Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Quote of the day, revisiting "when you define everything as a success"

Mainly Macro is a blog by Oxford University economist Simon Wren-Lewis, which I read to try to upgrade my knowledge about economics and the UK. In a recent post, "The lesson monetary policy needs to learn," he refers to the writings of economist Martin Sandbu at the Financial Times--unfortunately only available to subscribers--where the final point in a recent column is:
"admitting one has got things badly wrong is a prerequisite for doing better”
Revisiting bicycle sharing as an example of policy making and program implementation that needs to be better evaluated.  I wrote "The problem when you define every outcome as a success, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share as examples" over my frustration (not limited to) in discussions about bike sharing programs how everything is defined as a success, making it difficult to do better, or assess whether or not large investments in bike sharing are the best use of resources in fostering greater take up of biking for transportation as a significant element of sustainable mobility policy and practice.

I was thinking about this a couple weeks ago, not just because of the entry of "Chinese bike share" into the U.S. and specifically into DC where five different bike share companies have entered the market on a test basis, but because I had to get my bike fixed, and while in the shop I read through the current issue of Adventure Cycling Magazine, a publication from the Adventure Cycling Association, which is focused on promoting bike touring (something I don't do, because I don't really ride for recreation but for utilitarian purposes).

Atlanta and bicycle sharing.  One of the articles focused on an increased promotion of bicycling for transportation in Atlanta and quoted the city's director of bicycle planning and discussed her satisfaction there with their bike share program--they have at least 500 bikes--because they are used at about the rate of 0.7 times per day per bike, and "that is the rate we were aiming for."

Because the most successful systems in Europe have 10 to 15 times that rate of use, and the most successful system in North America, New York City, has about 8 uses per bicycle per day ("Citi Bike Sets New Ridership Record In 2016, With Nearly 14 Million Rides," Gothamist), which is more than double the rate in DC, this strikes me as an incredibly low bar to reach -- comparable to the metrics most cities set for achieving various milestones, what we would call a C- (or lower) grade in school.

That grade isn't really passing.

College student bike sharing. Separately, I have been e-talking with an instructor at a university that is looking to launch bike share, and because "they have no money," they are in talks with a company that will provide bikes on a basis similar to the "Chinese bike share" companies at $1 per ride.

I said that won't serve your students very well, nor broader transportation demand management practice, because it won't promote regular use both daily and multiple times per day.

Instead, I recommend what is called a "bike library" or "bike fleet," how schools like UCLA or North Central College provide a bike to a student for the entire semester for either free or a "low price" (UCLA's price has more than doubled over the past couple years) along with a lock, helmet, and repair services -- the point being that you want to support the use of biking as a routine behavior rather than as a casual less committed practice.

Lime Bike bicycle sharing bicycles parked/abandoned outside a small apartment building on the 700 block of Irving Street NE in the Brookland neighborhoodPer ride priced bike sharing services. I am fine with the per ride bike sharing services being offered.  My problem with these services is two-fold.  First, they are somewhat chaotic as many of the users deposit the bikes when they are done in ways that aren't properly respectful of the public space.

(Although some riders do park the bikes at bike racks.  Suzanne also points out that maybe some of the bikes are left askew because someone tried to ride it without paying, and the bike wouldn't move, so they just abandon it.)

Second, it's that these services vastly re-price upward the use of a bike--if you were to ride twice a day, it would cost over $700/year--it's only comparatively cheap if you compare a single use to a transit fare or taxi ride.

But if you buy a bike for between $300 and $400 (used bikes can be had for much less) and use it for 5 to 10 years, even spending $200/year on maintenance means the cost for use, no matter how many trips you take, is less than $1 per day.

Lessons.  The primary question we need to be asking is what is the purpose of bicycle planning? 

1.  Is it to promote the development and support of people making a choice to predominately cycle for at least some (but a significant number) of their transportation needs/trips? 

2.  And should cost for use and access be an element of  the program?

3.  Or is the purpose of bike planning primarily to support occasional, casual use on the part of people with a very limited interest in biking for transportation?

If 10-15% of trips by bike is a reasonable goal for Washington, DC's transportation mix, then the city has a long way to go.  Is bicycle sharing the best way to more than triple bicycling as a element of DC's transportation mode share?

From a transportation demand management standpoint, it is the first--to make bicycling a significant and real form of (sustainable) transportation that is efficient and effective and regularly used.

For discussion about biking to work in the DC metropolitan area, see "Surprising stats: How many people bike to work around DC and more," WTOP-radio).

That choice should then shape the agenda, planning, and implementation process of various infrastructure, facilities, and programs developed to support biking for transportation.  It should shape the choice of programs you want to support and promote.

If you want to make biking visible, but not a substantive mode (except in places with the right pre-conditions for success) focus on bicycle sharing.  Because the way bike sharing is implemented now, it likely doesn't lead to substantive take up of bicycling for transportation.

