identity and economy.  And while writing the article, I learned a lot which has influenced my thinking ever since, about cultural planning, cultural production, systematic planning of new districts, specifically Arabianranta, where the Aalto University is now located, assigning cultural planners to districts, libraries, and more.

An article on Arabianranta,

"Developing creative quarters in cities: policy lessons from 'Art and design city' Arabianranta, Helsinki," Van Tuijl, Carvalho, and Van Haaren, Urban Research & Practice 6(2):211-218 · June 2013

introduced me to a new line of thinking about "creative quarters," which we might call Arts Districts 2.0.

The research was part of a larger project which resulted in the book Creating Knowledge Locations in Cities: Innovation and Integration Challenges.  (This is a pdf of the book.)

Note that Brookings Institution has a similar program, Innovation Districts, but I like the writings from Europe better.

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What are the best practice counties? (Is Montgomery County, Maryland one of them?)

My friend-colleague Casey Anderson is the chair of the Planning Board in Montgomery County, Maryland.  He has an article in "The Third Place," the planning department blog, "Montgomery County Is (Literally) Well-Positioned for the Future – But Will We Take Advantage of the Opportunity?," about Montgomery County's place in the metropolitan economic landscape.

I happened to write about this a couple weeks ago, "Economic dynamism: Northern Virginia ascendant, while DC and Suburban Maryland lag," because of some Washington Post articles.

My response:

I don't know, I am pretty down on governments being able to be visionary*. I suppose it's like what someone said being a secretary of the army or something, "it's like herding cats."

* I am in the process of writing a piece about DC and the cancellation of the "Georgetown" streetcar program.

Priming actions to spur transformational change.  I am big on priming actions, and that's the source of my thinking and writing on what I now call "transformational projects action planning" and for MoCo (and PGC) in particular, I think their priming action opportunities are around transportation.

That's why I wrote the huge series on the PL, which hands down is amongst my best writing-thinking ever, including the sub section on how to make Silver Spring "an innovation district."

-- "Revisiting the Purple Line series"

I know the people in Montgomery County's Planning Department are great planners, but they are pretty much inside the box thinkers.

Another priming action could be "corridor management" in the I-270 corridor which I think of as extending into DC (Beach Drive, Connecticut Avenue, Georgia Avenue).

 It sounds crazy but my idea of an RER "under the freeway" MARC line could be equally transformational (one branch could go to Bethesda-Georgetown-Arlington, another over the American Legion Bridge to Tysons.

Speaking of great planners, this is where Montgomery County had the opportunity to lay out a vision different from Governor Hogan and HOT lanes ("Beltway toll lanes pit Prince George's, Montgomery against Governor," Washington Business Journal).

They said what they were against, but didn't provide an alternative vision of what they were for.

Especially in the context of climate change, continuing to focus on automobile-based transportation and land use is the wrong way to go.

What are the most innovative county governments in the US?  (Note: I don't know.)  Speaking of vision, when I worked in Baltimore County -- which is one of the top 50 counties in the US in terms of population -- I said their problem was that they needed a different set of "reference group counties" against which to compare themselves. Their problem was that they pretty much only compared themselves to Baltimore City, and on that metric, they always are going to succeed/look good/be better.

(I keep suggesting that the way for Baltimore City and Baltimore County to transform would be to merge.  Now, with Amazon HQ2, I think the same is the case for Alexandria City and Arlington County--they need to merge to have countervailing capacity vis a vis Amazon and the real estate development and appreciation forces that have been unleashed.)

The White Flint program is national best practice. But like how DC pretty much hasn't updated its streetscape aspirations from the c. 2000 stuff that Dan Tangherlini did, more is needed now.  The White Flint program was best practice 5 years ago, but now that's not enough.  BRT too, it was best practice maybe 5 years ago.  Now it's not enough.

I don't know how much MoCo thinks about this in terms of best functioning peer group counties. Obviously, every county is different, different spatial patterns and opportunities.

A couple years ago I came across a fascinating paper about the Hennepin County Community Works program.

-- "A County and Its Cities: the Impact of Hennepin Community Works," Journal of Urban Affairs; 30:3, 2008).

In the 1980s the County realized they were going to sink economically if Minneapolis continued to decline with a precipitous fall off in property valuations and tax revenues. Their response was to invest in parks and other projects, including in later stages, light rail, to staunch the outflow of population and businesses.  They were doing "transformational projects action planning" long before I was even cognizant about this stuff.

Obviously, MoCo's situation is nothing like that. But still, like what Casey wrote, it's not about how the county is doing today, relative to Maryland, it's about the future, relative to the DMV and to the US.

Hennepin County and their MPO, King County, Indianapolis-Marion County, the Denver area, I really like the Philadelphia-NJ MPO but the area counties aren't leaders. Cook County's programmatic innovation in the face of a complete unwillingness to raise taxes. Oakland County's massive program of advantaging themselves vis a vis Detroit.

Who else?  Maricopa?  Hamilton County, Ohio?  Salt Lake County?  All do some interesting stuff but are they across the board best practice?  Probably not.

What are the best practice counties that we should be paying attention to in terms of benchmarking best practice?

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City Rising PBS SoCal series on gentrification

A couple years ago, PBS SoCal produced a short series called "City Rising," about urban change in cities across California.  Last night's episode was on gentrification, showing footage of community organizing interspersed with interviews with academics and activists. 

One major focus was on Long Beach, which has almost 500,000 residents, but no significant legal protections for renters.

This episode repeated last night on the PBS World Channel--a cable channel devoted to documentaries that many PBS systems carry, but not any of the systems in the DC area.

It made me realize, once again, how the production values of locally produced tv programs by DC-area PBS stations don't measure up to the best PBS stations, especially in terms of the coverage of urban issues, where stations like Chicago's WTTW truly excel.

(PBS Utah too seems to do local productions and interstitial programming that is better by comparison to DC area PBS stations.)

Here's the thing about the episode:

1.  Most legacy cities were built out by the 1930s, but since then the nation's population has increased  by 1.5x.  (And communities built out after WWII tend to be built much less densely compared to earlier periods, further restricting housing supply.)

2.  Residents typically fight new development.   Even when new supply is added, typically it's high priced because it's built at today's prices for land, labor, and materials.  And because even with new additions to supply, demand is still unmet, prices for housing don't go down.

3.  So prices rise.

4.  More people want to live in the city, which further drives demand.  And ultimately, people with more money are always able to outbid people with less money.  This raises prices and in later stages of change, pushes displacement.  (Usually in earlier stages of neighborhood change, buildings taken by new residents tended to be vacant, so displacement wasn't an issue.)

