Category Archives: urban revitalization

My Next Installment in the Across Generations: Quality of Life series on PlannersWeb.com

Check out my latest installment, “Planning Commissioners can Promote Quality of Life” in the Across Generations: Young and Old series at PlannersWeb.com.  This month Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur and I discuss quality of life planning for young adults and seniors.  Other columns in the series by Jennifer and I cover housing and employment (and an introduction to the series).

Major League Winners and Major League Losers

With several sports leagues in full swing or in the playoffs, this seems like a good time of year to highlight recent work on using sports as an economic development tool.  Mark Rosentraub wrote both Major League Losers in 1999 which highlighted failed sports-based economic development.  He followed the work up in 2009 with Major League Winners, which found that with careful planning and execution, sports-based economic development had worked in some more recent cases.

For another view, Public Dollars, Private Stadiums by Kevin Delaney and Rick Eckstein provides an account of the process through which sports teams received public subsidies.

Finally, Sports, Jobs, and Taxes edited by Roger Noll and Andrew Zimbalist is a collection of essays that explore the economics and economic development potential of sports and stadia.

Tech Companies are Bad Urbanists, Can Learn more from Planning!

Allison Arieff, an editor of SPUR in San Francisco, writes about the challenges of tech companies’ increasing interest in city locations.  Looking particularly at the San Francisco Bay Area, she discusses how many tech companies are locating in cities, but as far too insular of entities.  Many, including Twitter, aren’t promoting street traffic because they offer so many urban amenities and shops inside their buildings while restricting access to only employees.

She sees the same phenomenon in suburban tech companies too.  Facebook has created a small faux urban area in Menlo Park with cafes, dry cleaners, and doctors offices in a sea of parking.  The area is only open to Facebook employees.

Smaller companies and start ups are being a bit more deliberate (partly out of necessity) to locate in areas that are part of neighborhoods and don’t disrupt the urban fabric.  Arieff notes the 5M Project as a good example of an integrated tech-neighborhood mixed use development.

Change Afoot in West Philly!

The Philadelphia Business Journal reports on a new mixed use development by Drexel University and American Campus Communities going up in Powelton Village at the corner of 34th and Lancaster.

The development will have over 20,000 square feet of retail space and will house over 1,300 students.  The land was formerly part of the Drexel campus, but used for shop and warehouse space.  The development will be a $170+ million dollar investment – the largest individual development project (in dollars) for Drexel or American Campus Communities.  The investment is significant – the Lancaster Avenue commercial corridor has lots of potential, historic buildings, and great local businesses and some galleries that serve locals and the student market.

This type of development shows that the area may be prime for an uptick in commercial activity, student interest, and (probably) increasing residential rents.  American Campus Communities is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ACC.

The investment could help stabilize the corridor and provide a boost to businesses, but with any major investment like this, the community needs to be careful to ensure that the growth doesn’t force out longer term businesses who can’t afford new rents.  This type of development can also lead to the loss of historic buildings as investors may demolish in order to assemble larger parcels for other big developments.

The positives are that Drexel and ACC are committed to the community by investing in something that they can’t simply move and having an “anchor” institution often means a stable community.  (To the university’s credit, Drexel already invests over $500,000 annually in the University City District, which supplements security and cleaning services in the neighborhood – evidence of the benefit of anchor partners!).  The development will also help stitch the fabric of the Lancaster Avenue businesses closer into the Drexel campus by filling an underutilized gap in the streetscape.

A few years ago I was at a presentation by the former president of the American Planning Association, Mitchell Silver, who said that gentrification is revitalization with tradeoffs.  Being aware and careful to avoid tradeoffs between existing businesses and new development can mean that Drexel’s new development revitalizes the neighborhood instead of gentrifying it.

Philadelphia Makes First Venture Capital Investment

The City of Philadelphia (through subsidiaries and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation) has made its first equity investment in a company, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The investment is for $200K in Real Food Works a firm that is a subscription food service that delivers healthy meals for people interested in dieting and eating healthy.  It seems to be kind of like a Netflix for healthy, real food.

The fund is called Startup PHL, and First Round Capital.  First Round is a venture capital firm that is managed by Josh Kopelman – a long time internet entrepreneur and investor – who manages investment decisions for Startup PHL.  This type of activity is great for cities and local businesses looking to grow.

I would love to see this type of investing backed by (or a small part of) city-based exchange traded-funds (as I have written about before).

Article on Planning for an Aging Population @PlannersWeb by Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur

Check out the article on planning for an aging population at PlannersWeb.com titled “Great Places for All Ages” written by Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur.  I respond to Jennifer’s article at the end.

It is the first article in a series, “Young and Old,” on PlannersWeb.com that I will be a co-columnist on with Jennifer.  We will have a year long conversation on planning issues related to senior citizens and young adults, so stay tuned!

MOOC for Urban Planning Update #cplan

The University of Pennsylvania School of Design will be offering a massive open online course titled, “Designing Cities.”

The course starts on October 7, 2013 and runs for ten weeks.  Renowned urban designers Gary Hack, Jonathan Barnett, and Stefan Al will lead the course offered through Coursera.  It will cover designing for population growth, rapid design change related to natural disasters, and how to make cities more sustainable and livable.