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.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

DC elections: a clear need for ranked choice voting, and expansion of the Council

A few election cycles ago, candidate for Council Matthew Frumin made the point that is was coming onto the 50th anniversary of Home Rule (2013), and that it would be a worthwhile exercise to assess the experience, and make changes as necessary.

Home Rule, or the creation of a DC City Charter, was when Congress passed a law creating an independent local government for DC, which previously had been run as a unit of the Executive Branch with severe oversight by Congress.  Because DC was then a majority black city, this was also seen as a civil rights issue.

I thought Frumin had a good idea and of course, nothing's come of it.

Many candidates should mean ranked choice voting.  This year's elections, both with the Ward 2 Council seat--where 8 candidates vied for the seat in the Democratic primary, which was won by a young woman with limited connections to the city and a lot of family money for the campaign and the At Large race, where 23 candidates are vying for the two spots ("D.C. at-large council race exposes city's racial divides," Washington Post) screams out for the need for "ranked choice voting."

Sample ballot, DC 2020 Election

I've argued for more than a decade that DC should do this.  It's an overwhelming Democratic city--96% of us voted for Hillary Clinton, so when seats come open, it's a scrum, and with so many candidates, people get elected with less than a majority.  For example, Brooke Pinto won the Ward 2 primary with less than 29% of the vote.  Usually there are more votes cast in total for the other candidates rather than the winner.

In RCV, you vote for X number of candidates, ranking them 1, 2, 3, etc.  If there isn't an outright winner, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated with their preferences redistributed.  This process continues until one candidate receives a majority of preferences.  Maine moved to this format because third party candidates ended up leading to Republican wins.

Pierce County, Washington tried this in 2008, but people didn't like it and they reversed it.  (Graphic used with the permission of Fred Matamoros, when he was at the Tacoma News Tribune.)

District vs. at large voting.  Generally, courts have held that at large voting allows the majority to extinguish minority representation (AT-LARGE VOTING FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS, NAACP Legal Defense Fund).  

District based voting with fairly designed districts should provide for the representation of minorities provided they are geographically concentrated.  One recent example is Anaheim, California, where the shift to geographical districts led to Latinos being elected to the Council where they had been represented previously.  (Although ranked choice voting could have made a difference as well.)

Like a number of cities, DC has a mix of wards and at large representatives.  There are 8 wards, each with one Councilmember, and 4 at large positions.  Four wards and two at large positions are up in each election cycle.

The Council is roughly 50% black and 50% white, and neither Asians nor Latinos have been elected to Council

At-large Council.  The at large positions have an interesting requirement.  Recognizing the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, one seat in each cycle is reserved for the non-majority "party."  (Philadelphia has a similar provision.)  What that meant for many years is that there were "Statehood Party" and/or Republican representatives on Council, holding one of those seats.

In the 1988 election, Democrat William Lightfoot realized there was a work around to run for that seat.  He gave up his Democratic Party affiliation and ran as an independent, getting elected.  Since then, more Democrats have done this.  Hilda Mason, the Statehood Party stalwart was defeated by an "independent" in 1998.

Republican Councilmember Carol Schwartz likely would have stayed on Council as long as she wanted, but in the 2008 election cycle, conservative Republicans got "cute" and ran a candidate against her in the primary.  She lost, but the party Republicans didn't realize that Democrats were voting for Schwartz because of her qualities, not out of a sense of a need for "political competition" and their candidate was crushed in the general election.   Since then, an "independent" (Democrat) has picked up that seat.

This year's scrum is the result of "independent" David Grosso, choosing to step down.

More Councilmembers for more representation?  In the past, I've argued for many changes to DC 's governance set up, including:  (1) adding a Councilmember to each ward; (2) considering adding up to three wards; and (3) adding more at large representatives to complement a larger proportion of ward-based representatives.

-- "Incremental piecemeal fixes to DC politics and governance mostly don't help," 2013

One advantage of making the Council bigger is that it would be harder to pass legislation.  Now you only need 7 votes.  This is the source of the criticism that the Council is more progressive policy oriented and less concerned about "business."

While the "too progressive/not business friendly" sentiment is expressed in the Post article about the At Large election what comes across more is that as the city's demographics change, white progressives are trumping black moderates, although this isn't restricted to whites, as in the 2020 Ward 4 primary, progressive black candidate Janeese Lewis George defeated the pro-business incumbent Brandon Todd, in large part with the votes of white progressives.

Making the Council larger could help address both concerns.

Adding a Councilmember to each ward.  I've favored this for a long time as a way to create intra-ward political competition by eliminating political monopoly.  

Since the racial composition of ward representation is 50/50, adding a representative to each ward would add 4 black Councilmembers and either 4 white Councilmemers or 3 white and 1 Latino (Ward 1, although Latinos are being displaced from the ward as the housing stock appreciates in value).

Rather than having four wards up for election in each election, one Council seat would be up for all eight wards.

But while it is likely to add more white and black members, it's not likely to result in the addition of Latino Councilmembers strictly on the basis of geography.

Creating more wards.  Arguably you could add wards too, although with two representatives per ward, there probably wouldn't be a need to have more wards, but it would increase representation theoretically, by reducing the number of people represented by each councilmember, and providing the capacity for more access.

The current population of the city is 720,000, so each ward comprises about 90,000 residents.  Adding 3 wards would have each ward be comprised of about 66,000 residents.

But because the city's population is shifting towards majority white and this population is mostly west of the Anacostia River, likely this would tip the Council demographic to majority white.  

So this would be problematic.  Easier and fairer to not create more wards, but add one Councilmember to each ward.

Adding at large seats.  Figuring an addition of 8 ward-based council members, I'd add two at large members, one for each cycle.

That would make for a 22 member City Council, chaired by the 23rd member, the Council Chair.

Second Party in DC.  Technically, there isn't much of a "second party" in that the Republicans are pretty weak, given the progressive bent of the electorate, although Republicans have been on Council in the recent past--David Catania (although he first won in a special election in 1997, and probably many people voted for him at first, not realizing he ran as a Republican), Carol Schwartz, and at the outset of Home Rule, Black Republican Jerry Moore.   

With two representatives per district, there would be an increased likelihood that a moderate Republican could win a seat in either Ward 2 or Ward 3.  But the person would have to be liberal on social issues and reasonable on budget issues.

But as long as the fiction of independent Democrats persists, the likelihood of a Republican winning an at large seat is remote.

Third PartiesStatehood-Green.  At the outset of Home Rule, an independent Statehood Party had Julius Hobson on Council.  He died in office, and Hilda Mason replaced him.  She lost a bid for reelection in 1998 and since then the party, which subsequently merged with the Green Party in DC, has not been successful at getting anyone elected to either ward or at large seats.  I do think it would be possible, but they don't have a particular strong brand and electioneering capacity.

