Showing posts from July, 2016

Gentrification: what do we know ?

A number of forces--economic, ecological, health and fashion trends--are driving middle-class Americans back to the central cities many of their own ancestors abandoned decades ago. If you're looking for affordable, walkable urbanism, you need to be looking in places built along those lines, and those tend to be places that were built a good while ago. Accordingly, central city populations have increased in recent years--in many respects, given the scope and durability of the economic and environmental forces, it's surprising the trend isn't stronger, although as the California city council member said to Dave Alden last week, "as long as they can afford a tank of gas for their new SUV" a lot of people are comfortable where they are.

Maybe climate change is just a data error, maybe we're now Saudi America with limitless supplies of cheap energy, maybe the economy will roll over and whimper in the face of the awesomeness of the next President. However, if not…

The future of the suburbs

The last 70 years of American history have featured the dramatic growth of suburbs in metropolitan areas. From the literal fringes of American society they have emerged as centers of political and economic power: suburban job creation far outpaced that of central cities until the mid-2000s, and suburban residents comprised a majority of voters in presidential election since 1992. Not always respected or admired, their importance is nonetheless unmistakable.

But what about the next 70 years? Much as the rise of edge cities must have been unimaginable to people in the mid-1940s, and the resurgence of central cities was unimaginable to us in the 1970s, today's suburbs are likely to transform in the 21st century. A lot depends on how the 21st century progresses, but some suburbs are better positioned than others to face whatever it brings.

Suburbs were founded at different times and by different groups of people, so it's not news to anyone that there are several types of suburban…

My letter to the first-years

This fall I'm teaching a course in Coe's first-year program called The Future of the City. I don't know the students' backgrounds, of course, so we'll start with the basics: Suburban Nation and a very good reader on "Urban Society" compiled by Annual Editions. If I can get them into some of the excellent urbanist blogs out there over the course of the semester, I'll consider it a success. If they join Strong Towns, I'll consider it a triumph.

The program jump-starts with some summer reading. This year, for the first time, faculty were given a list of four books from which to choose; I chose Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates as the most relevant to the topic of urbanism. Little did I know how timely it would prove to be.

Last week we faculty got our provisional class rosters. I have 14 students so far, with one or two last-minute types expected later. Now I know their names and home states (6 IA-2 IL-AZ-CA-FL-MO-TX-WI), but not much els…

What can Cedar Rapids learn from Rochester?

The MedQuarter is an area in Cedar Rapids to the northeast of downtown, comprising about 40 square blocks including two large hospitals, some large medical practices, and numerous smaller offices. In 2011 a Medical Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) was formed to facilitate development of this area into what its 2014 Master Development Plan calls "a recognized destination for high quality healthcare that addresses the needs of both visitors and Cedar Rapidians" (p. 1). The large amount of underused space in the district makes it ripe for development; I've watched these discussions with great interest and a good deal of commentary, most recently here, with a bit of P.S. here.

Cedar Rapids is not unique in seeking to leverage its health care cluster to promote prosperity for the city. A quick Internet search finds Baltimore, Birmingham, Boston, Buffalo, Camden, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Poughkeepsie pursuing some version of the &q…

Big Amenity and the problem of uncertainty

Cleveland, a town which has taken its lumps in the post-industrial era, is making a big statement about getting back in the game this week, reopening its downtown Public Square after a $50 million renovation (Schneider). The new centerpiece of the old city blocks off the streets that formerly ran through it, and adds green space, trees, walking paths and a central fountain that will be a skating rink in the winter. Public Square 2.0 is the result of a public-private partnership, spearheaded by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. Nearby to Public Square, development includes four new hotels, new and renovated office buildings, and apartments for a downtown population that has more than doubled in the last 15 years and which the city expects to grow further. They can all shop at a gigantic new Heinen's supermarket.

Cleveland's downtown make-over is very much in tune with what a lot of North American cities are doing: Instead of using subsidies to lure large firms away from other p…