Thursday, April 16, 2015

Poverty and the Pedal

Three times in the past year alone our firm has completed work in low-income communities and asked questions about alternative transportation options - one of them being - do people bike? In one bike-friendly west coast city, the response, from an African-American community organizer was "most of our folks consider that a hipster thing". And while there were lots of people biking through the historically African-American community, I had to admit that it was true, nearly every cyclist that past us by was Caucasian.

CityLab did some research on this issue last year and found that "while wealthier people increasingly reduce their car dependency, poor people still aspire to car ownership." Or as our West coast community organizer said, "people have the attitude that only losers ride bikes." Fortunately, this mindset is changing, and we should encourage a paradigm shift among minority communities through education, bike infrastructure (i.e. safe places to park your bike so it won't get stolen) and support (free bikes and helmets anyone?)

Would you walk this street with a bag of groceries?
More recently, we have been working in another low-income urban neighborhood on the outskirts of a major downtown in Connecticut. The neighborhood had been labeled a "food dessert" and our original scope was to help them attract a grocery store. But here was the problem. While there wasn't a grocery store within the specific boundaries of that neighborhood, there were multiple food stores within a five to eight minute drive - the trade area that most grocery stores consider when considering site selection.

The good news was that the area was poised to get a grocery store at a new development immediately adjacent to the neighborhood at a major highway interchange. So problem solved, right? Wrong. The street connections to the future grocery-anchored community shopping center could not have been less hospitable to residents coming by alternative transportation means. No sidewalks or bike lanes and desolate streetscapes all made what was only a few minute long walk both unpleasant and in some places dangerous. Yet in a community where 48% of households do not own a car (compared to the state average of 85%) and meager public transportation at best, improving access to the shopping center for residents without cars should be a driving priority. Hey, if you can't bring the supermarket to people you can at least do everything in your power to bring the people to the supermarket. This means bike infrastructure, dedicated bike lanes and safe places to park your bike once you get there. In this community, it also means slowing cars down on a one-way street that should be made two-way. And finally, it means education in the local public schools (bikes are cool, right!) and yes, maybe free bikes and helmets for kids and their parents.

Biking is not a panacea, but it should be a viable option for those who don't have other options. And right now, there is tons of room for improvement on that front.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What's the Formula for Staying in Character?

Jersey City, New Jersey's second most populous city, has downtown character that current mayor, Steve Fulop, is trying to protect.

Jersey City now joins a select group of cities, most notably San Francisco, that aim to limit the number of chains in their communities. In Jersey City, the  proposed city regulation would set a limit of 30 percent of commercial space in downtown rented to businesses with 10 or more locations within 300 miles of the city. This kind of regulation is also known as "Formula Business Restrictions", and in general seek to limit chain stores with "multiple locations within the region that exhibit standardized characteristics such as logos, menus, store decor" and more.  In Jersey City, grocery stores will be exempt. Typically, the goal of these restrictions is to support a vibrant retail sector by limiting the number of chain stores competing for space and thereby reducing commercial rents - or at least the rising pressure of rents over time. Whether the facts on the ground bear this result out over time are yet to be seen. To my knowledge, there is no longitudinal study that would allow us to definitively determine whether these restrictive ordinances do what they intend to do - keep rents down in a way that results in a vibrant independent business environment.

What I do know is that San Francisco's Office of Economic Analysis recently completed a study of the impact of the 2008 Formula Restrictions and found that on balance, a significant impact of the regulation has been the higher prices that local residents are forced to pay for goods and services on the whole. They also conclude that formula restrictions "increase vacancy rates". According to the OEA, the conclusion of the study was as follows: "expanding the definition of formula retail in the city will not expand the local economy". Strong words from the very City that has led these efforts nationwide. It should be noted that the study's findings have been criticized by the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a think tank that has long supported such restrictions, for overestimating the price differential between chains and non-chains and not accounting for the higher percentage of expenses that small businesses spend on wages. However, OEA looked at this assumption and found that larger retail establishments employed 4.3 workers per million dollars in sales than smaller retailers, who employed 3.2.  So it seems the verdict is still out on this one.

But back to New Jersey. Not surprisingly, business and real estate groups are opposed. New Jersey Retail Merchant Association  president, John Holub, noted "We totally are obviously supportive of a vibrant, independent retail sector in the city, but to artificially try to control market forces is troubling."

Mayor Fulop wants to see Jersey City as a destination that pulls in visitors from all over and noted that chain stores such as TGI Fridays, Starbucks, Applebees, and Gap don't have that magnetism that draws destination seekers to them. That may be true - and laudable goal overall - but it is not without costs and impact felt by all.

Article link.