But again, with two representatives in each ward, it'd be possible for them to mount more successful challenges and win seats.  With a beachhead of a ward seat, it'd be possible for them to win seats at large, especially with the addition of 

Working Families.  Last year, in Philadelphia, the Working Families Party was successful in running for an at large seat, beating out a seat that had long been held by Republicans ("‘Regular people’ over Wall Street: How the Working Families Party could shake up Philly City Hall," Billy Penn).  With a larger DC City Council, they could make a play for seats here.  The party is active in the city, but hasn't run candidates.

Conclusion.  Aim for the creation of a more diverse Council, including the possibility of true third party participation.  (Although the current "power elite" isn't likely to favor either.)

1.  Adopt ranked choice voting to allow for greater intra-party competition and to increase the possibility of second and third party representation.

2.  Increase the size of the City Council by adding one representative to each of the city's 8 wards.

3.  Increase the size of the City Council by adding two at large representatives, adding one new representative to each election cycle.

With a 23 member Council it will take 12 votes, not 7 to pass legislation, making it a bit more difficult to pass legislation.

With more ward members it should create the possibility for second and third party representation, thereby creating a foundation to build upon for mounting successful campaigns for at large seats.

Ranked choice voting will support intra-ward political competition as well as ensure that third party candidacies don't create spoilers.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Financial Times article: "Why the urban poor will be forced to leave big cities"

 -- "Why the urban poor will be forced to leave big cities"

Thinking back to previous writings, I realize I've discussed this in two different ways, equity and economics.

Economics.  The economics argument is pretty clear.  Since the 1950s, the reason that the poor congregated in cities is because when city land values declined in the face of suburbanization, the impoverished could afford housing, especially as desperate property owners wanted tenants.  (Before the 1950s, most people lived in cities anyway, so they were a mix of all classes.)

Now that residential choice trends include cities (I won't say "favor" but now cities are seen as equal or superior to suburban location by many segments of the housing market), urban locations are seen as desirable.  

In such situations, the poor will be outbid. 

I've written this for years, but more in terms of the middle class.  


As urban neighborhoods become more desirable at the scale of the metropolitan residential choice landscape, prices will go up, and people who had been able to afford to live there will be outbid.  In short, the highest wage earners are driving the market in the "best" neighborhoods, not average wage earners. 

Equity.  The counterargument is equity, that all people should be able to live in the city, regardless of income (see the "right to the city" arguments" originally articulated by Henri Lefebvre, and extended by people like David Harvey).

In a market economy for housing, to ensure a place for the economically less well off, that requires public intervention to build, own, and operate housing, as well as other subsidies, such as vouchers for people to pay for private market housing.

Municipal economics and low value housing.  On the other hand, since cities are geographically circumscribed by other municipalities, they can't grow (with the exception of cities like Houston, Oklahoma City, or Charleston, South Carolina, where there are more liberal annexation laws).  Since they can't grow, there is a ceiling on their ability to generate revenue.

Property taxes are the primary revenue source for local jurisdictions ("The real lesson from Flint, Michigan is about municipal finance"), hence the motivation of local political and economic elites to focus on land use intensification, which is the foundation of the "Growth Machine" thesis about the politics of cities ("A superb lesson in DC "growth machine" politics from Loose Lips (Washington City Paper)").  

Balancing equity and economics.  Devoting large tracts of land to low revenue generating property is economically problematic.  To me, the best way to balance equity and economics for low income households is a mix of housing types in neighborhoods--from basement and attic units, to carriage houses, and apartment buildings of various types, alongside single family housing.  This allows for a mixing of incomes with a lot less subsidy.

On the other hand, higher income households prefer not to live by low income households.

Pandemic related shocks: more people become relatively poor when it comes to the urban housing market.  Where the change in the makeup of the market is different from past recessions is the outmigration of not the poor, living in subsidized housing, but the more precarious ("precariat") economic segment of the near/lower middle class.  For example, the people working in hospitality, retail, travel and tourism, entertainment.

Simon Kuper, the author of the FT article, distinguishes between the "workplace," "networking," and "playground" functions of the city, and suggests that the well off working from home will still be attracted to urban living, even if they have fewer retail amenities, as they are able to still benefit from agglomeration economies -- what he calls the "networking" or exchange function -- and the cultural and placemaking benefits ("playground").

Renting versus owning.  Kuper makes the point that renters have a short time horizon, 2-3 years, while housing buyers look at a 20-30 year time frame.  Renters leaving the city has a different effect on pricing compared to property owners leaving the city.  

Buying, when you have money, is attractive especially because when it comes to rock bottom mortgage interest rates.  Which is why  desirable neighborhoods in many cities haven't seen the same drop in housing prices that is happening in the rental market ("Rent: Where rents are rising and falling the most in big cities," USA Today").


The Information Age: cityspaces as sites for digital production.  I haven't liked past arguments by anti-urban critics like Joel Kotkin ("The Childless City," City Journal) criticizing urban living as more about consumption and entertainment and less about production and the workplace, but that is a more apt criticism going forward if work becomes less centered on going to "the office" ("Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19," McKinsey).

But in any case, the city becomes an even more pronounced space for nonphysical production of "work."  What Manuel Castells calls "The Information Age," where computing and telecommunications support economic output that is less focused on goods.

Conversion of commercial space to housing.  Kuper suggests that unused office buildings and shops will be converted to housing, allowing the recently graduated to still come to the city and start their careers.  Interestingly, the Post just published an article about the conversion of a hotel in Alexandria to condominiums ("Shuttered hotel gives way to luxury condominiums").

Suburban Districts with urban feel: Cityness Index.  Zillow and Yelp have created a new index they call "Cityness" to measure the level of urban-ness in suburban cities, for people looking for alternatives to hyper urbanity in the face of the pandemic ("Zillow and Yelp Name Top Affordable U.S. Suburbs With a City Feel").  

Of course there are also the second tier cities, like Columbus, Omaha or Des Moines, which as Kyle Ezell wrote in the book Get Urban, have a number of walkable neighborhoods anchored by traditional commercial districts -- the kinds of places that aren't Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but cool enough, at least relatively.

The Cityness Index combines data from both Yelp and Zillow:

Yelp
  • A mix of businesses similar to major cities 
  • A diversity of restaurant and nightlife businesses 
  • A diversity of arts businesses 
  • A high level of consumer activity 
Zillow
  • Ratio of typical home values in the suburb compared to the principal cities, defined as those named in the official Census MSA name (e.g., Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington home values were used for comparison in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro) 
  • Ratio of typical home values in the suburb compared to the national median 
  • Ratio of new for sale inventory in the suburb compared to the principal cities 
  • Ratio of rental inventory in the suburb compared to the principal cities 
  • Ratio of existing for sale inventory in the suburb compared to the principal cities

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Tax incentives to attract business: Wisconsin's Foxconn debacle

Foxconn is an Asian company specializing in the third party manufacturing of technology goods, like smartphones.  They operate at a huge scale.  

