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Mixed use traditional downtown in suburbs: can it work?

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
20,233
Points
52
OK… here I go… Yesterday when I was doing a sidewalk snow and ice inspections on a busy street running though town, I noticed how broken up the street is.. parts have older homes, and some new businesses. It does have a lot of issues though, the further that I walked the more that I realize a good part of it would be a perfect location for a smart growth downtown with mixed use. It already has sidewalks, (that don’t seem to get plowed all that much) and is surrounded by residential, property, schools, and a city hall at one end. It can be accessed from several other streets, and it is in the center of the community. Best part is it has several residential properties for sale, and room in back of these for off street parking.

Does anyone have any examples of other communities that have recently created a “Traditional Downtown” environment recently in a sub-burb? I am thinking this could be a perfect project… for a masters thesis.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
Middleton, WI redeveloped much of their downtown, expanding it some in the process. Deerfield, WI has also done a major redevelopment. Lake Zurich, IL is right now considering a similar project to take a very small downtown and redevelop it, expanding it greatly in the process. Except for Middleton (and even there to a degree), not much of the old fabric was saved. They simply tore down and started over.

What you describe is pretty typical of what I see on the periphery of downtowns, where building built as residences may be converted to a commercial use over time, or vice versa. The City of Chicago has a good publication on converting traditional commercial buildings to residential.

Back to your question. I don't really know of anywhere that the existing fabric of the neighborhood has been retained in creating a traditional commercial district. There are many new ones being built on greenfield or redevelopment sites. The Urban Land Institute has covered the topic often. You may want to look at back issues of Urban Land for pointers.
 

Wulf9

Member
Messages
923
Points
22
No examples, but a suggestion for direction. The oldl downtowns were the complete center of town, with reasonable scale retail, office, manufacturing, government, postal, health care, lodging, housing, and transportation facilities.

Maybe a good way to look at the project would be to identify the characteristics of a good downtown and see how they could be built into the area in question.

The first task is to look at the widest mix of uses and appropriate scale. If the area becomes exclusively offices or exclusively retail, it may be successful economically but it won't be a downtown. Also, scale is important. If it serves less than 50,000 people, stores should be small. A medium or big box is generally not a "downtown use" for small populations; whereas a very large department store is appropriate for 250,000 +.

Next, downtowns need as much shared parking and as little exclusive parking as possible. Shared parking allows a little bit of parking to go a long way. It also allows retail customers to park once and go to a variety of services, rather than suburban type parking and driving from business to business. Also, parking lots should dump to the street, rather than directly into a business rear door. You want people walking on the shared sidewalk, not into and out of a single business.

Retain on-street parking. It helps create a pedestrian atmosphere. (separates pedestrians from traffic). If the on-street parking fills up, put time limits, Make sure people know where the real parking is after they don't find a place on street.

Remove all pedestrian barriers, including things that people don't like to walk past (parking lots, bricked in store fronts, offices with blinds closed). Encourage street level windows for every kind of use. It's more interesting to walk by an office with windows than a retail store with no windows. At pedestrian speeds, a change of store fronts every 50-100 feet creates variety.

Finally downtowns need boundaries. One of the things that killed downtowns was zoning residential lands at the boundaries for commercial use. What happened was that the periphery became a low-value mix of residential property (not maintained because it would someday be commercial) and marginal commercial uses (because there is no synergy when half of the area is crummy residential).
 

annie

Member
Messages
39
Points
2
"Main Street"

michaelskis said:
Does anyone have any examples of other communities that have recently created a “Traditional Downtown” environment recently in a sub-burb? I am thinking this could be a perfect project… for a masters thesis.

Check out www.ci.maple-grove.mn.us

Maple Grove, MN has built a brand-new "Main Street" which looks like a Disney-fied version of a main street you will find anywhere else. It's entirely populated by chain stores and was built in the middle of a gravel field! Hailing from the East Coast, where Main Street really was the first street built in the town, I laugh every time I end up in the suburb of Maple Grove.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
annie said:
Check out www.ci.maple-grove.mn.us

Maple Grove, MN has built a brand-new "Main Street" which looks like a Disney-fied version of a main street you will find anywhere else. It's entirely populated by chain stores and was built in the middle of a gravel field! Hailing from the East Coast, where Main Street really was the first street built in the town, I laugh every time I end up in the suburb of Maple Grove.

It's people like you, the people that bash New Urbanist developments in the suburbs, who make it difficult to do any type of development in anything but a city. Complain, complain, complain... it really gets to be sickening.

I know that fabricated downtown projects CAN work in the suburbs. This is evident all around the Twin Cities. Maple Grove's Arbor Lakes, Edina's 50th and France, St. Paul's Grand Avenue, Burnsville's Heart of the City, St. Louis Park's Excelsior and Grand project, Wayzata, Coon Rapids, etc. etc. etc.

The list goes on, my friend, and will continue to grow as the urban core loses population/business to the more desirable suburban communities, such as Maple Grove. The Arbor Lakes (Main Street project) has been a huge success, and each addition on to the Arbor Lakes district will continue to be successful. This "Disney-fied" version of Main Street (as you critically described it) will no doubt be copied by various other cities, so if I were you, I would get very used to seeing these everywhere.

Oh, and one more thing... who really cares how a commercial district is formed, whether it be from gravel mining areas or greenspace? Who cares? The comment about Main Street being razed from a "gravel field" is completely devoid of any reasoning.
 

Rumpy Tunanator

Cyburbian
Messages
4,473
Points
25
chadmg7 said:
It's people like you, the people that bash New Urbanist developments in the suburbs, who make it difficult to do any type of development in anything but a city. Complain, complain, complain... it really gets to be sickening.