5.  Since supply is constrained, it's reasonable to put in rent controls and tenant protections.  When demand is greater than supply, desperate people can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous property owners.

6.  But in return for rent controls, residents must agree to new construction of housing--market rate, accessory dwelling units, infill apartments, etc.

7.  To preserve affordability, governments need to be proactive in terms of purchasing properties, fostering land trusts, cooperatives, and other land tenure forms which prioritize maintaining affordability rather than price escalation.

8.  Ideally, priority for reuse of government-owned land should be 100% affordability, while balancing revitalization and other goals.

9.  Regardless, master planning should include specific planning for "social housing" and allocate lots within the master plan to social housing providers.  (Helsinki does this.  Vienna does a form of this.)

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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Some interesting articles on national politics

1. Work continues to disappear, with devastating impact on people and communities.  Earlier in the week, charlie shared this New Republic article, "Educated Fools: Democrats Misunderstand Politics and Social Class," Thomas Geoghegan, who has been writing about the impact of culture based appeals to "traditional voters" for more than 20 years in very provocative ways.

I don't fully buy the thesis. He says that Democrats argue that everyone needs advanced degrees, that this is demeaning to the working class. But the jobs, especially "mass production," that people could do without advanced education are increasingly being replaced by capital and the jobs that remain, even if "industrial" are increasingly knowledge intensive.

Last week, we watched a documentary on the "America Reframed" series on the PBS World Channel called "Detroit 48202," about the changes in a particular area of Detroit, seen through the eyes of the mailman on the route. It featured interviews with a radical union organizer, and he made the point that when they were organizing in the late 1960s, the Dodge Main plant had 10,000 workers. Over time, with automation, the number of workers dropped by 75%.

2. Hope... I mentioned about two weeks ago, the new book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDan, on how "work is disappearing everywhere" and belief that we can change the trajectory of failure.

-- "New York Times article on community decline associated with loss of work"

3. ... and aspiration.  This is on British politics, a Guardian article, "Yes, ‘aspiration’ can be a socialist idea – if the left can rid it of its baggage," which discusses "aspirational socialism." I include it, because even though there is no consensus within Labour politics about grassroots influence on policy, politics, and governance, it gets at why I believe there is an opportunity to build bridges, as incendiary as today's politics are. From the article:
It is a striving – in the face of ferocious opposition, and despite countless defeats and disappointments – to give working people greater control over their lives and surroundings, instead of casting them adrift to fend for themselves, and to create the conditions that allow them to reach their full personal, intellectual and creative potential. ...

Long-Bailey hopes that in aspirational socialism she’s found a way to communicate radical ideas in a media environment largely unreceptive to them, and of signalling to Labour’s lost voters that she heeds their concerns. But building a genuinely empowering and aspirational socialism would necessitate a distinct break from the party’s established traditions of administering palliatives from above. What remains to be seen is whether the ideological baggage attached to “aspiration” as a term will allow it to be redefined convincingly by the left, and whether this socialist reappropriation of distinctly Blair-era language can be made to cut through. Long-Bailey’s underlying message is nonetheless correct. Socialism is about transforming society in order to put people in charge of their own lives – and what could be more aspirational than that?
The fact is that many more of us are in the "precariat" and the solutions are in community and support, not Social Darwinism.

4. Community organizing is key.  Eitan Hersh has authored a book, Politics Is for Power, excerpted in The Atlantic, "College-Educated Voters Are Ruining American Politics: Political hobbyism is to public affairs what watching SportsCenter is to playing football." He distinguishes between talking and thinking about politics versus community organizing. (I guess I am part of the problem. I am less personally involved in issues these days, and more about analysis and prognostication. But there's a need for that too.)

5. A December article ("How to Turn Anger and Fear Into Political Power: Latinos in Arizona can show how it’s done") in the New York Times about Latino organizing in Arizona, aptly illustrates Hersh's point.

6. Lessons from Vietnam era politics.  John Judis has a piece in the Washington Post Magazine, "I was a '60s socialist. Today's progressives are in danger of repeating my generation's mistakes," arguing the flip side of Geohagen in terms of mistakes the left is making now in terms of building a coalition and narrative and approach that can win national elections.

7. Opportunities at the scale of the city.  The Guardian has an article ("The case for ... truly taking back control – by reversing the privatisation of our cities") on "remunicipalization," as a response to privatization of government services.

8.  The middle class isn't always liberal.  An op-ed in the New York Times, "The Myth of Middle-Class Liberalism," makes the point that historical interpretation arguing that the middle class always sparks progressivism and "enlightenment" isn't accurate, that when times are tough, liberals can "do the wrong thing.  I agree somewhat.

When society and the economy was growing, it was forward looking and the middle class, involved in doing, was open to change.  Now that things are more of a zero sum game--it doesn't necessarily have to be that way, but it is when certain groups aim to game the system to maintain their position and privileges, the middle class is worried about the future, and no longer confident it can withstand change or has enough resources so that it is inclined to share.

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Bloomingdale Village Square Initiative will be holding its third Community Forum on the proposed North Capitol Deck-over Park

The Saturday January 25th forum will take place from 2 - 4 pm at St. Martin's Catholic Church (Pioneer Room), located at 7 T Street, NW (corner of North Capitol and T Streets, NW)

I've written about "street/freeway decking" initiatives over the years, and more recently about the initiative by the Bloomingdale Civic Association (the neighborhood on the west side of North Capitol Street from Florida to Rhode Island Avenues) to deck over part of North Capitol Street.

Current condition.
looking N - North Capitol Street at Rhode Island Avenue - Washington DC

I argue that the city's major commuter streets should be undergrounded because of the deleterious impact of all the street traffic on quality of life.

-- "Who knew? There's been a freeway deck in Oak Park, Michigan over I-696 for almost 30 years," 2018
-- "London Mayor proposes roadway tunnels to divert surface motor vehicle traffic and congestion," 2016
-- "Tunnelized road projects for DC and the Carmel Tunnel, Haifa, Israel example--tolls," 2011
-- "Maglev as an opportunity for DC to underground through traffic on New York Avenue," 2020

DC is doing this at Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue but it's a one-off project not coordinated with other community urban design improvements.

-- "Planning urban design improvements at the neighborhood scale: Dupont Circle, DC," 2019

BCA has done a lot of interesting work around neighborhood-specific proposals for urban design and cultural interpretation, taking up the slack from DDOT's Mid City East Livability Plan, which said the neighborhood should take the initiative, not them.