But they also have a history outside of their home base in China of making big announcements for new facilities in other countries, and never following through ("Foxconn’s history of broken promises casts a shadow on Wisconsin news," MarketWatch).

The Foxconn groundbreaking featured President Trump and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Getty Images photo.

The Verge has a great piece, "Foxconn's empty buildings," on the Foxconn debacle in Wisconsin.  The state and localities promised up to $4 billion in incentives and the company promised to create a North American technology research and manufacturing center with at least 13,000 high paying jobs.

They built a couple buildings--much smaller than what they said they would, with no real manufacturing capabilities--and hired people every so often so they could hit their hiring requirements to trigger incentive payouts by the end of the year, but basically nothing is going on.

Abandoned Fisher Body Plant #21, Detroit.  

This project was touted by President Trump and then Governor Scott Walker as a quantum change in manufacturing employment, the place of the US in the tech manufacturing ecosystem ("Why not build an iPhone in the USA?," USA Today), and a sign of a resurgence in the so called Rust Belt, where large scale manufacturing of products, cars, steel, and other goods has been in long term decline.

Wisconsin was once a big center of automobile manufacturing for both Jeep and GM ("A decade later, Janesville confronts life after GM," Automotive News), and a major manufacturing site for many other products.

While I did mention in this piece, "An example when I may disagree with Richard Florida: incentives for landing the Amazon HQ2," that this might make sense because it wasn't merely moving a business from one state to another, but creating new business, it was questionable because the Midwest isn't a known center for electronics manufacturing (washers and dryers, sure), because Foxconn has made similar announcements in other countries and never followed through, and because Trump and Walker are not to be trusted.

Photo: JOSH MARX. The Janesville Assembly Plant was GM's oldest plant when it closed in 2008 and employed 7,000 people in its heyday.

Interestingly, the Verge article makes the point that the local and state economic development officials presumed that Foxconn was being forthright and truthful and basing their announcement on sound economics and business planning, not recognizing that like Trump and Walker, they had other motives for making the announcement and it wasn't likely they would follow through.

It's also interesting, considering that Governor Walker's political decision to not support High Speed Rail development in Wisconsin, because it was proposed by Barack Obama, led Talgo, a rail manufacturing company to move its plant out of Wisconsin.  Talgo had been recruited by previous Democratic Party officials ("https://isthmus.com/opinion/opinion/you-thought-wisconsin-losing-high-speed-rail-was-bad/," Isthmus).

Politics and business (which often is a form of "crony capitalism") too often is a bad combination.  

This happens because the politicians want the ribbon cuttings, and their desire for action and maybe their inability to make sound judgments about whether or not business plans are sound.  But too often, there isn't much accountability, because by the time the project fails, the elected officials have moved on.

Of course, a city like Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, where the facility was supposed to be developed, doesn't have that luxury.  

Even if they don't have to pay out incentives, they've already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in utility, transportation, and other infrastructure that isn't needed, and they displaced property owners, houses, etc.


Economic development versus building a local economy.  One the things I try to make a distinction between is what is typically called "economic development" -- focused on business recruitment versus "building a local economy" -- which is focused on leveraging existing advantages, higher education, existing businesses, and creating opportunities for new types of business.

The latter is harder and more time consuming, but can be much more successful over time.

-- "Lessons from CNN story on Allentown, Pennsylvania," 2020
-- "Economic dynamism: Northern Virginia ascendant, while DC and Suburban Maryland lag," 2020
-- "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
-- "Do tax incentives pay off? : Illinois; Tennessee; Rosslyn + "The Airport Access Factor"," 2017

Labels: , , ,

No we're not in this together: it should be obvious that people and places with more resources fare better

 A couple articles in the Washington Post start with the argument that an exogenous event like a pandemic should be a great equalizer between the well off and the impoverished.

-- "A pandemic should be the great equalizer. This one had the opposite effect"
-- "Not even a pandemic can break rich cities’ grip on the U.S. economy"

You don't have to be a Marxist to understand that's not how the world works in capitalism.  

People with more resources do better than those with fewer resources.  (An easy way to figure this out is to read the weekend sections of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and the Friday Mansions section in the WSJ, the lifestyles portrayed are nothing like how "regular" people are able to live.) 

This is most pronounced with health care outcomes such as life expectancy ("The Association Between Income and Life Expectancy in the United States, 2001–2014," Journal of the American Medical Association, 2016).  Members of higher income households tend to live almost 15 years longer.

Concerning the pandemic, people who have more resources have health insurance so they don't stint on going to the doctor, can withstand gaps in income from hospitalization or quarantine, live in less crowded conditions, etc.

Similarly, cities and metropolitan areas with more resources do better than those places with fewer resources too.  Metropolitan areas do better than rural areas too (" Getting Health Care Was Already Tough In Rural Areas. The Pandemic Has Made It Worse," NPR).

Although some areas can be more vulnerable than others, depending on the nature of their advantages and if their economy is especially concentrated and homogeneous--for example cities like Houston and Tulsa are vulnerable to downturns in the oil industry ("I get tired of the articles that ascribe Houston's economic success to its lack of zoning" and "A follow up on an earlier point about Houston and extractive economies"), and how Michigan was once the center of the US-based automobile manufacturing industry.

Or, at least in terms of manufacturing, Greater Seattle and Boeing, and Boeing's decisions over the past two decades to move away from Seattle because the jobs are unionized.  The company moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001 ("Inside Boeing’s Big Move," Harvard Business Review) and has been decentralizing plane manufacturing to Wichita and Charleston.  They've just announced that all 787 plane production will occur in Charleston. ("Jilted again, the problem isn’t Boeing, it’s us," Seattle Times).

Although many argue Boeing's moves destabilized the company's core competencies ("How Boeing Lost its Bearings," The Atlantic). 

And even when earthquakes or other natural disasters occur, people with more resources tend to do better, the less well off live in areas more prone to flooding etc. There are studies about how the rebuilding effort in response to hurricanes stokes the local economy, although those studies don't fully take into account the economic losses.

But it's pretty clear that low income households (and poorer areas) suffer disproportionately.

-- Greater Impact: How Disasters Affect People of Low Socioeconomic Status, US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Although if "crowding" is something that has to be avoided for many years as a result of the pandemic, the "competitive advantage" of cities -- agglomeration -- is wrong-footed.  

While I believe that over time, with vaccines and other changes, cities will come back from the current situation, where office districts are ghost towns, with the resultant decline in businesses and cultural spaces of all sorts, it will come with great pain in terms of closed up businesses, empty buildings, and a massive revaluation of commercial property.