I'd like to bash these developments too. Some clown here proposed that type of development on some farm land in the outer suburbs here and was rightfully rejected. Development should be concentrated in the city when you have a declining population. To keep spreading out makes no sense.


chadmg7 said:
I know that fabricated downtown projects CAN work in the suburbs. This is evident all around the Twin Cities. Maple Grove's Arbor Lakes, Edina's 50th and France, St. Paul's Grand Avenue, Burnsville's Heart of the City, St. Louis Park's Excelsior and Grand project, Wayzata, Coon Rapids, etc. etc. etc.

Still, they revolve around the automobile.

chadmg7 said:
This "Disney-fied" version of Main Street (as you critically described it) will no doubt be copied by various other cities, so if I were you, I would get very used to seeing these everywhere.

Disney-fied versions of Main Street are still bland and sterile like the suburbs. No character.

chadmg7 said:
Oh, and one more thing... who really cares how a commercial district is formed, whether it be from gravel mining areas or greenspace? Who cares? The comment about Main Street being razed from a "gravel field" is completely devoid of any reasoning.

It matters if that money could have been reinvested in an area that is struggling, instead of moving on and gobbling up new land.


Don't take this the wrong way, but I just felt like arguing this morning:)
 

Trail Nazi

Cyburbian
Messages
2,779
Points
24
There are a number of them popping up around Florida. I have heard a number of developers speak on the matter and they keep saying that they are "gearing" this type of development towards those on the higher socio-economic totem pole because they are the only ones who want these types of developments. They are economic draws from all ends of the economic scale especially when they are coupled with a wide range of housing options surrounding them.
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
chadmg7 said:
...difficult to do any type of development in anything but a city.

I wish this was true.

Why do you want to develop the greenfeilds (ie pro-sprawl*)? Are you anti-city, anti-farm, just pro-more profit, what is your angle?

*greenfield new urbanism is just sprawl with a costume.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
H said:
I wish this was true.

Why do you want to develop the greenfeilds (ie pro-sprawl*)? Are you anti-city, anti-farm, just pro-more profit, what is your angle?

*greenfield new urbanism is just sprawl with a costume.

I have no problem with redeveloping older communities. However, it is not my job to encourage people/businesses to stay in Minneapolis, where they are not doing well for a variety of reasons. Since at least the mid-20th century, it has been the dream of MANY to move away from the city. When this happens, corporate headquarters and retail companies move with them. They want to maximize their profits and if they build a retail store in nearly every city, they have a high chance that the suburbanites will shop there.

Again, I think that it's important to invest SOME money into redeveloping older, inner ring suburbs, as well as the urban core/CBD. But I will certainly not put all of my energy (or tax money) into doing this. I have the right to live in a suburban community, and stay away from living in the less desirable city. That is my opinion (and the opinion of millions of Americans).

I am not anti-city, anti-farm, or whatever else was said. But I am pro-development. I think that new developments can reflect a different build quality from the 1970s-1990s, which I think represented a low build quality. It is my hope that throughout the next decades, build quality will continue to improve (as it already has in many neighborhoods).

As I said, I am pro-development. I firmly believe in the notion that even though someone gets a new development, some other development will move into its place. Unfortunately for Minneapolis, this has not happened to the right extent, and they have lost businesses. But whose fault is that? These companies like the demographics of the second-ring suburbs like Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, Plymouth, Woodbury, Lakeville, etc. The household incomes are much higher than average, the housing stock is also higher in price, and that generally means that more consumer goods will be purchased. That's why Maple Grove's Arbor Lakes project has been so successful.

I am looking forward to the development in Maple Grove over the next decade or two, when the gravel mining area is finally exhausted and a New Urbanist style of building will continue to occur.

Say what you'd like about New Urbanism being a "face" for sprawl, but the truth of the matter is that this is only your OPINION. Opus would not be building these developments if people didn't want them here. Believe me, they are very welcome. They are adding a lot of convenience to our already-busy lifestyles, and for me, that is great. If it means that someone else will lose a business to us, then so be it. If you haven't noticed, competition for retail/residential development can be aggressive and if we get, great. If we don't, oh well.

So my point is that while I do not disagree with reinvesting in the city, it really is not my job to do that. Minneapolis and St. Paul must be doing a pathetic job if they cannot keep commercial and residential in their cities. To be honest, I know that Minneapolis is the base of our Twin Cities area, but as long as they're afloat, I care only about the city I live in, because that is what is directly affecting me, and that is what I have a vote about.

City and suburban people rarely agree on issues whether it be transportation or development. City people are mad that everyone is leaving the urban area for a more spacious plot in the suburbs, and so they name-call and come up with nasty expressions like "urban sprawl" or "waste of land." Suburbanites want highways to be built so they don't have to sit in 2 hours of traffic, while city people tell us to take public transportation. Sorry, the only way that will happen is if the crap public transportation we currently have improves to a level where it would actually be DESIRABLE to ride on. In all, we seem to never agree on topics, which is why I see Minneapolis as its own entity, and its own problem. The people that live there need to figure out what they're doing wrong, and admit that suburbanites have the right to live the way they want to. Then maybe people in the suburbs will be less turned-off by city folk when they complain and rant that the suburbs are wasting money and land. Until that happens, there won't be a whole lot of harmony between suburb and city.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
Rumpy Tunanator said:
I'd like to bash these developments too. Some clown here proposed that type of development on some farm land in the outer suburbs here and was rightfully rejected. Development should be concentrated in the city when you have a declining population. To keep spreading out makes no sense.




Still, they revolve around the automobile.



Disney-fied versions of Main Street are still bland and sterile like the suburbs. No character.



It matters if that money could have been reinvested in an area that is struggling, instead of moving on and gobbling up new land.


Don't take this the wrong way, but I just felt like arguing this morning:)


That's fine, it's usually fun to debate this topic. Each person has his/her own opinion, and that's fine. I won't take it the wrong way, but I certainly will dispute it. :)

My response to this, however, is that these are generalistic ideas. Main Street is far from bland. Have you been there? If not, then don't criticize it until you have. If you have, then that if fine; you are entitled to your own opinion. But many people here love it, and that is why it's being replicated around the country. We want the look of a mini-downtown, but without all the problems that the city has.

