Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

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

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Britain Labour era New Deal For Communities program, a civic engagement centric revitalization initiative

I recently wrote two entries on what I would do were I in a position to create a revitalization for a weak market Rust Belt city like St. Louis ("St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 1: Overview and Theoretical Foundations" and "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 2: Implementation Approach and Levers").  

Part of the proposal outlined a program driven by engaged citizens and at the neighborhood scale with funding for citizen-conceptualized and implemented initiatives.

That's what the New Deal Communities program was about, according to an article the Guardian, "If Johnson is serious about ‘levelling up’, he needs to look at what Labour got right."  

It sounds a lot like the Savannah Grants for Blocks program and the Neighborhood Revitalization Program in Minneapolis

Columnist Polly Toynbee discusses a recent report, Turnaround: How to regenerate Britain’s less prosperous communities by helping them take back control (full report), by the Conservative think tank Onward, which declares that the only real successful regeneration program in the UK (it doesn't mention the EU structural adjustment program that had great success in communities like Liverpool) in the last 25 years was the New Deal For Communities program created during the Blair era, and immediately junked by the Conservatives when they took office in 2010.

-- The New Deal for Communities Experience: A final assessment The New Deal for Communities Evaluation: Final report – Volume 7, UK Department for Communities and Local Government, 2010

From the article:

In 2000, the millennium era of exuberant social optimism, Labour launched an extraordinary experiment. Identifying the country’s 2,000 most deprived estates, just 39 were chosen as a regeneration testbed. NDCs focused on lifting people’s quality of life by giving them the power and the money. Each neighbourhood received a 10-year budget of £56m – electing their own resident-dominated boards. 

The targets set were eye-wateringly ambitious: 100% of housing was to be repaired to “decent” standard, crime and unemployment to fall to national averages, child and adult education qualifications to reach the national average, along with health levels. At least 85% of residents were to feel “satisfied with their area” and three-quarters “involved” in their community. ... 

At first there was no “community”, no organisations to build on, only a handful of volunteers who hired some professionals. But what galvanised people was the cheque placed in their own hands to follow their own priorities. They created 64 projects, from debt advice, job support and training, arts and sports for children, clubs for the lonely, a community centre, an annual festival, a bike repair training scheme, family outings – and undertook massive housing repairs. New wardens walked the streets and dozens of crack houses were shut down.

Of course, gains reversed when the program ended.  A lesson not likely to have much impact on the Conservatives.  From the article:

Nonetheless, Onward’s study of all 39 NDCs finds 77% saw deprivation fall relative to the national average. Where communities were most involved, deprivation fell fastest. Those “satisfied with their area” rose by 18 percentage points, employment up by 10 points. That’s remarkable. 

But here’s what happened next. “Interestingly” the report notes, “many areas saw their improvement in the Index of Multiple Deprivation start to fall back after 2010.” That “interestingly” is Onward’s political caution: more than half the NDCs that caught up to their local authority average fell back again. Nor does this report take enough account of how NDCs benefited from services improving all around them: Clapham Park opened two Sure Start children’s centres, the NHS was getting 7% more a year, while school results rose with a boost to teacher numbers and spending. Post-2010 cuts to public services and benefits meant few NDCs sustained their gains.

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Change takes for(&*())ever: Repatterning suburban development and Gwinnett County, Georgia

ABC photo by Byron Small.

I'm on a list where someone sent this article, "Planning firm with transit expertise selected to lead Gwinnett Place revitalization" from the Atlanta Business Chronicle, about the redevelopment planning for a decrepit mall, and I didn't think it was particularly interesting, although I guess it's new and special in Gwinnett County.  From the article:

The years-long dream of transforming the former Gwinnett Place Mall into a modern retail center and transit hub is one step closer to reality. The Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District (CID) selected planning firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB) to lead the revitalization strategy and craft a master plan for the site, which has seen decades of decline. 

The redevelopment of Gwinnett Place reflects a trend of mall owners across the country reinvesting in or reimagining their retail spaces. It also comes as Gwinnett braces for massive population growth. The county is projected to reach 1.5 million residents by 2040, surpassing Fulton County. 

In April, the project received $275,000 in grants from the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Centers Initiative. The funding will go toward redeveloping the mall and studying how the county could turn it into a hub for bus rapid transit along Satellite Blvd.

My initial reaction was no big deal, but (1) I suppose any step forward towards repatterning in the suburbs should be celebrated. 

(2) But how does this ever go from one off initiatives at a particular decrepit place to a regularized program across a community or county?  ("Extending the "Signature Streets" concept to "Signature Streets and Spaces"," 2020)

I am a city person, so I don't track suburban stuff as much as I should, except in the DC area and I am beginning to get a handle on the Super Sprawl of the Salt Lake Valley. 

(3) Is there any suburban jurisdiction that has a real ongoing program of repatterning away from sprawl?  

It's almost impossible because  automobile centric land use and transportation planning is the dominant planning and development paradigm.  Little outposts of urbanism don't have much effect on the whole.

(4) I know about the Montgomery County effort in White Flint and they are for intensification but I wouldn't call it a regularized countywide program. Same with Tysons Corner in Fairfax County, Virginia. 


(3) It's not like this concept of repatterning suburban business development towards walkability and mixed use is new stuff, the relevant "Ten Steps" publications by the Urban Land Institute are 15 to 20 years old. THAT'S OLD. The White Flint and Tysons efforts are approaching 15 years old.