-- "The next economic crisis: Empty retail space," Politico
-- "Pressure on New York City Commercial Real Estate Worries Investors," Wall Street Journal

This is separate from the issue of too much space devoted to retail and the impact of e-commerce on physical retail, both of which has led to a shrinkage of many retail chains, and the continued bankruptcy and dissolution of companies--for example Neiman Marcus has shrunk and Lord & Taylor, the oldest department store group in the US, is shutting down.  Although the pandemic has accelerated this process.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The reality is that "religious freedom" in the Constitution's Bill of Rights probably doesn't mean what religionists think, from the perspective of "originalism"

I do write about the "establishment clause" and the separation of church and state as outlined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States from time to time, but it's hardly a focus of a blog on urbanism.

I have written about churches in the context of urbanism ("Churches, community, religion and change," original piece, 2012).  And I am a fan of religious architecture and design, especially stained glass.  

Now here in Salt Lake, I am fascinated about how the LDS Church builds churches to anchor neighborhoods, and they are sited to encourage walking to church (I'm not sure many people do), so there is an abundance of churches within neighborhoods.  But like urban churches elsewhere, they are running into having "too many churches" as the city becomes more religiously diverse.

An article in the Salt Lake Deseret News, "What does ‘a wall of separation between Church and State’ mean exactly?," made me think about it anew, based on my experiences in DC, and learning about the early history of the region.  

Pro-religionists focus on the clause "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," rather than the first clause of the sentence, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

My interpretation of this section of the First Amendment is that it concerned the forced payment by American households to financially support the Church of England, the "official religion" of Maryland and other Southern colonies and Congregationalism in New England.  Some colonies required payment to the Protestant denomination of their choice.  Only Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island did not require religious payments.

Although I'm really only familiar with Maryland, because DC was originally part of Maryland, and what is now St. Paul's Episcopal Church on "Rock Creek Church Road," was the official church for that part of what is now DC.

Maryland was originally founded with a doctrine of religious freedom, and the earliest Lords Calvert were Catholic.  Because the Calverts continued to practice the Catholic faith, eventually the Royal Charter was withdrawn from them, in 1689, and the Church of England became the state religion in Maryland.

All householders had to pay a tax to support the operations of the church in their region.  Later the Calverts converted, and in 1699, the Royal Charter was restored.  

Queens Chapel Road in DC and Prince George's County, Maryland is named after the Queen Family (who owned about three square miles of land in what are now the Brookland, Edgewood, and Woodridge neighborhoods), which maintained a hidden chapel to practice their Catholic faith, despite the forced adoption of Anglicanism for the Maryland Colony.  

(We don't know where the chapel was located but it was probably close to origin point of Queens Chapel Road, which is near the intersection of 18th and Irving Streets NE, on the Woodridge side of 18th Street.)

For some time, I've let myself believe that the example of the Queens and Maryland was one of the influences on what became the final wording of the First Amendment.   

Based on my interpretation of those events, I figured that resentment over having to pay to the church, even if you chose not to practice that faith, was a key impetus behind this clause of the First Amendment.  

Not so much the ability to practice religion free of the state, but the ability to not practice religion or a particular religion.  And definitely to not be forced to pay for its maintenance ("Public Funding of Religious Activity in 18th-Century America," Pew Research Center).

OTOH, because the Calverts started out Catholic and understood the problems their practice of an unapproved religion created for them politically and financially vis a vis the King of England, they were more tolerant of other faiths, and in 1649, they facilitated the passage of the Maryland Toleration Act, one of the earliest laws mandating religious tolerance for the practice of other religions.

So you can make the argument that the First Amendment clause about religion is equally about the freedom to practice religion, as much as it is to not practice it.

Donald Trump holds up a Bible during a photo opportunity in front of St John’s Episcopal church on Monday. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters.

Be that as it may, the rise in religionism on the part of conservatives and the frequent involvement of religion-related interpretations in federal lawmaking and interpretation is about religious perspectives superseding the independence of government from religion and vice versa ("Religion and Right-Wing Politics: How Evangelicals Reshaped Elections," New York Times).

The SLDN article makes the point that originally the Constitution ordered the relationship between the federal government and states, and citizens, but that states were not subject to all of its provision.  

Therefore, official religions persisted in some states for some time after the creation of the United States. So the tension of church and state, and yielding authority to either the state or to religion remains.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, October 12, 2020

One thing that Portland doesn't get accolades for: Getting S***/Stuff Done when it comes to sustainable mobility infrastructure

There is a to do time management program called "Get S*** Done" which I first saw at the independent, locally-production of goods focused Steadfast Supply retail store in DC's Navy Yard district.

In the comment thread on "Community planning, capitalism, and housing/real estate development," charlie coined the term "state capacity" as a way to describe the ability or inability within various US jurisdictions to create infrastructure.  

While the US was amazingly successful at building infrastructure up to the 1970s, creating railroad networks in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, canal systems before that, streetcar networks from about 1880 to 1920, subways and elevated railways starting just a little later, dams, electric power and distribution systems, and buildings of all types during the New Deal, and a national, state, and local system of roadways culminating in the Interstate Highway System--it's sputtered since then.

New rail transit systems--heavy rail, light rail and streetcar--have been built starting in the 1960s, but mostly it's been a slog.  Maintaining those systems has been problematic and growing them has been exceedingly difficult.

Purple Line failure.  A perfect example is the massive screw up by the State of Maryland vis a vis the Purple Line light rail program, where the construction team has opted out of the project because of a dispute with the State over cost overruns ("Maryland takes over contracts on Purple Line construction after contractor quits," Washington Post).  

Maryland now has to pick up the pieces to keep the project going, which is pretty precarious.  Ironically, the program had been touted as a great example of "public private partnerships" and included $1 billion of financing provided by the concessionaire, money that the State now must replace.

The more general DC area failure to expand high capacity transit.  In response to charlie, I made the point that transit expansion--separate from the initial decision to build the subway system, Metrorail, which was a difficult process as it linked two states and the District of Columbia, as well as the federal government--has been an example of failure or under reaching. 

(Zachary Schrag argues in The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro that it should be considered an element in the Great Society program of LBJ.)

First, the Silver Line wasn't constructed by WMATA, but by the State of Virginia, and there have been many problems with it, including how the addition of the line stressed the core system, contributing significantly to the past few years of subway system failure.

Second, there has been virulent opposition to the Purple Line.  Third, Arlington--considered a national best practice example of the promotion of sustainable mobility, scuttled its attempt at a streetcar line.  

Fourth, DC's creation of a streetcar line has been fraught with problems--the line is severely truncated, took 13 years to come to fruition, and is going to be very difficult to extend to become useful, because of planning and support failures on the part of the transportation department, planners, and elected officials.