Again, as long as it is my money, I will vote for it to be invested in something that will benefit ME. I do not care about other cities around the state; it is not my place to fund their projects. It's every city for itself.

It's fine if everything in our lives revolves around the automobile. I don't see what so many people have against the auto. It has revolutionized the way we move around our land, and it is vital to our lives. It is and always will be vital. Our country has grown in a manner that has encouraged the automobile, and it will never go away. I think people need to face the facts. You will not convince someone to WALK or take PUBLIC transportation when they can drive their own, comfortable car. New Urbanism promotes walking and public transportation in the suburbs, and it has caught on here. I see people walking all the time around the shopping centers, Main Street, etc. The point is that these "Disney-fied" Main Streets are great. Who cares if they are not 100% leased by mom and pop stores? Our country has changed a lot; mom and pop stores are few and far between these days because it's so expensive to build in booming suburbs. So let's look at Main Street. It has pretty well-known corporate chains, and it looks like a mini-downtown. It is fun to walk around on Main Street, and there is so much WITHIN walking distance. However, if someone wants to drive, that's their prerogative.

I want to clarify that any comment saying things like "suburbs waste space" or "they're fake" or "we shouldn't be dependent on automobiles" will be disregarded by me, as I have heard those catchphrases thousands of times. Those words mean nothing to me now, as they have been killed by naysayers of suburbs. I have nothing against cars, suburbs, and their "fake" Main Streets. It is our city's choice to build these things, and that is the beauty of living in America. We have the freedom to vote for what we would like to see in our city. :) :)
 

dogandpony

Cyburbian
Messages
84
Points
4
chadmg7 said:
...many people here love it, and that is why it's being replicated around the country.

I don't think most people here will take the idea that something being repeated as an indicator of a quality development. Lots of things are repeated (strip malls, big box developments) and I would imagine that people "loved" getting those when it was originally offered up.

I don't think "New Urbanism" is inherently bad, but plunking a "new town" in the middle of a corn field seems like a poor use of limited resources.

This doesn't even have to be a city versus suburb issue. Plenty of mature suburbs, which you profess to love and support, are experiencing declines in their commercial tax bases as new developments, whether strip mall or a new urbanist "downtown" continue to march out, farther and farther away from the big bad city. I guess one's perspective depends on whose ox is being gored.

Never having seen any of the suburban Mpls developments you've listed, I'm still willing to guess that for each successful new downtown developed in a cornfield, there's an existing traditional downtown in a nearby suburb which has suffered, and which is trying to adapt.
 

boilerplater

Cyburbian
Messages
916
Points
21
Wow, chadmg7 sounds like a pontificating New Urbanist who hasn't read Suburban Nation Are you a developer, chad? You sound like one, with the talk of where to invest your money and so forth.

I think decaying cities reflect poorly on the country overall. We leave them behind for the poor, the people who can't fend for themselves, and then say "Look at what a mess this place is. These people can have it."
 

clare2582

Cyburbian
Messages
194
Points
7
boilerplater said:
Wow, chadmg7 sounds like a pontificating New Urbanist who hasn't read Suburban Nation Are you a developer, chad? You sound like one, with the talk of where to invest your money and so forth.

I think decaying cities reflect poorly on the country overall. We leave them behind for the poor, the people who can't fend for themselves, and then say "Look at what a mess this place is. These people can have it."


I agree- focus on newer housing developments and development in general seems to be on catering to those in higher economic brackets. So, lets just throw the poor into some crappy public housing, they won't mind! They're poor, OBVIOUSLY they don't have any preferences (I know, beggars can't be choosers some would say) or concerns about their living spaces.

Also, American cities are treasure chests of history, diversity and culture. Its seems that as a society we've abandoned all that in the name of progress, instead of adapting. Its America! Things move quickly! Keep up or be left behind! Oh, please. I'm sick of "bulldoze it and start over" mentalities. We need some creative problem solving and critical thinking here. Of course its cheaper to build new than to rewire, repair and replumb thousands of square feet... but at what cost to society? I'd much rather see transitional neighborhoods come into established functionality than another suburb crop up. You don't go to Chicago thinking "GAWD- I CANNOT wait to see those SUBURBS!!!! I LOVE SPRAWL!!!"

Functionality- Urban Core vs. Suburban Downtown..... hmmmmmm

to answer the question: You can physically put a mixed use downtown anywhere, but the underlying social and economic structures and their characteristics will influence the quality, type and variety of development and business.
 
Last edited:

Breed

Cyburbian
Messages
592
Points
17
The only concern with mixed-use in the suburbs that I see is the ability for those mixed uses to remain in business. In order for that to happen, there needs to be traffic not affiliated with the subdivision coming through town to spend money there, or the subdivision needs to be large enough that they can support non-residential uses on their own. That's not always a given.
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,463
Points
29
Breed said:
The only concern with mixed-use in the suburbs that I see is the ability for those mixed uses to remain in business. In order for that to happen, there needs to be traffic not affiliated with the subdivision coming through town to spend money there, or the subdivision needs to be large enough that they can support non-residential uses on their own. That's not always a given.

That's my concern, too. Commerce is concentrating into fewer big box stores. Even independent retail wants to be near the big boys-especially in the newer suburbs where traditional retail has never been a factor.

Is there enough of a market for a sole proprietorship or even a small footprint chain to make it tucked away in a mixed use town center? Maybe if these projects are structured like lifestyle projects, but...
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
clare2582 said:
I agree- focus on newer housing developments and development in general seems to be on catering to those in higher economic brackets. So, lets just throw the poor into some crappy public housing, they won't mind! They're poor, OBVIOUSLY they don't have any preferences (I know, beggars can't be choosers some would say) or concerns about their living spaces.

