Welcome to Monday and the recap of the past week of member content. Lots of great content about suburbs, starting out with Next STL.
Ferguson is on everyone's mind. Next STL takes an illuminating perspective that provides context for what is happening not just in Ferguson but the region. Turns out that as the great recession took hold and property values plummeted, court fines and fees went up 84% in Ferguson. Other municipalities in St. Louis County have used similar questionable tactics to shore up their budgets. Since the 70s, population growth has shifted from St. Louis County to neighboring St. Charles County, with the older suburbs left holding the bag of mounting infrastructure liabilities and depleted tax base. This excellent article from Next STL portends serious challenges for aging suburbs as they scramble for ways to plug budget gaps.
Some cities are coping poorly with overwhelming challenges, with few options to confront them. Rather than giving up, they turned to the most tyrannical and dysfunctional way imaginable to shore up finances.
What will become of aging suburbs once they're passed over for the younger and prettier new version out on the edge? It's one of those big questions without easy answers, and depends very much on contextual factors such as street grid and block size. In Density Without Urbanism, our friends at Granola Shotgun offer a photo tour of San Jose, California, and a counterpoint to Nate Hood's excellent article last week on second ring suburbs. Many suburbs have overbuilt stroads and a sprawling land use pattern, and they will densify in a manner that is not supportive of walking or getting around without a car. A walkable shopping street in the midst of this sea of sprawl is still going to require people to drive most everywhere. But as Nate wrote, if not this, what? Where do we begin if not where we find ourselves?
The problem with investing in rail systems in suburbia is that there may be some density here and there – like an apartment complex, Chinese retirement home, or Holiday Inn. But mostly there’s just too much empty space and low value crap everywhere for the system to be efficient or pleasant. In time things may flesh out, but the way things are looking now suggests that the end result will be more like a parade of five story strip malls than anything our great grandparents would call a town.
The situation is encouraging in Walnut Hills, Cincinnati, an old streetcar suburb with good bones with a very bottom-up approach to redevelopment. A triangular open space called Five Points Alley provides an example of "shoestring budget placemaking" that is connecting the right people and beginning to retenant long-abandoned buildings.
As more of the contiguous buildings are renovated and fill with new businesses property values and rents will rise. Rising property values will encourage more private investment. More private investment will generate increased property taxes and local employment. More tax revenue for the city will encourage new public investment in infrastructure… It’s a virtuous upward cycle that feeds on itself.
Rational Urbanism provided an apt description of places like Walnut Hills this week that seems fitting:
I’ve always thought of it this way, most of the time Chuck Marohn is explaining to people how to make the place they live a place that works, my message has always been the corollary to that: America still has quite a few underutilized places that were built to work, and you really can still live in one of them.
In "Fixing Chapel Hill's bike paths", Geoff Green makes some commonsense suggestions for how to improve a bike path that already functions fairly well except at the intersections. Painting crosswalks, eliminating confusing/unnecessary traffic control signage, and adding bicycle signals: These are the kinds of small improvements that don't cost of a lot of money and can add up to a stronger place over time.
Need some good California vibes? Granola Shotgun (so much good stuff, couldn't resist a third mention) has you covered with this great photoblog of the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, California. Interesting to juxtapose this neighborhood with the San Jose example given earlier - in Rockridge, the essential ingredients are in place to be a walkable urban place, in contrast to San Jose.
Enjoy the week and if you see anyone being trampled at a doorbuster on Black Friday, lend a hand. Looking forward to the second annual #blackfridayparking event on Friday.