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Baby Boomers Brainwashed into Hating Cities

Although I am going to have a huge amount of reading for my classes in Urban Planning at Saint Louis University this Fall I could not help but stop by the Carondelet YMCA for their annual book fair (continuing through tomorrow). I bought a number of Life magazines from the 1960s as well as a former school library book, Cities and Metropolitan Areas in Today’s World by Samuel L. Arbital. The book is copyrighted 1968.

Wow, no wonder some many people hated cities, if I had read such propaganda as a child I might be living out in a suburb and fearful of the city. Here are some selected quotes from the first half of the book:

Preface:

The problems of our cites and metropolitan areas are nation-wide. No city is along in crisis.

Chapter 1 – From City to Megalopolis

During business hours, the core of the city teems with action. People at work, people shopping, people on a visit — people coming or going. Workers travel into the core every weekday morning from other parts of the city or from the suburbs. After work the movement of people flows in reverse — away from the core to their homes in the outlying sections of the city or suburbs.

Highways and main traffic arteries have had to be built to help route traffic into and out of the core. In Minneapolis, Hiawatha Avenue cuts across the core. In Detroit, the main arteries are Gratier Avenue, Woodward Avenue and Grand Avenue.

Those who live in the core are, for the most part, people who cannot afford to live elsewhere and must settle for old rundown tenements until they can afford to move away.

The majority of people who live in the inner ring, however, are poor. They live in old, outdated, neglected houses built when the city was young. Many houses lack adequate sanitation, heat, hot water, garbage removal facilities, fire protection or other requirements for decent living standards.

Just as the pioneers of old moved ever outward from the crowded areas, many families today have been pushing beyond the political boundaries of the city into open space in the suburbs.

Chapter 2 – The Problems of Cities and Metropolitan Areas

It is typical today for young married couples to move to the suburbs, while their parents and grandparents remain in the core. One of the chief reasons for deterioration has been the in-migration of rural families, both white and Negro, whose customs and values are different from those of older city dwellers, thus giving additional momentum to the movement out of the city. Those who remain have to adapt to the old houses, stores, schools and streets.

As national legislation helps to finance long-range programs worked out by local agencies, there can be a reduction in grinding poverty and improvement in educational and cultural opportunities within the city. Cities will then regain their vitality and blight can be eliminated.

All too often it is to the core of the city that Negro families have moved and the boundaries have become hardened and fixed. Housing is interior to the housing for white families on the city’s fringe or in the suburbs. Negro communities are permitted to deteriorate with no encouragement for those who want to maintain their property.

Every central city is faced with the difficulty of transporting passengers into and through the core at a minimum cost and with maximum speed and efficiency. Narrow streets in the downtown sections of cities are inadequate for the steady flow of automobiles, buses, taxis and trucks that move through them each day.

Detroit has 21 redevelopment and nine neighborhood conservation projects. One of the problems which Detroit has in common with other large cities is the relocation of Negro families, even those who can afford middle income or high rental housing, from the city slum areas.

In a future post I’ll bring you quotes from the second half with chapter 2, Cities meet the challenge and chapter 4, the future by design.

– Steve

 

Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century

August 25, 2006 Books, Politics/Policy 19 Comments

I recently purchased Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-First Century from the Saint Louis University bookstore as it is a required text for one of my Fall courses in Urban Planning. The book is authored by three Professors; Peter Dreier from Occidental College in LA, John Mollenkopf from City University in New York and our own Todd Swanstrom from St. Louis University. Dr. Swanstrom just happens to be teaching my course which starts on Tuesday.

Yesterday I started thumbing through the book, as I do with any new read, but the first paragraph in the preface section really struck me:

This book grew out of our frustration with the stalemated debate about the condition of cities and our conviction that we can move beyond it. In Place Matters, we argue that because the problems presently facing America’s cities are largely political in origin, their solution also lies in politics. We focus on how public policies and the organization of our political institutions have fostered the growth of economic segregation in metropolitan America, which in turn damages both equal opportunity and economic competitiveness. We favor moving toward forming and delivering urban policy at a broader regional context. Such steps, we believe, are a critical ingredient for transforming all politics of urban policy and broadening the coalition in support of progressive urban policies.