Also, American cities are treasure chests of history, diversity and culture. Its seems that as a society we've abandoned all that in the name of progress, instead of adapting. Its America! Things move quickly! Keep up or be left behind! Oh, please. I'm sick of "bulldoze it and start over" mentalities. We need some creative problem solving and critical thinking here. Of course its cheaper to build new than to rewire, repair and replumb thousands of square feet... but at what cost to society? I'd much rather see transitional neighborhoods come into established functionality than another suburb crop up. You don't go to Chicago thinking "GAWD- I CANNOT wait to see those SUBURBS!!!! I LOVE SPRAWL!!!"

Functionality- Urban Core vs. Suburban Downtown..... hmmmmmm

to answer the question: You can physically put a mixed use downtown anywhere, but the underlying social and economic structures and their characteristics will influence the quality, type and variety of development and business.

Suburban New Urbanist communities appear in affluent areas, at least in the Minneapolis area. There does need to be a slowing of the constant new construction in our nation, but there will ALWAYS be people who want new houses in new cities. That desire has certainly been a contributing factor to the successful growth of the suburbs throughout the past several decades.

Face the facts... businesses want to open where they know that people will spend MONEY. Older suburbs and cities are facing economic problems. The majority of the wealthy in this country have generally chosen to move further out. When the current space gets old, move out and build something new. They have the available resources. Yes, the poor get stuck living in the old houses in the deteriorating communities while the wealthy move to new suburbs with New Urbanist designs and upscale retailers. But such is the cycle of growth in the USA. What needs to change is the MENTALITY. You can try to tell people that the city (or old suburb) is the place they should live. But statistics don't lie and it is common knowledge that the city is viewed as a more dangerous place than a new suburb. Why do you think so many families choose suburbs? It's not just because of educational quality. What we need to do is reinvent a desire to live in old communities. There are definitely positives and negatives about moving to old vs. new. Newer communities often have less trees, while older ones have more mature trees. Some people view trees as an asset, while some do not care. If we want people to have a DESIRE to live in old communities, we need to CREATE one.

You are obviously a big proponent of maintaining old buildings rather than reconstructing them, and that is fine. But you must respect those who desire to live in NEW buildings that are custom-built to current housing standards (house size, features, etc.) New Urbanist communities may not be as functional as a CBD, but they are certainly successful in getting suburban residents out of their cars and onto the sidewalks.

Who do you honestly think that residential developers are catering to? Obviously they are catering to the wealthy. Keep in mind that we live in a democracy and that developers are out there to make as much PROFIT as possible. Who would you suggest should subsidize housing projects in mid-lower income areas? The taxpayers? This argument is very much based upon a geographical perspective. In Minneapolis, the urban core is heavily liberal. As one moves out to the first-ring suburbs, they become more politically equal, while the second-ring suburbs are very conservative. These ideals are represented in the types of development occuring. I am sure this is the similar case in most big cities around the country. Suburbanites are less socialist than urbanites, generally speaking, and therefore do not support as much "lifestyle" housing in their communities.

This leads me into discussing the mixed-use problem, which was pointed out by one poster here. Mixed-use does indeed thrive on the idea of a mixed community. If everyone is rich, who will work at the nearby retail stores? But I view mixed-use as more of a goal, rather than a precedent. New Urbanist communities are developed to cater to a group of people who will support their business. The mixed part comes in AFTER the area has been developed. People who work at retail stores and such move into the area as time goes on. This has been the case in the city I live in.

New Urbanist haters (a.k.a. suburb haters) often complain at every chance, and this has been somewhat visible on this board. But it can be seen all over the internet. While you may not agree with the pattern of development, you must observe BOTH SIDES to the argument. Some people do not want to live close to the city. Some people do not want to live in small houses in first-ring suburbs. And some people want to live in a brand new neighborhood. While I strongly feel that everyone has the right to live where he/she wants to live, I do agree that it is important to curb the sprawl and focus on redeveloping older communities. Increasing the density of first-ring suburbs will help to revitalize their economic base and reinvent their character. But at the same time, investments must be made in developing residential/commercial construction on "corn fields" (as many of you like to call them).

The people responding to posts on this thread seem to be very much against New Urbanist communities, so I view this argument as somewhat one-sided, as I am the only person discussing the positives of New Urbanism.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
dogandpony said:
I don't think most people here will take the idea that something being repeated as an indicator of a quality development. Lots of things are repeated (strip malls, big box developments) and I would imagine that people "loved" getting those when it was originally offered up.

I don't think "New Urbanism" is inherently bad, but plunking a "new town" in the middle of a corn field seems like a poor use of limited resources.

This doesn't even have to be a city versus suburb issue. Plenty of mature suburbs, which you profess to love and support, are experiencing declines in their commercial tax bases as new developments, whether strip mall or a new urbanist "downtown" continue to march out, farther and farther away from the big bad city. I guess one's perspective depends on whose ox is being gored.

Never having seen any of the suburban Mpls developments you've listed, I'm still willing to guess that for each successful new downtown developed in a cornfield, there's an existing traditional downtown in a nearby suburb which has suffered, and which is trying to adapt.

dogandpony....

Did I ever say it was QUALITY development? I don't appreciate you putting words in my mouth. I said people LIKED the development and that this style of development has worked for many years, and continues to work today.

Strip malls and big box stores are still loved by many, so don't discount them as garbage just because SOME people don't like them. You are entitled to your opinion, but don't try to attack mine.

What is your solution to slowing the growth of outer-ring suburbs? You seem to enjoy complaining about the issue, but you do very little to offer a solution. Simply stating that investment should stay in old cities is not enough. That is an ideal that many people with financial resources to reinvest would scoff at. How do you convince them that the old cities are good enough for them to live in? How do you tell people that living in a 1950s, post-war rambler is what they want? Many wealthy people today want a house that is DOUBLE the average square-footage of the 1950s-era house. Since several people on this thread seem to like old buildings so much, what would be an alternative to reconstruction? That answer is that there is no alternative. People who want a bigger house will continue to move outward, where land is available. And people who have money to build a big house will continue to attract upscale retailers to the area. The "hot" cities will continue to move out until citizens of the metro area decide that the distance of travel has become too great, and decide to reinvigorate the old areas. But this will only occur with a change of mentality. You cannot force people to live in housing that they feel is sub-standard.