2.  Bus rapid transit is not light rail on wheels.  But it's better than regular bus.  And maybe better than a traffic-engorged commute.  Another thing the article says is how great BRT is ("'If we can do BRT, we should': How public transit could transform suburban Atlanta malls"):
Gwinnett County residents, like many other suburban communities, want alternatives to spending long commutes in their cars, said Joe Allen executive director of the Gwinnett Place CID. The future BRT system will include permanent stations and dedicated lanes, he told Atlanta Business Chronicle in August. "It’s really going to be light rail but with rubber tires,” Allen said.
A short BRT line is under development in Atlanta ("MARTA on schedule with Summerhill BRT in Downtown ATL," Saporta Report).

Fancy bus shelters for Atlanta's BRT.


WRT the article: BRT isn't faster than light rail usually, even with dedicated lanes.  It is cheaper.  But ridership is usually significantly less.  And bus service, even BRT, doesn't seem to have a lot of multiplier effect when it comes to land use development and intensification.

But I think it's fine as one element in a complete network of transit services.

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"Can Cities Fill the Swimming Pool Equity Gap?" is too narrow a question. The question is how can we plan systematically for community amenities.

Bloomberg CityLab has a story, "Can Cities Fill the Swimming Pool Equity Gap?," about inequitable distribution of civic assetrs, specifically swimming pools, with examples from Long Beach, California. 

Belmont Pool complex on the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach, California.  Photo: Orange County Register.

It mentions that the city aims to spend almost $100 million to rebuild and expand its Belmont pool on the beach ("What will the new Belmont Pool look like? That’s up for debate," Orange County Register) while low income areas of the city have no outdoor pools at all.  That process has been underway for 7 years.

But it's really two questions. Equity.  And systematic parks and recreation planning.

The first is the equity question.  That communities either provide more resources to more well off areas and/or that well off areas consume "privatized amenities" at community swim clubs, etc., and fail to ensure equal access and provision  ("An outline for integrated equity planning: concepts and programs," 2017).

The PG Pool isn't an upscale club.  It has community areas and a down home vibe.

Having access to civic amenities like parks, libraries, recreational facilities, etc., is a key element of the "social urbanism" approach ("On the ‘Medellin Miracle’ and the ‘Social Urbanism’ Model," LabGov).

And was a key element of one of Britain's only successful regeneration approaches, called New Deal Communities, under the Blair Labour Government ("Reviewing the New Deal for Communities programme," Guardian, 2001, Turnaround: How to regenerate Britain's less prosperous communities by helping them take back control, webpage, Onward).

Exclusion isn't strictly about wealth, it's about money.  Prince George's and Montgomery Counties have a number of "community swim clubs" that are very grassroots, which many DC residents join.  But you pay to join--$500 for a family of four, less for seniors, an additional fee for caregiver access, temporary passes, and a deposit; Adelphi costs more).

For example, if you live in Mount Rainier, Maryland, one of the first things people say when they meet you is get on the waiting list for the PG Pool.  I know there are other community pools, like in Adelphi.

I thought one way that the Armed Forces Retirement Home in NW DC could build community support would be to provide some land for a similar kind of operation.

Most communities charge for recreation center access.  Montgomery County does have a no fee pass on an income basis, called RecAssistDC ended its fees for facilities after determining that the cost of collecting and processing payments wasn't worth it.   

Another equity question is when and how long the facilities are open.  For example, in DC when it can be hot into October, why is it that most pools are closed by the end of August?  If anything, with climate change, pools will need to be open more, not less.

Decades ago, Tacoma had a waterfront bus service called the Bayliner ("25 years later, is Tacoma ready for waterfront bus service?," Tacoma News-Tribune, 2017)

The Bloomberg article mentions that Long Beach has three pools, none of them easily accessible by transit.  (And Long Beach has a decent public transit system!)  

They can start by addressing that.  And making transit access a key condition in their capital improvements and master planning processes -- that all civic amenities should be easily accessible by transit.

"Explore Forest Park by public transportation" (Portland), Forest Park Conservancy, discusses transit access to area parks in Portland. An NHK program on Sapporo showed how people could take transit to a campground in a public park, where you could rent the equipment for your campsite in advance.

Weekend Wheels to the Waterfront, Port of Everett WA special weekend bus transit service, Port of Everett, Washington

Some communities add special transit services for parks in the summer ("Take a hike! Metro summer bus service to Cascade trailheads," Greater Seattle on the cheap)

Again, DC could do a better job of this for National Park Service facilities ("A gap in planning across agencies: Prioritizing park access for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users compared to motor vehicle access," 2015).  For example, back in the day, Capital Transit ran a weekend bus service for East Potomac Park--no such service exists now.  (Washington Park in Portland has an intra-park shuttle.)

1946 Capital Transit Map.  The V1 bus was exclusively for weekend service to East Potomac Park.

The second and deeper question is that of systematic planning for amenities.  Regardless of equity questions, many communities don't do a very good job with this.  DC definitely doesn't.  

-- Parks and Recreation Master Planning, Complete Communities Toolkit, University of Delaware

In 2008, I argued that DC should plan for parks and recreational facilities at four scales: city-wide; quadrant (although DC divides the four quadrants into ten "areas" for planning purposes; districts (multiple-neighborhoods); and neighborhoods ("Prototyping and municipal capital improvement programs").

For example, you don't need an outdoor pool in every neighborhood, they need to be planned at the district scale.  Or a city like DC only needs one or two exposition centers for the entire city, the same with indoor tracks.  (Arlington's Thomas Jefferson Community Center has an indoor track building that doubles as a site for large events.)

The way to think about this is the "integrated public realm framework" by parks planner David Barth.

And it would be helpful to coordinate access to school-based facilities as well, like Baltimore County, Maryland's agreement between its Department of Recreation and Parks and the school system. (Salt Lake County sometimes combines senior centers, recreation centers, and libraries in one facility.)

