Blog Archives

Viewpoint: The urban future isn’t all about population booms

[Source: Froma Harrop, Providence Journal] — Sunbelt-and-sprawl advocate Joel Kotkin wrote two years ago that the future of American urbanism wasn’t in the “elite cities,” such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but in “younger, more affordable and less self-regarding places.”  He named (his order) Houston, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas and Riverside, Calif.

Boom-city boosters like Kotkin play a numbers game, where the place with the biggest population explosion wins.  This is also a kind of Blue America-versus-Red America urbanology, which includes an element of liberal-bashing: Any place that refuses to be steamrolled by developers is called “elite.”

In the aftermath of the real-estate bust, areas overly dependent on building houses, selling houses and financing houses are in the worst shape.  Economies need non-bubble jobs.  Unemployment rates in the recent hyper-growth centers, Riverside and Las Vegas, are now well above those in the aforementioned “elite cities.”  And Boston’s 9 percent unemployment is only a point above that of the more economically diverse Sunbelt powerhouses: Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix.

There’s little point in pitting cities, regions and states against one another.  This is a big country.  One can like San Francisco for some things and Las Vegas for others.  By the way, what gave anyone the idea that Houston, Dallas and Phoenix are not “self-regarding”?  They are, as well they should be.  [Note: Read the full article at The urban future isn’t all about population booms.]

For Phoenix residents, average cost of transport consumes 3 months’ pay

Trans-Free-Day-Logo-Final[Source: Sean Holstege, Arizona Republic, March 30, 2009] — Maybe you’ve heard of Tax Freedom Day, theoretically the date when Americans have worked enough to pay off their tax burden for the year.  Researchers have now come up with Transportation Freedom Day, the date when an average household has paid off its annual costs of getting around in a particular city.  For metro Phoenix, that day fell on March 23, but it’s different for each city in the region and across the country.  Tempe residents cleared the typical cost of car payments, insurance, gas, repairs, and transit use on March 18.  Residents in New River will keep paying until April 9.

Phoenix is in the middle of the pack for U.S. metro areas.  Cheapest are San Francisco, with a March 1 freedom day, and New York (March 7).  Tucson (March 30) is near the bottom.

The findings are based on research from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, an Illinois think tank that advocates sustainable urban development.  Generally, cities with the most density, shortest commutes and most transit options fared best.  People in far-flung suburbs generally fare the worst. [Note: To read the full article and online comments, click here.]

New downtown Phoenix park taking shape

Sky Bloom

Javier Jara works on the new downtown Phoenix park (photo: Michael Schennum, Arizona Republic)

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — The $30 million park taking shape in downtown Phoenix will be like no other the city has built, officials say.  The yet-unnamed spot will use water, lights, shade, and art to create an oasis for nearby Arizona State University students, office workers, residents, and tourists, landscape architect Tom Byrne said. “The concept of the park was an urban weave, so we are weaving together the neighborhood around the park, the offices and ASU,” Byrne said.

The park, which is expected to open in March, covers 2.77 acres and sits in the city’s business district. It’s bound by Central and First avenues and Polk and Fillmore streets.  The park is one of several multimillion-dollar projects — including light rail, a hotel, and expanded convention center — that city leaders hope will revitalize downtown.  To be sure, it’s not as big as New York’s sprawling Central Park or Chicago’s Millennium Park. But it is expected to be a key gathering place in downtown Phoenix and a long-awaited addition to Arizona State University.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

U.S. cities rethink wisdom of 50s-era parking standards (et tu Phoenix?)

[Source: Sarah Karush, Associated Press] — Alice and Jeff Speck didn’t have a car and didn’t want one.  But District of Columbia zoning regulations required them to carve out a place to park one at the house they were building.  It would have eaten up precious space on their odd-shaped lot and marred the aesthetics of their neighborhood, dominated by historic row houses.  The Specks succeeded in getting a waiver, even though it took nine months.

Like nearly all U.S. cities, D.C. has requirements for off-street parking.  Whenever anything new is built — be it a single-family home, an apartment building, a store, or a doctor’s office — a minimum number of parking spaces must be included.  The spots at the curb don’t count: These must be in a garage, a surface lot, or a driveway.

D.C. is now considering scrapping those requirements — part of a growing national trend.  Officials hope that offering the freedom to forgo parking will lead to denser, more walkable, transit-friendly development.  Opponents say making parking more scarce will only make the city less hospitable.  Commuters like Randy Michael of Catharpin, VA complain they are already forced to circle for hours in some neighborhoods.  “Today I had an 11:30 meeting and I had to plan an extra hour just to park” said Michael, 49.  It ended up taking him 40 minutes to find a metered spot.

Advocates counter that parking is about more than drivers’ convenience; it can profoundly affect the look and feel of a city.  “Do you want to look like San Francisco or Los Angeles?” asked Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor at UCLA and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking.”  “New York or Phoenix?” (Shoup prefers San Francisco and New York — hard to park in, but highly walkable.)  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix #10 U.S. city for singles, says Forbes.com

[Source: Business Wire] — Atlanta bumped San Francisco out of first place as the No. 1 city on Forbes.com’s 8th annual ranking of America’s “Best Cities For Singles.” According to Forbes.com Executive Editor Michael Noer, “Atlanta got the top spot because of its hopping nightlife, relatively high number of singles, and sizzling job growth.”