Do you know why people like to build new houses in new neighborhoods? Many people base it purely on financial gain. They are guaranteed that every house in the subdivision will look new and, if the subdivision is one of high-end housing, that they will experience an increase in house value in a very short period of time. In my city, we see an average house value increase of roughly 10% per year, which is very nice for those who have moved here for financial gain, as well as for people who haved moved here for various other reasons.

Who are you to say that "plunking" a new town in the middle of a "corn field" is a poor use of resources?? Most of the inner-ring suburbs are fully developed and almost fully-occupied. Are you suggesting that those living in old suburbs should be displaced in order to re-invigorate an old town? If so, then you are supporting gentrification. Where would you choose to displace the poor this time? Should they be pushed even further out of the city? As long as an area continues to grow (and the Minneapolis area saw a 15% increase in population since 1990) then there MUST be new housing built. And where do you think it's going to go? Should some tenements be constructed in order to keep people "close to the city"? I don't think so. A thriving economy can support outer-ring suburban growth and that is what has happened in the Minneapolis area. The suburbs now dominate the metro area population, and none of them are as bad as many here would suggest.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
boilerplater said:
Wow, chadmg7 sounds like a pontificating New Urbanist who hasn't read Suburban Nation Are you a developer, chad? You sound like one, with the talk of where to invest your money and so forth.

I think decaying cities reflect poorly on the country overall. We leave them behind for the poor, the people who can't fend for themselves, and then say "Look at what a mess this place is. These people can have it."

No, boilerplater, I am simply an intelligent person who is able to recognize that certain areas will grow into VALUABLE properties. That does not make me a developer; it makes me an investor, which is the role that most people take when they purchase a residential property. I am sorry if you were confused by my earlier post.

Let's see, I drive through these supposed "decaying cities" every day in my metro area and they are certainly not slums. I know many people who own homes in these "decaying" areas and they love them. So your defintion of a decaying area clearly needs to be defined in a more concise manner.

Your argument against outer-ring development is a very socialist one. This country operates on a democracy. We are not in Europe. When a builder develops a property, he/she is doing it for profit (unless they are a non-profit). What reason does this developer have to build small houses on new lots? None at all, unless there is some sense of moral obligation. The only way that developers will build small houses today is if they are part of an "affordable" housing effort. The bigger the house is, the more money the developer can make. And if the area demographics are strong, then the market will naturally encourage people to move in those neighborhoods. As the neighborhood grows in affluence, more businesses and corporate campuses will move there. Yes, they move out of the old areas and into the new ones. But not everybody does this. Your argument is purely idealistic rhetoric. Everyone says that the poor get screwed, which they do, on some level, but that is the cycle of life. Those with money will always want more, and those who are poorer than them will always buy what is no longer good enough for the rich. This is an age-old concept, and one that I think is very easy to understand. How do you suggest changing this idea?

Decaying cities only occur if the local government operates the city poorly. There will always be some sort of tax base. What governments in older cities need to do is CHANGE according to their new demographics. First-ring suburbs and cities need to cater more to the people who are living there, whether it be new immigrants, poor people, or whoever. They cannot remain the same. That is the fundamental problem with old cities/suburbs. They do not want to change, and for obvious economic reasons. But the fact is that they must change in order to maintain their cities' economic base.

This entire argument about the poor getting stuck living in old cities with old houses is just common sense. Would you rather have us all living in square boxes that are identical in size and value? The fact of the matter is that economic vitality will always flock to the areas where the wealthy live, if the city zoning ordinances allow it. Complaining about this will not accomplish a thing. We need to discuss SOLUTIONS to this ever-present issue. Outer-ring suburban growth is occurring at high rates and if it is to be slowed, people must have a reason to want to stay in the old city. Whether it be bulldozing an entire neighborhood of old housing in order to build newer, bigger housing or completely gutting the old housing, something drastic must be done in order to keep the wealthy in the older cities. If a solution is not found, then the middle/upper class will continue to move further out and before we know it, there will be five rings of suburbs.

I am all for smart growth and I think that suburbanization of green space should slow. In the Mpls metro area, the new areas of "corn field" should be developed intelligently with aesthetically-appealing, quality housing, along with mixed-use commercial, and these "growth center" cities should provide significant employment for the over one million new people expected to move to the Minneapolis metro in the next several years because not all of them are going to want to cram into the urban/first-ring areas.
 

Breed

Cyburbian
Messages
592
Points
17
chadmg7 ... I applaud your willingness to post here, as I'm sure it will unpopular and result in alot of people getting teed off... but anyways...

This may be getting a little off -topic... as this appears to evolved into a pro vs anti-suburb debate, but...

I think the biggest problem with suburbs is that they are not as efficient with resources as more dense development. If you have everyone paying the same tax rate, you essentially have inner areas paying for extra infrastructure required to assemble a subdivision.

A case in point: road maintenance. A 50-unit set of condos with a total appraised value of $5 million will be essentially paying the same price for road maintenance that a subdivion with equivalent value, but the subdivision requires much more in terms of maintenance costs. In effect, you have the costs of subdivisions being subsidized by more dense developments. While this may not be a problem with brand spanking new subdivisions (as everything is in good shape), eventually infrastructure deteriorates. As subdivisions get older, the maintenance costs of them will be a problem for the area. There needs to be a total shift in the way property taxes are assessed. Somehow, the financial impact of a property should be taken into account when dealing with assessing taxes.
 

dogandpony

Cyburbian
Messages
84
Points
4
chadmg7 said:
dogandpony....

Did I ever say it was QUALITY development? I don't appreciate you putting words in my mouth. I said people LIKED the development and that this style of development has worked for many years, and continues to work today.