One part is worth repeating;

“…problems presently facing America’s cities are largely political in origin, their solution also lies in politics.”

Interesting. I can certainly agree off hand that many problems I see facing St. Louis are “political in origin.” These include outdated zoning, racial and social segregation, and inadequate mass transit. However, the politicians still claim “the market” or “reality” as reasons for not changing their old ways of doing business. I look forward to reading and discussing concepts from this book and the long list of other reading materials in class this Fall. And as you might expect, I’ll frequently post on the various assignments and topics.

– Steve

 

Men’s Health: St. Louis 10th Most Angry U.S. City

August 20, 2006 Books 4 Comments

Men’s Healthy Magazine recently ranked U.S. according to how angry they are relative to blood pressure, traffic congestion, assaults, etc… St. Louis placed in the number ten spot, just behind Jacksonville Fl. It is not clear from the article if this was a look at the city or region.

I’d suggest taking this list with a grain of salt but sodium is bad for blood pressure and we’d hate to move up on this list. I thought I’d post it so Mayor Slay’s PR guru Richard “PublicEye” Callow wouldn’t get bored on the job.

– Steve

 

A Renaissance in the Streets

August 17, 2006 Books, Planning & Design 1 Comment

To a midwesterner like myself I think of NYC as a great pedestrian experience with millions literally getting around by foot, bike and mass transit on a daily basis. The experience is far different from our own. Yet, to New Yorkers, it can always be better.

A group known as The New York City Streets Renaissance is doing a great job explaining problems and offering solutions. Like St. Louis, NYC’s transportation planners focus on the car while other planners simply don’t have the time to get into the details of neighborhood level pedestrian crossings. These active citizens are helping improve their community by being engaged and pushing the bureaucracy to change old habits.

New York City’s streets are the soul of its neighborhoods and the pathways to some of the world’s most in-demand destinations. For generations, New Yorkers and visitors have strolled, shopped and socialized on sidewalks and street corners. Pedestrian friendly streets are the city’s most fundamental assets.

Unfortunately, we aren’t making the most of these assets. Instead, our streets are being managed almost entirely for traffic flow, with neighborhoods and business districts buckling under increasing amounts of dangerous car and truck traffic. If we continue planning our streets for cars and traffic, we will get more cars and traffic; conversely, if we start planning our cities for people and places, we will get more people and places.

Their beautifully designed website is a model for clarity on improving streetscapes for pedestrians. The focus is on making places habitable for people and illustrating how sometimes simple changes to crossings can make a huge difference to the area. They have been very effective in communicating this message with a series of short documentary films ranging from 30 seconds to 14 minutes in length. You can see these Quicktime movies in their video gallery. The videos are all excellent and for different reasons. The short ones make some great points in only a couple of minutes whereas some of the long pieces (Lessons from…) are able to take an in-depth look at history, problems and solutions. Check them out and share in the comments below which you liked best and perhaps what you’d like to see get attention via video in the St. Louis region.

As I transition into the masters program in urban planning at Saint Louis University look for me to show you more of what citizens in other cities are doing to reclaim their streets from the auto. I also am investigating doing some St. Louis-related videos along the lines of these from NYC.

I truly believe we can transform our city. We can once again become a major, thriving urban center. It will take change, but we can do it:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

– Steve

 

St. Louis Region Drops Again in Forbes Ranking

This year St. Louis ranked 31st among 40 metropolitan areas as “Best Places for Singles” according to Forbes magazine. Our best ranking was 14th in 2001 but since then we’ve continued to sink in the rankings, now falling into the bottom 10. It should be noted this is for the metropolitan area of St. Louis, not simply the City of St. Louis.

St. Louis on ForbesTo simplify things I compiled the chart, at left, showing where the St. Louis region ranks overall and in their various categories. As you can see we’ve been steadily dropping in the overall rankings since 2001. But a closer look reveals the good and the bad.

