Friday, September 25, 2015

Once Around the Block - September 25, 2015


It's been a while since I've provided an update, but there is never a shortage of great urbanism-related articles out there. As planners, it is important to know what is happening in other parts of the country related to urbanism, the arts, historic preservation, and recreation. Here are some of the articles that have caught my attention over the past few weeks:

An article on Philly.com covers the fall of malls, and the rise of main streets as shopping destinations, including destinations for middle to high end goods. Specialty retail and dining are areas that big box retailers cannot provide as well, and where main streets have an advantage. It leaves one to wonder what might happen to the all-too-popular "town center", our country's manufactured main streets.

Speaking of big box retailers, here is a Michigan artist who creates sculptures from similarly colored items in stores, as a commentary to America's consumerism.

David Mandl, A Brooklyn-based photojournalist, documented every one of the borough's dead end streets.

A couple of stories from my former stomping grounds in Virginia;

Planners in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia provided a bold recommendation recentlyThe Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance suggested that the Hampton Roads area, which includes the cities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Newport News, and others), act together as one large unit.

Rockingham County, Virginia, (my former employer) announced a plan to expand its urban development area. For a primarily rural county, this is a process that is going to shape suburban (and hopefully more traditional urban) growth within the county. The expansion also helps to provide opportunities for greater transportation funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Scott Rogers from Harrisonburg Housing Today has more details. This process is something that rural counties with independent cities inside them must face as those cities see a decrease in greenfield development. Rockingham County is focusing its urban growth to the southeast of Harrisonburg, Virginia, centered around the region's Rockingham Memorial Hospital and other planned developments.

As San Antonio continues to grow and more people desire to live near the city's center, development pressures will mount. Mission Concepcion, just south of Downtown San Antonio, is seeing that pressure. While residents have opposed the new apartment developments, mission staff and city planning staff have been supportive of the idea. As cities grow, especially our sun belt cities, it will be important to grow upward, not simply outward, something San Antonio and other Texas cities know how to do all too well.

Parking issues are forcing some Washington DC churches to leave the city. It's an unfortunate situation. Upon reading the headline, I was anticipating a burden on churches to provide parking due to some sort of parking requirements. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case.

Also in DC, a community activist is reminding leaders that "D.C. cannot coffee-shop its way away from the tragedy in our streets." In a response to the city's violent past (and still current violence), community leader Bryan Weaver urges that "if we really want to end violence in our streets- empathy is the first step in bringing down the number of homicides. Lets us not be in insensitive to the cries of others in our D.C."

A few good articles from City Observatory, both from Daniel Kay Hertz. First off, "Great neighborhoods don’t have to be illegal—they’re not elsewhere" hits on the difference between zoning structures in the US compared to those of other countries. In the United States we've created segregated land use zones without much integration of other uses. A sterile single family zone rarely contains many of the services (restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.) residents drive miles for. And, we're likely to value this charm in other neighborhoods; just not ours. Hertz also follows up with an article this week, discussing the origins of many of the urban neighborhoods that are now prized. "The immaculate conception theory of your neighborhood’s origins" reminds us that many of the neighborhoods that we value were once some else's sprawl. The now-coveted bungalow neighborhoods of many cities were considered sprawl in many instances, compared to the "modestly-sized homes in multifamily buildings" of many urban areas.

Boston's City Hall Plaza (check it out) was uninviting and hostile to pedestrians and any sort of human activity. Boston's mayor decided to roll out some green carpet and throw down some plastic Adirondack chairs to solve that. Another example of tactical urbanism at its best.

Here's a fun story from Michigan State University, my alma mater. The New York Times paid a visit to MSU's Dairy Store during the weekend of the Michigan State / Oregon football game. As an agricultural school, the Dairy Store provides an opportunity to train future dairy farmers and food processors. Each Big Ten school has their own ice cream flavor. Sesquicentennial Swirl is a fan favorite.

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