But, if you want bicycle sharing to work as an entrypoint to regular bicycle use, then complementary programming needs to be developed to encourage people to shift from occasional, casual use to regular, frequent use, to leverage the visibility of bicycle sharing for "a greater purpose."

But that question isn't being asked either.

And so bicycle sharing is one of many examples of how defining every program as a success without regard to objectively setting and measuring outcomes is problematic.

Doing bicycle planning without enough attention to "transportation demand management planning."  Part of the problem is that sustainable mobility needs to be planned as a system, what I call the "sustainable mobility platform," where bicycle sharing is an element in a complete set of "technologies" or modes.  Bike sharing has a place in the panoply of services, but perhaps not as great a role as has been assigned.

By looking at TDM/SMP planning more broadly, better decisions and outcomes can be realized.

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Capitol Hill Restoration Society House Expo, Sunday October 22nd

(While ideally such an expo would have informational sessions and workshops and a greater array of exhibitors including nonprofits, relevant city agencies, etc., this is a start.  Last year was their first, but I was away.)

From email:

On Sunday, October 22nd, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) will hold a free House Expo at the Eastern Market North Hall, featuring over 30 home service exhibitors.

Experts will show ways to improve, repair and enjoy your home: architect, building supplies, energy conservation, interior designers, general contractors, house histories, painting, iron work, solar panel installation, roofing, electrical, windows, landscaping, mold/termite remediation, home inspection, security, financing, and additional service providers.

Plus representatives of District agencies, Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), DC Fire & EMS - save yourself a trip downtown by visiting the Expo.

Sponsored by: Hill Rag, Coldwell Banker Real Estate, Capitol Hill Village

Confirmed Exhibitors:

Abay Ironworks   Chris Shea Art Furniture & Architectural Metalwork

Plus a Tool Zoo (fun for all ages) courtesy Barnhart Construction.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning

The Guggenheim Bilbao. ©FMGB, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2017.

I wrote about Bilbao and the so-called "Guggenheim Effect," in the series of articles I did for an EU National Institutes of Culture project in Baltimore:


I was pretty pleased with the article, especially because afterwards I heard from people in Bilbao who said that I had captured very well the essence of their approach, process, and program.

It was but one of many examples that shaped my thinking about the need for what I am now calling "Transformational Projects Action Plans" and the Transformational Projects Action Planning process, as an essential element of Comprehensive Land Use Plans/Community Master Plans.

I wrote about the concept more recently here:

-- "(Big Hairy) Projects Action Plan(s) as an element of Comprehensive/Master Plans"

but even four months ago, I hadn't scintillated the TPAP phrase and acronym, although admittedly it still doesn't flow off the tongue.

Besides the Amazon HQ2 discussion, it also comes up because it is the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and as discussed in this excellent article, "The Guggenheim Bilbao, 20 Years Later: How a Museum Transformed a City—and Why the ‘Bilbao Effect’ Has Been Impossible to Replicate," from artnet, though many other communities seized on the example, in particular the employment of a "starchitect" and "starchitecture" to create sculptural usually cultural buildings that were supposed to attract hundreds of thousands if not millions of visitors, none have been truly successful.

Frank Gehry didn't single-handedly revitalize Bilbao. The Guggenheim Museum was but one element of a wide-ranging program.

I summarized the process in Bilbao as being constructed of six integrated components.   I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:

  1. A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
  2. the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program. Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
  3. strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
  4. funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
  5. integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);
  6. flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).I
I realize now is that what I then called "visionary plans" are really "transformational projects action plans."

And essential to these plans is flexibility, and the ability to seize on unplanned for opportunities (such as a second Amazon headquarters).

Bilbao didn't plan for such a museum, although it did create a framework for the creation of new civic and cultural assets, and wanted to engage leading architects to design architecturally startlingly new buildings.

When the opportunity to land the Guggenheim Museum came up, Bilbao was able to seize the opportunity because they already had the necessary process framework in place to be successful at doing so.

Similarly, once the Museum opened, they realized they needed better surface transit connections, although they had already constructed a subway as a transportation demand management mechanism due to the physical constraints on transportation imposed by mountains and the River Nervion--the reality was that the distance between subway stations was too great to provide the necessary connections to the Museum and better intra-district transit ("Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao Spain," Matti Siemiatycki).

The first link of a tram system for Bilbao opened within a few years, while in DC it took 13 years to open a streetcar line of a similar distance.

Other failures to see benefits comparable to that of Bilbao: libraries.  Starchitecture has been attributed to the success of new central libraries by Rem Koolhaas in Seattle and Moshe Safdie in Vancouver, but I would argue more fundamental than the design is the program for the library as a multi-faceted community, civic, and cultural asset and the execution of the design on those elements has been the primary reason for sustainable success of these facilities. 

