Making room for outdoor space in private urban developments

from Flickr user Mondo Tiki Man

A recent Atlantic Cities piece written by Kaid Benfield, “What Developers Get Wrong About Smart Growth,” profiles cities that have made a commendable effort to include public green space in and around adjacent urban infill projects, presumably completed by private developers.

As mentioned in the article, typical infill projects exist on such tight sites that every square foot is maximized for enclosed living spaces. Exterior park-like retreats are rarely prioritized high enough to be included in the project.

First, I contend that we — as private owners/clients and design and construction professionals — need to broaden our definition of “mixed use” and include public and/or private outdoor spaces as one of the most critical program elements right from the earliest design stages. Humans possess a primal need to connect with nature, and any initiative to encourage citizens to relocate to downtown live/work spaces should strive to include access to nature or “green” space.

Secondly, we should ask how we can better use our public park properties to supplement our urban environments.

This is not conceptual! This article poses a tangible challenge to all who believe in and desire to advance market-driven urbanism.

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Fort Wayne debates effect of Downtown Development Trust on private investment

A story in Sunday’s Journal Gazette about the non-profit Downtown Development Trust asks the right questions and encourages the correct debate on these kinds of efforts:

Several local leaders hope to re-create that venti-sized success through the Downtown Development Trust, a non-profit that allows them to sell properties at a discount to folks who promise to open businesses bound to draw crowds.

The trust is in final negotiations to sells its first purchase, the former Instant Copy building at 232 W. Wayne St. Officials expect to close the deal in May.

Supporters say the trust is an important vehicle for downtown renewal. But at least one city official worries that developers might rely on attractive deals available from the trust and pass up other downtown real estate ripe for reinvention.

Sounds like a non-profit, non-governmental trust could be a good idea, but Mitch Harper’s concerns are legitimate. What do you think?

— Photo by Cathie Rowand of The Journal Gazette

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Chicago’s tourism anthem. Also: Why Fort Wayne does not want a tourism anthem

Can we agree that even if Fort Wayne should seek out a tourism anthem, that it’s better to not have one than to have a cheesy one like what Chicago has cooked up? Yes? Thank you.

P.S. It’s like the Choose Chicago board read my previous post and wanted to rub my face in it.

P.P.S. Here’s betting you can’t listen to the entire five minutes. (I couldn’t.)

HT: The AV Club

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Quote: On city logotypes and slogans

I was not interested in an official city logotype or a slogan. City logotypes do little and slogans are a sign of insecurity. If your place needs a slogan, it has a problem. A brand is not just a logotype, it’s a set of values that are communicated through actions.

— Peter Saville, consultant creative director for Manchester, England

Source: The Atlantic Cities blog

 

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What is the role of government in urbanism?

My friend Scott Greider left some well-written commentary on The Good City’s post about our recent reboot that focuses on market-driven urbanism. I encourage you to read his entire comment here, but below is the paragraph I’d like to interact with:

All things being equal, yes, the market tends to work best. But all things are NOT equal. It’s far easier, cheaper, and more profitable to develop/live/worship/do business in Sprawlville than it is in the City. So while I’m committed to “market-driven” approaches (indeed, I live/work/play/worship downtown), they just won’t work here apart from massive government involvement.

Well… I’d say I’m suspicious of “massive government involvement,” and I think it’s for good reason. It’s massive government involvement in two specific ways that actually helped create and support the American suburbs:

  • The federal government’s post-war spending on highways, which artificially lowered the cost of driving your own car.
  • The federal government’s post-war subsidizing of mortgages for single-family homes,which didn’t cover existing housing or apartments and which encouraged residence-only subdivisions along all those new highways.

Of course, the suburbs would have certainly existed to some extent without government involvement, but federal spending was a huge impetus for the incredible spread of suburbia. And the current spending on highways and other infrastructure continues the trend. This is why I’d say that, in general, limiting government spending and expanding private property rights is the true solution to bringing some balance to the growth of a city.

But that’s the ideal. What do we do now that the Interstate and the suburbs exist? Are there places the city should spend to restore some urban/suburban balance? Perhaps. Are there some zoning ordinances and regulations the city should relax? Likely. But it’s all in the particulars, which is what this blog will explore for what I hope is a long time to come. And I certainly hope Scott and others keep contributing to the conversation!

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