Top Main Image: The Newton in Phoenix (Changing Hands Bookstore, First Draft Book Bar, Southern Rail, Southwest Gardener),
Developed by Venue Projects. Image courtesy of The Newton
by Kimber Lanning, Executive Director, Local First Arizona //
Vacant Spaces to Happening Places | The Case for Preservation and Reuse In the current race to create high quality jobs, retain local talent and attract great companies, several American cities are looking closely at the kinds of places educated workers want to live. Rather than solely focusing on tax incentives or other strategies to entice the desired companies, they are instead focusing on building great places where those companies want to be. According to the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), an increasing number of workers have been choosing their city before their job and now more than ever, companies are reluctant to relocate to cities that have a dry, homogenized or suburban feel to them, no matter how large the financial incentives are. The workers, and Millennials in particular, are actually driving location by voicing loudly the kinds of places they’d want to consider home. In a recent study, AIER cited 70 percent of young college graduates decide where to relocate based on quality-of-life factors such as robust restaurant scene and good mass transit, rather than economic conditions.
Researchers at the Reinvestment Fund in Philadelphia report that 48 percent of central city residents in the United States live in “middle neighborhoods.” These neighborhoods are generally affordable and attractive and they offer a reasonable quality of life, but many are in danger of decline.
A shrinking middle class, the suburbanization of jobs, obsolete housing styles, and shrinking homeownership rates clouds the future of these middle neighborhoods that serve as the lynchpin of success for most American city regions. Yet these areas—that provide a substantial portion of local property-tax revenue–are relatively ignored by policymakers who have focused on the problems of concentrated poverty, gentrification, and the need for downtown revitalization.
I recently edited a book of case studies and essays by leading policymakers, community development professionals, and scholars that aims to stimulate a national dialogue about middle neighborhoods. Published by The American Assembly at Columbia University, On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods explores the complex web of communities transitioning—for better or worse—across America.
Authors reviewed research, discussed the challenges faced by middle neighborhoods, and provided a number of examples of strong programs and effective organizations working to make a difference in these on-the-edge communities. A key take-away of the essays is there is not a one-size-fits-all approach for supporting middle neighborhoods. Something that works in one area of a city may not work in another due to a host of factors such as the average age of homeowners, the quality of housing stock, and other existing neighborhood assets.
Targeted improvement strategies, like Philadelphia’s Rebuilding Together, are working to build both homeowner and neighborhood value through low-cost, high-impact home improvement projects. In Baltimore, Healthy Neighborhoods pools capital for mortgage and rehab loans in strong but undervalued neighborhoods to build home value. These demonstration programs are operated by nonprofit organizations, with cooperation from city or county governments.
Modest public and philanthropic investments in a middle neighborhoods strategy—supporting research, demonstration projects, and/or resident engagement initiatives —will make a big impact to millions of people living in and around our country’s major cities. Policymakers and city-builders should recognize the critical importance of middle neighborhoods and invest in them–as we already do in our very distressed neighborhoods and our downtowns.
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About the Author
Paul C. Brophy is a principal with Brophy & Reilly LLC, a consulting firm specializing in economic development, and neighborhood improvement; the management of complex urban redevelopment projects; and the development of mixed-income housing communities. Brophy has been a Senior Advisor to the Center for Community Progress, a Senior Scholar at the George Warren Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis; a Senior Advisor to Enterprise Community Partners. He is currently an adjunct professor at School of Urban and Regional Planning, Georgetown University and a member of the Reinvestment Fund’s Policy Advisory Board.
In 1992, he chaired the so-called Brophy Commission for Mayor Ed Rendell that recommended broad changes to the city’s housing and community development programs and organizational structure.
Mr. Brophy holds degrees from LaSalle University and the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author or editor of four books: On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods (2016); Neighborhood Revitalization: Theory and Practice (1975); Housing and Local Government (1982), and A Guide to Careers in Community Development (2001).
And, he was born and raised in Philadelphia in Hunting Park.
How civic partnerships can create Transit Information Networks (TINs) to spur economic development and promote transportation equity.
