Tuesday, April 26, 2011

South Downtown

Question from a reader/colleague asked for my opinions on the barriers to growth/development around City Hall. I respond:

You're on the right track. Virtually everything down there is conspiring against investment in the area. Its current stasis is pretty close to highest and best use despite the amount of public subsidy that has gone into the area (which caused the majority of the problems). Not any one of the maladies in isolation would be enough to decimate the area, but in concert they've done quite the job.

Remember, pre-war these were some of the nicest neighborhoods in the city. It once had desirability. Today it has virtually none. And as density = desirability, we have a whole lot of nothing. So it is important to list everything that has some negative influence on the overall desirability. Because without desirability that means no capital (unless it is of the charitable sort -- which, once again, could be argued does more harm than good) will enter that part of town. If the area can't be profitable, then it is a sick area that is in need of some healing. We have to be honest and accurate with our diagnosis of symptoms and maladies.
  • City hall and its plaza are both bad. But by themselves, could still exist within an urban neighborhood...
  • Canton/Young is a horribly designed suburban street. It is tremendously overscaled as are the curvatures and radii of it. All undermine pedestrianization, but once again, by itself is not enough to kill an area.
  • The freeways and the related spaghetti interchanges around them are especially destructive of real estate value/desirability.
  • Furthermore, even the freeways outside of the immediate loop have been especially destructive. Those that isolated Fair Park and the Cedars like a tourniquet effectively made those areas gangrenous. Thus corroding the Southern half of downtown as well.
  • The Bridge (shelter). The use itself is not necessarily destructive. You can't find many neighborhoods in New York or Toronto or Vancouver that DON'T have some sort of halfway house or shelter or soup kitchen. The problem is the suburban compound design of it. You might as well have flashing red lights that say "don't invest down here." In those other cities, the use blends into existing buildings that blend into the neighborhood fabric. Again, the problem isn't that there are homeless or indigent. It is that there are no other people where everybody blends together, a by-product of no desirability or livability unless you particularly like living within a cloverleaf on a freeway.
  • Despite the best efforts to make the Convention Center permeable with roads/rail running beneath it, it is a giant barrier. No pedestrian (willingly) will want to walk from one side to the other. Furthermore, by its nature of single-use megalith means very little will want to cluster up against it, meaning nothing to walk to on either side anyway.