Good Enough Urbanism: Faster, Cheaper, Smarter

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There’s plenty of blight out there. Inner city blight, failing suburban blight, long lost rural small town blight… empty storefronts, boarded up buildings, dead streets. There’s simply no government program that’s going to bring these places back to life. No Wall Street investment scheme is likely to revive these places. Developers have no economic incentive to do anything with these buildings. Banks are risk averse and will not fund investments here. However, many of these forlorn spots exist within otherwise populated and potentially healthy neighborhoods.  read more »

Two Chicagos, Defined

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Years ago, when I first started working as a planner for the City of Chicago, my primary responsibility was working with community organizations that received Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for commercial revitalization activities.  This being CDBG funding, our work was constrained to areas of the city where 51% or more of households earned less than the median household income for the Chicago metro area.  read more »

Cities: Better for the Great Suburbanization

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Where Cities Grow: The Suburbs

The massive exodus of people from rural areas to urban areas over the past 200 years has been called the "great urbanization." For more than two centuries, people have been leaving rural areas to live in cities (urban areas). The principal incentive has been economic. But most of this growth has not taken place close to city centers, but rather on or beyond the urban fringe in the suburbs (and exurbs). Appropriately, The Economist magazine refers to the urbanization trend as the "great suburbanization," in its December 6, 2014 issue (PLACES APART: The world is becoming ever more suburban, and the better for it).  read more »

Gray Shadow Looms Over Home of Youth Culture

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Southern California, like the rest of America and, indeed, the higher-income world, is getting older, rapidly. Even as the region’s population is growing slowly, its ranks of seniors – people age 65 and older – is exploding. Since 2000, the Los Angeles metropolitan area population has grown by 6 percent, but its senior population swelled by 31 percent.

The trend is stronger in the Inland Empire, where senior growth was almost 50 percent, the 14th-highest among the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas and more than three times the national average.  read more »

The Rustbelt Roars Back From the Dead

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Urban America is often portrayed as a tale of two kinds of places, those that “have it” and those who do not. For the most part, the cities of the Midwest—with the exception of Chicago and Minneapolis—have been consigned to the second, and inferior, class. Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit or a host of smaller cities are rarely assessed, except as objects of pity whose only hope is to find a way, through new urbanist alchemy, to mimic the urban patterns of “superstar cities” like New York, San Francisco, Boston, or Portland.  read more »

The Three Ages of Boss Rule

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Between roughly the Civil War and World War II, most American cities were at some point dominated by a boss and his machine. The term “boss” referred not only a powerful politician, but one who acquired, held and exercised power outside the channels dictated by law. Progressive reformers fought the bosses for control of American city government for over a century. The Progressives ultimately won, or, at least, the bosses lost.  read more »

Subjects:

Evaluating Urban Rail

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For more than 40 years, US cities have rushed to build new rail systems (indeed I was part of such an effort, see Los Angeles: Rail for Others). This article examines the trend in transit and driving alone work trip market share in 23 cities (metropolitan areas) that have built new rail systems that have represented material expansions of regional transit systems. These new rail systems include Metros ("heavy rail"), light rail (not streetcars) and commuter rail (suburban rail).  read more »

Voting With Your Feet: Aaron Renn’s New Donut

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Growing up I remember the adults talking about the old neighborhood in Brooklyn where my grandparents lived during the Great Depression and World War II. In spite of the hardships of the era it was described as a great place full of life and colorful characters and extended family all on the same block. But by the time I was born no one we knew lived there anymore. My family was part of the great suburban migration away from cities. By 1967 (the year of my birth) New York, like most cities, had begun to fail.  read more »

Las Vegas: The Once and Future Downtown Project

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There’s been a lot in the news lately about the troubles plaguing Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project in Las Vegas. The latest is a longish report in the Guardian, which notes:

Yet by late September of this year, the press – especially the technology press – had begun asking some serious questions, as the Downtown Project suddenly laid off 30 people – 10% of the total it then directly employed. Alongside portentous headlines announcing this “bloodletting” appeared claims that Hsieh had “stepped down” from his position of leadership of the project. A damning open letter from the Downtown Project’s former “director of imagination”, David Gould, called the operation from which he had just resigned “a collage of decadence, greed and missing leadership … There were heroes among us,” he added, “and it is for them that my soul weeps.”

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The Curious Comeback Of U.S. Downtowns

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Perhaps nothing better illustrates the notion of urban revival in America than the comeback of many downtown districts. Yet if these areas have recovered some of their vigor, they are doing so in a manner that hardly suggests a return to their glory days in the first half of the 20th Century.

Instead what’s emerging is a very different conceptualization of downtown, as a residential alternative that appeals to the young and childless couples, and that is not so much a dominant economic hub, but one of numerous poles in the metropolitan archipelago, usually with an outsized presence of financial institutions, government offices and business service firms.  read more »