Tag Archives: sprawl

Richard Florida Questions Shinking Cities’ Strategy

I think this is the most important article I have seen on the Rust Belt urban condition since this blog began.

Kain Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council has raised questions about the wisdom of mass demolitions in “shrinking cities.” In this article, he points out that leading urban thinker Richard Florida has joined him in this perspective.

Detroit: a wonderful place for agriculture.

Detroit: a wonderful place for agriculture?

Benfield makes the point that Detroit, Cleveland and other shrinking cities are being hollowed out, not by regional population loss, but by sprawl. Returning urban areas to quasi-rural will simply lengthen commute times as investment and population continue to flow to the periphery.

Metro Detroit, the poster child for these supposedly shrinking places, actually grew in population from 1990 to 2003; the population did decline between 2000 and 2008, but only by six-tenths of one percent.  The real problem is that the footprint of its suburbs was allowed to grow during that period, at the expense of the central city.  With demolition and conversion of urban land to neo-rural tracts, that pattern will only be exacerbated, with serious consequences for transportation emissions and the surrounding landscape.

I think this is a very, very good point. From a regional perspective, it just doesn’t make sense to invest a bunch of resources to convert city land into agricultual use while in the meantime investing a bunch of money in the exurbs to convert agricultural land into housing.

How can we stop the destructive pattern of outmigration? The problem is in Cleveland is there is just no political will for this. Everyone seems content to live in a suburban bubble 6 miles from urban apocalypse.

Someone told me yesterday that there is a 24-year difference in the life expectancy of someone who lives in Cleveland’s inner-city Hough neighborhood and someone who lives in the nearby suburb of Lyndhurst. 24 years! Why is this kind of inequality tolerated in Cleveland? Fear? Racism? Complacency? Cosy ties between politicians and developers?

Our cities need to stand up for themselves. Their problem isn’t caused so much by de-industrialization as by their own suburbs. Urban agriculture, to me, is a conciliatory strategy because it doesn’t address the true cause of urban problems it only treats the symptoms.

Check out what the city of Cleveland has done to its now popular entertainment district. My friend Matt sent me these photos. And he asked, what was gained?

Cleveland's Warehouse District today

Cleveland's Warehouse District today


Cleveland's Warehouse District 1960

Cleveland's Warehouse District 1960s


Filed under Art, Featured, sprawl, the environment, Urban Planning

Saving the Great Lakes from Sprawl: Balanced Growth Ohio

In the name of protecting water quality in Lake Erie and the state’s streams, the State of Ohio has developed a voluntary, incentive-based program for sustainable development.

Beautiful Lake Erie

Beautiful Lake Erie

It’s full of really good stuff, for example:

  • Identify priority development and conservation areas.
  • Offer incentives like density bonuses, streamlined review processes, and design flexibility for development in priority areas.
  • Evaluate existing zoning codes, review processes, and regulations for disincentives to desirable development practices, and set policy for correcting the disincentives.
  • Establish regulations that prohibit construction in the wetland and riparian setback area.
  • Encourage compact neighborhood development, historic preservation and infill development.

Someone I trust recently told me that the way to approach regionalism is through the lens of water quality. He said economic and tax sharing appeals were failing.

It’s good to see the state of Ohio is cognizant of these issues.

Here’s more on the program from Green City Blue Lake.



Filed under Headline, the environment, Urban Planning

Are We Suffering from Too Much Retail?


That’s Bruce Fisher’s question, posed in this piece for Buffalo’s alt-weekly Artvoice.

What do you think?


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Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Real Estate, regionalism, sprawl, Urban Planning

Las Vegas Keeps Building


Above: The party’s not over in Vegas.

Some urban thinkers thought one silver lining of the economic crisis could be a slowdown in unsustainable sprawl, particularly in overbuilt areas of the southwest, like Las Vegas.

But that appears not to be the case at all, according to this New York Times story.

Despite home prices having declined 60 percent in four years, and despite the fact that there are nearly 10,000 empty homes with 5,600 more expected on the market soon, the Times reports, “builders here are putting up 1,100 homes, and they are frantically buying lots for even more.”

The story goes on say, “Some of the boom-era homes, meanwhile, are in developments that feel like ghost towns. And many Americans will always believe the latest model of something is their only option, an attitude builders are doing their utmost to reinforce…’We’re building them because we’re selling them,” a marketing executive with one builder told the paper. ‘Our customers wouldn’t care if there were 50 homes in an established neighborhood of 1980 or 1990 vintage, all foreclosed, empty and for sale at $10,000 less. They want new. And what are we going to do, let someone else build it?’ ”

How much longer can this go on?

Meanwhile, from last week’s Wall Street Journal, Detroit is preparing to tear down 10,000 homes, including Mitt Romney’s childhood home.


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Filed under Economic Development, Featured, regionalism, sprawl, The Housing Crisis, The Media, Urban Farming

The Redevelopment of St. Louis’ Crown Square

Check out these before and after pictures of St. Louis’ Crown Square, provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The

The once dilapidated commercial plaza has been restored as part of a larger neighborhood revitalization strategy led by the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, and it’s attracting national attention. The NRDC has compared the neighborhood to Cincinnati’s Over The Rhine.


For more than two years, this revitalization effort has centered around an eight-block area in city’s Old North neighborhood.

“The new Crown Square will be mixed-use and walkable, containing apartments as well as commercial spaces, some sensitive new additions to the historic building fabric, creative spaces and, not insignificantly, the offices of the Restoration Group itself,” according to NRDC.

The landmarks Association of St. Louis this year named the area a “most enhanced place.” Below, you can see why.



The Natural Resources Defense Council calls urban revitalization projects like this one “the ultimate anti-sprawl.”

“It is a way to capture development and growth without expanding the footprint of our suburbs and consuming farmland, creating longer driving distances, spreading pavement across previously undeveloped watersheds, and more,” NRDC blogger Kaid Benfield writes. ” In addition, revitalization conserves resources that would otherwise go for new infrastructure and buildings.”


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Filed under architecture, Art, Economic Development, Good Ideas, Headline, Real Estate, regionalism, The Big Urban Photography Project, Urban Planning

A Look at Sprawl in Buffalo


Here’s a good visual on what sprawl looks like – and its economic impact – from the folks at Buffalo Rising.

It’s a bit old but I wanted to link to it anyhow. I can’t say it better than they did – “Three times the stuff – fewer people.”


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Filed under Economic Development, Featured, Real Estate, regionalism, Rust Belt Blogs, sprawl, The Media, Urban Planning

Toledo: Less “Job Sprawl” Than Others

A recent Brookings Institution study found less “job sprawl” in Toledo than in many other major metro areas.

Eight of 10 jobs in the metropolitan area are within 10 miles of downtown, the study found, as reported in The Blade.

Toledo’s doing better than many other areas. Consider:

-In metro Detroit, 77 percent of jobs are more than 10 miles from downtown.

– In metro Chicago, the figure is 69 percent.

And it is better than any of the Ohio cities studied, The Blade reported.

In Cleveland, just 16 percent of jobs were three miles or less from downtown.

In Cincinnati and Youngstown, the figure was 17 percent; in Columbus, 19 percent; in Dayton, 24 percent, and in Akron, 25 percent.


Filed under Uncategorized