(Note that streetcar was a satisficed decision--a mode chosen out of a belief that it would not be possible to expand Metrorail within DC or in the Columbia Pike corridor of Arlington, even though subway service would probably be a better choice.)

You'd think given the previous success of Metrorail + surface transit (bus) in the metropolitan area -- Metrorail had been the second most successful subway system in the US and the bus services, such as Metrobus and Montgomery County's RideOn service, were reasonably successful--MoCo's bus program is considered a national best practice for suburb, that DC proper has 50%+ of work trips performed by sustainable modes (transit, walking, and biking), which is one of the best rates in the US, people would understand the value of transit to community success, and would advocate and support transit expansion and the addition of new modes (streetcar, light rail, ferry, gondola?) as appropriate.

It's an incredible failure of vision--in part the fault of the jurisdictions and elected officials, also of the operator of Metrorail and Metrobus--WMATA, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and metropolitan governance and planning organizations, and other stakeholders like the business community and its lobbying organizations like the Federal City Council and the Greater Washington Board of Trade, although its abetted by the region being split up between Maryland, Virginia, and DC, and the different political interests among them.

(In the 2009 post, "St. Louis regional transit planning process as a model for what needs to be done in the DC Metropolitan region," I argued that it was necessary to rebuild the regional consensus in support of transit, but this did not occur.  Also see "WMATA 40th anniversary in 2016 as an opportunity for assessment.")

Portland: Simultaneously incremental and visionary.  That's why I think we need to be even more respectful of what Portland has accomplished.  
It's frustrating as a planner when people bring up Portland as an example -- "Why can't we be like Portland?!" followed by a deep sigh -- because  they don't understand Portland's "secret," which is that what they see today is built on 50 years of tough, visionary, bold yet incremental decision making. 

In short, they were bold and they continued to be bold, through decisions that built on and extended previous decisions. 

It's a perfect example of what I call "Transformational Projects Action Planning," although it was more incremental and somewhat unintentionally a process where the sum of the parts ended up being even stronger than the individual pathbreaking efforts.

In a 2005 post I discussed Portland's path of incremental but visionary improvement, starting with the Downtown Plant:

  • starting with the decision to remove the freeway along the Willamette River--the planning process started in 1968 
  • in 1970 the planning commission did not approve a proposal to build a 12 story building and parking structure on Pioneer Courthouse Square--the square became a key element in the public space/urban design network in the core of the city
  • the passage of the Downtown Plan (1972) prioritizing commerce in the core of the city, to be served by transit, not the automobile with severe restrictions on the provision of parking
  • State creation of an urban growth boundary program to restrict sprawl (1973)
  • Decisions to remove a freeway along the waterfront and to create a parkway and community district in its place, and then to not move forward with the Mount Hood Freeway (1974), and to use the money to add a bus-focused transit mall to Downtown
  • Creation of a downtown free transit zone, called Fareless Square, starting in 1975, lasting until 2012 when it was ended because of post-recession budgetary problems
  • light rail was added to the city's development program (1978 approval, construction started in 1982, first service in 1986)
  • creation of the Metro Government, to coordinate land use decisionmaking for the three county metropolitan area (1979)
  • light rail was first extended in 1998 and continues to be extended, with funding for further extensions on the November 2020 ballot

  • the addition of streetcar to the transit program (entering service in 2001, boosted in part by running heritage streetcars on the light rail line on weekends), as part of the program to facilitate the redevelopment of a deaccessioned railyard which became the "Pearl District." Portland is the first city in the US to deploy "modern" streetcars, rather than heritage or heritage replica vehicles
  • the addition of support for biking and walking--Portland now has one of the highest uses of the bicycle for transportation in the US
  • the strengthening of Portland State University as urban and sustainability focused ("Universities as elements of urban/downtown revitalization: the Portland State story and more")
  • the creation of the aerial tram to serve the difficult to reach campus of the Oregon Health Sciences University across the Willamette River (2006)
  • the addition of a (lightly used) commuter rail line, commencing service in 2009
  • the expansion of the streetcar to East Portland (2012)

  • the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, which opened in 2014, which is only for transit, walking, and biking, not cars (except for emergency vehicles)
  • a focus on sustainability including electric vehicles, including the creation of Electric Avenue in 2016
It hasn't been perfect.  They haven't been able to extend light rail to Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River, because of complicated politics involving both Washington and Oregon state politics.  

This was true both for attempts in the 1990s (the Yellow Line was originally intended to go to Vancouver), as well as in the aborted and more recent Columbia River Crossing project, which would have rebuilt I-5 bridges over the Columbia River--involving both states because the boundary is in the middle of the river, and added light rail service to Vancouver and Clark College as a transportation demand management measure.  (They still will have to replace the bridges.)


Portland also tried to build an industrial production business around streetcars, licensing the Czech design for manufacture in the US.  But because transit is so political in the US, it turned out that there wasn't enough demand to make a go of it ("Before shutdown, how many jobs did United Streetcar deliver," Portland Oregonian). 

But think of the Purple Line, an idea that has been around since before 1987--I first read about it in a cover story in the Washington City Paper in December 1987, if I recall correctly.

A single section of the full concept (the segment from Bethesda to New Carrollton) will open starting in 2024--a falling behind of the original date of 2022, while no more sections of the full circle concept are even being planned.

This demonstrates the impressiveness of what Portland has accomplished thus far and demonstrates the importance of continuing to strive for improvement:
transit mall + light rail + biking/walking + streetcar + aerial tram + commuter rail + sustainable mobility bridge.

Granted, Seattle is doing impressive work along the same lines ("Portland Oregonian says that Seattle is now far more innovative concerning sustainable mobility than Portland").  LA is expanding its rail transit system in impressive ways.  

Oklahoma City's Metropolitan Area Projects program and process is national best practice (and included a streetcar in its third phase).

But most places show as many failures as successes, like DC and the streetcar, Maryland and the Purple Line, NYC Transit's inability to expand subway service in a cost effective manner, the need for positive train control because of so many railroad passenger service crashes that resulted from operator error, California's seeming failure with HSR, the financial failure of the Las Vegas Monorail system, etc.

