Tag Archives: land use

Does your community suffer from power pole blight?

I don’t know about your community, but here in Greater Lansing there seems to be an intense love affair between public utilities and power poles. “Holy pincushions, Batman, you’d think they’d all been raised by a family of porcupine.”

In some places, the primary roadway corridors look like a long, linear parade of power pole blight. Sadly, all too often this leaves communities in the region with disjointed and unpleasant streetscape aesthetics to viagra for sale overcome. I know Greater lansing is not alone, as I have seen power pole blight across many parts of the Rust Belt.

Seriously...in the middle of a roundabout?
Seriously…in the middle of a roundabout?

Attempts have been made to convince area utilities to remove portions of the visual blight and bury the power lines, but that is usually greeted with consternation and rebuttals on the costliness of such actions. If the community or property owners wish to pay for burying the lines, they would be glad to oblige. As a result, instead https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly of a modern and efficient electrical grid, numerous locations end up with a cobbled together third-world styled electrical grid that struggles to maintain service during ice, snow, and wind storm events.

One would think that after a certain number of repetitive power outages and emergency repairs to broken, damaged, and fallen power lines, electric utilities would initiate https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly routine burying programs on their own to reduce the number of outages and their firm’s long-term maintenance costs. Throw in discount viagra regular tree trimming efforts and eventually burying power lines doesn’t look so expensive anymore. Apparently the bean counters differ on that assessment.

Years ago, power utilities were often active participants in economic development, community enhancement, redevelopment, and revitalization efforts. It was seen as a way to increase the utility’s customer base. Today, some utilities can be a stubborn impediment to new initiatives and progressive streetscape design ideas. Whether this is a function of the short-term profit mindset or local firms being bought out or merging with multinationals is not entirely clear. Unfortunately, whatever the reason, local communities across the Rust Belt and other parts of the nation are left with paying the price of power pole/line blight with unsightly pincushionesque landscapes dotting the horizon.

No one is advocating for the burying of the entire power line infrastructure. That would be viagra for men impractical. But, in those areas where the power poles have become overbearing and omnipresent, or in places where redevelopment and revitalization efforts are trying to get underway, burying the power lines makes sense. As stakeholders in the community and https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly the Rust Belt generally, it is hoped the region’s utilities will join any and all localized efforts to achieve a more aesthetically pleasant streetscape and overall community vision.

– Rick Brown

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Ten Lessons from Boulder, Colorado

 

View of Boulder from the Flatiron Mountains - photo by author

I had the great pleasure of visiting Boulder, Colorado for the first time over an extended weekend. As an urban planner, I was able to take away many useful lessons for Rust Belt communities from the lovely city abutting the Front Range. Granted, not every place can be set aside majestic mountains, but every community does have unique attributes.

Here are what I would quantify as the top ten. Many of these are remarkably similar to the ten lessons from European industrial cities published earlier this month.

  • Cherish, protect, enhance, and enjoy your natural surroundings, attributes, and amenities.
  • Don’t worry, be active! As one of the healthiest and most active cities in the United States, Boulder residents practice this every day.
  • Active transportation (walking, hiking, cycling, mass transit) is absolutely key to a vibrant, healthy community.
  • Design the city to be human-scaled and pedestrian friendly.
  • There is a place for cars, but not at the forefront (both in the city and on college campuses) – the University of Colorado campus is amazingly compact and is only bisected by a few streets.
  • Skyscrapers and sprawl are not necessary for a healthy community – sprawl, in particular, is the antithesis of a healthy community.
  • Create third places and amenitiesdowntown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall (a closed street) is an amazing third place filled with people and constant activity.
  • Embrace street art, performers, and vendors – they add life and vibrancy.
  • Preserve and protect your community’s architecture and cultural heritage – they’re the only ones you’ve got!
  • People will pay the necessary premiums (taxes, fees, rent, cost of living, etc.) to live, work, and play in a well-planned, diverse, eccentric, healthy, innovative, and sustainable community.