Didn't mean to put words in your mouth. I thought it could be inferred from your comments that you think this pattern of development is "of quality". What are you saying otherwise? I'll concede that it both "makes money" and "is liked by some/many". But that is hardly worth discussing here as far as I'm concerned.

Until such cornfield developments find a way do develop themselves without public subsidy (i.e., private police, fire, schools, roads, water, sewer) there will be a debate over how much such development should push outward, and at what public cost.
 

iamme

Cyburbian
Messages
485
Points
14
michaelskis said:
OK… here I go… Yesterday when I was doing a sidewalk snow and ice inspections on a busy street running though town, I noticed how broken up the street is.. parts have older homes, and some new businesses. It does have a lot of issues though, the further that I walked the more that I realize a good part of it would be a perfect location for a smart growth downtown with mixed use. It already has sidewalks, (that don’t seem to get plowed all that much) and is surrounded by residential, property, schools, and a city hall at one end. It can be accessed from several other streets, and it is in the center of the community. Best part is it has several residential properties for sale, and room in back of these for off street parking.

Does anyone have any examples of other communities that have recently created a “Traditional Downtown” environment recently in a sub-burb? I am thinking this could be a perfect project… for a masters thesis.

Don't you love how far we've come from the topic...

Any mods out there to split off the quibling to a new thread focusing on "The built environment and why I'm right"

As far as the original post, has anyone ever heard of a city using eminent domain to aquire a "Main Street" type area, sell it off to a developer, renovate it, and attempt to market/operate it as a whole?
 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
14,168
Points
58
iamme said:
As far as the original post, has anyone ever heard of a city using eminent domain to aquire a "Main Street" type area, sell it off to a developer, renovate it, and attempt to market/operate it as a whole?

Lake Zurich, IL is doing a similar thing. They already have a small downtown, but are acquiring and completely redeveloping it ad expanding its boundaries.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
Breed said:
chadmg7 ... I applaud your willingness to post here, as I'm sure it will unpopular and result in alot of people getting teed off... but anyways...

This may be getting a little off -topic... as this appears to evolved into a pro vs anti-suburb debate, but...

I think the biggest problem with suburbs is that they are not as efficient with resources as more dense development. If you have everyone paying the same tax rate, you essentially have inner areas paying for extra infrastructure required to assemble a subdivision.

A case in point: road maintenance. A 50-unit set of condos with a total appraised value of $5 million will be essentially paying the same price for road maintenance that a subdivion with equivalent value, but the subdivision requires much more in terms of maintenance costs. In effect, you have the costs of subdivisions being subsidized by more dense developments. While this may not be a problem with brand spanking new subdivisions (as everything is in good shape), eventually infrastructure deteriorates. As subdivisions get older, the maintenance costs of them will be a problem for the area. There needs to be a total shift in the way property taxes are assessed. Somehow, the financial impact of a property should be taken into account when dealing with assessing taxes.

Breed,

I completely agree with you statement about public subsidy. I can think of many examples of this and I do believe that urban dwellers have, historically, paid more out of their pockets to develop suburban areas. Higher density development certainly does make more sense economically, as there are more people per acre who can contribute to the tax base.

Thanks for the constructive argument.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
iamme said:
Don't you love how far we've come from the topic...

Any mods out there to split off the quibling to a new thread focusing on "The built environment and why I'm right"

As far as the original post, has anyone ever heard of a city using eminent domain to aquire a "Main Street" type area, sell it off to a developer, renovate it, and attempt to market/operate it as a whole?

Iamme,

The original subject for this thread was "Mixed use traditional downtown in suburbs: can it work?"

When one discusses a particular issue, there are always external arguments that can directly relate with the argument at hand. This is part of the debating process. In this instance, discussing traditional downtowns in suburbs does indeed bring into question the vitality and sustainability of suburban commercial districts, which then brings into question the positives and negatives of ENCOURAGING this type of development. You see, it is vital to this conversation that we discuss the issues SURROUNDING suburban downtowns in order to get to the heart of the matter.
 

iamme

Cyburbian
Messages
485
Points
14
chadmg7 said:
Iamme,

The original subject for this thread was "Mixed use traditional downtown in suburbs: can it work?"

When one discusses a particular issue, there are always external arguments that can directly relate with the argument at hand. This is part of the debating process. In this instance, discussing traditional downtowns in suburbs does indeed bring into question the vitality and sustainability of suburban commercial districts, which then brings into question the positives and negatives of ENCOURAGING this type of development. You see, it is vital to this conversation that we discuss the issues SURROUNDING suburban downtowns in order to get to the heart of the matter.

Thanks for the ENLIGHTENMENT, but my comments were directed at how

Breed said:
this appears to evolved into a pro vs anti-suburb debate.
I really do APPRECIATE you helping me to understand the degree that which conversation is NUANCED.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
iamme said:
Thanks for the ENLIGHTENMENT, but my comments were directed at how

I really do APPRECIATE you helping me to understand the degree that which conversation is NUANCED.

You're welcome. I'm glad my clarification helped.

But regardless of what the conversation has "evolved" into, any argument surrounding the issue at hand is worth discussing. If you do not like the discussion, then redirect it. But just because you don't think it matters in the conversation does not mean it is unimportant in discussing how it relates to suburban downtowns.
 
Last edited:

iamme

Cyburbian
Messages
485
Points
14
chadmg7 said:
You're welcome. I'm glad my clarification helped.

But regardless of what the conversation has "evolved" into, any argument surrounding the issue at hand is worth discussing. If you do not like the discussion, then redirect it. But just because you don't think it matters in the conversation does not mean it is unimportant in discussing how it relates to suburban downtowns.

Oh, Sir or Madam, how you like to argue yet say nothing of consequense. Re-read my post and I did redirect.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
iamme said:
Oh, Sir or Madam, how you like to argue yet say nothing of consequense. Re-read my post and I did redirect.

Good for you. But I'll say it again, since you apparently don't understand what I am saying. Just because you believe that suburb vs. city conversations are not part of this discussion does not mean that you are right. As long as the person posting feels it is relevant to the discussion, then leave it ALONE.