Similarly, the David Adjaye-designed Idea Store libraries in the Tower Hamlets borough of London are successful because of their program and central locations--the design is secondary.  And the David Adjaye designed community libraries in DC are not particularly noteworthy in the way that the Idea Stores are, because what mattered most, like for Bilbao, was the program overall, not the specific architectural or cultural "object."

High Line analogues.  New York City wasn't the first city to repurpose an elevated rail line for a walking trail, Paris was, with the Promenade Plantée/Coulée Verte ("Paris' Elevated Park Predates NYC's High Line by Nearly 20 Years (and It's Prettier, Too)," TreeHugger). 

New York City High Line ParkBut the High Line in New York City is particularly well-placed, in an area that had all the hallmarks of success, but needed a branding and positioning device, as well as a civic facility to rally around (comparable to how Bryant Park was revitalized and contributed to improvements across Central Manhattan, see "Splendor in the Grass," New York Times, 2005).

-- "New York's High Line: Why the floating promenade is so popular," Washington Post
-- "New York's High Line Park a marvel of vision, co-operation" Toronto Star
-- "The High Line effect: Why cities around the world (including Toronto) are building parks in the sky," Toronto Globe & Mail

Other communities including DC (11th Street Bridge Park) and Chicago (606) are doing similar projects, although an attempt to create a similar Garden Bridge in London has fallen apart.

There is no reason for other projects to not be successful, but it needs to be understood why the Promenade Plantée, the High Line and the 606 Trail are successful--they are already entwined and integrated within communities that are either already successful or capable of being so, which is why a Scarborough High Line in suburban Toronto may not succeed ("SRT could become 'high line' park," Toronto Star).

The proposed Rail Deck Park in Toronto is a different animal, but exorbitant is a word that under-describes the financial requirements ("Much enthusiasm for Rail Deck Park plan that is short on details," Toronto Star).

"The arts," public art, murals, etc.   Public art too isn't necessarily an independent transformational force, although as part of a program it can bring communities together and draw visitors.  The difference is between a single project versus a program.  The way buildings are turned into murals in the Wynwood district of Miami is an example of the latter (Wynwood Walls - Urban Graffiti Art Miami). 

See "Arts, culture districts, and revitalization," especially the discussion of the writings of John Montgomery and this article, "How the Arts Drove Pittsburgh's Revitalization," from The Atlantic on the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Conclusion.  (1) It's all about the program; (2) a set of transformational projects; (3) the capacity and capability for implementation; (4) financing; and (5) a willingness to experiment and be flexible.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Amazon second headquarters "****show": Part 1 | Where could it go?

Amazon has set off a massive flurry of local and state government responses to their issuance of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the development of a "second" headquarters with a planned for headcount of 50,000 employees.

The company stated it would like to develop a second headquarters away from Washington State and will chose a location based on the following criteria:

- Metropolitan areas with more than one million people
- A stable and business-friendly environment 
- Urban or suburban locations with the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent
- Communities that think big and creatively when considering locations and real estate options
+ incentives in cash, land, and other considerations.

Responses are due October 19th and a decision will be made next year.

The print media across the country has been covering various local responses. I can't keep up.

Is it worth preparing a bid?  Mostly, I think it's a losing proposition, because a lot of time and effort has to be expended to prepare a credible proposal, and ultimately, you have to handicap your chances based on what your community has to offer and its place values versus the likely motivations of the company, rather than strictly being cheerleaders for your particular region. 

Henry Grabar at Slate wrote early ("Your city will lose the contest for Amazon's new HQ") after the announcement handicapping communities based on their existing base of talent, size, cost to acquire and build office space, and more residences, location, and whether or not the firm would be accommodated in new (greenfield) or existing (infill) places

Personally, I think Amazon wants to have a headquarters in an area with a decent quality of life, but are likely to seek favor with conservatives/Republicans as columnist Jon Talton argues, "Amazon's second headquarters: Expect the unexpected," in the Seattle Times, by putting it in a Republican state that isn't totally mossback politically, WHILE KEEPING ITS WAGES DOWN. From the column:
Bezos and his lieutenants may be reacting to our extreme political, social and cultural polarization by seeking a second base in a red state such as Texas. This would potentially give Amazon more political protection from Republican lawmakers — remember, President Donald Trump has threatened antitrust action against Bezos. Or they might be assessing America’s reactionary turn on immigration, trade and world leadership, and all the risks involved. In this case, a Canadian second headquarters would make sense.

Where? If Bezos stays to form, he wants a city, not only because of his commitment to sustainability but also to attract top talent. A suburban area with good transit might also make the cut. I suspect traditional incentives will play less of a role. The company will certainly take them and play localities off against each other. But talent, education (especially with a strong research university), a cool vibe, good air-travel connections and transit will be the big factors for the finalists. This is not going to be like the 20th-century moves from downtowns to far-flung, car-dependent office “parks.”
Talton's analysis is interesting because it means that the company is making business and political calculations that are just as important as an incentive package.

