Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday Parking 2016

Entrance to Westdale off 33rd Avenue...
Decidedly unwalkable
In 2013 the City of Cedar Rapids awarded $11.7 million in economic development tax breaks for the redevelopment of Westdale Mall, a 1970s creation that had fallen on hard times what with the Internet and an even grander mall down the road in Coralville. Two years later, the city provided guarantee for an $11.5 million bank loan. The original plan had a fair amount of greenwashing in it--walking trails, affordable housing for the elderly--that disappeared over time as costs mounted.

This year's Black Friday Parking walk reveals what taxpayers helped buy. While there is still ongoing construction, what remains on the site are stores but without the public features the mall used to offer: a place to walk (albeit one you had to drive to get to), a common area, public restrooms, and a warm place to wait for the bus. When the Super Wal-Mart is kicking your ass on walkability, you've got problems.

What also remains on site is parking. A lot of parking. J.C. Penney's was doing a brisk business Friday afternoon, but even so there was plenty of parking outside.

The parking lots of Westdale were at best 50 percent full. While it's true that the Black Friday phenomenon may be losing its commercial mojo, and that the highly popular University of Iowa Hawkeyes football team was playing archrival Nebraska this afternoon, it's fair to say that the new Westdale has vastly overbuilt parking. I don't know whether it's due to city requirements or the developer's choice, but either way there are civic costs to overloading the town with parking lots. Someone is on the hook for keeping them in repair, plowing them, &c. The adjoining streets are a dreadful mix of car traffic and unattractive shopping plazas full of chain stores and restaurants:
Edgewood Rd looking north from 29th Street

Edgewood Road view of one of the plazas that comprise the new Westdale
Down the street at the big box stores, the Black Friday parking story was much the same, albeit the parking lots were somewhat less frightening to walk across. Wal-Mart's parking lot was about 55 percent full.
Near the store

Farther out
Plenty of parking at the strip mall next door
Target's lot was I'd guess about 40 percent full.

Westdale Mall-That-Was sits on a triangle formed by three stroads that truly are traffic sewers: Edgewood Road, Wiley Boulevard and Williams Boulevard. That's a lot of accumulated bad planning, and a lot of surface parking, but now that's all water under the bridge. Those costs are sunk, that ship has sailed. It can't have been worth $11.7 million to polish it, but I'm pretty sure it's not worth trying to impose urbanism on it either. It should at least serve as an object lesson for future development: Let whatever you do be human-scaled, let it be walkable, and let development decisions rely on market mechanisms like price signals instead of how much pull a given developer has with the city government.
A cold-looking blogger waits for the bus.
To quote our new state motto, "Suck it up, buttercup!"
"Black Friday Parking," Strong Towns, 25 November 2016
Sarah Kobos, "Black Friday Proves We Have Too Damn Much Parking," Modern Cities, 23 November 2016, 
B.A. Morelli, "'Open for Business,'" Cedar Rapids Gazette, 20 November 2016, 1A, 7A

LAST YEAR'S MODEL: "Black Friday Parking," 27 November 2016

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Election and Our Common Life

I am, I’m afraid, not ready to make nice.

Despite calls from such worthies as Barack Obama and ChuckMarohn, and the rather clear results in the Electoral College count, I find myself unreconciled to the results of the 2016 presidential election. President-elect Donald J. Trump ran a campaign that was relentlessly antithetical to the notion of a common life, and his election stands as a repudiation of the core of that concept. This appalling result is the more hard-to-take because it was unexpected, but even a previously-expected Trump victory would have been a calamity.

I began this blog 3 ½ years ago in an effort to corral all the material I was reading about the concept of place. The more I read and wrote, the more I was led to an understanding of place that is centered on people, and so the challenges places face in the 21st century are precisely those faced by people: economic opportunity on a broad scale hasn’t caught up to globalization and automation; environmental challenges (pollution, climate change, &c.) both threaten and are threatened by life as we know it; and governments everywhere are sinking into ever-deeper financial holes. All of this means, at a fundamental level, we must accommodate ourselves to diversity—we simply cannot afford financially or environmentally to live apart from all the people we don’t like—and then to celebrate the wealth of ideas and practices it brings. The better-off might declare themselves exempt from the realities everyone else faces, but sooner or later prosperity in the 21st century comes down to successful, inclusive, sustainable communities.

So for all the issues and scandals and corrosive rhetoric that made the 2016 election the most unpleasant in anyone’s memory, the core issue for me was inclusion. That meant, of course, looking past the very real weaknesses of Hillary Clinton: the scandals, her frequent personal ham-handedness and naked ambition, her lack of vision, and her inability even to resemble a change agent to an electorate screaming for change. Chicago blogger Pete Saunders notes:
Set aside Hillary Clinton's vast political and public policy experience; I agree, there's probably been no one more qualified to step into office and hold the reins from day one.  But that's precisely what the electorate was saying it did not want.  Hillary Clinton is about as establishment as establishment gets -- a political insider with close ties to Wall Street, and a hint of corruption thrown in.  She was never going to be a change agent, and in retrospect she shouldn't have been asked to try to be one.  That led to lower energy among traditional Democratic supporters, who couldn't match the intensity of Trump's followers.
That having been said, Clinton seems to me no more compromised personally or ethically than the average politician, albeit in somewhat different ways. She’s no saint, but neither is Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, Bernie Sanders or anyone else you can name. A lot of her enhanced bad reputation is thanks to WikiLeaks and the relentless efforts of congressional committees to discredit her. Compare the amount of scrutiny she’s received over her political career with Donald Trump, who didn’t even release his tax returns. Thanks to a multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement of fraud cases involving Trump University announced this week, his business dealings will remain mysterious.