They have a meeting tomorrow, where ZGF Architects, which on a pro bono basis agreed to outline preliminary engineering and architectural concepts and designs, will be sharing these with residents of neighborhoods abutting North Capitol Street and the Bloomingdale neighborhood. The forum will include lots of opportunities for comment and feedback.

Design concept.
Proposed deck park over North Capitol Street, Bloomingdale neighborhood, Washington, DC

From the press release:
Developed by Chris Somma of ZGF Architects LLP, the design details a deck-over that will cover a throughway submerged portion of North Capitol Street and create a surface-level park that will reconnect the east and west sides of North Capitol Street. The park will extend from approximately V Street to Seaton Place and will feature history timelines of abutting neighborhoods, an amphitheater, a children's water feature, a streetcar caf6, a Capitol dome overlook and other proposed amenities. ...

Last year, Ward 5 Councilman Kenyon McDuffie proposed S4O million be placed in the DC budget for the deck-over, and has indicated a willingness to include a similar proposal in his Ward 5 DC budget proposal tor FY21.

Contact information for the Bloomingdale Civic Association



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Historic Filipinotown, Los Angeles, as another example of real estate capital-driven arbitrage

In the same vein as the recent blog entry on the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto, "'Real estate capital reproduction of space' in the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto," the Los Angeles Times has an article ("As Historic Filipinotown gentrifies, imagining a different future") about gentrification in the Historic Filipinotown district, which historically had not experienced significant demographic change.

One of the interesting things pointed out in the article is how buildings under rent control actually represent a significant opportunity to increase rents, provided that expensive renovations are made.  From the article:
Surrounded by more expensive housing markets, Historic Filipinotown is one of the last places in central Los Angeles where cooks, housekeepers, Uber drivers and new immigrants can afford to live. Alumit’s mother, a nurse, and his father, a security guard, saved everything they had to buy a home here in 1978. The neighborhood’s median income of about $26,700 is about 40% of the county’s median, and about 95% of residents are renters.

But Historic Filipinotown’s affordability is also the source of its vulnerability. According to an analysis by the UCLA Law Review, about 620 buildings in the area are subject to rent control laws, which makes the properties more tempting to buyers because the potential profits from raising rent would be much higher.
I thought that was a very interesting point. It's not uncommon for improvements in rent controlled buildings to lag, because of the complicated regulatory process, especially if the buildings are locally owned.

But large companies with access to cheap capital see such buildings as an opportunity to rapidly increase rents if wholesale improvements are made.

See the Curbed LA articles:

-- "657 rent-controlled apartments stripped from LA’s rental market in three months," 2019
-- "Tenants sue Historic Filipinotown apartment building owner for harassment," 2017

Interestingly, looking up the mentioned UCLA Law Review article, it turns out that the school organized a "clinic/class" on "Gentrification, Displacement, and Dispossession":
In Spring of 2018, a seminar at UCLA School of Law brought together a group of graduate students and law students to trace the current manifestations of the U.S. property law system to its historical origins. From it emerged this collection of pieces, in which students, professors, and practitioners examine the present-day effects of gentrification, displacement, and dispossession in and surrounding Los Angeles.
What a useful class!  Granted plenty of law schools offer legal clinic programs, which provide a lot of help to people within the served communities.  But law schools turn out a lot of scholarship too that is applicable to local situations, but rarely is this knowledge stream tapped.

Here's the full set of articles:

-- "Dispatches from the Other Side of Development" by K-Sue Park
-- "Living Poor in the Affluent City" by Scott L. Cummings
-- "Los Angeles, Displacement, and the Rise of Airbnb" by Alex Scott
-- ">Losing Historic Filipinotown by Ysabel Jurado
-- "Dialectic Episode: Reclaiming Land Use Law: Using People Power to Guide Development" Dialectic hosts Sunjana Supekar and Jason Lawler talk with Doug Smith, Ysabel Jurado, and Joe Donlin about the role of community planning in combating gentrification in Los Angeles.
-- "Protecting Mobile Homes as Affordable Housing" by Soham Dhesi
-- "The Limits of Land Reform: A Comment on Community Land Trusts" by Daniel Foster
-- "Public Land for Public Good: How Community Groups Are Influencing the Disposition of Public Land to Help Address the Affordable Housing Crisis" by Katie McKeon & Doug Smith
-- "Local Control of Land and Water Resources: Rethinking California’s Eminent Domain Standard" by Mia Lattanzi
-- "From Chavez Ravine to Inglewood: How Stadiums Facilitate Displacement in Los Angeles" by Laylaa Abdul-Khabir
-- "We Shall Not Be Moved: Practitioners' Perspectives on Law and Organizing in Response to California's Housing Crisis" by Tyler Anderson, Terra Graziani & Kyle Nelson

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Alexandria Virginia looks to pedestrianize the foot of King Street abutting the waterfront (public meeting tomorrow)

In the vein of some recent pieces suggesting that we can begin the process of creating pedestrian districts in US cities by starting small, with a block or two, depending on the circumstances:

-- "More about making 17th Street between P and R a pedestrian space on weekends" 2019
-- "Making "Downtown Silver Spring" a true open air shopping district by adding department stores" 2018
-- Items #1 and #2 under Silver Spring, in "Revisiting the Purple Line (series) and a more complete program of complementary improvements to the transit network," 2019
-- "Sadly, DC won't show so well during the Baseball All-Star Game," 2018
-- "Urban design considerations for the area around Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium in advance of the 2018 All-Star Game, 2017

I was surprised to learn that Alexandria, Virginia is moving forward on a similar idea, for the 100 block of King Street, which abuts their waterfront district ("King Street Pedestrian Zone Moves Forward" and "Survey: Most Residents Approve of King Street Pedestrian Zone," Alexandria Living).

Current conditions, 100 block of King Street.
King Street, 100 block, Alexandria, Virginia, current conditions

A public open house is scheduled for tomorrow:

-- 2 – 4 p.m. at 201 N. Union St., Suite 110 Alexandria, VA 22314 in the ALX Community space.
-- King Street Place project webpage
-- Letter to businesses and property owners

As an indication of how long it takes to move innovation forward, this concept was first laid out in 2012, and there were four weekend pilot tests in 2016.

