The Urban Theory Thread

A catch-all forum for urban discussion. If it doesn't fit elsewhere, post here.
First unread post454 posts
I just wanted to make a thread that discusses ideas from urban theory in general and are interesting, although they may not relate directly to St. Louis.
Stranded by Sprawl
By PAUL KRUGMAN
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/opini ... prawl.html?

Detroit is a symbol of the old economy’s decline. It’s not just the derelict center; the metropolitan area as a whole lost population between 2000 and 2010, the worst performance among major cities. Atlanta, by contrast, epitomizes the rise of the Sun Belt; it gained more than a million people over the same period, roughly matching the performance of Dallas and Houston without the extra boost from oil.

Yet in one important respect booming Atlanta looks just like Detroit gone bust: both are places where the American dream seems to be dying, where the children of the poor have great difficulty climbing the economic ladder. In fact, upward social mobility — the extent to which children manage to achieve a higher socioeconomic status than their parents — is even lower in Atlanta than it is in Detroit. And it’s far lower in both cities than it is in, say, Boston or San Francisco, even though these cities have much slower growth than Atlanta.

So what’s the matter with Atlanta? A new study suggests that the city may just be too spread out, so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods. Sprawl may be killing Horatio Alger.

The new study comes from the Equality of Opportunity Project, which is led by economists at Harvard and Berkeley. There have been many comparisons of social mobility across countries; all such studies find that these days America, which still thinks of itself as the land of opportunity, actually has more of an inherited class system than other advanced nations. The new project asks how social mobility varies across U.S. cities, and finds that it varies a lot. In San Francisco a child born into the bottom fifth of the income distribution has an 11 percent chance of making it into the top fifth, but in Atlanta the corresponding number is only 4 percent.

When the researchers looked for factors that correlate with low or high social mobility, they found, perhaps surprisingly, little direct role for race, one obvious candidate. They did find a significant correlation with the existing level of inequality: “areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility.” This matches what we find in international comparisons, where relatively equal societies like Sweden have much higher mobility than highly unequal America. But they also found a significant negative correlation between residential segregation — different social classes living far apart — and the ability of the poor to rise.

And in Atlanta poor and rich neighborhoods are far apart because, basically, everything is far apart; Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t. As a result, disadvantaged workers often find themselves stranded; there may be jobs available somewhere, but they literally can’t get there.

The apparent inverse relationship between sprawl and social mobility obviously reinforces the case for “smart growth” urban strategies, which try to promote compact centers with access to public transit. But it also bears on a larger debate about what is happening to American society. I know I’m not the only person who read the Times article on the new study and immediately thought, “William Julius Wilson.”

A quarter-century ago Mr. Wilson, a distinguished sociologist, famously argued that the postwar movement of employment out of city centers to the suburbs dealt African-American families, concentrated in those city centers, a heavy blow, removing economic opportunity just as the civil rights movement was finally ending explicit discrimination. And he further argued that social phenomena such as the prevalence of single mothers, often cited as causes of lagging black performance, were actually effects — that is, the family was being undermined by the absence of good jobs.

These days, you hear less than you used to about alleged African-American social dysfunction, because traditional families have become much weaker among working-class whites, too. Why? Well, rising inequality and the general hollowing out of the job market are probably the main culprits. But the new research on social mobility suggests that sprawl — not just the movement of jobs out of the city, but their movement out of reach of many less-affluent residents of the suburbs, too — is also playing a role.

As I said, this observation clearly reinforces the case for policies that help families function without multiple cars. But you should also see it in the larger context of a nation that has lost its way, that preaches equality of opportunity while offering less and less opportunity to those who need it most.
Why the Expansion of Paris Is a Pretty Big Deal
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politi ... deal/6345/
What is "Urban Theory"?
Northside Neighbor wrote:
What is "Urban Theory"?

