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The Value of Walkable Neighborhoods

As a real estate agent I often hear people say they’d live in the city but they get more house for the money in the exurbs.  True enough, if you count number of rooms (or garage spaces), square footage and so on you do get more on the edge.  They have to offer something to get people out there. The more is more driving.

With home prices bottoming out in many areas nationally, people are looking for any way to get more for their homes. For some, there is a ray of hope….walkability. A new study says that if you want more dough for your house (tell us if anyone says no) it helps to be in a walkable neighborhood.

That’s the conclusion of the analysis from CEOs for Cities that reveals that homes in more walkable neighborhoods are worth more than similar homes in less-walkable neighborhoods.

The report, “Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities” by Joseph Cortright, analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets provided by ZipRealty and found that in 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability, as measured by Walk Score, were directly linked to higher home values.

Key findings include:

  • In 13 out of 15 metro areas studied, higher levels of walkability were directly linked to higher home values.
  • In the typical metropolitan area, a one point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000. Gains were larger in denser, urban areas and smaller in less dense markets.
  • In the typical areas studied, the premium commanded for neighborhoods with above-average Walk Scores ranged from about $4,000 to $34,000.

(source | study-PDF)

To many of us this is common sense.  I’m willing to pay more or at least make trade offs to be in an environment where walking is an option.  Walkable inner-ring suburbs have the same relationship as the core, less house but more walkability.  You could not pay me enough money to live in the fanciest McMansion in a drivable (non-walkable) area.

Schools, ah yes, schools.  Many correctly point out that older districts suck when it comes to test scores.  Well, the sucking sound is caused by caring parents who should be contributing money & their time to established districts rather than continually creating new edge school districts.  There is value in your child having classmates from different economic classes.  The ability of your chilld to learn to walk to the store, alone, to get a loaf of bread cannot be traded for a media room.

I’m not suggesting everyone needs to live downtown.  Single family detached with a yard and everything between that and my loft is fine.  But understand that walkability adds value to homes.  By buying a home in a drivable area you are saying you don’t value walkability.  At least not enough to pay for it.

– Steve Patterson

 

A Shift to Smaller Grocery Stores?

The new Culinaria grocery store downtown is a delight.  It is stocked with everything one needs all in 20,000SF of space — a third the size of a typical new suburban big box grocery store.  But it has been the big box suburban store we’ve been getting in urban neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County.  These chains knew only one thing — bigger is better.

Loughborough Commons Schnucks Grand Opening, August 2006
Schnuck's Grand Opening at Loughborough Commons, August 2006

Finally, a different model, a smaller new store.  I’ve enjoyed smaller stores for years: Straub’s, Aldi’s, Trader Joe’s, Wild Oats/Whole Foods, Local Harvest, City Grocers, etc.  Some of these are now approaching the size of the big box stores while others are still too small to get everything you need.

The trick is being big enough to have all the items for a meal but without an motor oil, clothing or patio furniture.  The fact is the race to have the biggest store in town didn’t always mean the best place to shop for groceries.  With everything inside a third the size of a big box has me wondering if we’ll see a return to the well stocked smaller store?

Schnuck’s, family owned & privately held, got it’s start in the City of St. Louis:

Founded in north St. Louis in 1939, the family-owned grocery company has grown to include more than 100 stores in seven states: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Tennessee and Mississippi.  (Source: Schnuck’s)

The early stores were the traditional corner store that was common in walkable urban neighborhoods.  But as people left walkable urban areas to driveable suburban areas the concept of a market changed.  Refrigeration made it possible to keep food longer.

In my hometown of Oklahoma City the dominate grocery chain is now Walmart Neighborhood Market.  I’m not talking about a giant Walmart with a grocery section but a dedicated grocery store selling groceries.  These stores, at 40,000SF, are between the typical new Schnuck’s (60,000+SF) and Culinaria (20,000SF).  These Walmart markets are everywhere.

