Ramblings on a Cold Day

A few random thoughts on city matters.

  • The human experience is, and always will be, the greatest measure of a place. The sites, the smells, the energy, the opportunity. I am reminded of this daily.
  • A city’s growth patterns seem to mimic those of my 9-year-old son. Sometimes he goes up, sometimes he goes out. Sometimes it is predictable, often it is not. The important thing for cities, especially in depressed areas, is that real growth occurs.
  • Planning for growth can be a fool’s game. Data driven decisions are great when you have all the data. In city planning, the data isn’t available because many important decisions happen outside of the process by land owners, entrepreneurs and others.
  • Often the best thing local governmental leaders can do is to nurture what is happening on the ground and be ready to assist with new innovations as they change the landscape. A true partnership role with citizens, private business and other governmental entities is often the most fruitful form of a local economic development program.
  • Density is still the best thing cities have going for them even if less of them embrace it. The arrival of the exurban “lifestyle centers” in recent years (i.e. grandiose strip malls with urban landscaping elements) have drawn lots of criticism from urbanists, who often refer to them as faux urbanism. You can’t, after all, pretend you’re shopping on Madison Avenue when you are on the side of a highway in suburban Columbus. The quality of the chicken salad croissant at Applebee’s is immaterial. (I can’t resist the occasional swipe at Applebee’s) We can stamp a similar faux urban label on core city areas without public transportation, walkability and density of residential and commercial spaces. In both places, a positive urban experience is near impossible.
  • Suburban retrofitting will become the next crusade for millennials. The current magnet that is the core city will continue to dominate the playing field, but an aging group of double-bottom-line 30 somethings are starting to find what they need in suburbs. Inner ring suburbs that offer the energy of a city and a back yard for kids are in their cross hairs. Updating these cities for the times we live in is paramount for these places.
  • We should put the city vs. suburb argument to bed once and for always. Prosperous regions provide exciting urban cores and great suburban choices. Try to find one without the other.