The list ranks 40 of the largest urbanized areas in the U.S. in seven categories, including a city’s “cool factor,” cost of living alone, culture, job growth, online dating, nightlife, and the number of singles.

  1. Atlanta
  2. San Francisco
  3. Dallas
  4. Minneapolis
  5. Washington D.C.
  6. Seattle
  7. Boston
  8. New York City
  9. Orlando
  10. Phoenix

America’s crumbling infrastructure (Phoenix too)

This map, from the March issue of The Atlantic Monthly, shows an estimate of road congestion in 2010. Click on the map to see a larger version.

In the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly an opinion piece by Bruce Katz and Robert Puentes analyzes America’s crumbling infrastructure and assesses the money lost due to congestion around major metropolitan areas.  Katz and Puentes point to why infrastructure is such a valuable commodity in a global economy:

The most highly skilled financial professionals…do not choose between New York and Phoenix.  They choose between New York and London — or Shanghai.  While many factors affect that choice, over time, the accretion of delays and travel hassles can sap cities of their vigor and appeal.  Arriving at Shanghai’s modern Pudong airport, you can hop aboard a maglev train that gets you downtown in eight minutes, at speeds approaching 300 miles an hour.  When you land at JFK, on the other hand, you’ll have to take a train to Queens, walk over an indoor bridge, and then transfer to the antiquated Long Island Rail Road; from there, downtown Manhattan is another 35 minutes away.

Idea of the Day: Turning to t-shirts to spiff up downtrodden cities

Modern Phoenix

From time to time, we’ll throw out an “Idea of the Day” culled from sources here in Arizona and elsewhere.  The following idea was passed along by Brian Kenny and written about in a July 13, 2008 New York Times article, Turning to T-Shirts to Spiff Up Downtrodden Cities, by Catrin Einhorn.  Here’s what it’s all about:

As Jeff Vines pulls down the iron on the heat press in his small studio here, he is trying something far grander than simply searing another image onto another T-shirt.  The machine hisses, Mr. Vines opens it and sizes up his handiwork: a cotton weapon in his quest to revive his long-challenged city.  The St. Louis-themed shirts that Jeff Vines and his identical twin, Randy, make are not for tourists.  They sport neighborhood references and inside jokes unintelligible to those not from here.  Some easily offend, displaying profanity and raunchy innuendo.  But to the Vines brothers, their edginess is part of their mission for St. Louis — a place many of their friends from high school fled — to rehabilitate its image from the inside out and, ultimately, to make future generations want to stay.  “You have to get the people who live there to be the best advocates for the city, or else you don’t really have much,” Randy Vines said.  “So you need to change the psyche and change the way they see their own city.”

The Vines brothers, 30, are not alone in their effort.  In cities like Youngstown, Ohio, and Detroit, damaged by the decline in manufacturing and decades of population loss, entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s are pushing back with the simple stuff of T-shirts, tote bags and soap.  Faced with condescending attitudes from outsiders and grumbling from many locals, they are determined to peddle in pride, and hope to convert others in the process.  “It’s reframing the identity of these places that have been misrepresented,” said Abby Wilson, a co-founder of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange, a new group dedicated to bringing post-baby boomers together to work for the health of postindustrial cities in the Great Lakes region.

The Vines brothers’ company, STL-Style, makes retro-looking T-shirts that extol and lovingly tease St. Louis; slogans include “My Way or Kingshighway,” and “Where the Mullet Meets the River.”  In Pittsburgh, Lindsay Patross, 28, offers T-shirts and aprons that read “Pittsburghers are tasty.”  At City Bird in Detroit, siblings Emily and Andy Linn, 30 and 25, make clocks, lamps, earrings and bracelets patterned with maps of their city.  Another company, Rusty Waters Apparel, sells skull-adorned T-shirts celebrating Youngstown, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  A quote on the company’s MySpace page says: “Don’t mess with the underdog.  Rustbelt Warriors!”

Another Rusty Waters Apparel design depicts a downtown Youngstown building, the Home Savings and Loan, hanging upside down from the neckline, with birds flying around it.  “The fact that it’s upside down signifies the struggle that Youngstown has gone through,” the shirt’s designer, Kate Butler, 24, explained.  But the birds are flying right side up, symbolizing hope, she said.

These T-shirt makers know, of course, that their merchandise will not cure the deep-seated problems of their cities.  But they see them as one way to fight against powerful stereotypes, and consider them more authentic than city officials’ public relations campaigns.  Mark-Evan Blackman, chairman of men’s wear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, said T-shirts can have a profound effect on social change, and that these shirts should not be underestimated.  “It’s saying we’re cool, we’re here,” Mr. Blackman said.  “We’ve not jumped out of the boat, this city is cool and we’re making it cooler, and look at us.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Comparing Phoenix & New York (size-wise)

//www.flickr.com/photos/vanshnookenraggen/sets/72157604135780473/

An interesting map for your viewing pleasure and reflection.  For comparisons between New York City and other cities, click here.