Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wednesday Linkages

Can't exactly link to it as it is a separate program, but Google Earth now has high-res aerials of San Francisco from 1938 and 1945.  It's fun to click back and forth between present and past, seeing where and how things have changed.  Or have gone unchanged.  London also has a 1945 aerial up.  Though it isn't quite as high quality as the SF maps.  Wonder where some others might be lurking...
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Beck Ventures is making a $2 billion bet on a place called Dallas Midtown.  Never heard of it?  Well, it's been tried before right next door.  The bet was $1 billion and a lot of people went bust and nothing happened.  Well, not nothing.  The name Midtown was born.  The $2billion is for Valley View mall.  Presumably scraping the entire thing.  Though we shall see.  As it is being unveiled as I type this.

$2bills sounds a bit strong to my smell test, though not completely outrageous.  The area has quite a bit of stability built in around it.  And the sheer size allows them to "control their neighbors," seeing that the neighbors will be them in the 100-acre (+/-) site.  Though you never really know if they're planning on doing all (or any) of the vertical development themselves, scraping, entitling, and flipping, or some sort of joint venture/partnership.  Usually developers stick to one market (say, residential development or office) and sell of sites for the remainder.  I pencil it out to meaning a good amount of midrise, rather than typical four-story stick.  Though it is probably a mix of low-rise residential and mid/high-rise office, given the market right now.

I'll report back when I see the plan.
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Perhaps somewhat tangentially related is the Wall Street Journal on Kansas City's primary effort towards urban infill revitalization, the Power & Light district.  The WSJ calls it a budget "hole."  The WSJ being the WSJ, of course, so if things don't pay for themselves, they're immediately labeled as failures, problematic, or "holes."

Usually, the first forays do require a bit of extra effort to make work.  And if you do it right, it readies the table for more profit oriented development to work.  Though, that is the thinking of conventional planning, though I'm becoming increasingly skeptical.  Why?  Because they're not tipping the market in their favor.  Kansas City has the most highway miles per capita in the country (and by a fairly wide margin).  Furthermore, being on a border with Kansas creates a situation where you have high taxes and low amenities/services on the KC side and lower taxes (though even lower amenities) on the Kansas side.

Of course, because of the regional infrastructure, it means you can take advantage of KC amenities like the Sprint Center.  With that said, it is still performing below expectations in terms of sales and property taxes/value.  And that should tell us something about how we generally arrive at those projections.  They're conjured up out of thin air (more on this in a moment).  Where this fails isn't so much as a failure of infill, urban development to me.  But rather a failure of conventional wisdom that stadiums and highway frontage creates value.  My guess is both are partially to blame (stadium: parking, highway: parking, barrier, and overall undesirability) for not allowing a critical mass to form creating a larger urban sub-center adjacent to downtown.
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Lastly, and related to both.  Kaid Benfield has a good piece about the formulaic nature of most smart growth.  I was actually thinking about this, this morning on my trolley ride to work.  Our only metric for success in terms of urban infill is an apple store and new residential.  Not the full range of needs, wants, services, amenities that emerge in complete, opportunistic, livable neighborhoods.

In the piece, he says, "the revolution will not be quantified," and he discusses the many ways we measure (poorly) the success or failures of development.  Furthermore, he (rightly) says that the more powerful appeal is to human emotion.  And it's true our metrics are pretty poor.  No statistic can ever be anything more than an abstract subset of the whole picture.  Even though we put so much weight into objectivity when it comes to real estate.  But, what if they begin to intersect?  Could our metrics be on the right track?

Take for example, my quantification of places like Victory and Park Lane Place.  Subjectively, the two come of as soulless places.  Objectively, with measurements like space syntax and intersection density we might be able to put our finger on why they don't work subjectively AND objectively.  That complex, emergent, and authentic places happen on high streets that are highly accessible and provide choice in terms of route and mode of transportation.  And that's what intersection density and space syntax evaluate, the network.  And the network is what gives life, creates value.  Integration begets accommodation.  Demand drives supply.  For more, see my internet = urbanism analogy post.