Wednesday, May 21, 2014:
3 pieces to highlight today:
Ben Adler critiques a recent report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation about the value of smaller, older buildings. He acknowledges many points of agreement, but offers this:
It’s all about balance. A city with nothing but modern skyscrapers would surely lose its aesthetic charm, its creative energy, and its urban vitality. But a city with no new construction risks turning into a museum: a beautiful but stuffy repository of artwork by dead people, frequented only by the rich and tourists.
Historic preservation and low-rise zoning are wise in some situations and some areas, but not merely as an abstract principle to apply without discretion. Preservationists should absolutely stand up for that which is worth preserving. The Trust’s new report is entitled “Older, Smaller, Better.” But not all buildings that are old and small are better than ones that are new and big. A healthy city needs a healthy mix — as the Trust’s report actually acknowledges, even if its title doesn’t. And, critically, a healthy city needs freedom to grow.
There's much in here to debate. I think we likely are in agreement about 90% of the time. Balance old with new? Yes. Value of old buildings? Absolutely. More micro apartments and reformed zoning? Definitely.
But, but.... there's a running theme popular in a lot of urban circles that allowing more skyscrapers and towers will enhance the affordable market in places like DC, San Francisco, etc. What I'd like to know is, where have we seen this to be true? What is the evidence? Yes, more supply generally helps with demand, but cities are not a study in 3rd grade economics. The factors that impact affordability are multiple and inter-related. Very desirable areas do not appear to lessen in desirability (or price) with the provision of additional supply. The demand is overwhelming.
Buildings are not like microchips, where we can flood the market with enough supply to take up the demand and immediately lower prices. This strikes me as an ideological, faith-based approach to urban economics. I suppose in theory you could build a series of new towers in downtown DC or San Francisco, but then you'd destroy everything about the place that's desirable to begin with. Is that the definition of success?
Much more on this at another time.
Kristen Jeffers muses about the future of retail, especially urban retail. A quote about markets:
Taking things back to the classic form of the marketplace, where people open up their cars, put out tables, hold out signs and pitch tents to pitch their wares, often in the open air. The start-up costs for the sellers are low, plus, they enjoy the flexibility of driving around from neighborhood to neighborhood and town to town, finding the places where people purchase from them the most. In addition, a community often forms around these markets. There’s the scarcity of knowing that you can only find that particular table or truck at that particular place for a limited amount of time, much like all those TV advertisements with the 1-800 number. Yet, you also get to know the people behind the product, the ones with the family recipes and the desire to help others and themselves build a better community one booth at a time. Also, this is where some of the restrictive regulations on signage and placement help. If a product or service is good enough, they break though the restrictions and become a need, not a nuisance.
Earlier thoughts of my own on the greatness of markets, and the need for them in cities here.
Chuck Marohn discusses why our ancestors used to build such great public buildings and why we fail to:
The collective wealth of our ancestors was tied up in monumental buildings that would radiate wealth for generations. Our collective wealth is tied up in miles of bituminous roadway that decay and fall apart in a couple of decades, creating enormous maintenance liabilities for us in the process.
In the traditional development pattern, our collective investments built wealth. In our new suburban experiment, the auto-based development approach, our collective investments destroy wealth.
Your deep thought for the day - what is your personal wealth tied up in? Your communitys?