There is no such thing as far as I know. Just disparate theories related to urbanism.
Practical Lessons for Turning Around a Neighborhood in Decline

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighb ... line/6394/
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-a ... town/6406/

If You Build It, They Will Come: How Cleveland Lured Young Professionals Downtown

When the Maron family decided to redevelop an entire city block in downtown Cleveland, the area was so blighted no restaurateur would lease space there. A decade later, the East Fourth neighborhood is home to Food Network personalities, a House of Blues, and free Saturday yoga classes. Café-style seating spills into the pedestrian-only street. Apartments on the block are fully leased, and a 100-unit building under construction across the street has already reached full capacity.

The success of East Fourth Street in once-struggling Cleveland was something few people would have anticipated 20 years ago. It took years of collaboration between developers, businesses, local institutions, and government, but today downtown Cleveland is taking off—and giving the old Rust Belt city a future. There wasn't a market for urban living in Cleveland until developers like the Marons built places where young professionals would want to be.

"Employers are looking for fresh, vibrant urban environments," says Chris Warren, the city's chief of regional development. "Cleveland needs to compete." Until recently, Cleveland was on the sidelines. The city's population has dropped by one-third since 1950. Although Cleveland includes two neighborhoods that are among Ohio's top five employment centers, tax revenues from incomes go primarily to the suburbs where most employees live. As recently as 2011, about one-third of city residents lived in poverty.

When Ari Maron graduated from Rice University in 2000, he came home to Cleveland to find that most of his childhood friends had moved to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. "None of them lived in neighborhoods like we grew up in," Maron says. He realized that if Cleveland were to retain—let alone attract—young professionals, the city's downtown would have to offer more than just office space.

Maron joined his dad's contracting and development company, MRN Ltd., which had just turned a building on East Fourth Street into apartments and started to renovate a hotel in the same neighborhood. At the time, these were considered risky projects. East Fourth Street was a center for prostitution and drug dealing—not exactly a robust housing market. But the street was also close to public transit, the Cleveland Indians' new ballpark, and the historic theater district. Maron decided to aim even higher: to turn East Fourth into an entertainment district.

Developers were reluctant to invest in urban residential and mixed-use projects in an unproven market. An urban development in a distressed area is a significantly more complicated, expensive, and time-consuming endeavor than planting a subdivision in open space. "It took us eight years just to buy all the property, and we got no returns for that period of time," Maron says. It helped that MRN wasn't beholden to preconceptions about how to make money in real estate. Its leadership consisted of Maron, a trained violinist; his dad, a contractor; and his brother, an accountant.

Urban projects also require a lot of cooperation with city hall, to make sure they are integrated with existing infrastructure and comply with city laws. The 16 buildings on East Fourth had 250 owners crowded onto their land-leases. MRN managed to acquire 80 percent of the property, but to free up abandoned or extremely neglected buildings, the city had to exercise eminent domain. Realizing Maron's vision required working with the city to waive parking-ratio requirements and to make sure fire trucks could still access a street closed to vehicular traffic.

Financing the project was even more complicated. "What we call 'baklava financing' has been the way we've approached urban projects," Maron says, referring to the Mediterranean layered pastry. Federal and state historic tax credits provided a layer of funding for every apartment building, restaurant, or entertainment venue. Cleveland Development Advisers, a subsidiary of the regional chamber of commerce, provided loans and New Markets tax credits.

MRN was forced to get creative. Restaurateurs were wary of taking a chance on a largely abandoned area, so MRN opened its own Mexican restaurant, Irish pub, and bowling alley. "We're in the hotel business, and the restaurant business—things that, at the time, we were forced to do because it was the only way for us to prove that there was a market for this kind of product," Maron says.

But each project got easier to finance. The 224 apartments filled up almost as fast as MRN could build them. Crowds gathered at East Fourth's entertainment venues, attracting new businesses and new investment. Today, tenants include Chef Jonathon Sawyer, whose Greenhouse Tavern was named one of the 10 best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetit. Rents on East Fourth have gone up 60 percent in the last decade, Maron says, and restaurant retail sales are double what MRN first expected. "As the market continues to grow, there's less and less need for the baklava financing," Maron says.