I’m a foodie.  My Facebook friends can confirm the many pictures I’ve posted of meals out as well as meals I’ve prepared at home.  If you’ve seen Julie & Julia you know Julia Child’s love of eating got her interested in cooking.  As someone that enjoys cooking, I’ve visited many grocery stores in many cities.

Bring out the “foodie” in you!

Culinaria is using the term foodie in their marketing.  With a growing emphasis on fresh and local I think we will see a shift away from the massive stores pushing groceries for a month.  I like going to the grocery store but I don’t like walking through unnecessarily large stores.  With a few exceptions, since my stroke a year and a half ago, I have avoided big box grocers.

Toronto, July 2006
Toronto, July 2006

Loblaws is a big chain in Toronto.  The store above is located in their suburbs along their subway line.  You exit the subway and the grocery store is right there so you can pick up items for dinner on your way home.

New York City, 2001
New York City, 2001

A right sized market, such as the above Whole Foods, can be located in older buildings.  You need high density to eliminate the need for parking.

Under NYCs Queensboro Bridge, 2001
Under NYC's Queensboro Bridge, 2001

In New York City wasted space under the 59th Street/Queensboro Bridge was put to use for a nice market.

Vancouver market in walkable neighborhood, 2003
Vancouver market in walkable neighborhood, 2003

The above market was in new construction in a new walkable dense area of Vancouver.  I do not recall seeing any parking although it may have had a garage.  I was a pedestrian.

Seattles international district, March 2009
Seattle's international district, March 2009

These stores don’t have their own parking.  But I’ve been to plenty that do — a Whole Foods in San Diego with parking on the roof to Safeway & Trader Joe’s in Seattle with structured garage parking just for their store – in neighborhoods — not just downtown.  The idea of driving into a parking garage to go grocery shopping is not that odd.  I’d like to see it become commonplace in the core of our region.

Many of Culinara’s customers will walk there.  Others will use MetroLink which is only 2 blocks away (8th & Pine).  Many, however, will drive from within downtown or from nearby neighborhoods.  Those that do will get 1 or 2 hours of free parking, depending upon the day & time of the visit.

I’ll have to drive there one day to see how it works.  The unmetered 15-minute parking on 9th Street seems like it will become an issue with cars parked longer than 15 minutes.  Doesn’t seem right that this business would get free street parking for it’s customers.  I say put in meters and make the limit 30 minutes.

The new Culinaria is the grocery store we need not just downtown but throughout the core of the region.  A smaller footprint store for walkable neighborhoods where a big box and surface parking are out of character.  Hopefully we will see more of Culinaria here and in the other states where Schnuck’s has stores.

The above was written Tuesday after the grand opening of Culinaria.  Yesterday (Wednesday) I made a second visit.  This time I drove my car  – I wanted to see how the whole parking garage experience worked. They have a few issues to address.

Parking starts on level 3 of the garage. It seems like the first parking you get to is reserved for monthly parking permit holders who are assigned a numbered space.  When I got to 5 I crossed the middle point and headed downward to find disabled parking near the elevator.  I’m still not clear how far up the able bodied would need to go to find non-reserved parking.  I’m not sure how people will feel, on the weekend say,  about passing 2-5 levels of empty reserved parking before reaching spaces where they can park.

After I bought my 3 items I discovered the other problem, the shopping carts can’t leave the store.  So even if you drive to the store it is purchase what you can carry.  An associate got another associate to carry my canvas bag for me.  I had only 3 items but it weighed 7 pounds — 5 lb bag of flour plus two pound bags of dried beans.  It was too much for me.  I can understand not allowing the carts out onto the sidewalk but they really need to allow the carts into the garage.

The customer base for a store this size is larger than downtown dwellers & office workers.  Residents from nearby neighborhoods will be driving here to stock up.  And with the huge selection of items it would be very easy to purchase more than you can carry.  The carts have the sensor that locks a wheel if it goes too far.  They need to move the sensor to the outside door so that someone can get to the elevators.