Civic collaboration = shared success
A central theme of the recent CEO’s for Cities national meeting in Columbus was that a culture of civic collaboration between public and private organizations, including business, government and everyone in between, can deliver shared success. Columbus’ success in winning the $40 million federal DOT Smart Cities grant, along with $100 million in additional grants from Vulcan, and local business and organizations, is measurable evidence of this culture in practice.
In an innovative collaboration, committed local leadership, including business improvement districts, foundations, economic development boards, chambers of commerce, advocacy groups, local employers, franchises, merchants, transit agencies and city government, can fund and establish Transit Information Networks (TINs) –indoor electronic screens on which transit arrival times and related information can be distributed and displayed. This model can deliver immediate, highly visible benefits to many stakeholders at a modest cost.
The City of Cleveland is on the rise. Not just because its sports teams are winning championships or because the Republican National Convention brought an influx of economic opportunities and people into the city. But because the city is experiencing a revitalization in many of its neighborhoods that have long been dormant. Some of these neighborhoods have already begun their ascension, including Ohio City, Tremont, and the Flats. It looks like Slavic Village will be next.
By Daniel Drees, Cleveland Foundation Summer City Fellow, CEOs for Cities //
Jeff Speck’s book, Walkable City, might have been published in 2012, but his ideas are still revolutionizing American cities. It’s not written for the car-dependant urban dweller. If you are adamant about continuing your white-knuckled commute, then you will not be friends with this book. If you think that people on bikes ruin the roads in your city or you might only consider the bus an option if your car breaks down, you will not like what Speck has to say about walkability, bikeability, and transit. Speck’s steps to achieve a walkable city are unapologetic odes to those for whom cities were first designed: the people.
We asked Jack Bialosky, Jr., AIA, LEED AP, Senior Principal of Bialosky Cleveland to discuss the Seven Planning Principles his firm uses for successful community design. Want to dig deeper? Join us on Wednesday, July 20 at 2 p.m. EST for a free webinar featuring Jack and his colleague David W. Craun, AIA, LEED AP. Principal and Director of Design at Bialosky Cleveland.
Bialosky Cleveland follows seven basic planning principles for community design that we believe apply to all types and all sizes of our projects – from residential to institutional – interior to urban planning. These principles, we believe, help stage a safe pedestrian environment that encourages community interaction and create the sense of place that so many spaces are missing.
We have heard much in recent years about New Urbanism and Traditional Town Planning. On the one hand is nostalgia for what is called Main Street America; that is a well-scaled pedestrian friendly environment with human scaled storefronts and defined architectural character. On the other hand there is an aversion to so called big box retail developments and suburban sprawl- that is relatively unplanned hodge-podge developments with no consistent architectural character or sense of place. If these themes sound familiar, how can we design for the former and avoid the latter?
Over the last 60 years, the biggest impediments to human scaled urban environments and a sense of place have been the preeminence of the automobile, with a need for vast areas of parking, and large blocks with uninterrupted expanses of blank walls. With the return to the concepts of Traditional Neighborhood Design the automobile is no longer preeminent and pedestrian environments seek to prevail. The second in our series of 7 Planning Principles for Community Design addresses block size. Once the network of streets and pathways is established, how is it best to define the size and scale of the individual blocks?
We’ve been discussing optimal approaches to planning for pedestrian friendly people places. Once our network of pathways and roads has been created and we have established a reasonable block size, we’ve made it easy for people to traverse and permeate all sides of a town plan. We quickly come to understand how to make it much easier to navigate our town to get to work, to get home, and to patronize and service our businesses even in a dense urban environment. We have also created the opportunity and the necessity to treat all sides of the buildings appropriately and to activate them. While we can’t say that all sides are “fronts”, we can say that there are no “backs”, bringing us to our third organizing principle.
One of the goals of great community design is to put the car in its place and to get people on their feet as soon as possible. This means that we have to design the pedestrian experience from door to door. In doing so, we can maintain the importance of interaction on public sidewalks and allow for chance encounters. The antithesis of this idea is the creation of hermetically sealed passageways and gerbil-tube links which might protect us from the weather but severely limits community interaction. It’s OK to be out in the weather!