The "Clevelandification" of Urban America (or how Manhattan is becoming a rich ghost town)

George_Apley

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I’ll stop. I was just trying to point out that they are no different than others in wanting to maximize financial return. In the same way a tenant is greedy to want something cheaper than it is worth so they can have more money. No I’m not a landlord and not in the real estate business.
You don't have to stop, and I'm definitely not accusing you of having a conflict of interest (not that it would be problem if you were in the real estate business). I totally get you that people who make investments want to get as much return as they can get. I guess my ultimate point is that I see a conflict between the financial interests of real estate investors and the livability, walkability, and vibrancy of the 21st Century urban environment. Especially in the big metropolises that have been experiencing an economic boom for over 25 years.
 

HenryAlan

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I think the way to look at it is by asking to what extent is the neighborhood (through deterioration of quality street interaction, subsidizing the landlord's decision. It's a classic case of the investor not paying for negative externalities.
 

jklo

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I think the way to look at it is by asking to what extent is the neighborhood (through deterioration of quality street interaction, subsidizing the landlord's decision. It's a classic case of the investor not paying for negative externalities.
I think once the recession gets going full steam, they will act to fill storefronts.
 

George_Apley

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This is obliquely on the same subject as the article that originated this thread:

How Brandcentric Architecture Is Destroying Our Sense Of Place (by Ben Willis for New Urbanism @ The American Conservative)

Not a bad read, but here are some excerpts:

National companies (think hotel chains, dollar stores, fast food restaurants) spreading their brands to every corner of the country have brought a mix of outcomes in terms of job creation, quality of life, and national identity. But what are the consequences to our physical environment, our “sense of place?”
Regions are commonly defined by political boundaries at a variety of scales from counties to nations. Our lived experience of a region might be better defined by the elements that provide a feeling of commonality within it, and demarcate a contrast from neighboring regions. These elements usually emerge organically from the climate, natural geological features, and the culture of the inhabitants, and may not follow political boundaries. The built environment can reinforce these regional characteristics as, for example, a Rhode Island farmhouse looks different from a North Carolina farmhouse because of the different weather conditions, building traditions, and crop types that each building serves.
Kitsch does not contribute to authentically distinctive places. It reduces the definition of “local context” to a small cadre of details that, while not problematic in and of themselves, are used indiscriminately and in a resolutely stagnant manner, creating a copy of a copy of a copy. In-so-doing, the designer (and by extension the public) misses the “why” that underlies these design ideas.
I recognize that economics are in the driver’s seat here: in order for a developer to invest in a building, it has to make a profit, and it’s likely that many potential hotel sites can’t demand high enough room rates to justify a custom building. It’s also true that a functioning hotel can bring people, jobs, and meaningful life to the street (unlike the parking lot currently occupying the Providence Glo’s site).
[If] new construction prototypes are the modus operandi of (economic) necessity, there are ways they could be done better. Consider a standard plan type with variable features (cladding, windows, roof forms) that could acknowledge the indigenous architecture of a place. Even places that seem to lack pre-existing regional identity (I’m looking at you roadside rest stops and business parks) can “zoom out” and draw from a larger regional character. Let this regional character read louder than your brand identity; you can use signage for that. Second, consider the climate of where you’re building and take some leadership in holistic sustainability. This doesn’t mean tacking on a few solar panels, it means following lessons from local building forms and using local materials (hint: EIFS panels are not native to any climate). Third, involve the local residents by paying more than mere lip-service to public engagement throughout the development process. While this absolutely won’t guarantee that all sides will be happy, a transparent process stands a better chance of producing a more respected final product. This public engagement might even extend beyond the groundbreaking—imagine the effect on regional identity if a hotel hosted a community garden or provided low-cost event space for local non-profits.
 

Rover

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I don't have a dog in this fight but this portion : "Third, involve the local residents by paying more than mere lip-service to public engagement throughout the development process. While this absolutely won’t guarantee that all sides will be happy, a transparent process stands a better chance of producing a more respected final product. This public engagement might even extend beyond the groundbreaking—imagine the effect on regional identity if a hotel hosted a community garden or provided low-cost event space for local non-profits." - is pie in the sky BS and a recipe for doom.

The very problem with "community involvement" is that projects get loaded down with NIMBY payoffs and other such graft, so much so that a bland design is the consequence. The author not understanding this makes me think they're living in fantasyland. I'd also point out that one person's view of indigenous architecture related to a place may not be the prevailing view. Particularly when it comes to tall buildings as opposed to brownstones or row houses.
 

Vagabond

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Just caught up on this thread - really fascinating discussion and a recurring problem in most urban areas. Thanks all for keeping it respectful.

I think there are a few missing pieces to the discussion.
1. We want retail storefronts filled like they used to be, but the "rents are too damn high." Well most of the thriving retail districts had businesses who OWNED the building, therefore they were not on a month-to-month revenue scheme. Looking at the percentage of buildings owned by the business tells a lot about the long-term stamina likelihood. A market solution might be to provide higher tax benefits and purchase incentives for owner-occupied retail spaces - reduce risk for small businesses to own storefronts.

2. Community involvement. God this sounds like an 80's "save the neighborhood by dancing" movie. I want parks and local business, but am always left hoping that there will be a neighborhood component that shows WHY the community will benefit. E.g. If the community wants an artist gallery, then they should submit a plan to host events to bring paying customers into the neighborhood. It always feels like developers and community groups are speaking totally different languages. Community groups need to offer financial benefits for their demands.

3. What is the impetus for "punishing" a landlord for not renting below the perceived market? I saw "urban fabric" as a throwaway line, but it's really important. Dense urban fabric boosts local vibrancy by "funding," through a net opportunity balance of money into and out of a local neighborhood. Each storefront encourages local jobs, local spending, and local economic insulation from external market changes. When someone like Simon Properties keeps a block of storefronts closed all at once, they extract all potential local economic benefit from an area. Keeping retail local is critical to keeping money flowing INTERNAL to an area instead of exiting to a national/international owner that does not continue to spend in the neighborhood. What is a market-based solution? I recommend fees to the landlord for empty storefronts that go to a fund to improve the local streetscape - that way even when a storefront is empty, the neighborhood value is improved thereby also increasing interest in the empty property.
 
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