Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Morning Linkages

Only a few today:

First, a couple of looks at the rise (and eventual fall) of malls in America. The reason: the will of the free market!!!! No. Actually, math. Tax breaks and shelters to be more precise:

In 1954, Congress greatly accelerated that depreciation timetable, so that you could take twice as big a tax break in the early years. But nothing said you actually had to use the money for renovating the building, so it became tax-free income. The acceleration clause was so powerful that on paper it could look like you were losing money on your building for years even though the building’s value was going up. In fact, you could claim losses even in excess of the amount of profit you were making on the building, and you could apply those losses to other kinds of income. You could use them as a “tax shelter.”

So in the mid-50s, commercial real estate became a tax shelter — you built in order to get these paper losses and shelter other kinds of income. Accelerated depreciation produced an unintended boom in ALL types of commercial construction. Especially in suburbia. You could only get the full write-off on new construction, not renovation of an existing structure. And depreciation applied only to buildings and not to land. So you wanted to spend very little for land and a great deal on the building so you could get the biggest tax break. And where was land cheapest and new construction easiest? The math pushed developers towards the edge of town.

The economic logic of the tax law spurred all sorts of new kinds of suburban development. There’s a tremendous boom in suburban apartments that starts in the late 50s. There’s a tremendous boom in suburban office development. America’s first office park pops up in 1955 and within a decade there are office parks all over the place. Same situation with industrial parks. Investors are looking for tax shelters so now they build whole new factory districts on the edge of town.

In contrast, we have a 2004 article by the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell (NOT one of this blogger's favorites) citing the same report as above, but more as personality profile piece of two early mall developers Gruen and Taubman. Quoting Gruen suggesting in the fifties as what TO DO with Manhattan, reads like a what NOT TO DO:
First, Gruen said, Manhattan had to get rid of its warehouses and its light manufacturing. Then, all the surface traffic in midtown—the taxis, buses, and trucks—had to be directed into underground tunnels. He wanted to put superhighways around the perimeter of the island, buttressed by huge double-decker parking garages. The jumble of tenements and town houses and apartment blocks that make up Manhattan would be replaced by neat rows of hundred-and-fifty-story residential towers, arrayed along a ribbon of gardens, parks, walkways, theatres, and caf├ęs.
The dangers of reciting the starchitect of the day's mantra. In this case, Le Corbusier. Showing once again there is more to learn from the motivated and engaged citizen, the amateur and self-taught urbanist and observationalist, like Jane Jacobs or contemporary locals and Better Block empresarios Jason Roberts and Kevin Buchanon. Not incidentally, Roberts and Buchanon are both IT professionals. Their networking background provides better understanding of the intricate fabric of cities far better than any architect and their personal agendas theories.

Peirce worked with a team of urban experts in preparing the report. And they didn't try to make exact predictions about Dallas so much as lay out two possible futures – one decidedly upbeat and the other alarmingly bleak.

Both were real possibilities for 2010, the experts said.

Reading the worst-case scenario, all I can say is "whew!" I'm glad we avoided that fate.

The consultants imagined constant gridlock on our freeways, the collapse of DART before a rail system could be built, downtown as a virtual ghost town, a soaring murder rate and declining tax base.

Underlying all these problems was a lack of leadership. Most of the city's best and brightest had long since left for the suburbs. What remained was a City Council and school board completely stymied by bitter racial politics.

In contrast, the authors imagined a much brighter future that began with diverse and inclusive leadership – and a willingness to address problems on a regional basis, not just a fixation on Dallas or individual council districts.

With the beautiful rebuilt Cotton Bowl and related sports development around Fair Park, Dallas was an easy winner of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Downtown became dynamic, with students flocking to the Dallas University Center. Scenic Town Lake filled the ditch between the Trinity River levees and development blossomed on both sides of the river.

...which reminds me of my own high hopes for the Fair Park area as well as Martin Luther King Boulevard linking Fair Park (and its DART station) to the Trinity. It's got a lot of good bones in place, now if we can only excise the cancerous freeways undermining that potential, starting with dead man's curve.