"Back in the '70s and '80s when we were trying to save our cities, they were constantly coming out with silver bullets," says Christopher B. Leinberger, a real-estate developer-turned-research-professor at the George Washington University School of Business. But attracting a flashy new stadium or new convention center is only one piece of the puzzle. Those projects—both of which Cleveland has pursued—didn't do for shrinking cities in the 1970s and 80s, when professionals were fleeing to the suburbs en masse. East Fourth Street was the right project at the right time.

Nationwide, demand for walkable, urban living is on the rise—in a way that it wasn't in past decades, when high urban crime rates kept professionals in the suburbs. Leinberger believes demand will continue to rise as millennials and Gen-Yers focus on paying off student loans rather buying cars and houses, and baby boomers downsize to apartments. In Cleveland, there's now a broad consensus that mixed-use, urban neighborhoods will give the city a future, says Edward Hill, dean of the college of urban affairs at Cleveland State University. As an economist, Hill is usually wary of the interference of public money in private markets, but in this case he thinks social-sector investment is justified. "The city really is positioned to realize the gains. If they don't invest themselves, they're going to die," he says.

Cleveland's urban revival has required leadership at every level. Business owners voluntarily raised their taxes to fund special improvement districts. Cleveland State University built space for nearly 1,200 additional dorm beds downtown. A Transportation Department grant helped fund a bus rapid-transit line between the business district and the university, hospital, and arts district. City hall modified building codes to encourage historic preservation and created new walkable neighborhood zoning.

There's little political opposition, in large part because gentrification isn't an issue. "No one's being displaced," Hill says. Downtown, in University Circle, and along the lakefront, new developments are replacing vacant office space, empty warehouses, and parking lots.

Today, nearly 12,000 people live in the two square miles that make up downtown Cleveland—the largest number in 60 years—and residential occupancy rates are over 95 percent. In 2011, MRN developed new office space for Rosetta, an area marketing agency that relocated downtown. Cleveland has been able to persuade major employers like Amtrust Financial Services and Ernst & Young to expand their downtown operations. They were sold, Warren says, on Cleveland's ability to attract talented professionals.
Much of St. Louis's redevelopment has been tax credit driven as well. Historic tax credits, New Markets Tax Credits, Brownfield Tax Credits, Distressed Area Land Assemblage Tax Credits, and Low Income Housing Tax Credits have been widely used in St. Louis.

But these projects are for sophisticated, complex projects by high dollar developers. Mom and pop developers, small guys, out of the back of a pick up guys, they usually don't have the patience or funding to get into this game.
Is there any research regarding ideal ratios of population to government? Either with respect to suburban municipalities, or to city wards?
^ I'm 80% sure that East-West Gateway has a statistic on that in one of their publications that I've seen.

If not, you could do things the old fashioned way and calculate it by hand for any specific munis you were interested in using thier directory (which I believe includes a figure for full time employees... although that probably includes police/fire personnel as well which may be beyond the purvue of your curiosity.
The Secret to D.C.'s Stunning Population Growth? Old People
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighb ... city/6499/

Between 2000 and 2010, more than a million baby boomers moved out of areas 40 to 80 miles from city centers and a similar number moved to within five miles of city centers, according to an analysis of 50 large cities by the online real estate brokerage Redfin.


I think the older generation is finally starting to realize that when they can no longer drive, they will be forced to move to a walkable urban neighborhood or go to a retirement home. Many are making the move into the cities preemptively.
jem79c wrote:
^ I'm 80% sure that East-West Gateway has a statistic on that in one of their publications that I've seen.

If not, you could do things the old fashioned way and calculate it by hand for any specific munis you were interested in using thier directory (which I believe includes a figure for full time employees... although that probably includes police/fire personnel as well which may be beyond the purvue of your curiosity.

I guess my query was unclear; what I was referring to was the ideal population of a municipality, rather than calculating ratios of government employees to residents.
I'm not so sure there is an ideal population or government size/ratio - Chesterfield is 3x the size of Clayton population wise, but 13x larger geographically. I think most folks from around here would agree that those are examples of "ideal municipalities" (or if you prefer, "ideal suburban municipalities").