Authored by Larisa Ortiz, Principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates
and Scott Landfried, LOA staff

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

“Edge Cities” Grow Up

The new Tysons Corner skyline gets an update with a residential tower.
In 1991, journalist Joel Garreau published his seminal book, Edge Cities, which described places like Tysons Corner, a former country cross roads that grew into the quintessential automobile-oriented suburban shopping center and office park surrounded by traditional suburban single family homes. Today, Tysons is one of many former riding the wave back towards mixed-use downtown's, according to Shopping Centers Today (“Living Above the Store”, SCT April 2015). This trend is being led by millennials and baby boomers who want urban places to live, work and shop. According to a 2014 Nielson Report , “Millennials are fueling an urban revolution looking for the vibrant, creative energy cities offering a mix of housing, shopping and offices right outside their doorstep.” In fact, 62% of millennials “prefer to live in mixed-use communities found in urban centers.”

Shopping mall developers are increasingly responding to this growing demand by growing the commensurate supply of mixed-use projects that include a residential component. Both Macerich and Simon Properties, two of the largest mall developers in the nation, are adding housing to projects in their portfolios. Macerich recently added a 430-unit residential tower to Tysons Corner mall and Simon is adding a 319-unit mid-rise luxury building at its Phipps Plaza Property in Atlanta. Simon has also added 232-units to its Southdale Center mall in Edina, Minnesota. Downtown's and urban places are clearly the inspiration for these former Edge cities.
Skyview Center and Skyview Parc in downtown
Flushing, Queens, a combined mall/apartment building 
But if you think this is just a suburban trend, think again. Downtown Flushing, Queens, NY is home to the Shops at Skyview Center a $1 billion dollar project that is home to an 800k mixed-use, multi-level shopping center with stores like BJ’s, Nike Clearance Store, Forever 21, Target and Nordstrom Rack. Above Skyview Center is Skyview Parc – a luxury apartment building that is luring an international crowd of buyers (many Chinese) to some of the area’s most pricey apartments (the average apartment sells for over $700k). The project also offers a four acre landscaped park on the roof of the mall with walking trails, playgrounds, a dog run and picnic tables. Nice place to live if you can afford it…

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Urban Priorities Survey

Attention downtown and district practitioners and advocates! 

There is an opportunity to inform the industry's agenda. The International Downtown Association (IDA) invites you to communicate your top priorities to the IDA Board by completing a short survey (less than 10 mins). 

What matters to your urban area? 
What are your personal perspectives on the future of your downtown? 
What are the priorities in your own work? 

IDA is trying to understand the key issues affecting urban revitalization in the years ahead and wants to hear from urban practitioners at all levels. The results will help IDA as it shifts priorities toward research, advocacy and cultivating downtown leadership. 

It is encouraged to share the survey anyone who shares a passion for downtowns whether it be downtown management organizations, developers, local government, consultants, economic development, etc. 

The survey deadline is April 15th and can be found here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Commercial District News Round Up - Week of March 16th

Skimming the internet for news, so you don't have to...

Outlet Malls Move Closer to Cities in Upending of Rules, Bloomberg Business

"After years of outperforming regular malls, outlets are increasingly encroaching on downtown shopping districts. The shift is part of a painful dislocation for brick-and-mortar retailers, which are abandoning decades of etiquette as they chase a dwindling number of shoppers."

LA City's re:code-Pitched as Simplifying City's Complex and Opaque Zoning Code

LA is starting a very huge project to update its zoning code - the second oldest zoning code in the US for major cities.  It is a five-year project that will produce two zoning codes (one for the central downtown area and one for the rest of the city) and a dynamic web-based code delivery system, which they plan to showcase at the APA national conference in Seattle.

Sausalito Leaders Consider Cap on Bikes Entering City Streets

Not typical news, but Saulsalito is considering measures to limit the number of rental bikers coming to their city from San Francisco due to safety concerns. There is resistance and plenty of businesses that feel this is unnecessary. This is not a done deal and only in investigation phase.  The situation doesn't look anything similar Amsterdam's current bike overload woes.
Amsterdam bike overload

Regional Planning Agency forms first Millennial Advisory Panel

Now that Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers in the Atlanta area they have become a constituent group that has expressed desire to be involved with regional planning issues.  The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) Millennial Advisory Panel formed in the wake of this desire and looks to be a sea change in the future of America's planning. The panel will formulate policy recommendations related to infrastructure, innovation economy and healthy, livable communities.

Why Some Parklets Work Better Than Others

A report from CityLab on why some parklets work and others don't shows that the type of businesses closest to the parklet plays a key role in its success.  The study showed that an adjacent business with modest interior seating and large front windows were very successful at attracting good parklet usage. Interesting article.
Parklet peak use time varied depending on location, Image: University City District

Parking Madness 2015: Nashville vs Amarillo

Coming out at the same time as college basketball March Madness, Parking Madness, is an interesting series presented by Streetsblog USA and puts two US cities against each other in a bracket tournament of sorts to win the title of "Golden Crater".  It's eye-opening to see how bleak these downtown centers are with so much of the land covered in parking lots.  Some pictures look devoid of human existence.
Amarillo from above (Google Maps).