You don't need to add sarcastic comments regarding the discussion.
 

iamme

Cyburbian
Messages
485
Points
14
chadmg7 said:
Good for you. But I'll say it again, since you apparently don't understand what I am saying. Just because you believe that suburb vs. city conversations are not part of this discussion does not mean that you are right. As long as the person posting feels it is relevant to the discussion, then leave it ALONE.

You don't need to add sarcastic comments regarding the discussion.

What are you TALKING about, I wasn't BEING sarcastic at all. I am being very SERIOUS right now. Can't you TELL I'm serious!?! :-|
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
iamme said:
Don't you love how far we've come from the topic...

Any mods out there to split off the quibling to a new thread focusing on "The built environment and why I'm right"

As far as the original post, has anyone ever heard of a city using eminent domain to aquire a "Main Street" type area, sell it off to a developer, renovate it, and attempt to market/operate it as a whole?

Let's look at the sarcasm, since you don't think there was any.

"Any mods out there to split off the quibling to a new thread..."

"Don't you love how far we've come from the topic..."

This is such a menial argument and I would like it to end... I just want you to understand my point that just because you think something is irrelevant to a discussion does not mean that it is.
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
Chadmg7 I think what iamme is saying is that we have had plenty of discussion and conversation on the merits of greenfield new urbansim vs. the merits of new urbansim in redevelopment. The conversation had markedly taken a turn towards a debate of those two points. A great conversation, a great debate, and very strong, rationalized opinions kept that debate from personal attacks.

I read the thread late and think there was some excellent discussion taking place. I, like iamme, am interested in the original question brought forward. Regardless of whether it adheres to certain new urbanist concepts, regardless if there are questions of the quality of construction or 'fakeness' to the development. The question was can a traditional mixed use center function and thrive within the conventional suburban context.

Knowing that a traditional mixed use downtown uses little off-street parking, much on street parking, residential quarters above retail and office and a variety of pedestrian designed buildings and uses, can this be adapted in a broken, but promising neighborhood in a suburban community?

I think yes, but it will take a solid community/area plan and the full support of property owners in the area. Creating a land bank to sell to a single developer with a masterplan will result in a somewhat homogenously designed product. Sure it will be managed well, but the mixed use center may loose some of the fine detail and character that is only achieved with many property owners and many designers.

I can not think of any instances where this has been put into practice. Columbus, OH has created a High St. neighbrhood revitalization plan that intends to preserve the existing walkable portions of the strip and remove those automobile designed uses to 'fill in the gaps.' They propose mixed use and neighborhood style uses. This center will serve the nearby OSU student population. The plan was created jointly by the City of Columbus and OSU. It's also available online. I have a PDF copy but don't have the link to the plan.

The one difference between this plan and Michaelski's idea, is that High St in Columbus was once a purely pedestrian designed strip.
 

dogandpony

Cyburbian
Messages
84
Points
4
iamme said:
As far as the original post, has anyone ever heard of a city using eminent domain to aquire a "Main Street" type area, sell it off to a developer, renovate it, and attempt to market/operate it as a whole?


not sure if eminent domain was one of the ingredients, but in nearby Deerfield IL there is a kind of homogenously designed (IMHO) "new downtown" built. Also, Glenview IL has developed a former Naval Air base with acres of commercial, mixed use and straight residential development (as in hundreds of residential units). Each of these is a rather large project, not sure it's on par with what the original post seemed to be hinting at (assembly of a relatively small number of parcels under separate ownership).

On the other hand, I'm not sure how small a "new urbanist" suburban downtown can be and still be true to form. At a certain point, isn't it just "redevelopment" or "infill"?
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
Well, boiker, you present an interesting hypothetical situation. I can only go off of what has occurred within my own community.

Maple Grove, MN has created a development called Arbor Lakes, which has strongly incorporated ideas of New Urbanism into it. This is new construction, not redevelopment, so eminent domain was unnecessary in this instance. It is the site of an exhausted gravel mine.

There are some big box developments surrounding a new Main Street concept. While not all of the second-story levels are utilized for seperate retail, some are. The others are used for storage. None are used for residential. The Main Street developments currently extend approx. 4 blocks and at the North end is the Government Center/Public Safety Facility. A new library is being planned as an integral part of the downtown environment. The area is currently about 1.2 million square feet, including a new lifestyle center adjacent to the Main Street area (lower right-hand side of the picture). The lifestyle center is approx. 412,000 s.f. in size.

I have attached an image but I am not sure how well it will show up, as this site does not allow the uploading of files larger than 48.8kb.

I can explain the image in more detail, if you would like.
 

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boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
chadmg7 said:
Well, boiker, you present an interesting hypothetical situation. I can only go off of what has occurred within my own community.

Maple Grove, MN has created a development called Arbor Lakes, which has strongly incorporated ideas of New Urbanism into it. This is new construction, not redevelopment, so eminent domain was unnecessary in this instance. It is the site of an exhausted gravel mine.

I'm very familiar with the way this development is proceeding. Like I said it's happening here as well, only on cornfields. The big difference of terms we have is what constitutes new urbansim. Appearing old and recreating a commercial formt that is old is not new urbansim to me. New Urbansim also aims to incorporate living and daily life into the same areas while allowing accessiblilty and freedom of transportation choices to get from destination to destination.

It's great that Maple Grove is reclaiming old quarry land. It's great that they are diversifying its tax base and growing a retail center for residents and non-residents. I believe many here feel it's unfortunate that a cleaver mix of living, shopping, working, and playing is absent from the development. The shopping is there, the playing (library) will be there, but once residnetial is a component to the redevelopmnet it becomes closer to "formula" new urbansim.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
boiker said:
I'm very familiar with the way this development is proceeding. Like I said it's happening here as well, only on cornfields. The big difference of terms we have is what constitutes new urbansim. Appearing old and recreating a commercial formt that is old is not new urbansim to me. New Urbansim also aims to incorporate living and daily life into the same areas while allowing accessiblilty and freedom of transportation choices to get from destination to destination.