General Electric as an analogue.  Relatedly, I found very interesting the process General Electric went through in deciding to return to the city from a now traditional suburban campus.  They ended up picking Boston. 

During the search process they did make clear to some states that they weren't interested, because of how political decisions made by their elected officials, such as opposition to the Export-Import Bank, had negative impact on their business ("GE rules out relocation to Dallas because of Texas politicians' views," Dallas Morning News).

If competition for employees is a priority.  I think this matters because while Amazon says wages will average $100,000 per employee, competition for highly trained employees would push wages up further, such as in Silicon Valley and Seattle, because of the competition between the big companies, and startups, for the best talent.

That means most big cities: Chicago; Denver (the New York Times suggests that Denver would be the optimal choice, "Dear Amazon, We Picked Your New Headquarters for you"); Greater Los Angeles; New York City; Washington, DC; among them, are out of consideration, as well as those existing digital economy clusters already experiencing a great competition for technically qualified workers (Austin, TX; Boston; San Francisco; Silicon Valley).

Not sure about Pittsburgh, it has Carnegie-Mellon, which has drawn an increasing number of digital commerce firms, but a major corporate headquarters for Amazon could push wage competition to undesirable levels.

Baltimore's probably too close to DC from a wage standpoint, and Johns Hopkins is more known for medical technology than computer engineering. Similarly, Philadelphia may be languishing in terms of attracting and keeping corporate headquarters, but it's embedded in the Mid-Atlantic economy and wages wouldn't be cheap.

Is red state--conservative Republican--presence a priority? But maybe wages aren't the biggest priority for Amazon, currying more favor with conservative politicians is, as Jon Talton suggests.

If you want to locate in a Republican state but without terrible politics that means North Carolina is out, despite the presence of the Research Triangle and even Greensboro. Probably Texas is out for politics--Governor Greg Abbott and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn are hard right, and the large cities (Austin, Dallas, Houston) have too high a prevailing wage, while San Antonio has a limited presence in digital technology business and no rail transit system.

Wisconsin, nope, even though it has the University of Wisconsin Madison with strong engineering and business programs and proximity to Chicago--Wisconsin may have shot its bolt with Foxconn and the promise of up to $3 billion in incentives ("$3 billion incentive package," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

Now that Sam Brownback is no longer governor, maybe Kansas has a chance. They definitely need an economic boost after the radical tax cut policies of the former Governor have wrecked the state's finances. Oklahoma City has strong leadership, great quality of life and is creating a streetcar system, but doesn't have premier technical engineering programs.

Maybe the Silicon Prairie initiative linking Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas makes that region, strongly Republican, attractive.

If this is a priority, then I think Indianapolis would be a consideration. It's reasonable politically, conservative, flipping between Democrats and Republicans, with the presence of Eli Lilly. Purdue University isn't that far, with its strong engineering programs and the university's desire to develop a major online presence ("Purdue-Kaplan online university is one step closer to becoming reality," Lafayette Journal & Courier). Purdue and Indiana University have a joint campus in the city. While there is no real transit system, the city is compact.

Canada?  Even though the RFP says "North America" and is not limited to the US, because not drawing attacks on the company from politicians is likely an important priority--separately company founder Jeff Bezos is frequently attacked by President Trump over his ownership of the Washington Post--I don't think it's very likely that Amazon would pick a city in Canada, like Toronto ("Allan Sloan: Trump might be driving Amazon HQ2 to Canada") for its second headquarters, as a way to send a signal that parts of Corporate America are unhappy with President Trump over immigration, foreign trade policy, and other matters even if they are happy to get tax cuts. 

As a retailer--although the company makes a great deal of money selling computer services to other firms--Amazon is far more focused on the domestic market than other digital commerce firms that sell software and platforms, although Amazon is plenty active in various international markets.

Where? Jon Talton suggests Dallas; Denver; and Toronto; as well as Austin, although it lacks an international airport, and Atlanta, but it lacks a walkable center. He also suggests Calgary; Cincinnati; Guadalajara; Minneapolis; Monterrey; and Pittsburgh. He suggests Phoenix would be a possibility except for the state's politics, but doesn't ding North Carolina's Research Triangle for the same reason, instead handicapping it because of sprawl.

I would consider Baltimore--Amazon could be the 21st century anchor the city needs to reposition ("Opinion: What Baltimore and D.C. can do to start working better together as a region (Baltimore Business Journal op-ed),"); Indianapolis; Minneapolis; Philadelphia--in the thick of things, but more in need of such a boost despite what the Green Party of Philadelphia says ("Green Party to Amazon: Stay Away from Philly," press release).

Pittsburgh; maybe Chicago but the state government is completely dysfunctional and its choice wouldn't curry favor with Republicans, but it is so centrally located, possibly Kansas City, especially given its bioscience and Smart City initiatives ("Kansas City To Become The Largest 'Smart City' In North America," KCUR/NPR) and how smart city initiatives could be a new area of growth for Amazon (Pittsburgh has the same potential).