Below are each of the subcategories with the Forbes methodology in italics, followed by my thoughts on each.

Overall:

To determine the best city for singles, we ranked 40 of the largest continental U.S. metropolitan centers in seven different areas: nightlife, culture, job growth, number of singles, cost of living alone, coolness, and for the first time, online dating. Each metro is assigned a ranking of one to 40 in each category, based on quantitative data. All categories are weighted equally, with the exception of the number of singles, which received a double weighting. The ranks are then averaged to determine the final rankings.

We’ve got a lot of great things going on in the City of St. Louis right now with lofts and new restaurants and trendy bowling alleys opening but our region, we must accept, is boring. We are a region of “comfortable” suburban housing mixed with sterile office parks connected by massive highways. Tax base aside, the region is pretty much a drain on the City of St. Louis.

Culture:

Our cultural index is determined by the number of museums, pro sports teams and live theater and concert venues per capita, as well as the university population, in each metro. Data provided by AOL CityGuide and Montreal International.

I’ve yet to consider pro sports as having anything to do with “culture” but that is only one part of this criteria. This is the one section where we’ve been the most consistent over the years. Phoenix ranked #1.

Nightlife:

Nightlife is based on the number of restaurants, bars and nightclubs per capita in each standard metropolitan area. Data provided by AOL CityGuide.

This is a category where we are doing a lot of ups and downs from year to year. From the information provided I’m not sure if this is because our data is changing or if other city’s data is changing and thus moving everyone around in the rankings. Most likely it is a combination of both. Cincinnati ranked #1.

Singles:

The number of singles is based on the percentage of a metro’s population above the age of 15 that has never been married. Given the importance of this data, the singles category carries twice the weight of any other category. Data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Per the rankings this just isn’t a singles region, or perhaps many have been previously married. No surprise but New York ranked #1.

Job Growth:

Job growth rankings are determined by the projected percentage of job growth over the next five years for each metro. Data provided by Washington, D.C.-based Woods & Poole Economics.

Now we are getting to the real issue. Our job growth in this region sucks big time! The region must come together to evaluate why this is true and what are possible solutions. The old guard will continue to cite another bridge over the Mississippi River and other nonsense that simply keeps the politically connected sprawl machine working. While the city’s earnings tax may keep business out of the city, I’m not sure it would have an impact on the region’s job growth numbers. Whatever the reasons, this must be addressed. Las Vegas ranked #1.

Cost Of Living Alone:

Our proprietary Cost Of Living Alone index is determined by the average cost of a metro area’s apartment rent, a Pizza Hut pizza, a movie ticket and a six-pack of Heineken. Additionally, we factored in entry-level salary data. The majority of the raw data for the cost of living index was provided by Arlington, Va.-based ACCRA. Salary data provided by the New York-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

Ouch! I’m guessing here but I’d say our entry-level salaries have not kept pace with the average apartment rental rates. Either that or Pizza Hut has had to dramatically raise prices in St. Louis to cover the cost of hiring Queen Latifa for their commercials. Seriously though, while many may not think so I do believe we are building ourselves into a situation of higher and higher living costs relative to our incomes. Salaries simply have not kept pace with the increased property values, at least in the city. This is reflected in some very costly cities ranking ahead of us, including Seattle, NYC and San Francisco. Atlanta ranked #1.

Online Dating:

Due to the increasing popularity of online dating, we added this new measure to our methodology this year. The ranking is determined by the number of active profiles in each metro, per capita, on dating site Match.Com. Data provided by www.match.com.

OK everyone, get online so we can move up in the rankings for 2007. Yeah, right…. Boston ranked #1.

Coolness:

Coolness is determined by an area’s diversity and its number of creative workers (i.e., those whose jobs require creativity, such as artists, scientists, teachers and musicians). Kevin Stolarick, of Catalytix and Carnegie Mellon University, provided the data based on work he has done with Richard Florida, of George Mason University, and Gary Gates, of the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

This is the one that shocked me, the ranking being much higher than I expected.

So what do you see in the numbers? Or what are they missing about our region that can’t be quantified?

– Steve

 

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