It's great that Maple Grove is reclaiming old quarry land. It's great that they are diversifying its tax base and growing a retail center for residents and non-residents. I believe many here feel it's unfortunate that a cleaver mix of living, shopping, working, and playing is absent from the development. The shopping is there, the playing (library) will be there, but once residnetial is a component to the redevelopmnet it becomes closer to "formula" new urbansim.

Sorry, I should have been more clear on the residential aspect of this development. I completely omitted it.

Before the commecial district of Arbor Lakes was even constructed, a large number of rental-unit townhomes were constructed. They blend very well with what is now Arbor Lakes/Main Street, as they are all brick and have small courtyards for most townhomes. These are VERY close to Main Street, surely within walking distance. Also under construction is another townhouse development, called The Bridges at Arbor Lakes (www.bridgesatarborlakes.com), which will incorporate 194 units of housing. These range in price from the low $200's up to the high $300's, with approx. 20% being termed as affordable. This is only the beginning of what will be a roughly 1,500-home development. The next phase will include single-family homes, and possibly some apartments. These homes are also within walking distance to Main Street/Arbor Lakes.

Also next to The Bridges is an affordable senior housing building, which houses many low-income seniors who would not otherwise be able to live in Maple Grove.

I believe that the strong incorporation of retail and residential in Arbor Lakes is a good example of New Urbanism because of the various factors that have been taken into consideration. Affordable housing is a key component in this area in order to provide the thousands of people who work within the 3 million square feet of retail/restaurant development some sort of housing options. This is not crummy housing, either. I have toured the homes and they are well-constructed.

New homes in Maple Grove can reach the $1,000,000 mark and the average new home costs around $400,000 or more. With these high house prices, affordable housing must be worked into the Arbor Lakes area in order for it to successfully be a mixed-use environment.

So, Arbor Lakes has incorporated residential, commercial, and social aspects into this new development. What are your thoughts on this, based upon the information that I just discussed?

By the way, boiker, do you live in the Mpls area?
 

boiker

Cyburbian
Messages
3,889
Points
26
final comments

I should have made it clear that when I expressed I was familiar with the development, I meant that I am familiar with this shopping center product by this developer. They did one in my community as well. I'm not a MN resident.

I would highly encourage you to read "suburban nation" and explore the web for a greater understanding of what new urbanism theory is and what the practice has become. I feel that true new urbansim is an extremely fine grained development pattern. What I mean is that within The bridges of arbor lakes townhome development there should be some kind of neighborhood service commercial that can serve all the residents of this development, and many that may develop adjacent to it. The other important component is interconnectivity. Increasing the number of connections between developments will encourage alternative transportation methods such as walking and biking and reduce the traffic on the main roads. It is amazing how many little trips can be eliminated if neighborhood commercial is located within residential developments like this. New Urbansim encourages this.
 

chadmg7

Member
Messages
14
Points
1
boiker said:
I should have made it clear that when I expressed I was familiar with the development, I meant that I am familiar with this shopping center product by this developer. They did one in my community as well. I'm not a MN resident.

I would highly encourage you to read "suburban nation" and explore the web for a greater understanding of what new urbanism theory is and what the practice has become. I feel that true new urbansim is an extremely fine grained development pattern. What I mean is that within The bridges of arbor lakes townhome development there should be some kind of neighborhood service commercial that can serve all the residents of this development, and many that may develop adjacent to it. The other important component is interconnectivity. Increasing the number of connections between developments will encourage alternative transportation methods such as walking and biking and reduce the traffic on the main roads. It is amazing how many little trips can be eliminated if neighborhood commercial is located within residential developments like this. New Urbansim encourages this.

For the most part, any necessary amenities are located within walking/biking distance to the Bridges at Arbor Lakes. This includes grocery, retail, theater, restaurants, mail, and government services. Smaller "neighborhood" stores may also enter into the Bridges development in later stages, something that you would traditionally find only in an urban area.

Also, city transportation continues to make it easy for residents to get around, especially in the New Urbanist area of the downtown. While still not as thorough as urban transportation, the options in the Arbor Lakes area are well-developed, taking all factors into consideration. Many sidewalks and an emphasis on pedestrian crosswalks are just the surface of what the city is constructing here. Along with the changing physical landscape, a mentality change is also imperitive. This means, traditional suburban driving patterns (zooming through yellow/red lights, not stopping at crosswalks for pedestrians, etc.) need to change severely in order to create a safe, pedestrian environment. A city can do this by creating winding, narrow roads, on-street parking, low speed limits, stop signs, speed bumps, etc. This has been relatively effective in Arbor Lakes, and I hope to see a growth in the level of pedestrian awareness. This will no doubt happen once the area is more developed. It is only in the beginning stages right now.

Lastly, the three primary groundwater recharge lakes (North Arbor Lake, West Arbor Lake, and Arbor Lake) are not yet landscaped. The city has plans (to be completed within the next decade or so) to very heavily transform the lakeshore area, while keeping it in its natural state. Rock outcroppings (to represent the former gravel mines), perennial flowerbeds, piers, penisulas, etc. around and on the lakes will achieve this goal. Also, the city is debating the idea of stocking one or more lakes with an ecosystem, complete with fish, while banning fishing from the area. I support this because the lakes need to be controlled in order to keep them in natural condition. I do not consider adding fish to groundwater recharge "un-natural," though some might. However, fishing from these lakes would ruin their appeal. I am excited to see the area transform. If anyone would like a PDF copy of artist renditions and such, I can send the document. The city hired a professional group to render such ideas into something tangible, and the Public Spaces Vision Plan was born. It is really interesting. They were even so detailed as to decide what trees/foliage should be planted where and at what height. Also, something else interesting that is included in this vision plan is a Town Green (a well-manicured grassy area for public use).
 
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