It will be interesting to see what Amazon does.

Moody's Analytics top ten cities for new Amazon headquarters
Moody's Analytics ("Where Amazon's Next Headquarters Should Go: We offer a data driven approach to selecting the best metro area for HQ2") doesn't seem to believe that wages are the foremost consideration, and lists various places that offer intriguing possibilities.  Except for global warming, Miami would be a good choice, offering multilingual business opportunities and Florida is a Republican state.  Portland and Salt Lake too, except both are probably too close to Seattle to offer the kind of geographic diversity the firm wants.

If Moody's is right, and they have better insights into business decision-making than I do, it looks like a big city truly has a shot, although based on recent wins such as Mercedes Benz, maybe it's Atlanta and not traditional cities like Boston, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.

-- "Regional Transit A Strike Against Atlanta To Get Amazon's 2nd Headquarters," WABE/NPR.  From the article:
It's no secret Atlanta doesn't have a regional transit system. But with the city pegged as one of the top contenders for Amazon's second headquarters, metro Atlanta's lack of transit might cost the city the deal.
"The ability to get workers to work is a major consideration,” said Robert Puentes, president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. “And in cities, states and metros across the country, the emergence and the reliability in public transit is a key consideration."
Despite the lack of transit, Moody's Analytics ranks Atlanta quite highly. Plus, the MARTA system seems on the verge of substantive expansion, although the current general manager credited for steadying the agency is leaving ("Keith Parker explains decision to leave MARTA," Atlanta Business Chronicle.

-- "Austin is top candidate for Amazon HQ2, Moody's Analytics says," Austin Business Journal

-- "Hogan plugs Baltimore as his preferred site for Amazon headquarters," Washington Post
-- "Opinion: Why Baltimore should be at the top of Amazon's list for HQ2," Baltimore Business Journal
-- "How Johns Hopkins is playing a role in bringing Amazon's HQ2 to Baltimore

Some of the commentary in the Boston Globe has been particularly interesting and will be discussed in the Part 2 piece.

-- "Boston's pros and cons surround the Amazon bid," Boston Globe
-- "Amazon Weighs Boston in Search for Second Headquarters," Bloomberg

-- "Brooklyn May Be NYC's Best Bet to Win New Amazon Headquarters," Bloomberg

Chula Vista (Greater San Diego)
-- "This city is offering Amazon a $400 million incentive package, chance to develop university (and ocean views)," Phoenix Business Journal

Columbus, Ohio
-- "Few experts see Columbus getting new Amazon headquarters," Columbus Dispatch

Actually, Columbus could be a good choice.  Ohio is a Republican state, and the city has a top notch university, is the state capital, and has a significant investment program refocusing development on downtown.  The core has the potential to be walkable.  They have a decent bus system, and good enough air connections.

New York City
-- "Hey Amazon: this report says NYC is a tech dynamo," Crain's New York Business
-- New York City Tech Ecosystem Study webpage, report, HR&A for the Association for a Better New York

Northern Virginia
-- "Tysons Corner bypassed as Northern Va. vies for Amazon," Richmond Times-Dispatch

In the 1990s, Virginia created the Center for Innovative Technology in Loudoun County, and it has become the centerpiece of the state's technology development and innovation agenda.

Providing transit connections to that anchor was one of the justifications for the creation of the Silver Line heavy rail line through Fairfax and Loudoun counties. Amazon there could also provide the energy to reposition Dulles International Airport. The State chose that district rather than Tysons, for its bid.

Interestingly, had the State implemented its many years plan to "extend" the Northeast Corridor Amtrak service to Richmond, maybe Richmond could have been a contender, although it's a small metro. Virginia Commonwealth University is an up and comer, and focuses on engineering, medical, and business studies.

-- "Pomona wants to be home to the new Amazon headquarters," Los Angeles Times

Prince George's County, Maryland
-- "Pr. George's Co. gives Amazon 3 reasons to build new HQ here," WTOP-radio

Just think what PG's chances would be if the Purple Line had already been constructed and was in operation and it had been used to already reposition the County ("Another lesson that Prince George's County has a three to five year window to reposition based on visionary transportation planning," "Part 4 | Making over New Carrollton as a transit-centric urban center and Prince George's County's "New Downtown"," and "PL #7: Using the Purple Line to rebrand Montgomery and Prince George's Counties as Design Forward") and College Park was truly a college town ("More Prince George's County: College Park's militant refusal to become a college town makes it impossible for the city(and maybe the County) to become a great place," 2015). It has University of Maryland, with a decent engineering school, has a Republican governor, sort of has transit, etc.