It's not helped by the failure to have a DC public parks and recreation master plan for more than 20 years ("Five examples of the failure to do parks and public space master planning in DC").  By contrast, Maryland requires all counties to have such a plan, and a process for regular updates.  For example this is what Montgomery County's website says about pools: 

There are 26 Swimming Pools in Montgomery County, Maryland, serving a population of 1,039,198 people in an area of 493 square miles. There is 1 Swimming Pool per 39,969 people, and 1 Swimming Pool per 18 square miles. In Maryland, Montgomery County is ranked 7th of 24 counties in Swimming Pools per capita, and 2nd of 24 counties in Swimming Pools per square mile.

But there isn't a map showing distribution, and by income. And these are a mix of public and private facilities.

The places with requirements for regular parks master planning tend to have a system for allocating facilities in a fair manner across the city.

But even then, communities often have big holes in the parks and recreation planning process, which is one of the reasons that I argue community master plans for parks and recreation need to include a census of private facilities, like golf.

Photo by Mike Near.

WRT pool planning more generally, I've argued that a public art dimension can be incorporated too ("A design idea for public outdoor swimming pools").

While the pool pictured is private, why not do similar public art treatments at public pools?

And have spaces for parties and lounging like the "community pools"?

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

(Republished) Free Transit on H Street NE?

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Republished from Friday September 10th, because I forgot to mention that effective last week, the City of Alexandria Virginia made its local transit service free.

New graphic design for the livery of Alexandria's buses is considerably more spiffy than the old design.

I can't believe I forgot to mention that Alexandria, Virginia, which runs intra-city transit under the DASH banner, including a previously already free "trolley bus" on King Street between the Metrorail station and the business district and waterfront, implemented free transit last week ("Alexandria’s DASH is going fare-free. The city says transit should be considered public infrastructure," Washington Post).

That's a big deal.  It's the only jurisdictional bus service in the area where all the transit is now free.   

It will be interesting to see if this has any affect on other jurisdictions, especially Arlington County, which for the most part is the most innovative community when it comes to sustainable mobility policy and practice.

And DC as it relates to Metrobus.

Dash didn't really make a lot of money from fares, so the amount of funding the city requires to substitute for fare revenue is comparatively small.  From the Post article:

The conversation probably started even before my time at DASH, and I’ve been here for a little over 4 1/2 years now. The question of the value of charging fares as compared to a fare-free service has come up quite frequently. And it really comes down to a question of how you view transit — whether you view it as a pay-as-you-go service or if you view it more as a public infrastructure, much like a road or a bridge or some other type of method to help people living their lives. And I think we’ve got local officials and DASH Board [of Directors] leadership who are coming together and recognizing that transit probably should be viewed more as infrastructure and as something that is open to all, regardless of your means.

Old style livery.  Flickr photo by SoCal Metro. 

In the immediate term for this fiscal year, the city’s additional subsidy that they had to provide was about $1.47 million. Now, consider that DASH typically budgets for approximately $4 million or so in fares. But in the current year with the [pandemic] climate and with all the things that have been going on and reduced ridership in our projections, the gap was much smaller to fill this year. So I think in the immediate term, it was easier to figure out.

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

Will was on the streetcar today, running an errand on H Street NE in DC and sent me this photo.

It reminded me of something I was thinking about in terms of "transit equity."  I believe in it, but haven't always paid the right level of attention to it.

While I believe that free transit would be best, in most places that isn't practical ("Revisiting free transit in the wake of the decision in Kansas City ... and Lawrence, Massachusetts," 2019).  

While I don't believe in decriminalizing fare evasion I do believe in facilitating transit access to low income riders, through discounted or free passes, something that the DC area hasn't been great about ("WMATA to consider lower cost/free transit pass for low income riders," 2020).

And rather than prepaying for a month's worth of a discounted pass, it's possible to create systems that do "pay as you go," which stop charging once the cost of a pass has been reached, as a result of paying fares one at a time ("New smart cards for Edmonton Transit boast a 'social justice' edge," Edmonton Journal).

DCs mayor made the Circulator bus system free ("Revisiting "Should surface transit be free?" given DC's announcement the Circulator bus service will be free," 2019).  

DC runs this system independent of the Metrobus system.

Although this was countermanded by City Council, but as many transit agencies did during the pandemic, the service was made free, although this will end September 30th.

In Boston, a couple years ago, then City Councilor Michelle Wu (now the leading candidate for Mayor) suggested that one of the bus lines running in the city be free, since it was relied upon by so many low income riders ("Two Boston city councilors want to make the Route 28 Bus free," Boston Globe).  From the article:

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, one of the outspoken advocates in the charge against the price hike, says it’s time for the “next step:” a public discussion on how to ultimately make one of the busiest bus routes in the city, free of charge.

The Route 28 Bus, making stops between Mattapan and Ruggles Station, carries around 12,000 riders on weekdays. The majority of passengers are low-income residents without cars and almost half don’t have a driver’s license, Wu told her fellow councilors this week. ...

“This would be a measure that would also ensure people have no barriers to access that economic opportunity corridor,” Wu said during a meeting Wednesday, where she and Councilor Kim Janey filed their request for a hearing on the proposal. “This is the route I think we need to have the conversation about.”

In Greater Boston, all of the transit services are run by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, a state agency.  In July, MBTA announced they would test free transit on Route 28 ("MBTA launches fare-free pilot program on busiest bus route in Boston," WCVB-TV).

Should DC do the same thing on H Street NE?  It made me think about the X bus service along H Street NE.  

It's one of the city's busy bus lines, with about the same pre-pandemic ridership as Route 28 in Boston.

But it "competes" with the DC Streetcar, which doesn't charge a fare. 

 Some people argue that the streetcar is a premium service, having free transit for the streetcar only is inequitable ("Transit "wokeness" in DC and Baltimore," 2021). One way to address this would be to make the X bus free, just like the streetcar.