King Street Pedestrian Plaza Concept Plan: Rendering
King Street Pedestrian Plaza Concept Plan: Rendering, Alexandria Virginia

Then again, Alexandria's planning for its waterfront has been controversial and ongoing too.  Related initiatives have been the city's wayfinding program, which is centered on King Street between the waterfront and the King Street Metrorail station, and general improvements along the waterfront.

It's block oriented wayfinding program is the best of any community in the DC area.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

International Spy Museum: Counter-example concerning elected official involvement in historiography

Given that the most important college course I ever took was about Latin America--I say the course started me on the path of learning to think for myself, as it challenged my basic "good American" beliefs in military intervention, multinationals, and the inherent "goodness" of US foreign policy; one of my jokes about the National Museum of American History is that it could be restaged around the interpretation of the history of American Imperialism.

But I don't think that would go over that well with Congress and the Executive Office of the President.

The previous entry, "National Archives photo "retouching" is another example of the tension between National Ideology and Memory and Inquiry in the funding of national museums, archives," discusses the recent incident with accurate interpretation of history and events at the National Archives.

The word "Trump" was blurred out in this retouched image used as part of an exhibit at the National Archives. Original image by Mario Tama, Getty Images.

But I was primed to write about that incident because early last week I came across a different and surprisingly article about the International Spy Museum, and criticism of its exhibits on the CIA and torture ("Spy Museum will revamp torture exhibit after Congressional backlash," Washington Business Journal, as originally reported on by BuzzFeed News, "The Spy Museum Is Now Planning To Overhaul Its Controversial Torture Exhibit").

The Spy Museum is a private museum--originally it was a for profit venture but now it's a nonprofit.  It recently relocated to a site at L'Enfant Plaza ("Will Tourists Follow the International Spy Museum to L'Enfant Plaza," Washington City Paper), and it is one of the only admissions-based museums in DC that seems to be able to compete with the free museums ("D.C.'s paid museums retool to boost attendance," WBJ).

But in this case, (Democratic) members of the Senate Intelligence Committee:
... in December wrote that the the exhibit “misrepresents the CIA’s torture program, sanitizing depictions of how techniques were applied and suggesting that torture is effective in terrorist attacks,” the senators wrote on Dec. 18, according to a letter published by BuzzFeed. The letter went on to point out that the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee investigation on the program showed that it was not effective.
It's a rare instance of an action by Congressmembers calling for a more accurate representation of  history, events, and evidence-based research, rather than to sanitize it.

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Monday, January 20, 2020

National Archives photo "retouching" is another example of the tension between National Ideology and Memory and Inquiry in the funding of national museums, archives

Banner at the National Archives.

The Washington Post reported that a photograph used to promote an exhibit on the 100th anniversary of Women's Suffrage at the National Archives has been "retouched" to eliminate specific references to President Trump and "offensive" words describing female anatomy ("National Archives exhibit blurs images critical of President Trump").

In the controversy after the article, the National Archives backed down and apologized ("National Archives apologizes and removes altered photo of 2017 Women's March: 'We made a mistake'," CNN).

Original photo by Mario Tama, Getty Images.

The Post's art critic, Philip Kennicott wrote a piece "The National Archives used to stand for independence. That mission has been compromised" about the issue, but to me it was more of a one-off piece, not recognizing that this is but one more incident in a line of incidents involving museums (and archives) although he did discuss a bunch of similar incidents involving Executive Branch agencies being ordered to obscure the truth.

And then there is the issue of the agencies de-emphasizing scientific research and findings in order to rollback environmental regulations ("E.P.A. to Limit Science Used to Write Public Health Rules<" New York Times).

Grashping the World: The Idea of the MuseumOver the years, I've written a bunch of pieces about how the federal museums, particularly the constituent units of the Smithsonian Institution, and institutions in Washington, like the no longer extant Corcoran Gallery, frequently have to heel to ideologically driven elected officials--usually in Congress but at times in the Executive Branch too, because that's where they get their funding.

I argue that the Smithsonian has a tough time being great because its mission as a repository of "national memory" and its role as a federal government entity often means that its overseers--members of Congress and parts of the Executive Branch--believe that its job is project American "greatness" rather than to be an institution that also questions and reinterprets the dominant narrative,

The Smithsonian is caught between this tension and as a result, its ability to be edgy or serious gets compromised.

-- "Dancing with the one that brung ya and challenging the dominant narrative," 2008
-- "You don't gotta have art," 2010

The Corcoran story is a little different, but their caving to the pressure of a Congressman to not show the photos of Robert Mapplethorpe ended up in the long run leading to that institution's demise.

The examples that have come up in the past:

-- Robert Mapplethorpe photographs at the Corcoran ("Corcoran, to Foil Dispute, Drops Mapplethorpe Show," New York Times, 1989)

- a somewhat critical exhibit label on the Enola Gay airplane at the National Museum of Air and Space which was opposed by WWII veterans groups (see "The Enola Gay Controversy" website from Lehigh University)

- criticism, ironically led by then Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, of a culturally-specific narrative paradigm at the National Museum of the American Indian (see "A Museum of the Indian, Not for the Indian" The American Indian Quarterly; "The National Museum of the American Indian as cultural sovereignty," American Quarterly).

- Plus, you could argue that Marc Fisher's criticism that the National Museum of American History's "renovation" didn't do much in the way of change and challenge is also relevant to the discussion. See "German-American Heritage Museum promotes culture, doesn't tell whole story."

I am distinguishing a bit the general arguments over culture, commonly referred to as "The Culture Wars."

Like the Culture Wars, this is about (1) National Mythology/The Story of the Nation -- e.g., that the US always does the right thing, has superior moral authority, George Washington and the cherry tree which is a made up story -- (2) versus independent fact-based or framework-based interpretation (3) but also intertwined with reliance on federal funding.

When you allow ideology to trump knowledge, this is what happens.

Especially when a President gets much more involved in what agencies do, especially when it comes to challenging the conservative narrative.

The power of art to challenge the dominant narrative remains ("How a Museum Cancelling a Controversial Mapplethorpe Exhibition Changed My Life," Smithsonian Magazine).

But it's increasingly difficult for national institutions, at least in the US, to present this kind of challenge.

Also see:

-- "Parochialism and historiography," 2011
-- "Local history museums and critical analysis opportunities for communities," 2014
-- "A brief comment about Confederate monuments," 2017, which includes as a reprint
-- "Museums and Modern Historiography," 2014

2.  I have not tracked down and read either of these books, Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience and Who Owns America's Past?: The Smithsonian and the Problem of History, but I'd argue that both should be required reading for members of the local and national cultural community.

