MEMBER NEWS DIGEST - THE LATEST AND GREATEST FROM OUR MEMBERS' BLOGS

First off, Johnny at Granola Shotgun takes a stab at what the future of creative redevelopment, loft live-work will be: the strip mall and abandoned inner-ring light industrial spaces which provide big open spaces ripe for creative reuse like the old mills and factories of the 90’s. 

But I explained that the part of town that really interested me was the neglected and undervalued areas in the lackluster middle distance just beyond downtown that were neither sophisticated and urbane nor verdant and domestic. These semi-commercial, vaguely industrial, half-assed residential zones were neither fish, nor flesh, nor fowl. But they had the two qualities that fascinate me: they’re relatively inexpensive and generally ignored by the Upright Citizens Brigade.  

Inspired by this, I procrastinated on putting together this post by snooping around LoopNet (a commercial property listing website) and finding some really fascinating, low cost, low-quality commercial buildings complete with parking lots (great for tiny house villages or food truck stops). Start looking at that abandoned lot or vacant commercial building in a new way...

Looking at redevelopment from another angle, Family Friendly Cities asks if we developers are building for the last market with the emphasis on studios, one-, and two-bedroom units in new development. As the new urbanites age, and get to family stage they argue, we’ll need more two- and three-family units. It would be pretty funny if we end up with a glut of studios in growing cities in a decade or two! I’m not too worried though, because there’s so much need for housing for people who would prefer to live alone/more affordably. I look forward to that glut to finally bring housing prices down!

At NextSTL, Alex shows us how to show our love for abandoned buildings and provide some free DIY marketing for the local Land Reutilization Authority. Check out the good bones available in the Heartland.    

Joining a national campaign that started in Buffalo four years ago, preservationists in St. Louis are offering valentines for vacant, city-owned houses in south St. Louis’ Gravois Park neighborhood. Called “heart bombs” or “valentines for vacants,” the love notes for buildings draw attention to their potential for reuse and their irreplaceable architecture. 

“Too often, preservation operates in a vacuum,” he says. “Heart bombs connect advocacy and art as well as architectural history and economics.”

Josh McCarty, at Urban3, does some alternatieves planning for a proposed new grocery store in Chattenooga TN, and shows that a mixed use scheme can result in better urban design and more tax income. Thanks guys for giving us some great pictures to chew on!

We typically look at the big picture of development and tax efficiency but a contentious Publix grocery store proposal in Chattanooga, TN gave us an opportunity to put our ideas into practice. Proposing design alternatives and reviewing their impacts is where the fiscal rubber meets the road. This is how cities can at least understand the ramifications of the decisions they make. How can cities expect to stay solvent if they don't measure impacts or consider alternatives? 

Over at rational urbanism, we’re reminded of the importance of keeping public space vibrant. Strategies to make the city “feel safe” often backfire by changing the dynamics of use and deadening the street (essentially suburbanizing the city). Bring on the derelicts, I say. That’s why I live in the Central Square area of Cambridge—the grit that let’s you know that it’s a real place. Fences may make good neighbors but they make poor public spaces. 

The new management at Silverbrick has heard these complaints as well, but are determined to make the biggest mistake they could possibly make in the face of this challenge by fencing in a now public courtyard. I’ll make no comment on the legality of fencing in a public way improved with public funds because apart from that, it is a stupid idea. Stupid on the level of “the new Coke” or the Edsel, wearing a Yankee cap to Fenway Park or vacationing in Florida. Stupid. 

Lastly, as we’ve all learned from Strong Towns--being willing to do some basic math occasionally can be an amazing vaccine against the crazy. Richard from NextSTL gives us a great example of the way in which traditional urbanism beats out big “transformative projects” (Jane Jacobs called them “catastrophic”).

The present conditions are described as blighted, which gives license to clear-cut the area, removing any and all buildings. Today, the site of the proposed stadium, as is, generates $450,000 in annual property taxes. The Shady Jack’s block of 1400 N Broadway generates 3.2 times as much property taxes per acre as the big box Target department store at Hampton Village in south St. Louis City. The most productive parcel in the area is 1430 N Broadway at $92,557/acre.

The thinking with math toolkit and general emphasis on fiscal responsibility (not because we’re trying to screw poor people, but because if we go bankrupt we wont have any social programs!) has been one of my favorite parts of the Strong Towns movement. Maybe we can all take it upon ourselves to start sharing this math more widely in our communities?