Like the Circulator, the streetcar is a 100% DC funded and operated service.  And for DC to have Metrobus free there might be some things they have to negotiate with other members (Maryland and Virginia) of the Compact, and of course, they'd have to come up with the funding for it.

(Back in the day, when Seattle had a Downtown free fare zone, they made a separate payment to King County Metro to pay for it.  But it probably wasn't near enough, less than $1 million annually.  As a result of declining revenues due to the 2008 recession, the Free Fare Zone was discontinued.

Another way to improve DC bus service.  Elsewhere I've argued that bus service could be rebranded and repositioned is by switching to double deck buses ("Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012). 


This wouldn't be a problem in DC in most cases, because traffic signals and powerlines don't cross the street in ways that would impede tall buses.  But it wouldn't work in the suburbs.

For profit double deck tourist buses already operate in DC, proving it can be popular and isn't particularly difficult operationally.

A few transit agencies in North America use double deck buses, but not many including Ottawa, Las Vegas, and Snohomish County, Washington.  They get tested from time to time in various places.  

But I think the infrastructure issue--not just traffic signals and utility wires, but bus terminals need higher ceilings and such--ends up scotching the idea.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 2: Implementation Approach and Levers

-- "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 1: Overview and Theoretical Foundations"
-- "St. Louis: what would I recommend for a comprehensive revitalization program? | Part 2: Implementation Approach and Levers"

Forgot that I had most of this written, but was trying to read the ABCD report Leading by Stepping Back: A Guide for City Officials on Building Neighborhood Capacity, on creating ground up civic engagement programs in Savannah, Georgia, before publishing..

This post was spurred as a response to an article in the Washington Post about Tishaura Jones, the recently elected progressive left St. Louis mayor, and thinking about what I would try to do were I in her shoes. 

The first piece, published on August 2nd, suggested creating a program built on foundational points:

  1. Transformational Projects Action Planning
  2. Social Urbanism
  3. Poverty Reduction through equity planning, social infrastructure creation, and a focus on community economic development 
  4. Civic Engagement

The second piece, this one, outlines a more specific program.

Implementation approaches and levers

1. City and county consolidation would reposition the city-county as the tenth largest city in the US, changing the conversation and focus away from St. Louis' constant population loss.  (Other cities like Baltimore City and County, Detroit and Wayne County, and Pittsburgh and Allegheny County need to do this too.)

This would provide a consolidated and bigger tax base.

Although this will be extremely difficult to pull off, because St. Louis city is seen as an economic laggard along with race issues, among others (e.g., "CLAIMING IT WOULD “DIVIDE US”, STENGER OPPOSES NORTH-SOUTH RAIL TRANSIT," NextStL).

Successful consolidations in Louisville and Lexington, even Indianapolis are models that can be referenced.

Another problem is the politics of city and county.  It could be that the county electorate which is larger than the city, is more conservative, and a city-county consolidation could merely be another way to oppress the city.  Both Toronto, with Rob Ford, and London, with Boris Johnson, have had this occur in the recent past.   (Plus, the County Council has 7 members, while the City Council has 28!)

The Next American City by Mick Cornett, former mayor of Oklahoma City, describes the Metropolitan Area Projects program.

[2.  Some of the smaller communities in St. Louis County should consolidate into the city, like how there is an initiative in Wilkinsburg borough in Allegheny County to merge with Pittsburgh ("Wilkinsburg group seeking merger with Pittsburgh delays action," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) although this wouldn't be an issue for the Mayor of St. Louis to pursue, but to support.]

3.  Create a master community economic development plan incorporating the relevant initiatives cited below.  Some measures were identified in the plan developed by Rollin Stanley (The future of shrinking cities: problems, patterns, and strategies of urban transformations in a global context, starting on page 127 (better formatted pdf version).

In the early 2000s, I came across an urban revitalization approach outlined in the Black Commentator website, called "Wanted: A Plan for Cities to Save Themselves," which was a more community-based approach counter to typical neoliberal approaches.  It's been a long time since I've read it, but it would be a good document to start with.

-- Part 2 of this series.
-- Part 3 of this series.
-- Part 4 of this series.
-- Part 5 of this series.

Along the same lines, in the Guardian, Malaika Jabali has a provocative article, "What Ice Cube's collaboration with Trump – and critique of Democrats – reveals," about Ice Cube's "conservative" black economic development program (Ice Cube's Contract with Black America), that Candidate Trump claimed to support.  

From the article:
The fact of the matter is, Black Americans defending and criticizing Ice Cube both have valid concerns. Neither major political party is working for Black Americans economically. The Black-white wealth gap is alarming, with white households holding 11.5 times more wealth than Black ones, and the gap continues to widen. Black homeownership is at a record low. More Black people are being imprisoned than in the 1960s. And both parties have contributed to these policy failures while letting big business off the hook for practices that exploit and harm our communities. This includes encouraging manufacturing jobs to leave for cheaper, deunionized labor in sectors that were disproportionately occupied by Black men; failing to adequately regulate big banks who profited from subprime mortgages targeted to Black communities; failing to assist Black Americans when the economy crashed on their backs; and enabling corporations to make astronomical profits off the disproportionately Black and Latino workers working in essential jobs during Covid.
Although, St. Louis city is about 45% black and 45% white, while St. Louis County is 68% white and 28% black.  Still, these kinds of proposals need to be considered in the context of communities where clearly the ordinary ways of approaching community improvement aren't working.