– Rick Brown

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Filed under architecture, Art, Brain Drain, Economic Development, Editorial, Education, Featured, Good Ideas, Green Jobs, Public Transportation, sprawl, the environment, Urban Planning

Shared Responsibility for Detroit's Woes

Source: greatbigcanvas.com

As a Michigander for the past 21 years, I’ve heard my share of Detroit criticisms, jokes, and put downs, both from within and outside the Great Lakes State. While fingers can be  pointed at the lack of past civic and political leadership in Detroit, our collective actions (or lack thereof) can certainly share in the responsibility. Some may scoff at such a notion, but here’re a few reasons why:

  • As a nation we elected leaders who adopted a tax code and laws that advocated, promoted, and accelerated flight from cities and suburban sprawl. Many in this nation continue to support such policies. Granted, this affects every city, but that doesn’t mean it was beneficial for them unless they had scads of excess land for new subdivisions or the ability to annex freely.
  • As a nation, we collectively turned our backs on inner cities and the residents thereof many years ago, only seeing fit to reverse course when the notion of revitalization became profitable.
  • As a state, Michigan has some of the most arcane home rule laws that created thousands of 36 square mile “kingdumbs” (pun intended) that fight with each other like cats and dogs and seldom do the right thing.
  • This nation very nearly turned its collective back on the auto industry due to political self-interest.
  • As a state and nation we allowed expressways, poorly placed factories, urban renewal projects, sports stadiums, and other projects to carve up and displace perfectly healthy inner city neighborhoods, leaving a tattered and disjointed landscape.
  • Residents/politicians living in outstate Michigan from Detroit would short-sightedly say, act, and vote as if Detroit was not their problem too.
  • In Southeast Michigan, leaders and residents alike outside of Wayne County often could care less what happened south of Eight Mile.
Source: detroittransithistory.info
Source: detroittransithistory.info
  • One of the best interurban transit systems in the nation was torn up and replaced by diesel-belching buses that have as many endearing qualities as a lump of coal.
  • Corporations ran away from the city in the ’60s and ’70s…with some finally seeing the light of their actions and returning to Detroit in the ’00s and ’10s.
  • Half of Detroit’s professional sport franchises left for the ‘burbs with one, the Pistons, still playing practically closer to Flint than Detroit.
  • Far too many lenders and insurance companies red-lined inner city neighborhoods.
  • Shady lenders who offered inner city loans foreclosed on homeowners the first chance they got.
  • Absentee landlords let their properties decline into disrepair and blight.
  • Politicians shied away from making the tough decisions, and rhetoric replaced reason in far too many discussions and decisions concerning Detroit.
  • Too many people in Southeast Michigan acted like the city was an island unto itself, when, like it or not, their collective futures have been inexorably linked to Detroit’s fate.
  • Up until recent years, the national media tended to solely focus on the bad news  about Detroit. There are many great things about Detroit, and piling on does nothing to reverse problems: it only reinforces misperceptions and stereotypes.

Shall I go on?

– Rick Brown

 

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Filed under architecture, Crime, Economic Development, Featured, Great Lakes, Politics, Public Transportation, Race Relations, Real Estate, Sports, sprawl, The Media, U.S. Auto Industry, Urban Planning, Urban Poverty

Gaming the Economic Development System

Once again, it appears that “build it and celebrate it” no matter the past sins (or future consequences) reigns supreme among economic developers. While hyping an announcement of more jobs and new construction in Greater Lansing, the fact that the insurance company in question challenged its property taxes using the “functionally obsolete building” scheme in 2010 was conveniently overlooked (see article in City Pulse).

Source: freep.com

If you are not familiar with the “functionally obsolete” tax game that is being employed most often by big box retailers, the claim that is made is their building is “functionally obsolete”  because it was specifically designed and built for their purpose and no other entity could possible adapt it. Needless to say, the whole argument is rather sketchy, but unfortunately, state tax tribunals have been swallowing it hook, line, and sinker. This argument might be plausible or reasonable if the structure was 20+ years old, but it is also being made for newly/recently constructed buildings. The story in the May 8, 2013 edition of City Pulse is an example of the same scheme being used for an office building. Exactly how hard is it to move cubicles, desks, and partitions?

The professional planning community needs to address this issue and fast. If a building is to become so dysfunctional (or functionally obsolete) so quickly, should it be approving for construction in the first place? And if it means the local property taxes are going to soon take a backhanded hit in the process, even more reason to deny the project unless the applicant certifies the building will be erected In an manner that is not dysfunctional (a.k.a. functionally obsolete).

Most special use (or conditional use) permit approvals require a community to determine whether the use “will not be detrimental to the economic welfare of neighboring properties or the surrounding community.” If the proposed building is to become “functionally obsolete” within ten years, no realistic or reasonable decision maker should approve its construction. Otherwise, all they are doing is losing badly at a zero sum game.