After such a reading, we'd be in a better place for making recommendations to Secretary Skorton about what he should be focusing on.

From the description of Who Owns America's Past?:
Never before has a book about the Smithsonian detailed the recent and dramatic shift from collection-driven shows, with artifacts meant to speak for themselves, to concept-driven exhibitions, in which objects aim to tell a story, displayed like illustrations in a book. Even more recently, the trend is to show artifacts along with props, sound effects, and interactive elements in order to create an immersive environment. Rather than looking at history, visitors are invited to experience it.

Who Owns America’s Past? examines the different ways that the Smithsonian’s exhibitions have been conceived and designed—whether to educate visitors, celebrate an important historical moment, or satisfy donor demands or partisan agendas. Post gives the reader a behind-the-scenes view of internal tempests as they brewed and how different personalities and experts passionately argued about the best way to present the story of America.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Urbanism related obituaries 2019

Sometimes I read obituaries of people who were numeraries in fields I'm not interested in, out of respect for their accomplishment.  A few years ago, like the "Lives they lived" special issue of the New York Times Magazine, published every December and featuring obituaries of noteworthy people who died that year, I decided it would be good to an annual feature on people and elements notable to urbanism.

I can't claim this is exhaustive.  It's based on obituaries and notices I've come across, which is dependent on my reading of certain newspapers primarily.

Paweł Adamowicz, Gdańsk mayor ("Gdańsk mayor stabbed on stage during charity event in Poland," Guardian). The murdered mayor was a liberal critic of the ruling party’s anti-immigrant policies.

Florence Knoll Bassett, modern office space, open work spaces, grouping furniture for informal discussions.

Barneys and Henri Bendel Department Stores, Manhattan

Joseph Boardman, railroader.  Among his positions was CEO of Amtrak, the national passenger railroad corporation ("Joseph Boardman, 70, Amtrak Chief During Record Growth," New York Times).

Lee Botts, environmentalist, brought attention to the Great Lakes ("Lee Botts, Champion of the Great Lakes, Is Dead at 91," NYT)

Chicago Defender stops printing as a daily newspaper (it still publishes online). I always thought this newspaper was cool because it was an albeit small but daily newspaper focused on providing news and editorial coverage from a decidedly black perspective.  (The Brooklyn Daily Challenge does something similar in Brooklyn.  The no longer published Atlanta Daily World did too.)

Douglas Costle, one of the early creators of the Environmental Protection Agency and was key to the agency's efforts in creating the "Superfund" for remediation of contaminated sites (usually former industrial sites) and various air quality improvement measures ("Douglas Costle, Who Helped Create the E.P.A. and Then Ran It, Dies," New York Times).

Urban air quality improvement is one of his legacies.

Elijah Cummings, US Congressman from Baltimore ("Elijah Cummings: The Larger-Than-Life Congressman With a Common Touch," Politico).

Durgin-Park Restaurant, Boston.  Was in Faneuil Hall.  But sometimes "old" places don't maintain their quality...

Kenneth Gibson, first African-American mayor of Newark, New Jersey, first African-American mayor of a northeastern city ("Kenneth Gibson, 86, Dies; Newark Mayor Broke Race Barrier," New York Times).

Mike Greco, Salumeria owner, Bronx, NY ("Mike Greco, Salami King of Bronx's Little Italy, Dies at 89," New York Times

His store, now owned by a son, is in the Arthur Avenue Market in the Bronx.  The market has been an anchor of Little Italy in a time when the borough experienced from rapid demographic change.

Ben Hamilton-Ballille, UK architect-advocate for "shared [street] spaces" ("Ben Hamilton-Baillie obituary," Guardian).

Charles Jencks, writer, historian, architect.

Herb Kelleher, former CEO, Southwest Airlines.  In the US, we might call what Southwest Airlines did as a form of "city break" vacation promotion.  In any case, the firm pioneered lower cost airplane travel (which makes it that much harder for passenger rail) using peripheral airports, e.g., BWI instead of National Airport.

George Kelling, co-author of The Atlantic magazine article and later book, "(Fixing) Broken Windows," which unfortunately transmogrified into the theory of zero tolerance policing, but was originally co-equally focused on physical maintenance and other community improvements ("George L. Kelling, a Father of 'Broken Windows' Policing," NYT).

John Laytham, co-owner of Clyde's Restaurant Group, Washington, DC.  One of the pioneers in the field for creating multiple concept restaurant groups.

Hi Duk Lee, founder of Los Angeles' Koreatown ("Hi Duk Lee, visionary who founded Los Angeles’ Koreatown, dies at 79," Los Angeles Times).  From the article:
Lee arrived in Los Angeles in 1968 after escaping South Korea’s military dictatorship and working briefly as a miner in Germany. But when he looked around, he deeply missed his country’s charm and felt there was a hole in his new community.

“They didn’t have any good restaurants for entertainment or a meeting place,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. “I planned to make Koreatown. Chinese people have Chinatowns everywhere: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montebello. But there’s no Koreatown.”

Lee’s first success came in 1971, when he opened the Olympic Market at Olympic and Normandie, one of the first Korean-owned groceries in Los Angeles. He purchased five blocks in the area, where he would go on to build the Korean Village, with some 40 shops and restaurants in an area that became known as the heart of Second Seoul.
Linda Lee, proprietor of Hunan Chinatown restaurant, DC, which closed in 2004, as a harbinger of real estate capital-driven change in Washington, DC and the almost total elimination of the Chinatown district ("Chinatown Loses A Fixture on H Street Restaurant," Washington Post).  Ironically, she was an advocate for the opening of the then MCI Arena, now Capital One Arena in the Gallery Place neighborhood, which significantly increased the velocity of change in the neighborhood, redirecting it away from its Chinese roots.

William Lee, founder of Sacramento's African American focused community newspaper, the Sacramento Observer ("The man who built Sacramento’s African American newspaper," Los Angeles Times). From the article:
... {I}n 1962, when Lee founded the Sacramento Observer. It was a time when African American voices were still largely absent from the dominant narrative of Sacramento.

“There were no African Americans on TV, no African Americans writing for the Sacramento Union or the Bee, no black judges or elected officials,” Lee said of the paper’s founding in a 2013 interview. “There was no way for our community to see hope and realize there were opportunities.” ...

The record of Sacramento history is different because the Observer was there to report it.

“If you could imagine when the Black Panthers were walking into the California Statehouse with guns, the story you might read in the black press would be very different than the story you’re going to read in the dominant white press,” Cal State Sacramento University Library director Amy Kautzman, who helped bring the paper’s archives to the city, explained.