4.  (Re)Branding and identity.  There are many ways to think about the city's brand and identity.  This article, "How Treating Cities as Products Creates Real Change," points out that you don't "create" identity so much as burnish it, as a city's identity has been created by the sum total of its exchange.  From the article:

City branding isn’t about inventing something new, it’s about discovering what’s already in the city. Cities are made of the ideas and the people that sculpt its identity and vibrancy. The brand of a city are the attributes that distinguish one place from another, placing a unique value and transforming the city from a location into a destination. An effective city brand strategy has to accommodate all of the stakeholders’ demands, from investors to officials to residents, in order to strengthen the city’s overall competitiveness. All in all, city branding is an emerging agent for urban socioeconomic development. A number of cities are already involved in creating a new brand or regenerating their existing one in aim to revitalize, secure, and make the city a more prominent place on the map.
Logo for the Lambert International Airport.

Pieces on design ("PL #7: Using the Purple Line to rebrand Montgomery and Prince George's Counties as Design Forward"), transit as a design product ("Branding's (NOT) all you need for transit"), and usability ("World Usability Day and urban planning"), and tourism marketing ("Orlando's "Discover Your Urban" promotion campaign" and "Area tourism development")  illustrate different elements of identity, city branding, and marketing.

OneSTL is the brand for the sustainability plan for the St. Louis metropolitan county of governments. 

That would have been an awesome brand for a City-County consolidation.

But there are ways to do something even better, inspired by the RVA branding program in Richmond, which was created by students at Virginia Commonwealth University, working with local agencies (RVA Creates, "For the RVA brand, 'No' turned to 'Go!'," Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Three little letters become big business," Richmond BizSense).

Image by Matthias Miller using the RVA Creates logo.

5.  Organize a St. Louis City and County Metropolitan Area Projects program.  To implement a transformational projects action plan, a program on the scale of the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area Projects should be developed. 

Besides OKC, which although a city is as large as many counties, Hennepin County, Minnesota and Minneapolis is a pre-eminent model too.  Consolidation would be great for tax harmonization and greater revenues

Money and program.  If the city and county were economically intertwined, the county would be motivated, like Hennepin County was in the 1980s, faced with property tax revenue decline from a shrinking Minneapolis, to engage in a program of focused investment on infrastructure and quality of life improvements.

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

And like Oklahoma City's Metropolitan Area Projects program, they could use a sales tax add on (and other sources) to fund programs ("Change isn't usually that simple: The repatterning of Oklahoma City's Downtown Streetscape).  

The City and County have passed various sales tax add ons to fund various projects, such as Proposition P in 2013, for parks and trails, for transit, and for economic development in 2017, among others.

This should be done at two scales: (1) at the city-county scale and (2) the neighborhood scale within St. Louis.  

At the same time, based on the findings in Ferguson ("How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty," Washington Post) and knowing that there are other similarly positioned communities within St. Louis County, a similar revitalization program needs to be developed for St. Louis County, using the same approach.

Creating Knowledge Locations in Cities, full text pdf

6. Seed an innovation district to foster broad scale startup support and business development.  Which is already happening ("A Core Commitment: What’s Next for the Downtown St. Louis Innovation District," EQ).

-- "Naturally occurring innovation districts | Technology districts and the tech sector"
-- "Developing creative quarters in cities: policy lessons from 'Art and design city' Arabianranta, Helsinki," Urban Research & Practice 6(2):211-218, 2013
-- "Helsinki as an example of creative industries driving urban revitalization programs"

Kansas City on the other side of the state, aims to develop around agrosciences and technology and biotechnology ("THE KC ANIMAL HEALTH CORRIDOR: LEADING THE WORLD IN ANIMAL HEALTH").  Certainly St. Louis has strengths of its own?

7.  For St. Louis (and suburbs as needed but that isn't the job of the Mayor of St. Louis), Neighborhood and commercial district revitalization.  

Residential.  Although not every neighborhood can be revitalized, at least not all at once, neighborhood plans need to be created to outline a focused program for new investments should be developed, using the Elm Street approach for residential improvements, at first focusing on those areas that have the greatest potential velocity for improvement: 

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

And there needs to be a residential recruitment program, along the lines of Live Baltimore, which along with the Healthy Neighborhoods program which invests in neighborhood improvements, helps to attract new residents to the city.

Commercial districts using the Main Street approach, focused on retention of historic buildings and the support and/or development of independent businesses:

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

Also see "The soft side of commercial district revitalization" (2006).  There is an existing Main Street initiative in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis.  

(Oakland County Michigan utilizes the Main Street model to work with communities across the county for commercial district revitalization.  St. Louis County has a Great Streets program as part of the MPO.  The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission had a program called Classic Towns that focused on suburban towns. The Northeast Ohio First Suburbs Consortium focuses on inner ring suburban revitalization.)

Along with urban design and placemaking improvements:

-- ("Walkable community planning versus pedestrian planning"
-- "Five examples of the failure to do parks and public space master planning in DC"
-- "Extending the "Signature Streets" concept to "Signature Streets and Spaces""
-- "Diversity Plaza, Queens, a pedestrian exclusive block"   

Programs like Walk Boston, Walk Denver, Feet First in Seattle, and Starkville in Motion (Mississippi) are great examples of "walkable community planning" even though they wouldn't call it that--it's about using walking and biking as a way to better connect people to their communities while improving the quality of life in those places.  

And Safe Routes to Schools program support urban design improvements that go beyond school children (School Walk and Bike Routes: A Guide for Planning and Improving Walk and Bike to School Options for Students, State of Washington DOT).

Festivals, house tours and special events.  Communities should be supported with funding for the development and operation of community building events such as festivals, farmers markets ("The layering effect: how the building blocks of an integrated public realm set the stage for community building and Silver Spring, Maryland as an example," 2012), community walking and bike tours, historic preservation house tours, cultural events like studio tours, arts walks, and coordinated "Open Doors" program ("DC should create an annual city-wide Doors Open event," 2019).