Then you have the tiny municipalities in North County that folks often call to be annexed and declare as non-functional. While that might be a good idea, the city of Twin Oaks (141 and Big Bend) has a population of 392, but is flushed with cash (thanks to a Schnucks), should they have to abide by the same forced consolidation rules despite being completely solvent and well liked by their residents?

Especially in St. Louis County where there is a spaghetti bowl of overlapping governmental entities, taxing districts, etc that some how combine efforts into what we recognize as "city services", I'm not sure that you can peg some sort of generalized ratio.
JuanHamez wrote:
The Secret to D.C.'s Stunning Population Growth? Old People
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/neighb ... city/6499/

Between 2000 and 2010, more than a million baby boomers moved out of areas 40 to 80 miles from city centers and a similar number moved to within five miles of city centers, according to an analysis of 50 large cities by the online real estate brokerage Redfin.


I think the older generation is finally starting to realize that when they can no longer drive, they will be forced to move to a walkable urban neighborhood or go to a retirement home. Many are making the move into the cities preemptively.


I love this issue and there is a lot of potential for seniors bringing more life into the city. Besides the usual suspect of downtown, many of our neighborhoods are prime for active seniors -- for example Grand Center/SLU could be very attractive. But certainly a challenge we have for Aging in Place is the difficult existing older housing stock. Hopefully we can give a lot of thought to and execute senior-friendly infill to walkable nabes (I can see a strong component of senior-attractive housing in New Northside) and creative solutions for making aging in place possible for our existing stock.
jem79c wrote:
I'm not so sure there is an ideal population or government size/ratio - Chesterfield is 3x the size of Clayton population wise, but 13x larger geographically.


I agree, but I think another way of looking at things is what is a healthy population density? Whatever it is, we're well under it! Personally, I think given our modern family unit sizes, etc., a healthy population for Saint Louis City would be around 500K. I suppose our peak of 850K is possible again, but that is an awful lot of people crammed into a small area and would dramatically change the character of our city (for better and worse). I think at around 500K, we could get a balance of being a very dynamic city while maintaining the charm of our neighborhoods.... at 850 we'd be more of a Manhattan.
That again circles my point - what is wrong with Manhattan? To many there is an appeal to that brand of urbanism just as there is an appeal to a less dense St. Louis urban neighborhood. To generalize some sort of goal, even if you broke it down into a few categories of urban density, is impossible. It's ultimately going to come down to the question "does it work for the community/residents". While St. Louis certainly still has room to improve, I think that many areas can answer "yes".
But even if we say that a given community places high value on intimate government, we should be able to tie some sort of numbers to it. We can quantify people's psychological ability to maintain a given number of friendships, for example. If we're going to talk about questions of municipality consolidation, it can't just be about fiscal solvency; any size municipality can have solvency issues. You might say "too-small municipalities are costly and should disincorporate" when you mean "sufficiently small municipalities with financial issues have the option to disincorporate", which might be an incentive but doesn't directly assign any value judgement to the existance of many small municipalities. If there's a municipality size at which economies of scale kick in, we should be able to quantify them.

Ward size is similar. There are far fewer people per ward now than in the past, but why is that bad? How much territory should an alderman cover? If it's based on relationship to the ward, how many relationships can an alderman maintain? If it's based on neighborhood cohesiveness, what does that mean? If geography is a strong factor, maybe the number of people per ward is moot.

Community size can't all come down to simple math, but neither can it entirely avoid math. Someone should at least be able to lay out some rough boundaries and optimal curves.
With respect to seniors wanting a walkable neighborhood, there is one factor that elevates as prime candidates neighborhoods like Downtown, Lafayette Park, LaSalle Park, Soulard, Central West End and the Delmar Loop. All have (or will have) groceries within walking distance. Two things make walkable possible: grocery stores and pharmacies.
MarkHaversham wrote:
But even if we say that a given community places high value on intimate government, we should be able to tie some sort of numbers to it. We can quantify people's psychological ability to maintain a given number of friendships, for example. ... If there's a municipality size at which economies of scale kick in, we should be able to quantify them.
...
Community size can't all come down to simple math, but neither can it entirely avoid math. Someone should at least be able to lay out some rough boundaries and optimal curves.