– Rick Brown

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Economic development soul-searching

The title of this post may be a bit controversial, but can also be sadly true. Far too often, it seems a blind eye is turned toward the sins of the past just to generate new economic investment. A perfect example is portrayed in the past week’s (April 17th edition) of City Pulse by an article entitled “A Tax Break Won’t Change This.” While tax breaks are being offered to GM for additional investment in Greater Lansing, a ginormous vacant parking lot blights the near south side of the city, not to mention additional deteriorated sites along Saginaw Highway on the west side of town. This case is not alone, as the Rust Belt is littered with leftovers of its industrial history – hence the nickname Rust Belt.  Is disregarding the fouled legacy of past sins what economic development is supposed to be all about? I certainly hope not.

Source: lansingcitypulse.com

Sadly, concerns about the past sins tend to get drowned out by the hype, hoopla, and hyperbole over new (or saved) jobs and investment. While those are important, they are NOT the only things that foster economic development and improve a community. Pleasant and safe neighborhoods, good schools, well-maintained infrastructure, quality public services, environmental stewardship, beautiful parks, inspired art, creative and new ideas, and many other community attributes also spur economic development. Vacant and blighted parking lots, abandoned industrial sites, polluted environment, underfunded schools and public services, and discarded communities are not the seeds necessary for sewing a healthy and vibrant economy. They are the seeds of our ultimate demise as a place where people want to live or work.

The economic development community needs to do some serious soul-searching and start to stand up for enhancing “community” in more ways than the perceived and spouted panacea of jobs which is so narrowly focused and aspired to. Otherwise, they/we are nothing more than a bunch of glorified used-car salespeople, and we know how well they rate in the court of public opinion.

Rick Brown

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Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Editorial, Great Lakes, Headline, Politics, Real Estate, the environment, U.S. Auto Industry, Urban Planning

Boxed In: The Limits Of Rust Belt Airports

Pittsburgh - Source: allairports.net

The following list identifies 55 commercial aviation airports in the Rust Belt in order by land area (or footprint). Pittsburgh International is far and away the largest airport in the region and is one of the largest in the United States. The average size among these 55 airports is 2,613 acres, or just approximately 4.1 square miles.

For some of these cities, the small footprint of the local airport presents challenges for future growth and expansion. This problem is particularly acute for Erie, Chicago (Midway), and Harrisburg. Even some of the larger airports in the Rust Belt (by size and/or traffic) are hemmed in by development, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago (O’Hare), St. Louis, Columbus, Cleveland, and Rochester, NY. As the aviation industry changes, these site limitations could result in the need for pursuing expensive options to remain competitive, such as land acquisition or construction of a new airport on a greenfield site or perhaps at a former military base.
  1. Pittsburgh – 12,900 acres
  2. Indianapolis – 7,700 acres
  3. Chicago (O’Hare) – 7,627 acres
  4. Cincinnati – 7,000 acres
  5. Detroit (Metro) – 6,400 acres
  6. Dayton (Cox) – 4,200 acres
  7. Peoria – 3,800 acres
  8. Madison (Truax) – 3,500 acres
  9. Fort Wayne – 3,351 acres
  10. Cedar Rapids (Eastern Iowa) – 3,288 acres
  11. Saginaw (MBS) – 3,200 acres
  12. Baltimore (BWI) – 3,160 acres
  13. Grand Rapids (Ford) – 3,127 acres
  14. Duluth – 3,020 acres
  15. Minneapolis-St. Paul – 2,930 acres
  16. Rockford-Chicago – 2,900 acres
  17. St. Louis (Lambert) – 2,800 acres
  18. Allentown (Lehigh Valley) – 2,629 acres
  19. Des Moines – 2,625 acres
  20. Waterloo-Cedar Falls – 2,583 acres
  21. Sioux City – 2,460 acres
  22. Green Bay (Straubel) – 2,441 acres
  23. Hartford (Bradley) – 2,432 acres
  24. Toledo (Express) – 2,345 acres
  25. Akron-Canton – 2,300 acres
  26. Springfield (Lincoln) – 2,300 acres
  27. South Bend – 2,200 acres
  28. Columbus, OH (Port Columbus) – 2,221 acres
  29. Milwaukee (Mitchell) – 2,180 acres
  30. Lansing, MI (Capital Region) – 2,160 acres
  31. Marquette (Sawyer) – 2,100 acres
  32. Quad City – 2,021 acres
  33. Syracuse (Hancock) – 2,000 acres
  34. Cleveland (Hopkins) – 1,900 acres
  35. St. Joseph, MO (Rosecrans) – 1,707 acres
  36. Appleton – 1.638 acres
  37. Flint (Bishop) 1,550 acres
  38. Terre Haute (Hulman) – 1,475 acres
  39. Youngstown-Warren – 1,468 acres
  40. La Crosse – 1,380 acres
  41. Huntington, WV (Tri-State) – 1,300 acres
  42. Evansville – 1,250 acres
  43. Dubuque – 1,240 acres
  44. Binghamton – 1,199 acres
  45. Rochester, NY – 1,136 acres
  46. Providence (TF Green) – 1,111 acres
  47. Traverse City (Cherry Capital) – 1,026 acres
  48. Albany – 1,000 acres
  49. Buffalo-Niagara – 1,000 acres
  50. Burlington, VT – 942 acres
  51. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton – 905 acres
  52. Charleston (Yeager) – 787 acres
  53. Harrisburg – 680 acres
  54. Chicago (Midway) – 650 acres
  55. Erie (Tom Ridge) – 450 acres
Rick Brown