Neighborhood elements within city-wide marketing and wayfinding systems. As part of overarching branding and identity systems, cities should be sure to include neighborhoods as an element within the system, and provide support for wayfinding signage, banner programs, bus shelter communication systems, community information kiosks, cultural and historic markers, residential and commercial district brochures, etc.

Tax increment financing as a funding source.  An example of an opportunity for additional funding for neighborhood development would be the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program, a 25 year long initiative, where tax increment financing bonds were sold to fund neighborhood improvements as developed by residents through consensus-based planning, working with the schools, parks, and other city and county agencies.

Although I would say that because so many of the districts are distressed, emerging, and at best early transitioning, 25 years isn't long enough, probably TIF as a funding stream needs to be a 40 year period.

8.  Entrepreneurship and Microenterprise development.  The biggest reason why neighborhoods and their commercial districts are failing is that at the micro scale, their economies are failing.  

Key points in Temali's book are developing the community workforce, creating good neighborhood-based jobs and microenterprise development as a way to create jobs.

A couple decades ago I read a paper on business plan contests, which said you need scale to succeed.  

As part of entrepreneurship and microenterprise development, have an annual business plan competition, with technical assistance to the participants, with winners getting resources to open their businesses, including in the various neighborhood commercial districts.

Also see "Why ask why? Because" (2007) which discusses subsystems of retail business operation, "Independent retail business can succeed and thrive" (2008) about systematic approaches to business identity, and "Retail and Restaurant Check Up Surveys" (2009).

Also see the Baltimore Sun article, "Healthy Howard Row: 5 new Black-owned businesses take root on a single Baltimore block," about the development of a row of black-owned businesses on Howard Street.  Coherent concentration of businesses is important for success.

Do this for other types of startups too. And for community investment and participation in local real estate development, such as that being piloted in Allentown ("Lesson from CNN story on Allentown, Pennsylvania").

More innovative forms of business organization (business cooperatives, social enterprise businesses run by nonprofits, market spaces as entrepreneurship spaces, etc.) may need to be created in order to seed success in neighborhoods with broken micro-economies ("In lower income neighborhoods, are businesses supposed to be "community organizations" first?," 2012, "Ground up commercial revitalization and the Skyland Town Center project" 2016).  

An interesting approach is offered by the Maryland-based real estate development firm Structures Unlimited.  In Cleveland, named the Madame C.J. Walker Center, they're creating a "community hub" with a credit union as the anchor, and adding a small grocery store and space for neighborhood shops  ("New business center coming to Cleveland's Hough neighborhood," WKYC-TV) in a 16,000 s.f. building.

I think a business development space, like the shared workspaces of places like WeWork, but on a nonprofit basis, with partnerships with business development programming (banks, SCORE business consulting from the Small Business Administration, local universities, city, county and state economic development organizations, etc.) ought to be created as part of these initiatives.  Paired with financing assistance.

Fortunately, the Metrolink system is in a rebranding process.

9.  Transit, urban design, and sustainable mobility/Transit as economic development. St. Louis has an east-west light rail line that serves St. Louis, St. Louis County, and East Saint Louis and St. Clair County, Illinois.  

In a full-blown revitalization program for the city and county, transit expansion should be prioritized. 

As an example, light rail has been key to the revitalization of Minneapolis-St. Paul, although those cities are not consolidated with their respective counties.

Hennepin County used light rail as a key element of its economic revitalization planning, and Minnesota has tax harmonization measures in place which provide some of the benefits from city-county consolidation in other places.

But it needs to be a network rather than a couple lines, especially in St. Louis City in order to draw renewed business and residential interest.  There are various expansion studies, in particular a North-South line adding stations within the city, but mostly north and south of the city in the County. 

It's being looked at currently ("St. Louis plans to take hard look at north-south light-rail line," Railway Track & Structures), while 5 years ago, the County Executive was not favorable.

A big focus of such a program should be providing fixed rail transit service to more parts of St. Louis city, as a way to foster revitalization, development intensity, and recruitment of new residents, the way that in DC, the Metrorail system has worked in the core of the city.

A transit expansion program should also be accompanied by "smart city" initiatives incorporated by Kansas City in its streetcar program, including sensor networks, wifi service, and smart kiosks (Smart City Emerging Technology Initiative, "New Smart City links: Data ‘chatter’ in streetcar corridor creates connections," Kansas City Business Journal).

Image: St. Louis Business Journal.

With regard to sustainable mobility and urban design, St. Louis has a number of initiatives already, such as Design Downtown St. Louis, a St. Louis Great Streets program for the Metropolitan area, etc.  

The most important thing is to integrate and coordinate the various transit initiatives into one integrated master plan.

10.  Schools revitalization.  The second phase of the OKC MAP program was MAPS4Kids.  OKC is served by 20+ school districts, but the core of the city is in one district, which had been underfunded for decades and the schools were in bad shape.  

The "bad schools" in the core of the city hurt the city's image and ability to recruit new business and residents.  They decided to use the second iteration of the MAPS program to rebuild schools in the core--70% of the funding went to the core school district, and 30% to the other school districts serving the city.  The total funding was $700 million.

This helped stabilize the core school district, and led to spillover improvements and economic development in the neighborhoods served by the schools.  But a failure of the program was to focus on bricks and mortar improvements, and not programmatic transformation  ("Maps for Kids wraps up," Daily Oklahoman).  Academic improvement has lagged physical improvement.

A St. Louis City MAP4Kids program could be a way to position school improvement, combining physical improvements to schools with programmatic improvements.  

While there have been many failures in urban school reform, there are a number of positive examples also ("Surprising gains in 5 school districts you’ve never heard of, plus Chicago," Washington Post), usually involving the use of AP and International Baccalaureate programs for high schools, and magnet and other programs for elementary and middle schools.  