Sometimes, but not often enough, there can be consequences for failure ("Gov. Larry Hogan’s legacy is threatened by Purple Line ‘fiasco’ and concerns about toll lanes project," Washington Post).  From the article:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan differs from President Trump about as much as possible for a Republican, but they share one characteristic: Both won their offices in part by selling themselves as experienced business executives who would run government efficiently and cheaply. 
Hogan has applied that approach to his two biggest transportation projects, the light-rail Purple Line and a plan to add toll lanes to the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270 and the American Legion Bridge. He brought in private companies to share responsibility with the state for the enterprises, saying they would complete the work more efficiently than the government and save taxpayers money. 
It isn’t working out that way, and the difficulties threaten to tarnish Hogan’s legacy as he approaches the midpoint of his second and final term as governor. (Maryland governors are limited to two terms.) 
The construction contractor for the Purple Line quit mid-project in a dispute with the state over a reported $800 million in unpaid cost overruns. The Maryland Transit Administration has taken over hundreds of subcontracts to continue the work while the state negotiates with the consortium of companies managing the project over whether the larger $5.6 billion partnership can be salvaged. 
The Purple Line problems raise fresh questions about whether the much larger toll lanes project will fare any better.

Portland's ability to "get s*** done" when it comes to expanding its sustainable mobility platform needs to be studied in greater depth.  They are much more like Bilbao than they are like DC.

Labels: , , , , , ,

PBS Documentary: Driving While Black, Tuesday October 13th, 9pm EDT

 -- "Driving While Black: Race, Space, and mobility in America"  From the website:

Chronicling the riveting history and personal experiences – at once liberating and challenging, harrowing and inspiring, deeply revealing and profoundly transforming – of African Americans on the road from the advent of the automobile through the seismic changes of the 1960s and beyond – "Driving While Black" explores the deep background of a recent phrase rooted in realities that have been an indelible part of the African American experience for hundreds of years – told in large part through the stories of the men, women and children who lived through it. 

Drawing on a wealth of recent scholarship – and based on and inspired in large part by Gretchen Sorin’s recently published study of the way the automobile and highways transformed African American life across the 20th century (Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights (W.W. Norton, 2020)) – the film examines the history of African Americans on the road from the depths of the Depression to the height of the Civil Rights movement and beyond, exploring along the way the deeply embedded dynamics of race, space and mobility in America during one of the most turbulent and transformative periods in American history.

Civil rights history is intertwined with transportation, because services were segregated throughout the South, with occasional exceptions such as in DC. 

The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders, protests we don't know about in the early 1900s (Richmond Streetcar Boycott, 1904) are key elements in the fight for African-American Civil Rights in the United States.  A bus strike over fare raises was a key event in the political ascension of Marion Barry, who became a school board member and then mayor of DC.

"Driving While Black" remains an issue today in terms of racialized social control and policing in urban communities. Many police killings of civilians have involved African-Americans being stopped for infractions that might have been ignored had they been white.  See "Philando Castile killing: Officer charged with manslaughter," CNN; "Photo contradicts key claim made by Tulsa police in unarmed black man's fatal shooting," Denver Post.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, October 09, 2020

Great architecture versus great program: DC's revived Martin Luther King Jr. Central Library

I am not able to check out quite yet the finished reconstruction of DC's Central Library, which has been lauded in the Washington Post ("DC's ambitious, stunning new MLK Library," "Six ways to get to know DC's beautifully renovated MLK Library," and "Philip Kennicott: America’s libraries are essential now — and this beautifully renovated one in Washington gives us hope").

But to me, despite the great design, it's a disappointment, because the program--what it actually does--could have been so much more.

The spiral staircase is cool, but how much does it contribute to culture.  Photo: Bill O'Leary, Washington Post.  

One of the problems was to have a design competition without having a plan for the library's program beforehand.  Another was thinking that design could substitute for program.  

Although I did come around to the idea that because DC stakeholders often lack vision when it comes to cultural planning, having a great design could generate demand for a great program to complement design.  Of course, that didn't happen here.

Failure to re-envision what the library could be and do has been a significant influence on my thinking about cultural planning, and led to my outlining of what could have been a world class central library with a program second to none.

-- "Boston Athenaeum as a model for what central libraries should strive to be: Culture Centers with lots of books and other resources," 2020
-- "Update: Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets," 2019
--"The DC Central Library, the Civic identity and the public realm," 2011
-- "The Salt Lake City Central Library is absolutely incredible," 2013
-- "Civic assets and mixed use: Central Library edition," 2013
-- "The Central Library planning process in DC as another example of gaming the capital improvements planning and budgeting process," 2013
-- "A follow up point about "local" library planning and "access to knowledge," 2013
-- "National Library Week," 2015
-- "National Libraries Week," 2020

The double-level reading area features mobiles and a mural on the ceiling. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

What I outlined was redefining a/the central library as not just an "information and knowledge center" but a cultural center too, because the central library is likely a community's most highly visited cultural institution and the foremost civic asset within a community that is devoted to culture.

In DC, it wasn't to be.  

Primarily it is lack of vision.  

But it's also the fault of the library system not being able to build a completely new library, because the physical limitations of the current building were so significant (albeit what a great location).  

This is an example of where historic designation of the building and an unwillingness to start somewhere new, has led to a sub-optimal result.

Libraries as social infrastructure is a key point made by Eric Klinenberg in Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.

The title comes from a statement by Andrew Carnegie about why he funded the construction of libraries.

Co-location of facilities by different agencies. (This is from the 2020 entry on National Libraries Week.) 

 The Brooklyn Historical Society is merging with the Brooklyn Public Library, in part to provide more space for the library's historical collection, but also to provide more stable funding to the BHS, which has an awesome exhibit program. Ottawa, Canada is about to begin construction of a joint Central Library and Archives with Archives Canada ("Modern concept signals next chapter for Ottawa ‘super library’," Toronto Globe & Mail)

Joint library projects between government agencies are highly unusual. 

Heretofore, the only two I know about are in Montreal, where the provincial library serves as the central library for the city, and in San Jose, California, the city and San Jose State University built a joint library. 

Both of these examples remind me of how the State of Maine has a combined state library, archives, and museum, which I wrote about in 2005 ("Central Library Planning efforts and the City Museum, how about some learning from Augusta, Maine ... and Baltimore?").

I think an Ottawa-like endeavor could solve the problem in Seattle of the Trump Administration's push to close the regional National Archives unit there ("Federal lawsuits filed against three agencies for failing to produce records related to National Archives in Seattle," Northern Kittitas County Tribune; "‘Terrible and disgusting’: Decision to close National Archives at Seattle a blow to tribes, historians in 4 states," Seattle Times).

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, "Night of Lights" public history and art event

Via the Philadelphia Inquirer

From October 9th-2th5, Chestnut Hill’s Germantown Avenue turns into an outdoor public art exhibit celebrating the area’s history and architecture. 

Called "Night of Lights," businesses display historic photos and films from the archives of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy while lights illuminate buildings throughout the neighborhood. 

Note that the Georgetown Business Improvement District in DC sponsors a similar kind of event in December and January called "Glow," focused on outdoor, lighted public art.  It's equally cool, but  doesn't specifically aim to promote local history as part of the exhibition.   