-- "Toronto’s tech talent being used to woo Amazon," Toronto Star

Washington, DC
-- "DC pitches 4 sites for Amazon headquarters," WTOP-radio

WRT DC's proposals, none of the area's suggested have enough build out potential to accommodate Amazon's plans, although NoMA and the Capitol Riverfront are nice places.  The suggestion of Shaw is odd as it has almost no build out capacity of significance.

A truly path-breaking proposal could have been offered.  On the other hand, it would have been very interesting for DC to offer an expanded "Capitol Hill East" site with the addition of the RFK Stadium site immediately north, and the former Pepco generating site north of RFK, all on the west bank of the Anacostia River but immediately accessible to the so called "East of the River" district of the city, which is the least economically well off section. 

It's near the H Street entertainment district, pretty close to Union Station, one of the busiest train stations in the US, is served by a Metrorail station, and could be the hub of expanded streetcar service, which is currently provided on the H Street side of the RFK site, and the undergrounding of the Orange Line between the Armory and Minnesota Avenue Stations, adding more development capacity to the RFK parking lots.

The site offers reasonably convenient access to National Airport and isn't too far from BWI Airport, south of Baltimore.

It would have provided the means for a major transformation of this part of the city ("Wanted: a comprehensive plan for the Anacostia River East corridor," 2012), and far more economically impactful than the current plans to attract the Washington Redskins ("Half billion-dollar plans for RFK Stadium site include sports center," Washington Post).

The transformation could extend environmentally, as the city could leverage Amazon's choice of the city as a way to accelerate plans to restore the Anacostia River and watershed. Although it would have set up an interesting dynamic with the National Park Service, because there is an easement limiting use of the RFK site for recreation. 

The city could start with the Reservation 13 site and grow out from their as they negotiate changes with the NPS and integrate Pepco into the project.  To assuage the NPS, the city could integrate some recreational uses into the sites as well as invest in improvements to other park spaces along the river which are currently controlled by the federal government.

It could have also leveraged a long since forgotten revitalization proposal for the Spingarn High School campus that dates to 2003 ("The City Of Learning‚: School Design and Planning as Urban Revitalization in New Jersey, Berkeley, and Washington, D.C.," Roy Strickland, University of Michigan), current desires to spiff up the Langston Golf Course (The Langston Initiative, Federal City Council), and proposals for the old Hechinger Mall ("H Street Group Pitches Major Hechinger Mall Development As Activity Moves Down the Corridor," Bisnow)--the Mall is owned by a major national developer and could be brought into the mix.

It could even be used to push forward the plans to develop over the Union Station railyard, the Burnham Place development, including an extension of the project beyond its current boundary of K Street.  Plus push extension of the streetcar both east and west--Amazon has invested in Seattle's streetcar ("Amazon to Buy 4th Streetcar, Fund 10-Minute Headways," Seattle Transit blog). And the undergrounding of the Orange Line across the RFK campus could also be used to build another station on Benning Road, serving the site's northern section.

But it would send the city's residential real estate market into overdrive and definitely people East of the River would fear displacement in the pace of significantly increased real estate demand.

And the city wasn't capable of pulling such a vision together in the first place.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Problem solvers vs. possibility thinkers (and Kroger)

RetailWire is a website/e-letter on retail.  Monday-Friday the site puts together articles on three topics of the day, and practice experts typically comment and provide additional insights.

KrogerA Friday article, "Is Kroger in denial about the magnitude of its challenges?,"  is about Kroger, the nation's second largest "supermarket" chain, and whether or not they are positioned and positioning to remain relevant as the market for food buying, preparation, and consumption continues to change and morph away from being dominated by the consumption of meals prepared and cooked "at home"--the market for which supermarkets long dominated.

I was struck by the comment by Ian Percy, President of the Ian Percy Corporation which seems particularly relevant to all matters of "problem solving" and consideration of transformation, regardless of setting, definitely not limited to the world of supermarkets, very much relevant to urban revitalization.

In the article "Is Kroger in denial about the magnitude of its challenges?," Ian Percy comments:
We can be problem solvers, in which case we are doomed to focus on the past. Or we can be possibility thinkers in which case we are focused on the future. It’s not quite a binary choice, but most “leaders” seem unable to get away from the past and problem solving. The thing is … solve every problem you have and all you are is caught up.

There are three levels of possibilities. There are adjacent possibilities, the incremental changes (aka best practices) everyone makes in the “me too” retail world. Free shipping. Digital marketing. Local sourcing. Low prices.

There are non-adjacent possibilities which are the innovations and ideas that make everyone nervous because it usually means leading the pack which, contrary to a common myth, very few leaders actually want to do.

Then there are transformational possibilities … those possibilities few others will ever see. Transformational possibilities are those that totally redefine a specific world. Think Amazon, Apple, Facebook, the first heart transplant. This requires inspired leadership who have tapped into the secrets of the universe.

Unfortunately, non-adjacent and transformational thinkers don’t last long in a typical bureaucracy stuck in legacy thinking. That’s why they usually need to start with a clean sheet and build their own enterprise.