But the Observer was also there for the ordinary and intimate, doing neighborhood-level reporting that put African American lives at the center. “The births, the deaths, the graduations ... none of those things were captured by the mainstream newspapers, the Bee or the [now-defunct] Union or anybody like that,” Lee’s son Larry Lee, who now runs the paper, said.
Lord and Taylor Department Store in Manhattan.  One of the last big, grand department stores in New York City.  It was known for lavish window displays, especially for the Holiday season.  The building was sold to WeWork and the initial plan was to keep a smaller department store in place on lower floors, but eventually that plan was scuttled.

For a time when stores were much smaller, Safeway deployed this particular design, in markets across the country.  In DC, some of these buildings still exist as spaces used by nonprofits, which were given to the groups when Safeway closed the stores in favor of larger spaces.

Peter Magowan, San Francisco, Safeway Supermarkets and the SF Giants.  I think he is interesting because he ran Safeway when the company closed many of its smaller stores in cities in favor of larger stores serving multiple neighborhoods, shifting the way people went to the store from on foot to the car and from having multiple stores peppering single neighborhoods--although partly this was in response to fighting off takeovers, and needing to increase return on investment.

He also formed a local ownership group to keep the SF Giants baseball team in the city, when it was on the verge of moving to Florida, and then shepherded the construction of a new waterfront stadium, which has helped to anchor some of the city's revitalization.  The stadium was an example of the thread in baseball stadium construction of creating new "throwback" parks in decidedly urban locations, using a traditional architecture approach.

Deborah Marrow, former director of the Getty Foundation ("Deborah Marrow, longtime Getty Foundation director and arts funder, dies," Los Angeles Times). As grants administrator and then director of the Getty Foundation she spearheaded a couple of initiatives that are great models for any community.

The now titled Getty Morrow Undergraduate Internship program focuses on providing opportunities for more diverse students to intern at museums and other cultural organizations in SoCal, to broaden the demographics of staff.

The second was the Pacific Standard Time set of exhibitions which brought together dozens of Southern California arts institutions exhibiting around a common theme.

Fitzhugh Mullan, physician and public health professor focused on racial and economic inequity in the health system ("Fitzhugh Mullan, Foe of Health Care Disparities, Dies at 77," New York Times).

New Orleans Times-Picayune.  In June the paper's owner announced it had been sold to the Georges Family, which owns the Baton Rouge Advocate.

A few years ago, when the NOTP was converted to a few days per week print edition from every day ("New Orleans Times-Picayune to limit printing to three days per week," Washington Post), the community rebelled, and the Georges Family began producing a seven day a week New Orleans Advocate edition.

(Advance Newspapers has done similar changes, reducing the number of days the paper is printed with the hope that readers would be happy with the digital presence the other days, with other of its newspapers such as the Harrisburg Patriot-News.)

Given that the Georges family is Louisiana-based they were more committed to maintaining a journalistic presence in New Orleans and the state than Advance Newspapers, which eventually decided to sell.  But the merged paper hired fewer than 10% of the staff at the NOTP.

The Times-Picayune won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Back when I worked for the consumer group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the NOTP, was rare in that it still had a consumer beat, with a multiple days per week column covering consumer issues.

Newseum Museum, Washington, DC, dedicated to journalism, located on Pennsylvania Avenue, and charging an admission in a city where the major museums are free ("Newseum hailed free press, but got beaten by free press," AP).

The Newseum had a bunch of issues.  They wildly overspent their endowment, paid people huge salaries, and started just as the newspaper industry, the primary funders of the facility, tanked.  But it had some cool exhibits--I always found interesting items from their posted front pages, and they committed to the city when that was still seen as risky.  They sold the building to Johns Hopkins University to get out of debt, and they aim to open another facility, but it sure won't be as grand.

Speaking of their financial issues, the Newseum is an indicator of how the city Attorney General's office needs to step up its oversight of nonprofits ("When BTMFBA isn't enough: keeping civic assets public through cy pres review").

It's also an indicator of a need to do more expansive cultural planning. Some of their issues were similar to that of the Corcoran ("Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?").

L. Brooks Patterson, Suburban politician, County Executive, Oakland County, Michigan.  Spent his career doing everything in his power to benefit Oakland County at the expense of the City of Detroit and by extension, Wayne County ("Revisiting stories: the death of L. Brooks Patterson, County Executive, Oakland County, Michigan").

Neal Peirce, columnist and consultant on city/metropolitan issues ("Neal Peirce, urban affairs columnist who championed inclusive cities, dies at 87," Washington Post).  Interestingly, the Washington Post Writers Group syndicated his weekly column, but they ran it in the paper only about once every 18 months, which is how I first came across his work.

-- "Main Street Niches in a Mass Sales World," sample column
-- more sample columns, c. 2004/2005
-- "Neal Peirce, chronicler of cities and regions," CNU Public Square

I am not too familiar with his "Citistates" work, which working with newspapers as "metropolitan integrators" published reports on how to leverage the power of regions vis a vis states.

Sadly, there is no easily accessible archive of his past columns.  I wonder if it's something that could be pulled together.

Bill Phillips, Ogilvy & Mather (died 12/26/2018), popularized New York City as "The Big Apple" as a way to build the city's image and reputation in the face of various troubles, including looming bankruptcy ("Bill Phillips: an appreciation," O&M). From the article:
... a sense that New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship with their city, and suggested a campaign that could be realistic about that.
A few days later, Jay had the line – a variant on a quote from Representative Bella Abzug: “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York, but you’d be nuts to live anywhere else.”
At the same time, the Visitors’ Bureau was promoting the City as the Big Apple, an expression used by jazz musicians – “You can play all over the country, but New York is the Big Apple.”
A Big Apple and the “crazy” line made a great ad and poster. Jay’s group turned out variations with car cards in buses and subways – “You have to be a little crazy to live in New York …. “… crazy about museums. We have 95 ….” “… crazy about restaurants. There are hundreds ….” “… crazy about beaches. There are over ten miles of them ..."
Bill presented the campaign to Mayor Abe Beame, saying the agency would use free media so no City employee would be fired to pay for it. Production costs were covered by selling posters, some signed by notables like Robert Redford, artist Peter Max, and former Mayor John Lindsay.
Garth C. Reeves, community leader and publisher of the Miami Times, the city's oldest black-owned business, a newspaper focusing on the African-American community ("Former Miami Times publisher Garth Reeves Sr. dies at 100, Miami Herald).