Public art projections, public history projections, architectural lighting of buildings, church steeples (Cleveland has a program that assists churches in the cost of implementing and operating the ongoing lighting of steeples), etc., should be considered as part of neighborhood cultural history planning, public art planning, and community and commercial district activation planning.

-- "Planning programming by daypart, month, season: and Boston Winter Garden, DC's Holiday Market, etc.," 2019

Labels: , , , , ,

Waterfront revitalization efforts and the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria

Waterfront side of the Torpedo Factory.  Flickr photo by Kevin Lewis.

Reading about possible changes to the Torpedo Factory Arts Center ("Alexandria aims to revitalize the Torpedo Factory Arts Center. One pitch? A food hall," Washington Business Journal) comes on the heels of reports from Annapolis and Baltimore.  

As more places become competitive destinations, for example Alexandria now competes with National Harbor in Prince George's County and new destinations, The Wharf and the Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront on DC's southeast and southwest waterfronts, destination districts likely need to be (constantly) refreshed in terms of the retail mix and attraction offer, especially when it is dominated by food and drink.

-- "Baltimore's Harborplace in bankruptcy and what that says about certain development trends in urban revitalization" (2019)

In Annapolis, the underpowered City Dock area of the waterfront is going to be rebuilt, the Market building public market has sputtered for decades because of a dearth of customers, and a new proposal for a boutique hotel is a bit taller than allowed by the city's historic preservation guidelines ("Annapolis business owner Harvey Blonder trying to resurrect plans for a hotel at City Dock," Annapolis Capital-Gazette) so it remains to be seen if it will be approved.

Baltimore Sun photo.

In Baltimore there is hand-wringing over the continued failure of Harborplace on the Inner Harbor, once considered an example of international best practice ("On the Revitalized Waterfront: Creative Milieu for Creative Tourism," Sustainability Journal, 2013) as well as significant business closures at the nearby Power Plant district created by the Cordish Companies.  

Harborplace has been in decline for many years ("As businesses close, Baltimore ponders Inner Harbor’s future: ‘The status quo is not going to work’," Baltimore Sun), and the city hasn't invested in expansion of the Convention Center, to help draw larger conventions.

WRT the Inner Harbor, not only has it been impacted by a drop in tourism and visitation resulting from ongoing unrest in response to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the reality is that as an ersatz destination built around food and drink with few real authentic elements other than being on the water, it has been tired for a long time, and ownership by an out-of-area real estate firm that has had trouble doing new things or raising capital makes it that much harder to improve.

Alexandria's Torpedo Factory issue

Both the City Dock hotel proposal and the Torpedo Factory Arts Center raise important issues about "preservation" versus "conservation."  Preservation keeps things the same, while conservation is about sustainable use, and allows for reasonable changes.  I'd argue to remain competitive and/or to regain competitiveness, the opportunity for and in change needs to be on the table.


According to the WBJ article, an action plan for the Torpedo Factory Arts Center will be released at the end of October.

This follows the city taking over the building in 2018 ("City takes permanent control of Torpedo Factory," Alexandria Times), and a review in 2019 of previous studies and recommendations conducted by local planning firms (A Study of the Studies: Themes and Recommendations for a Vibrant and Sustainable Torpedo Factory Art Center).

While I am a big advocate for arts and culture as an element of planning, urban design, and placemaking:

-- "Arts, culture districts and revitalization" (2019/2009)
-- "Arts anchor-maker spaces in Greater Tucson: culture planning, arts districts, and real estate (2020)
-- "Dateline Los Angeles: BTMFBA & Transformational Projects Action Planning & arts-related community development corporation as an implementation mechanism to own property" (2018)
-- "What would be a "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for DC's cultural ecosystem" (2019)
-- "Without systematic planning and support, art spaces will continue to be lost: DC's Dupont Underground faces eviction" (2019)

that doesn't mean that change is out of the question, that status quo and stasis is preferable. Change needs to start from the standpoint of objective analysis, and that can be very difficult.  Maybe the arts use dominated by artists studios is no longer the right use in terms of broader city goals for visitation, waterfront revitalization, and economic development.

Current conditions.  Alexandria has been a leading tourist destination in the context of visiting Washington, especially because of its proximity to the George Washington Mount Vernon plantation.  King Street is marked by restaurants, retail catering to tourists, some lodging options, and a nice square fronting City Hall.

The City has a great destination marketing program (Visit Alexandria) with a visitor center on King Street open into the evening, and an initiative to create more pedestrian space at the foot of King Street.  

It's served by the King Street Metrorail station and complementary shuttle bus services.  They have the best wayfinding signage system in the metropolitan area, although it focuses on King Street, and hasn't been extended to the rest of the city.

The city has been a good location for trade associations and other organizations wanting proximity to the Capitol and federal agencies without paying premium rents commanded by a location in DC.  

Alexandria has been a planning innovator in terms of supporting the mixing of residential and commercial uses as an adaptive reuse of office buildings.  The core of the city is a historic district and like most places, there has been citizen opposition to land use intensification.  

There's a lot going on in Alexandria these days.  First, it has been working on improving its waterfront district for some time, spurred by the face of increased competition from National Harbor in Prince George's County, which has a casino, and revitalized southeast and southwest waterfront districts in DC ("Old Town loosens up: How National Harbor and The Wharf are forcing Alexandria to modernize," WBJ), The Wharf in Southwest and Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront in Southeast.

Second, it has benefited from rents in Arlington being higher than typically allowed for in government leases, so Alexandria is attracting new development to the Eisenhower Avenue area, including as a key anchor, the National Science Foundation.  

(This happens because Republicans have so bollixed Congress that the General Services Administration isn't willing to seek leases in higher rent locations, which requires Congressional approval.)

Third, Amazon's creation of a second headquarters in the Potomac Yard district spanning both Arlington and Alexandria--now renamed "National Landing"-- is driving significant new demand throughout Alexandria, and fourth, paired with Amazon, Virginia Tech is building a new technology research and education campus on the Alexandria side of National Landing.

And this has moved forward the construction of an infill Metrorail station serving this area.

The Torpedo Factory Arts Center was created in the 1980s, to utilize an otherwise vacant building.  The building is open to the public, with galleries and education facilities, and a small history museum and cafe.  Most of the space is devoted to studios for artists, paying $16/s.f., and the studios are open for sale of the art.  About 500,000 people visit each year.

What to do? 
 Artists are complaining that as is common, now that the area is in demand, in part through the creation of the arts center, artists will be displaced.  But the planner side of me thinks that's too simplistic.  

Planning-wise the city needs to assess its goals for the waterfront, goals for the arts, ownership of the building, functioning of the building, and determine if the current use is the best way to achieve multiple goals.