So on what level does Kroger think? You can pick. Here’s the thing: you CANNOT discover transformational possibilities by copying a transformational organization any more than you become an artist by doing paint-by-numbers. See what Amazon and Apple have yet to see and you will own the world. As John Sculley said: “The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.”

Most of us, I think Kroger included, are too afraid to do so.
Separately, Ian is working to apply "possibilities thinking" to community revitalization, which is something he and I are aiming to talk about.

Possibilities thinking and urban planning.   Possibilities thinking is in line with a number of my writings outlining a more visionary approach to urban planning:
Back to Kroger.  Interestingly, Kroger could be thought of as either problem solving or acting at a basic level of possibilities thinking. 

For a "supermarket" chain they are innovative and focused on their competition.  Unlike others, especially Safeway, they have acquired chains and not destroyed what made those companies unique. 

This particular graphic hasn't been updated with the stores in the Roundy's Supermarket group, which Kroger acquired a couple years ago, including Mariano's in Chicago.

Kroger has adopted and transmitted best practices from such stores to other banners across their portfolio. 

They are an early adopter of big data and loyalty programs, but then, don't conceptualize loyalty the same way that Dorothy Lane Markets does ("Dorothy Lane Loves Its Customers," Fast Company).

Kroger is a major force in organic foods ("Kroger now sells $11 billion of natural and organic food," Fortune Magazine), have leading eco- and sustainability initiatives and treat their workers reasonably well (although they prefer not to work with unions, they still do). 

The company has two hard discount initiatives.  Ruler Foods operates in six Midwestern states ("Kroger to build 10 Ruler Foods stores," Supermarket News).  Food4Less is larger, mostly in California but also present in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

Supercenters.  The Pacific Northwest firm Fred Meyer (which they acquired) has the same format as a Walmart Supercenter with food and hard and soft goods but the company long predates Walmart. 

Kroger has taken the Fred Meyer concept and created the "Marketplace" format which adds the hard and soft goods side of a "supercenter" to supermarkets across their portfolio, such as Smith's in Utah, Fry's in Arizona and Kroger-branded divisions across the country ("Kroger has a plan to to take down Walmart," Business Insider).

You can think of it as innovative or merely as a way to potentially box out the opening of Walmarts and Targets in various store retail trade areas.  (Note that in the 1960s, many supermarket chains experimented with discount store concepts selling hard and soft goods.  For some firms, these store groups lasted to the 1980s and later.)

From Fred Meyer though, they also sell jewelry, and have created a separate stand-alone chain, not limited to operating in the Pacific Northwest.

Private brand.  Kroger has a massive private brand presence and food manufacturing operation.  Turkey Hill Dairy products are a Kroger brand and sold in many non-Kroger stores.  But are their private brands out of sight in terms of flavor profile, quality, and price?, not always. 

But they aren't standing still.  In response to Whole Foods cutting back on local food presence in their stores, Kroger has reached out to the artisanal food industry ("Kroger Launches Local-Sourcing Site, Pursues Foodies," MediaPost).  Certain divisions are ahead of others in the way they bring locally-produced items to mainline stores.

By contrast, Associated Food Stores, a supermarket business cooperative in the Intermountain region, knocked my socks off with their Red Button Creamery private brand ice cream and that group has received national recognition for its baked goods ("A Utah grocery-store chain decided to make its desserts better — and now its winning national awards," Salt Lake Tribune).

... I've eaten baked goods from Harris-Teeter (a Kroger division that pretty much operates on its own) that pale compared to my own baking efforts, and I complained to the company about the sub-ordinary organoleptic characteristics of the H-T brand frozen yogurt.

Kroger is a big player in convenience stores.  They use knowledge and experience from the convenience store division to create "fuel station" convenience stores within their supermarket divisions. 

That being said Kroger convenience stores are old-style stores--gas stations with some stuff, while chains like Wawa or Sheetz are more innovative and stronger in quick service meals ("Sheetz and Wawa Divide Pit-Stop Partisans," New York Times).

Kroger convenience stores under various banners are nothing like Giant-Eagle's GetGo or Market District focused convenience stores.  Wawa recently announced an urban store initiative starting in DC ("DC Wawa will have a variety of food & an 'urban feel'," WTOP-radio).

Kroger just announced they are considering selling the stand-alone chains, but keeping the "fuel stations" affiliated with supermarkets.

Experiments in small formats.  In Washington State, Kroger is experimenting with a small store one-off called Main and Vine, which might be a format that could compete with the 365 by Whole Foods concept or Royal Ahold's bfresh. 

Separately, Kroger has invested in Lucky's Market, a small scale "farmers market/natural foods" store concept ("Boulder-based Lucky's Market forges deal with Kroger Co.," Boulder Daily Camera) which is opening stores in various markets. Recently they purchased Murray's Cheese, a well-known specialty store in New York City, after working with that company to create specialty cheese sub-stores within their supermarkets.