Rob Restuccia, Health Care ("Rob Restuccia, a fierce advocate for improving health care, dies at 69," Miami Herald).

Felix Rohatyn, Wall Street financier led the program to resuscitate the City of New York from bankruptcy ("Felix G. Rohatyn, Financier Who Piloted New York's Rescue," NYT).

John Salter Jr., participant in Civil Rights lunch counter protests ("John Salter Jr., demonstrator in 1963 Mississippi lunch counter protest," Washington Post).

Marilyn Saviola, disability rights, including physical accessibility issues ("Marilyn Saviola, Disability Rights Advocate, Is Dead at 74," NYT).

In this Aug. 19, 1957 file photo, a crowd gathers in front of the new home of Bill and Daisy Myers in Levittown, Pa. SAM MYERS / AP.

Samuel Snipes, lawyer, represented the first black family attempting to live in the suburban development in Levittown, Pennsylvania ("Samuel Snipes, 99, Dies; Lawyer for First Black Family in Levittown, Pa.," New York Times).

Sterling Tucker, former director of Washington Urban League, first elected City Council Chairman.  Mr. Tucker had been appointed to the City Council that existed before Home Rule. In the 1978 election, he ran in the Mayoral primary against Marion Barry and Walter Washington, who had been the appointed Mayor and then the first elected Mayor.

According to the Washington Post obituary, Marion Barry's "confrontational and aggessive style in demanding rights and equality was more suited to the times than the moderate approach associated with the Urban Leagure or the "black establishment" represented by Walter Washington.

Sidney Verba ("Political scientist Sidney Verba dead at 86," Harvard Gazette), authored seminal texts studying civic participation in society including The Civic Culture with Gabriel Almond.

Patricia Wald, lawyer, judge ("Patricia Wald, First Woman to Preside Over D.C. Appeals Court," NYT).

Youngstown Vindicator newspaper.  Youngstown, Ohio, once a thriving industrial town focused on the production of steel, has seen massive shrinkage since the decline of the industry.  The newspaper was a stalwart supporter of the city (actually Growth Machine posits this, as local newspapers are dependent on a thriving economy to generate advertising and subscriptions) and was a part of the pathbreaking Youngstown 2010 initiative, which aimed for revitalization in the context of population loss and industrial decline.  The newspaper lost money almost every year for the past 25 years, but the committed owners kept publishing.  Finally, they threw in the towel.

Technically the newspaper still exists, as after the closing was announced, it was bought by the Ogden Newspapers Group, which is active in nearby West Virginia, but the paper is more an edition/nameplate of another paper in the group, which happened to the New Orleans Times-Picayune as well ("So Youngstown will have a daily named The Vindicator after all. But it’s a brand surviving, not a newspaper.," Neiman Lab)

"Real estate capital reproduction of space" in the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto

-- "reproduction of space," urban sociology

Instagram image, davin.craig.

The Guardian has an article about "the gentrification" of the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto ("'My Parkdale is gone': how gentrification reached the one place that seemed immune"), but I don't think the word "gentrification" adequately describes the process.

Basically, the neighborhood became identified as an opportunity for the international/national real estate ownership, management, and development, acknowledged as an economically significant  "node" or "submarket" within the system of international real estate capital. From the article:
But the lively streetscape here masks a threat to what could very well be the last island of diversity in a city swamped by the flood waters of global capital. Huge international real estate investment firms have embedded themselves in Parkdale’s urban fabric, buying dozens of apartment towers and thousands of rental units. Residents claim that threats, intimidation, rampant eviction notices and strategic neglect have become common. So too have tenant protests and rent strikes, where slick corporate offices find themselves occupied by hundreds of angry tenants demanding redress. ...

“There goes another community center,” quipped the Instagram account @parkdalelife about an infamous all-night McDonald’s being demolished to make way for a 700-plus unit luxury condo building, leeringly named “XO.” It was just the kind of hipster fatalism that infects neighbourhoods in the grips of late-stage gentrification.
That's a much bigger and more significant phenomenon than the "property value reproduction process" referred to as gentrification, which can be more of a ground up movement, where people see the value in place and location and the opportunity for property value appreciation.

Capital reproduction is on a much bigger scale.

On a much smaller basis, this kind of capital reproduction is what happened with the commercial district section of the H Street NE neighborhood in Washington DC ("H Street NE Commercial District Revitalization | H Street Festival" and "360 Apartment building + Giant Supermarket vs. a BP gas station, which would you choose?") where I was a co-founder of a neighborhood revitalization effort that so far has resulted in more than $1 billion in development either completed or underway (many other parallel efforts contributed to this).

But when I started I was pretty much a rube and outside of reading business sections of newspapers and magazines for 30+ years, I didn't have a fine-grained understanding of how things work.

Once the city released the revitalization plan for the neighborhood, recognizing that DC was a node within the international system of real estate capital*, national brokerage firms like Marcus & Millichap went in and inventoried every property, every opportunity, and put it in a database available to clients (that's what the real estate information firm CoStar does too).

Community anger is strong and has resulted in a number of protests and campaigns. Photograph: Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images.

Once it was mapped and opportunities identified, it became much easier to redevelop.

But the difference in scale between Parkdale and H Street is significant.  Parkdale is bigger, denser--35,000 residents and a planning regime that allows for very large buildings, which DC does not-- and has dozens if not hundreds of very large buildings.

By contrast, H Street NE's opportunities are much smaller.  Still significant, especially at the scale of the neighborhood, district/submarket, and city, but by comparison to Parkdale, much smaller.

* In DC, outside of the center city and a few other submarkets, mostly development is a matter of regional players, not national or international players.

Parkdale has attracted big firms from Europe.  From the article:
... Akelius, the Swedish real estate juggernaut with some $8bn in global assets settled its gaze on Toronto in 2011, Parkdale was a low-income immigrant neighbourhood. But it was no longer a bleak urban sinkhole. Thanks to the Tibetan community, and the hipster incursion that the Tibetans’ stabilising presence had drawn, it was an opportunity.

In 2012, the firm started acquiring mid and high rise concrete slab apartment buildings in Toronto; by 2016, it had amassed 37, and more than 3,000 apartment units. ...

Akelius had already developed a successful business model in Sweden, Germany and the UK: identify neighbourhoods adjacent to fully gentrified districts – like Kreuzberg, a longstanding haven for Berlin’s Turkish population – and exploit the undercapitalization of its rental housing.
A Parkdale apartment building owned by MetCapital.  Image from the Toronto Star article "Parkdale rent strike over repairs, above-guideline increases ends with tenants declaring victory."