I understand conservative policy preferences—I used to be one, and still have some sympathies in that direction. We don’t have to agree with everything they’re selling, but surely limited government, traditional values and a strong military are occasionally nice to have around. I understand people attached to the Republican Party. But I find it difficult to swallow that any of that can take precedence over Trump’s repeated middle finger to America. What needs to be clear to conservatives is that to the extent their ideas are connected with racism and other equally noxious forms of bigotry—and Trump’s campaign prominently featured them all, and his naming Steve Bannon as his chief strategist is far from being a hopeful sign—it discredits the whole set of ideas. It may not be immediately apparent, what with Republicans dominant in all branches of the national government and in most states, but in the longer term it is not a successful strategy, much less a moral one. (Says who? asks Trumpworld, noting that exit polls gave him 34% of the Latino vote and a majority among white educated women.)

Donald Trump on women: video video more videos 

Donald Trump on immigrants: video 

Donald Trump on judge in his fraud case: video   

Donald Trump on Muslims: video video video

Donald Trump on the Khans, gold star parents  video

Donald Trump on John McCain video

Donald Trump's collection of Twitter hates

Donald Trump on climate change

Donald Trump on torture

Add in the name-calling (Lying Ted, Crooked Hillary, Little Marco) and that's a lot to overlook. If only Overlooking were an Olympic event, right?

Trump supporters in St. Clairville, Ohio. Source:
Some people found Trump’s spewings refreshingly alternative to “political correctness,” whatever the hell that means. Other people don’t approve, but are able to overlook it so they can get tax cuts, or an end to Obamacare, or the right kind of Supreme Court (pun intended). Those seem like issues that can wait, that we can discuss after we’ve first decided to live together in community. If the price of stricter policies on abortion, or tax cuts on upper incomes, is sidling up to Trump and his friends, that may not be worth it. I sure hope it isn’t anyway.

So I can’t agree with Chuck Marohn, in his recent podcast “Elections 2016”, that both Clinton and Trump were “despicable.” Interestingly, Marohn then discusses a moving interview with the church historian Fr. John Dominic Crossan, motivated by Marohn's understanding (which I share) that America is headed for a rough patch, and that only by looking past our differences to higher ideals will we get through it. On that point, surely, Trump and Clinton are not equivalently despicable. It was Trump who repeatedly provoked division among Americans, who legitimized hateful rhetoric, and who used those to promote his own candidacy. It is not enough to say, hey, the election’s over and Trump won, time to move on. No other major party presidential candidate of my lifetime remotely resembles the campaign he just ran for opportunistic nastiness. Because of Trump, the fabric of America has been torn and will be a long time healing.

Kristen Jeffers, "Election Breakdown (and a Call for Self-Care)," Black Urbanist, 15 November 2016 
Leonard Pitts Jr, "Trump Presidency Means Mourning in America," Miami Herald, 11 November 2016
Pete Saunders, "'Whitelash'," The Corner Side Yard, 9 November 2016
Steven Shultis, "This is Also What Democracy Looks Like," Rational Urbanism, 13 November 2016

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A silent but needful protest

At Coe College, where I teach, nearly 100 members of the community responded yesterday to a call by the student organization Multicultural Fusion to stand in silent protest during the noon hour. Late last week, a poster like this one...

...was defaced with swastikas. The group's call was spread by David McInally, President of the college, and Kristin Hutson, college chaplain, and the protesters included faculty and staff as well as students.

I counted about 30 there shortly after I arrived, but then a whole bunch more came so we might have had 100. We stood in a mass in front of the Union; those in front, the first arrivers, held posters of the type that was defaced. We stayed silent, though I smiled at people I knew, and a reporter for the campus newspaper went about interviewing some of us. People on their way to the cafeteria mostly ignored us, but a few smiled. One young (white) man shouted twice with evident irony, "All white people are racist!" Not all seeds bloom at once.

On one level, this response might seem like overkill, an excessive reaction to what surely was a petty act by a maladjusted young person. But I don't think it is overkill. Our common life, in Cedar Rapids, in America, on planet Earth, depends on our ability to live with each other, arguably moreso than ever before. That's what this is all about... not casting individuals or groups as victims, which can only lead to the pointless competition I call the Victim Olympics. Let's not play that.

An act against any part of the community, whether it be the act of a young vandal, or any of the vile and disgusting things Donald Trump has spewed about assorted groups he wants to stigmatize for fun and profit, is an act against the whole community. And so it's right the whole community should rise up and condemn it, because in doing so the community reaffirms its own existence.

MORE ON DIVERSITY: "Strength through Diversity (II)," 9 March 2014,

Will we ever stop being angry?

(Source: Wikimedia commons) Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) has a new book out, subtitled "Why We Hate Each Other--and How to Heal....