When the associate and I got off the elevator at level 3 I realized that floor doubles as the employee smoking lounge.  Two employees were smoking in the semi-enclosed area off the elevators while three more were smoking adjacent to the disabled spaces.

When I left I handed the parking attendant the ticket I got when I entered the garage as well as the voucher portion from my receipt.  The $2 fee was covered by Culinaria.

As has been pointed out on other posts, this Culinaria store has been heavily subsidized.  It does not represent the free market at work.  What I hope will happen is that it will perform well to the point the Schnuck’s family will question the logic of building bigger & bigger suburban box stores.  We need more frequent stores that are easier to walk to and through.

– Steve Patterson

 

City of St. Louis Back in St. Louis County

I don’t quite understand it, in last weeks poll 45% of you felt the most important non-project for St. Louis was to rejoin St. Louis County as the 92nd municipality.  Most assumptions about the city rejoining the county have the city limits unchanged.  What changes is the boundaries of St. Louis County.

The main advantage for the city & county would be the elimination of duplicate “county” offices.  Although I’m not sure St. Louis County’s systems & personnel could handle the addition of the city so the duplication could not fully be eliminated. With separate courts, property records and marriage licenses since 1876 merging these into one would be a major task.  Counties throughout the country often have more than one judicial center so I could see both remaining in operation.

The option I didn’t give you in the poll would be better and even more unlikely — a single unified city-county merger.  All the 91 municipalities in St. Louis County would get wrapped together in a single unit of government along with the City of St. Louis and currently unincorporated areas of St. Louis County.  93 government entities would become one.

Economically depressed Wellston might like the idea but well to do Ladue would never go for it.  But one unit of government for the area known as the City of St. Louis & St. Louis County makes the most sense.

Perhaps getting the city back into the county is the first step?  Studying the various ways these mergers have been accomplished is of course an important step.  There is no single way to “merge” the city back into the county. Each will have a long list of pros & cons.  Just being one of too many county municipalities doesn’t appeal to me.

– Steve Patterson

 

Three National Health Organizations to Oppose Proposed St. Louis Clean-Air Act

Next week three national organizations; American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and  American Cancer Society, will announce their opposition a proposed smoke-free ordinance for the City of St. Louis.  Yes, you read correctly.  These organizations will be opposing local efforts to clear the public air of cigarette smoke.  Why you ask?  The bill is not pure.

Alderman Lyda Krewson’s bill (#46) includes a triggering mechanism  — it would not go into effect until a similar measure does in St. Louis County:

SECTION FIFTEEN. Effective Date
This Ordinance shall be effective on such date that the Saint Louis County Council enacts Smoke Free Air legislation which prohibits smoking in the enclosed public places as defined in Section Four of this Ordinance.

These organizations don’t like such measures being dependant upon other jurisdictions.  So they plan to oppose the measure.  They and the pro-smoking lobby will be on the same side.  Just seems wrong.

The St. Louis region is second only to Baltimore for the number of units of government on a per capita basis.  St. Louis County has 91 municipalities plus area that is unincorporated.  Ideally we’ve have a Missouri smoke-free law like the one covering the Illinois side of the region.  But that may be a while.

Krewson had several choices:

  1. Do nothing and continue to wait for a state law.
  2. Wait for St. Louis County to pass a law and then react.
  3. Introduce a bill with no trigger and watch it never get out of committee.

The fact is that the chances of getting a smoke-free bill for the city only is slim to none.  Remember we have 28 wards.  Securing enough votes on a controversial measure takes considerable work.   Going it along, which I wouldn’t object to, would never pass.

Before Krewson introduced the bill I was among the persons advocating the trigger mechanism.  It would let the city take a leadership role iuin the region and give some assurances to the St. Louis County Council that when they passed a law that it would trigger the city law.  Maybe these national groups don’t realize that St. Louis is not in St. Louis County?