That's one firm. At this point, the entire H Street market for apartments might total around 3,000 units.  From "Akelius stocking up on Toronto and Montreal apartments":
Akelius Canada is a subsidiary of Sweden’s Akelius Residential Property AB, which was founded in 1994 and owns more than 51,000 properties valued at around $9 billion in Sweden, Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The article describes the trajectory of change in Parkdale, how because it was outside the city center, and dealing with the aftermath of deindustrialization and the impact on the micro property market, it wasn't seen as a place where "gentrification" would really occur. From the article:
Gentrification, on the surface, seemed less of a threat than an impossibility. As the rest of Toronto surged upward in the early 2000s, Parkdale was forever “up and coming” – real estate code for a litany of social ills – and a target for only the heartiest of speculators. Some did come, sprucing up half a block here, a cluster of houses there, but Toronto’s real estate boom left Parkdale’s intractable poverty largely intact.
But the reality is that less than 4 miles from Toronto's downtown, in one of the nation's top two property markets, in a city that is a node in the international system of real estate capital, with large scale opportunities for portfolio investment, it was only a matter of time, as better placed development and acquisition opportunities in the primary market were absorbed.

Interestingly, because the scale is different, with large apartments, there is also the opportunity for tenant organizing, and Parkdale residents are protesting changes, and at least in terms of legally too large rent increases, they are having some effect, assisted in part by the neighborhood-based Parkdale Community and Legal Services nonprofit legal aid clinic.

But the article also discusses a nascent community land trust effort, which is too little too late. And maybe Toronto and Canada don't have community development corporations the same way that we do in the US. CDCs could have purchased properties in order to maintain permanent affordability.  (Not that CDCs do a lot of this in the US either.)

Then again, Toronto has found the need to provide assistance to "tower buildings" in terms of rehab support and other technical assistance to maintain the viability of such buildings as they are.

-- "The long term potentially negative aspects of condominium buildings as a dominant housing form in cities," 2016

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Monday, January 13, 2020

In DC and Seattle could Car2Go (ShareNow) be converted to a nonprofit and remain in business? (Or could it be sold to Zipcar?)

Even in bankruptcy some individual retail stores still succeed.  One of the things with retail bankruptcies, pretty much, is that even though a company is failing overall, there are various stores that are quite successful.  But there isn't a system to preserve those existing stores, and the momentum for closure is too great, so all the stores end up shutting down, regardless of their individual profitability.

Leading one way car sharing platform to exit North America.  Recently, Car2Go, the one-way carsharing service originally created by Daimler Benz, and later merged with BMW, and renamed ShareNow, announced that it would be shutting down all of its remaining operations in North America: Montreal; New York City; Seattle; Vancouver; and Washington, DC/Arlington County, Virginia ("Share Now, formerly Car2Go, is leaving North America," The Verge).

-- "Car2Go dying: further effects from the rise of ride hailing and damage to the sustainable mobility platform/mobility as a service paradigm"

I haven't used Car2Go in Canada or New York City. I have used it in Seattle (and San Diego, where it used electric cars, which were awesome).

Granted I don't have access to their financials, but I wonder if one or more of these cities could still be successful with one way car sharing, were the Mercedes-BMW venture willing to consider other business models, or weren't primarily interested in Europe, where they are better positioned to succeed as opposed to North America, which is a market very much cluttered with other operators going for the same market segment.
Car2Go vehicles bunched up on Hawaii Avenue NE
Plus as charlie mentioned, with a change in US CAFE requirements, and Dieter Zetsche no longer being the CEO of Mercedes, the company is no longer interested in the SmartCar ("Daimler's incoming CEO considering killing Smart, report says," CNET)

Planners need to have scenarios in place to deal with situations like this.  In some of my writings on parks and cultural planning, where there are multiple actors, I recommend that localities do some basic planning for all the parks or cultural assets in their community, especially if they are provided by state, federal, county, or for profit entities, in order to be able to respond when conditions change--e.g., in the aftermath of the 2008 recession many state park agencies closed park units, with devastating impacts on localities relying on these parks for tourism and other benefits.

The same now goes for transportation planning, because of the recent rise in the number of for profit actors in the space including micromobility--e-bikes, e-scooters, dockless bike share, micro-transit; ride hailing; and even train service in Florida and eventually Las Vegas (Brightline/Virgin Trains USA).

I recommend using the German Transport Association model as a way to coordinate and integrate mobility services across a region as well as providing a place at the table for for profit providers:

-- "The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association" (2017)
-- "Another example of the need to reconfigure transpo planning and operations at the metropolitan scale: Boston is seizing dockless bike share bikes, which compete with their dock-based system" (2018)
-- "Branding's (NOT) all you need for transit" 2018

I argue that one-way car share is a key element in the sustainable mobility platform ("Further updates to the Sustainable Mobility Platform Framework") and within DC's platform for mobility as a service ("DC is a market leader in Mobility as a Service (MaaS)").

Could one-way car share, with microcars, still be viable in DC (and/or other cities) in a nonprofit or subsidy scenario?

-- Would it be worth continuing in terms of the SMP and MaaS?

-- Could it be worthwhile for Zipcar to buy it? (They weren't successful in coming up with one-way car share on their own).

-- Or would the Free2Move operation by Groupe PSA which operates in DC be willing to take on Car2Go's customer base?  (At least in DC, you can just join Free2Move.  But the other cities don't have that option.)

-- Just as DC jumped on Arlington County's negotiation of a bike share contract to relaunch bike share in DC in 2010, could DC and Arlington County somehow work together to continue to keep Car2Go alive, and even expand it in the DC area?

-- Is there a place for some kind of subsidy?  E.g., DC makes a lot of money per car, say $2,000, in annual licensing fees, in part to cover the opportunity cost of lost car revenue.  That's over $1 million per year.  Could a higher excise tax on ride hailing vehicle trips be used to support a subsidy program?  Etc.

-- Granted a big problem with nonprofit car share is having to reinvest in new vehicles as existing vehicles age out.

For this to be explored, cities would have to come together and ask ShareNow to keep the service going for a few more months, to explore alternatives.

-- ShareNow announced that the service would cease at the end of February 2020.

Perhaps NACTO, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, could get involved?  And the Shared Use Mobility Center of Chicago (funded through the sale of a nonprofit car sharing system to Enterprise Car Share).

I fear there is neither the time nor the creativity to be able to explore this kind of option.

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