Additional resources for Title I Schools, Co-operative High School (one of my ideas), Summer School, Year Round School, Pre-K 3-5, etc., should also be included in transformational programmatic improvement ("Successful school programs in low income communities").  From the Washington Post article "America’s most accelerated math program blasts through pandemic":

The Pasadena public schools, where most students are from low-income families, have had a mediocre reputation for decades. But in recent years its administrators have created strong AP and International Baccalaureate programs with high levels of participation. It has established magnet schools and dual-language immersion classes.

The "Schools as Community Center" approach should also be used, whereby schools are expanded through the co-location of other civic assets such as libraries ("Update: Neighborhood libraries as nodes in a neighborhood and city-wide network of cultural assets"), public health clinics, etc.  (In DC, Briya Charter Schools have a co-location agreement with Mary's Center clinics, a couple elementary schools in Salt Lake City have public health clinics.)

-- Cincinnati Public Schools Community Learning Centers approach


Note that like with urban revitalization, which takes decades, most school reform efforts are wrecked by short terms of office of leaders and political meddling ("How clueless principals and superintendents ruin great schools," Washington Post).

11.  Public safety and criminal justice.  There are a lot of different issues concerning public safety.  "Defund" is more about warrior policing and mass incarceration.  

At the same time, crime is still a problem and we need police to address it.  Although maybe the way we're using police resources to suppress crime isn't working.  For example, we need a lot more resources put into investigation so that criminals can be apprehended.  

At the same time, the Defund movement is raising important issues about the appropriateness of police as first responders to many types of incidents where they might not be the right approach ("The opportunity to rearticulate public safety delivery").  

St. Louis has an opportunity to re-articulate public safety in a transformational way.  

Better yet would be to do this at the scale of most if not all of the proposed consolidated city-county, and create a new "metropolitan" police department, not unlike what Camden, New Jersey did ("Camden, the city that really did abolish the police," Politico), at least to "hoover up" micro police departments like Ferguson's and to completely reposition and rebuild police service delivery.

Note there's plenty going on in terms of police reform in St. Louis City and County already and I wouldn't claim to be particularly informed about it ("Protesters Descend on St. Louis, and Police Respond: ‘We’re in Control’," NYT).

-- Forward Through Ferguson
-- "In homicides, there are two cities of St. Louis," MetroSTL

CPTED, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, and Community Safety Partnership approaches ("Creating 'community safety partnership neighborhood management programs as a management and mitigation strategy for public nuisance programs") should be part of the approach, as part of shifting mental health homelessness response away from police.

In To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America’s Police, former police chief Norm Stamper suggests citizen involvement in policing in a direct way.  I haven't yet followed up with him to see what he means exactly, but it's definitely a way to rebuild the order and trust relationship within communities and with police.

12.  Civic engagement.  After finding that top-down community improvement programs weren't successful in terms of retaining and attracting residents, in the late 1980s, Savannah began developing an approach to community improvement that complemented city improvement and nuisance abatement programs by engaging citizens as "designers of neighborhood programs and producers of community change," assisted by financing, capacity building and technical support from the city government.  

It's comparable to the point Rolf Goetze makes in Building Neighborhood Confidence, that the point of government assistance in revitalization isn't to foster dependence, but to provide the spark and help to get the community back to the point where it is (re)investing in itself.  

This is the reverse of how many city governments approach community improvement, and it is recommended that St. Louis adopt a civic engagement centric approach to community revitalization as part of this proposed program.

What Savannah did is described in detail in Leading by Stepping Back: A Guide for City Officials on Building Neighborhood Capacity, published in 1999. 

Ward Halls/Democracy House.  St. Louis has 28(!) wards and an Alderman for each.  I'd argue that given the population decline, they should shrink this.  

This has been proposed for Cleveland ("What would Cleveland look like with nine wards? Dramatically larger wards with diminished neighborhood identities," Cleveland Plain Dealer).  Imposed by the Province (political payback by someone who lost election for mayor but then became prime minister of the province), Toronto went from 47 wards to 25 in 2018.   Baltimore reduced the number of City Councilmembers by 3 in 2002, moving from six 3 member districts to 14 districts with one councilmember and a Council President elected city-wide ("Too many districts? Not enough? Another bill introduced to reshape Baltimore City Council," Baltimore Sun).

In any case, in "Outline for a proposed Ward-focused (DC) Councilmember campaign platform and agenda," calling it "Democracy House," I suggested that ward offices be created (not unlike ward/precinct halls in cities "back in the day") and that as part of the function, space and resources be provided to community groups involved in ward-specific activities.  Ward Democracy Houses should also include at least one annual "community organization fair" which could also serve as a volunteer recruitment event.

Funds for small projects.  A fund for small projects should be created for each ward, and the Participatory Budgeting process should be used to allocate funds ("An update on Participatory Budgeting practice in New York City," 2018).

Savannah's "Grants for Blocks" program was aimed at micro projects, providing micro grants ($500 was the maximum, today it would be about $1,000, with inflation), supporting house and community improvements without a great deal of bureaucracy.

Each year a "Neighborhood Convention" unveiled the projects to the community.

London has a similar grants program for sustainable mobility improvements.  Toronto used to have a program providing small grants to "Bicycle User Groups" to promote cycling as transportation

Citizen engaged planning practice.  (These are just some examples.)  What distinguished the Minneapolis Neighborhood Revitalization Program program is that it was citizen-led.  

Neighborhood groups had to come together to come up with and implement a program of improvements.  The city developed a capacity building and training infrastructure to support it.

