Friday, December 19, 2008

Mayor's Wish Lists

So the mayors across this country have put together their christmas wish lists for Santa Obama hoping that some federal dollars will solve all of their problems. You can see them all here.

Let's take a look at some shall we, see who might be using principles of sustainable urbanism, or at the very least investing in the greatest resource we (or any nation) has, it's people...

First, my hometown of Harrisburg, PA. I see lots of rail and transit, downtown streetscape improvements, energy efficiencies to public buildings, etc. etc. Essentially, the types of things that the City generally wouldn't think of (or be able to) fund on its own, plotting a direction (if not to, at least towards) a different future, the types of projects that aren't covered by simple, sound city management currently.

Now, let's take a look at Dallas. Here is what I see... NO substantive policy shifts for fundamentally improving the sustainability and livability of the City. Rather, many of these appear just to be ways of shifting the burden of responsibility and payment from their own budget to the national coffers (or printing presses - deflation here we come without sound investment projects).

No transit on here at all. You know what should be on this list? Restoration of Old Dallas High School. Below, is the best picture I have been able to find of it, which does not show the front door unfortunately, but you can see the transit stop that is right freakin' there. You can also see what Dallasites really value this site for: it's surface parking lot.

This is a building on the national historic registry, as seen here (hint: the address is 2218 Bryan). I recall when I first moved here that somebody (maybe it was the City or the current owner) was looking to redevelop this entire site. Of course, because the building is protected, to make it habitable, it cost something like $18 million in asbestos abatement that developer nor City could pencil out in their pro formas.

This is the type of stuff that we should be redeveloping with the aid of the New New Deal. The pie in the sky that Cities only wish they could do. This is merely $18 million whilst the City of Dallas is asking for $1.2 billion and change in projects including an entirely ineffectual convention center hotel that will be impotent in its efforts at revitalizing downtown in any sort of substantive manner.

This is building sits on over five acres of land in the CBD, adjacent to 75, and immediately on a DART station. This is solid gold real estate, yet we are letting $18 million in environmental remediation prevent us from giving life to a great old building AND creating an entirely new mixed-use district around it. Furthermore, it's relationship to the nearby Arts District will necessitate this mixed-use entertainment, b/c the Arts District sure as sh!t isn't providing it.

I would estimate that with downtown densities, we could probably get upwards of 500 new residents on this land, and in the neighborhood of 100-200K of commercial space. Downtown needs residents, it needs life, as does this building. It is far too valuable to be a parking lot for 200 cars.

This makes me think of the way we, as a society, treat prisons, homeless shelters, and hell, even schools and homes for the elderly; essentially warehousing them. Throwing some money to mothball our kids, our parents, the ne'er-do-wells and keep them out of sight, out of mind. Yeah, it's a cost, but what is the return? Can't we rethink the way we treat all of these, just like (metaphor coming) this school.

[Obviously, by "return on investment," I am assigning value to those apparently worthless things like an educated and competent populace, drinkable water or breathable air that doesn't poison on and up the GDP through increased healthcare, low crime, ya know, the things that economists like to externalize from their equations.]

I can think of no better return on investment than paying for children to become educated so they can all be productive, tax paying, innovative members of society. Or, rehabilitating and/or training the homeless or the convicted. Certainly, some don't want to be helped, but is it not a better investment to "improve" some into self-sufficiency rather than paying down the road for shelter, food, increased policing, and potentially 40K a year for incarceration? (if you notice in the HBG list, there is this exact rehab/training facility.)

How about all of these projects listed for Dallas. What will be the return for any of these investments. Rather than band-aids for their own budgetary issues, the federal government's will to invest in cities should be taken advantage of to bridge the gaps that are holding the City back from real qualitative growth.

Or, we could just mothball this old school so we never have to think about it...except to daydream in imaginationland what once was and what might one day be as we ride the DART on by, lost in our ipod world.

The potential of this building reminds me of the Kennedy (no relation) School in Portland, OR, which was renovated with multiple pubs, restaurants, a theater, and a hotel where you get to stay in a converted classroom.