Anecdotally: Maplewood shot itself in the foot trying to game the system with math in the 70s (I think) Maplewood started an effort to tear down a good number of it's single family homes and threw up garden style apartment buildings so inflate it's density, gain population, and as a result, get more federal funding. As history has shown, this had a lot of externalities that leadership of the time either over looked or ignored, as Maplewood's transient population began to took over and the area went into several decades of decline. While the city is bouncing back now, it still has a lot more work to do and is still fighting against the problems that the shortsightedness of past decisions created.


More to your point: There are millions of externalities that play into a City's success and solvency. IMHO, there are simply too many ways to look at the issue to even start (or perhaps it's just a failing of my feeble mind). City government might have a lot of similarities from place to place, but every metro area is different - it has different demographics, a different culture/history, different geopraphy, and different problems to face (Houston has to deal with huricanes and illegal immigration, but Denver has to contend with massive snow removal each year). To boot, each state has differnt laws, how they can tax their citizens, what powers the county/city/state does or does not have... The list goes on...

I won't say it's impossible, but I know I couldn't do it - if you know someone who can generate such a compotent model, I'd love to see it, and expect them to win a great many awards and accolades in local government circles.
MarkHaversham wrote:
Community size can't all come down to simple math, but neither can it entirely avoid math. Someone should at least be able to lay out some rough boundaries and optimal curves.

Presbyterian wrote:
If you know someone who can generate such a compotent model, I'd love to see it, and expect them to win a great many awards and accolades in local government circles.

You're in luck!
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jem79c wrote:
That again circles my point - what is wrong with Manhattan? To many there is an appeal to that brand of urbanism just as there is an appeal to a less dense St. Louis urban neighborhood.


Right, I only stated my personal preference. I'd like to see some parts of the city be Manhattanish but also others like Soulard and South Grand, etc. retain their general character. I suspect that at 800K- 1 million people, an incredible amount of historic character would be lost to meet higher-rise demand. Anyway, I'm mostly fascinated about what this city would look like at different population points... say 350K, 500K, 850K and 1 million.
Thanks for the video - alas, it will have to wait until I get home later

^Given the large amounts of vacant land, even proximate to downtown (such as the Cass corridor) I'm not so sure that we would have to give up much character as long as the density was placed properly... But getting that "done right" is more an art form than a science.

Just for some comparissons as to density... (these densities are for the city proper, NOT metro areas)
12,907/sqmile - Boston
11,864/sqmile - Chcago
8,225/sqmile - LA
7,402/sqmile - Seattle
5,140/sqmile - STL
3,623/sqmile - Houston
3,188/sqmile - Atlanta

So if StL population were to increase by 2-3x (800k-1kk range) You are looking at densities that rival the nations "biggest" cities - LA, Boston, Chcago, etc. To check to see if said density is possible, you might want to look at how much vacant property is available through the LRA as a proxy for "readily developable" area, and see how dense one would have to make those areas to achieve the overall population you want without altering existing neighborhoods. Not an exact science, but a 250/acre number versus a 30/acre could be enough to give you an answer as to the potential for it to work out
^ I think it would also be cool to know estimates of what we could expect our population to be if we had increased occupancy of existing housing stock. Let's say its 65% now; what would it look like at 80%? 100%?
Public Transit Is Worth Way More to a City Than You Might Think
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-a ... hink/6532/

They report that this hidden economic value of transit could be worth anywhere from $1.5 million to $1.8 billion a year, depending on the size of the city. And the bigger the city, they find, the bigger the agglomeration benefit of expanding transit. Simply put, city officials now have a much stronger argument for using taxpayer money to improve their public transportation service.


We now have even more evidence that expanding public transit is a good idea.
^ yes, yes and yes. If we (as in Missourians) don't get significant support for public transit as part of a statewide transportation funding plan then we really are losers.