In DC, a great example is community-initiated urban design improvement planning by the Bloomingdale Civic Association in their Bloomingdale Village Center Project, which stepped in amidst the failure of the DC Office of Planning and Department of Transportation to pursue transformational planning approaches despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on community planning.

In Calgary, where neighborhood recreation centers are run by community organizations, the Federation of Calgary Communities provides technical support and an extensive schedule of training classes for community groups, including having urban planners on staff to assist neighborhoods dealing with difficult problems and new development  ("Community association planning committees a hidden gem?," Calgary Herald)

The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods sponsors a variety of programs where citizens undertake community projects with financial and training support from the city.  Unlike DC's "constituency service" programs by Councilmembers and the Mayor's Office, these initiatives are designed to support DIY self-help efforts driven independently of elected officials.  While out of date in terms of current programs, the book Neighbor Power describes the first couple decades of the program.

Models for technical assistance and capacity development

  • Decades ago, there was an organization called the Nonprofit Support Center, which provided training in a number of cities, including DC.
  • Dallas Public Library has an Urban Information Center with special information and publications on urban issues.
  • The Massachusetts Citizen Planner Training Collaborative is a statewide training program for members of planning and zoning boards, but this concept can be extended to civic engagement more generally 
  • The 1970-1980s Citizen Involvement Training Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst produced training materials and workshops (not unlike the ABCD Institute
  • The Project for Public Spaces produced a workbook, now in a second edition, called How to Turn A Place Around, which they also offered as a workshop.  It's a great model for urban design focused workshops for neighborhoods that can also be used as civic engagement training.
  • Community Design Centers were a 1960s and 1970s initiative to provide urban design assistance to neighborhoods.  Funded by HUD, and typically based at universities, many communities still are served by such programs, as well as urban design studio programs for architecture and planning schools.
  • The Chicago Bungalow Association is a great example of a historic preservation initiative focused on stabilizing neighborhoods through historic preservation.

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Friday, September 10, 2021

Free transit on H Street NE?

Will was on the streetcar today, running an errand on H Street NE in DC and sent me this photo.

It reminded me of something I was thinking about in terms of "transit equity."  I believe in it, but haven't always paid the right level of attention to it.

While I believe that free transit would be best, in most places that isn't practical ("Revisiting free transit in the wake of the decision in Kansas City ... and Lawrence, Massachusetts," 2019).  

While I don't believe in decriminalizing fare evasion I do believe in facilitating transit access to low income riders, through discounted or free passes, something that the DC area hasn't been great about ("WMATA to consider lower cost/free transit pass for low income riders," 2020).

And rather than prepaying for a month's worth of a discounted pass, it's possible to create systems that do "pay as you go," which stop charging once the cost of a pass has been reached, as a result of paying fares one at a time ("New smart cards for Edmonton Transit boast a 'social justice' edge," Edmonton Journal).

DC has made the Circulator bus system free ("Revisiting "Should surface transit be free?" given DC's announcement the Circulator bus service will be free," 2019).  

DC runs this system independent of the Metrobus system.

In Boston, a couple years ago, then City Councilor Michelle Wu (now the leading candidate for Mayor) suggested that one of the bus lines running in the city be free, since it was relied upon by so many low income riders ("Two Boston city councilors want to make the Route 28 Bus free," Boston Globe).  From the article:

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, one of the outspoken advocates in the charge against the price hike, says it’s time for the “next step:” a public discussion on how to ultimately make one of the busiest bus routes in the city, free of charge.

The Route 28 Bus, making stops between Mattapan and Ruggles Station, carries around 12,000 riders on weekdays. The majority of passengers are low-income residents without cars and almost half don’t have a driver’s license, Wu told her fellow councilors this week. ...

“This would be a measure that would also ensure people have no barriers to access that economic opportunity corridor,” Wu said during a meeting Wednesday, where she and Councilor Kim Janey filed their request for a hearing on the proposal. “This is the route I think we need to have the conversation about.”

In Greater Boston, all of the transit services are run by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, a state agency.  In July, MBTA announced they would test free transit on Route 28 ("MBTA launches fare-free pilot program on busiest bus route in Boston," WCVB-TV).

Should DC do the same thing on H Street NE?  It made me think about the X bus service along H Street NE.  

It's one of the city's busy buslines, with about the same pre-pandemic ridership as Route 28 in Boston.

But it "competes" with the DC Streetcar, which doesn't charge a fare. 

 Some people argue that the streetcar is a premium service, having free transit is inequitable ("Transit "wokeness" in DC and Baltimore," 2021). One way to address this would be to make the X bus free, just like the streetcar.

Like the Circulator, the streetcar is a 100% DC funded and operated service.  And for DC to have Metrobus free there might be some things they have to negotiate with other members (Maryland and Virginia) of the Compact, and of course, they'd have to come up with the funding for it.

(Back in the day, when Seattle had a Downtown free fare zone, they made a separate payment to King County Metro to pay for it.  But it probably wasn't near enough, less than $1 million annually.  As a result of declining revenues due to the 2008 recession, the Free Fare Zone was discontinued.

Another way to improve DC bus service.  Elsewhere I've argued that bus service could be rebranded and repositioned is by switching to double deck buses ("Making bus service sexy and more equitable," 2012). 


This wouldn't be a problem in DC in most cases, because traffic signals and powerlines don't cross the street in ways that would impede tall buses.  But it wouldn't work in the suburbs.

For profit double deck tourist buses already operate in DC, proving it can be popular and isn't particularly difficult operationally.

A few transit agencies in North America use double deck buses, but not many including Ottawa, Las Vegas, and Snohomish County, Washington.  They get tested from time to time in various places.  

But I think the infrastructure issue--not just traffic signals and utility wires, but bus terminals need higher ceilings and such--ends up scotching the idea.

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