Underpowered use.  I would argue that dedicating most of the building to studios isn't the best use for a prime location on the waterfront, especially given the relatively small size of the space (compared to larger and "better" facilities like the Belgo gallery building in Montreal and the Bergamot Arts Center in Santa Monica) and the type and range of the art produced there.  

(It's unfortunate that the complex couldn't expand to the building next door, which is an office building.  "Boundary Cos. acquires Torpedo Factory office in Alexandria," WBJ.)

A food hall isn't likely to be a successful alternative.  OTOH, I'd argue that a food hall, in an area that is already well-served by restaurants, is hardly a unique use with a great deal of staying power, especially given the failure of similar uses in Annapolis and Baltimore as mentioned above, as well as the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, Faneuil Hall in Boston, etc.  

For a food hall to be successful week in and week out, there would need to be much greater visitation, probably in the range of a couple million visitors per year at least, and throughout the year, rather than in the summer and fall.  

Strengthening presentation of arts and culture in the core of the city.  At the Torpedo Factory specifically, I'd look at strengthening the arts and culture use around "presentation" rather than arts production because of the nature of the location and the visitation profile, and consider moving the Visit Alexandria visitors center to the Torpedo Factory (although there is something to be said for spreading facilities along the corridor).

I'd also have tried to take over the Old Town Theater as an arts facility (2018 blog entry), and created a more integrated network of arts and culture facilities and events within the King Street corridor, including the historic district as a place to visit, the Athenaeum, the nearby branch library, the weekly farmers market, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop/Museum, etc.


Maritime history?  An alternative culture use could be a focus on the presentation of maritime history.  A regional example is the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland.  There is the Mystic River Seaport, the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, and many others.  


The waterfront currently provides water taxi services to the National Harbor and DC, along with cruises to and from Mount Vernon.

Now that DC has lowered the South Capitol Bridge so that large warships can't be stationed at Navy Yard, I wonder if there is an opportunity along those lines along the Alexandria waterfront (not that it's cheap or easy to do this).

Money.  But such a change wouldn't be cheap and would require fundraising and sponsorships in order to bring it about.  Meanwhile real estate firms are likely to be interested in the building.  One source of funding could be a rejiggering of the use of visitor taxes (assessed on lodging, etc.) to also fund related arts and culture uses.

Address artist/studio displacement.  If the city does decide to change the use making artists studios no longer the primary use of the building, the city should commit to finding/providing alternative space for studios, as part of the city's overall arts and culture master planning process.

Granted new space isn't likely to be as well located, but that's a trade off that may have to be made.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Planning books to read for National Community Planning Month

October is National Community Planning Month.

===============

Most of these books, aren't necessarily what you read in a planning policy or public administration class, more books about cities and not particularly "technical," but if you read them all, you'd be well prepared to understand urban revitalization.

And I've only listed books that I've read completely.  Compiling the list makes me realize there I some books I need to fully read like Economy of Cites, Getting There: The Epic Struggle between Road and Rail in the American Century, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, Life between Buildings and Cities for People by Jan Gehl etc.

Hopefully I'll read Learning from Bryant Park sometime this month and write about it...

Although I do say if you're only going to read one book, read Cities: Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz.  That's for cities.  

Reclaiming our cities and towns is essential for understanding transportation.

The centrality of cities and how they function

Death and Life of Great American Cities -- Jane Jacobs, the classic.  Four key elements for successful cities: population density; mixed primary use; a network of blocks and grids; and a large stock of old buildings.

Cities: Back from the Edge -- by Roberta Gratz, a Jacobs acolyte.  I think of it and an earlier book, The Living City, as primers putting the concepts laid out by JJ into practical, real terms.

Urban Fortunes: Towards a Political Economy of Place -- outlines the "Growth Machine" thesis, that local political and economic elites are united around a pro-growth, real estate development focused agenda, and defines "use" and "exchange" value of place

Cities in Full -- is more technical than the other books, putting numbers to Jane Jacobs, although  the numbers it presents about the level of population needed to support neighborhood commercial districts need updating in the face of e-commerce and retail consolidation.  Lays out the vitally important concept of polycentric versus monocentric transit systems.

If you're more technically inclined, it's the other "one best book" to read.

Next American City: The Big Promise of Our Midsized Metros -- by Mick Cornett, the Republican former mayor of Oklahoma City.  Lays out the value of investing in community and social infrastructure--civic assets--as a way to build place, create community, and attract new investment.

Housing/Neighborhood revitalization

Pocket neighborhoods is beautifully written and illustrated, and is about middle housing types, like courtyard housing.  

The Divided City and Bringing Buildings Back by Alan Mallach are important contributions to thinking about housing and revitalization in weaker market cities.  

I don't know of a great book on "multiunit" housing per se.

Social infrastructure and civic assets

Palaces For The People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life -- Eric Klinenberg.  Lays out the value of social infrastructure as the glue of successful communities.

(This is where Learning from Bryant Park goes.)

Historic preservation

Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl -- a great discussion of the value of historic preservation to community stabilization and improvement.  It's out of print but I think is a better introduction to the value of HP than more recently published books.

Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation -- argues against the modern interpretation of how to handle new or replacement buildings in historic districts, calling for architecture of its place and context, not time

Transportation

Reclaiming our cities and towns: Better living with less traffic -- by the Australian David Engwicht, this lays out the role of transportation in cities and the value of exchange of all types as the driving force for agglomeration; the author coined the "transportation demand management" concept recognizing that if people got around more efficiently and not necessarily by the car, you wouldn't need to constantly widen roads.

Public Safety

People won't live in cities if they aren't safe.

Fixing Broken Windows -- the theory transmogrified into zero tolerance policing.  FBW makes the point that places where decay is allowed to fester are less safe than those that are maintained.  But the execution of the theory into policing practice ignored the recommendation to invest in places, not just policing.

Code of the Street/Streetwise -- by Elijah Anderson, anthropological studies of inner city Philadelphia and the challenge of middle class versus street culture in the context of personal and public safety.

Urban design

City: Rediscovering the Center -- William Whyte was the editor of Fortune Magazine, and an article ("Downtowns Are For People") he commissioned by Jane Jacobs led to her getting a contract to write Death and Life.  He was an early proponent of focused study of urban spaces for pro-people urban design interventions.  His study of how people actually use spaces informs this book.

How to Turn a Place Around -- separately, the group Project for Public Spaces grew out of this work, and this book outlines their community-involved ground up approach for initiating and creating urban design improvements in neighborhoods and other public places.

Maybe Jeff Speck's Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places.  There's a lot I don't like about how it's organized, but in terms of it being an accessible listing of "what you can do to make cities more livable in practical, achievable ways" it's a nice primer.  (Although there's a lot of distance to cover between the 2-page description of a "step" and making it happen.)

Urban Economics

(This is where Economy of Cities goes.)

Labels: , , , , , ,