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Hospitals: To Sprawl Or Not To Sprawl

The last few times I have visited my home state of Indiana, I have noticed a number of new hospitals recently opened or being constructed along the I-69 corridor in the Indianapolis and Fort Wayne regions.  Along I-69 north of I-465 in Indianapolis, it seems like new hospitals are rising from the cornfields at each interchange. IU Saxony Hospital, Community Hospital, and St. Vincent Hospital have all recently migrated to this corridor between Indianapolis and Anderson. The map below does not even include the pre-existing Riverview Hospital in Noblesville (just above the top of the map) or the two existing hospitals in Anderson (Community and Saint John’s) located about 10 miles to the east.

Granted, this area is growing very rapidly, but are all these satellite hospitals really necessary? Particularly in one narrow corridor? Indianapolis is not alone in this migration in Indiana. Below are multiple examples from Fort Wayne.

View of Parkview when it was under construction (I-69 in the foreground)
Source: fwdailynews.com

In Fort Wayne, both Lutheran-DuPont Hospital and Parkview Regional Medical Center have opened new facilities at the northern fringes of town at I-69 and DuPont Road (see photos above and below). Parkview’s campus is so large (just opened in March 2012) that a new interchange is being constructed to the north of the complex to accommodate the increased area traffic. On the southwest side of Fort Wayne,  Lutheran Hospital completed a large multi-structure campus several years ago at the corner of the I-69 and U.S. 24 interchange (see campus map below).

Lutheran Hospital campus map
Source: lhnbariatrics.com

 

Each of these new campus facilities have been followed quickly by a myriad of hotels, restaurants, apartments, medical office buildings, and other ancillary facilities, creating economic development boomlets at the interchanges. Being situated adjacent to freeway interchanges can provide speedy emergency access for these wealthy suburban areas (until gridlock develops there too) and the so-called “regional” reach of a hospital, but is promoting sprawl really beneficial to a community’s health? I doubt it.

And what about emergency services for inner city residents and the poor–doesn’t a suburban/exurban campus present the same reverse commuting difficulties that suburban employment centers do?

As a comparison, none of the major hospitals here in Greater Lansing have built suburban campuses in Mid-Michigan. SparrowMcClaren-Lansing, and Sparrow-St. Lawrence are all situated at midtown locations. Personally, I see this as a very positive health and land use planning attribute for Greater Lansing because:

  • The midtown locations help maintain the viability of the adjoining inner city neighborhoods.
  • Staying put at midtown locations lessons the potential for continued suburban sprawl.
  • Midtown locations are easier for the poor and disadvantaged to access by public transit, bicycle, or on foot.
  • Far-flung suburban and exurban locations do nothing to promote active transportation options for employees. Try bicycling to a campus off an interstate exit – usually not easy or safe.
  • The suburban/exurban locations promote greater use of automobiles thus contributing to greater pollution, more congestion, and poor sedentary lifestyles.
  • Remaining at midtown locations helps promote revitalization, redevelopment, social justice, and social equity.
  • A midtown location is more accessible regionally from all compass directions.

Rick Brown

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