Getting this law on the books in the city would be an important first step to getting St. Louis County on board.  Passing this bill with the county trigger shifts the debate to the county.  They may pass a measure triggered by a similar measure in St. Charles County.  I agree, it is not ideal.  Politics is never pretty and when practiced in a highly fragmented environment it is downright ugly.  So I have a problem with these organizations standing in the way of the only way we are going to get smoke-free air on the Missouri side of the region.

Krewson returned my request for comment ysterday morning.  She was aware these groups are planning to oppose her bill.

She has been at the Board of Aldermen for nearly 12 years now.  Her day job is as a CFO.  She can count.  She knows how to get legislation passed.  These organizations don’t get it — the St. Louis region is not typical.  We need to change out city charter.  We need to consolidate the 91 separate municipalities in St. Louis County.  But I don’t want to wait for those events to get smoke-free air.

The one size fits all strategy these national organizations seek just doesn’t cut it.  It irks me they may ruin our chances.  Hopefully we can overcome their objections.  Hearings on the bill begin Tuesday at noon in room 208 at  city hall.

– Steve Patterson

 

The Page Avenue Extension

Missouri Highway 364, more commonly known as the Page Extension, does not lay within the St Louis city limits. Just a few miles of it are even in St. Louis county. And yet it stands as a prime example of state and federal policies that is working against urban renewal in the city. Before I go much further, let me state that I am an avid user of the highway and the associated bridge.

The highway was originally planned back in the 80’s and a history of the project can be seen here along with an overview here. At that time there were three bridges connecting St Charles Co. to St Louis, I-70, US 40, and the Rock Road. Of the three only I-70 was a high speed travel corridor. US 40 had traffic signal intersections and the Rock Road dumped into the City of St Charles. Since then the Rock Road bridge has been torn down, I-64 has been extended along 40, and 370 & 364 have been added. This gives drivers four high-speed choices to cross the Missouri river, for a combined sixteen lanes of traffic. Upon completion of the Page extension project, it will extend almost to the 70-40 interchange in Wentzville. Drivers originating in Wentzville and beyond will have four different ways to get into St Louis Co without a single traffic signal.

What purpose does this road serve? Anyone who has driven on it can easily answer that question. It gets workers living in St Charles Co to their jobs in St Louis City and Co. The morning rush hour has a large flow of vehicles into St Louis with barely a trickle going the opposite way. It is reversed for the evening rush hour. On the weekend it is used so sparsely, I doubt most drivers would notice if the bridge was not there. Therefore, almost the entire purpose of this road is to make it easier to work in St Louis and live in St Charles.

All major projects need funding. The first phase was funded partially by Congress in the Pipeline Safety Act of 1992. The second phase, currently under construction, is getting a large chunk of funding from the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This money was added to the pot of cash already provided for by the state to make this new artery possible. And this is where the project becomes a policy debate. Lawmakers in Jefferson City and Washington deemed it necessary to spend state and federal dollars to make it easier to not live in St Louis if a person has a job there.

People were migrating to St Chuck as part of white flight before all the new concrete was laid the last two decades. How many would continue to move out there if it was not so convenient? This convenience will hamper any efforts to revitalize the city, like the planned Northside development. For that development to work it needs to attract a large population of people living in the suburbs. Relocating people already living in the city would be zero growth and no new tax base.

So we have a government working against the city. Until that changes it seems liked the deck is stacked against urban renewal. That does not mean it will not happen, just that until there is a policy change it is going to be harder than it should. The solution to the problem leads to a conflict of interest. Lawmakers would need to make it inconvenient to live in the far flung suburbs. Their constituents probably would no longer support them and no lawmaker wants to work themselves out of office. I have no idea how to get lawmakers to do what is better in the long term as opposed to what will get them re-elected. And I do believe increasing the number of quality urban walkable neighborhoods is better in the long term.

– Kevin McGuire

 

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