Egypt's Strange $45 Billion Plan to Abandon Cairo as its Capital City

Similar to Brasilia in Brazil, Abuja in Nigeria, or Islamabad in Pakistan, Egypt looks to create a new capital.  The $45 billion plan would establish the new city to Cairo's east, closer to the Red Sea and would sprawl an estimated 150 square miles for 7 million potential inhabitants.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

News round up...

Image source: Walk [Your City]
We scoured the web so you don't have to. Here are some things this week that caught our eye...

DIY Wayfinding Signs Are About to Go Mainstream

Former graduate student Matt Tomasulo began a project in Raleigh that debuted in 2012 drawing much attention for his self created signs which guided and informed citizens of Raleigh which direction and how long it would take to get to a certain destination, often noted in minutes by foot or by bike.  Now, after a Kickstarter campaign and funding from the Knight Foundation, Tomasulo's "WalkRaleigh" project is expanding in a big way.

Check out the story and see how the new "Walk [Your City]" project allows users to create signs aimed at guiding others to destinations within their city.  Signs are color coded for their type - Commercial, Public Space, Civic/Institutional , and Amusement.

The Neighborhood Has Gentrified, But Where's the Grocery Store?

Image from GOVERNING article,
credit: Shutterstock
Part of a series by GOVERNING regarding gentrification, this article covers the issue of the changing landscape and revitalization of America's downtowns, such as Cleveland, which still noticeably lack grocery options.

Urban Regeneration: What recent research says about best practices

The mid-19th Century brought declining population and disinvestment in the core areas of major American cities, many in the Rustbelt, and coincided with state and federal policies that effectively encouraged suburbinization. This post provides key findings and many potential strategies to address disinvestment and spur regeneration.

Why Are Developers Still Building Sprawl?

Image from The Atlantic article, credit: Don Graham/Flickr
The Atlantic points out that while data and feedback supports that Boomers and Millennials alike want to live in compact, walkable developments builders still are investing in sprawling suburban communities complete with even larger McMansions than before.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Having trouble getting buy-in from your stakeholders?

I'm too excited about the Chicago Business District Leadership Program to limit this to one post. We are now in Day 3 of our opening retreat so here goes....

A BDL participant sharing their vision stand
How do you succinctly and effectively find partners and champions to support you in your corridor revitalization efforts? For corridor managers, the key to success hinges on the answer to this question.
For most, a one-on-one conversation is critical to engaging and garnering support from key stakeholders. Think about it. Have you ever gotten a big grant without a one-on-one pitch to a funder? Have you ever convinced a business to come to your corridor without a one-on-one? My guess is no.

This afternoon the LISC Chicago Business Leadership program worked on this issue. We call them “Vision Stands”. What are those, you ask? At its most basic, a vision stand is a clear and compelling picture of the future you envision…in less than 2 min. Basically an elevator speech. And a darn good one.

Why is a succinct pitch so important? Because the truth is that attention span is short – most of the time  you lose your audience to their own thought processes long before you get to the so called important part of your pitch. Being able to engage is critical to getting others to enroll and provide support for your efforts.

So what makes for a good vision stand? In the BDL program, participants are each given 2 minutes to present their visions to the whole group. They are then provided feedback from one another on three key areas - presence, clarity and credibility. They are pushed to make sure that their vision inspires, and to do that, they need to make sure that they excel in those three key areas.
  • Presence refers to how you show up in front of the group. The speakers quality of being and connection with the group and people’s experience of the speaker who is up in front of them.
  • Clarity refers to an individual’s ability to explain their thoughts clearly and to leave the audience with an ability to summarize elements from their vision.
  • Credibility is the toughest of the three. This refers to the ability of the speaker to offer the audience a sense that they can do what they said they were going to do. Is the speaker believable and do they have the capacity to pull it off? Are they believable? Do they exude confidence. Does their body language communicate self confidence in their work? 
It's not just about the speaker. The exercise is as critical for those providing feedback as it is for the recipient. Offering constructive feedback is so important to effective leadership. Managing people, whether they are your staff or your partners, means having honest discussions about what is working and what isn't. So the exercise really goes both ways and helps all participants.

After the exercise, our facilitator Jose Acevedo shared with us research conducted by Albert Mehrabian from UCLA. What Mehrabian found was that three things contribute to how people perceive and feel about the speaker – whether they like or dislike the speaker and message. What I found fascinating is that people’s perception of you has very little to do with the content of what you say. In fact, only 7% of their feelings are associated with the actual words you say. 38% is related to voice dynamics and the WAY words are said.  And finally, 55% of people’s perception of you is related to your body language, specifically your facial expressions.
Receiving praise from participants after a Vision Stand

Understanding this is powerful, because it tells us about the importance of non-verbal communication in building credibility with our stakeholders. So step away from your email, and make or the call, or better yet, set up a one-on-one with a potential new partner and be prepared to share your vision. This is the first step in your ability to convince others to contribute to your efforts – whether that be a contribution of time (like attendance at meetings), money (contributions in the form of membership, or grants or city funding), or expertise.

Good luck!