Kroger dipping its toe into a restaurant offering with Kitchen 1883.  Iowa-based Hy-Vee is known for including restaurants in its stores (Walgreens used to have a restaurant division) and recently inked a deal with Wahlburger's.  Wegman's has restaurants in each of its new stores.  Whole Foods has made its salad bar function like a café by providing seating, and many stores, especially flagship stores, offer a variety of prepared food concepts, from seafood to health to Mexican.

Kroger is about to open a restaurant, its first, in its headquarters region of Cincinnati ("Here's your first look at Kroger's new restaurant concept, Kitchen 1883," WCPO-TV). Although the name could probably be sexier.

No upscale format for their mainline banners.  While Kroger has the Marketplace format, unlike HEB's Central Market ("HEB testing new ideas at expanded Central Market," Houston Chronicle) and Giant-Eagle's Market District, they don't have an upscale food-focused format better placed to compete with Wegman's.  In fact, as Wegmans and Publix enter Southern Virginia trade areas, Kroger is dialing back on expansion.  And Harris-Teeter stores don't function at that level, although they are nice stores.

HEB and Giant-Eagle have used their upscale formats as a driver into the entry of new markets like Dallas for HEB or Indianapolis for Giant-Eagle ("Giant Eagle's remodeled Waterworks Market District leads the way for Indiana," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) without bringing their mainline format to those markets.  Giant-Eagle is also experimenting with smaller Market District urban-scaled stores in Cleveland and Columbus (I thought they should have used this format in Downtown Baltimore; Giant-Eagle, but not Market District operates in Frederick.)

But Kroger has purchased Roundys, which owns the upscale Mariano's chain in Chicago, and they may have plans to adapt the best of Mariano's as an upscale format portable to various Kroger divisions, just as they created the Marketplace format out of Fred Meyer.

Urban stores.  Kroger has many stores in cities, and was one of the first companies over the past 20 years to put a supermarket on the ground floor of a mixed use building in a center city location, in Atlanta, but they've never developed a true urban flagship format comparable to Fresh Grocer in Philadelphia.

Separately, a few years ago Kroger acquired Harris-Teeter, a Mid-Atlantic chain based in the Carolinas that is marching up the coast (but skipped Richmond) operating as far north as Baltimore and H-T has a big portfolio in urban locations alongside the traditional suburban focus of supermarket chains, with somewhat smaller stores, many on the ground floor in mixed use developments, with a wide array of prepared food offerings that are quite popular ("How Cary Judd Led Harris Teeter From Obscurity To DC Dominance," Bisnow).

Their city stores in places like Savannah (a Kroger in the historic district) or Salt Lake (Smith's) are great, but they are not smaller format.  They are huge, big suburban stores that are parking fronted and plunked down on big sites.  But many urban communities don't have that kind of available footprint.

One Kroger division has a great name that is exportable to city stores, "City Market," a banner in Colorado.

Note that I didn't know about the Kroger Fresh Fare concept in Texas ("Food fight: Kroger opens a new store near downtown Dallas on Friday," Dallas Morning News), which is focused on urban neighborhoods, but the concept hasn't grown much nor has it been exported to other divisions.  And the stores aren't small, about the size of a regular store at 60,000 to 75,000 s.f. 

Like the Marketplace format being used to thwart the opening of Walmarts and Targets, perhaps Fresh Fare is more about discouraging HEB from entering the Dallas market, outside of its Central Market concept ("Maple Avenue's New Kroger Fresh Fare Store Channels HEB," Dallas Observer).

It might be merely that Kroger never had an anti-city bias in the same way as typical supermarket chains and they are fine with urban locations, so long as they can accommodate a large store, rather than Kroger having to take the time to "right-size" a store in space-challenged settings.

Online/delivery.  Kroger banners have a bunch of delivery ventures but haven't developed a functional brand for delivery comparable to Peapod, which was created by Royal Ahold for their brands, and also operates on a stand-alone basis in Chicago.  A few years ago Kroger acquired Vitacost, an online seller of natural and organic foods, vitamins, and health items ("Kroger buys Vitacost to expand into online grocery shopping," Los Angeles Times). But unlike Walmart's acquisition of, it doesn't seem as if the Vitacost acquisition has been utilized as a device for broader corporate transformation.

Kroger has developed meal kits (so has Wegman's and other chains) but hasn't developed it into a pan-store brand comparable to Hello Fresh or Blue Apron.  Albertson's recently acquired a meal kit company and now analysts are suggesting Kroger should do the same ("Albertsons buys meal kit company Plated," CNBC).

Conclusion.  Kroger has all the pieces to be an even bigger, better, and more competitive company.  They have plenty of innovative practice operating within various divisions, although that knowledge and practice doesn't appear to be integrated and taken to the next level, such as through the development and implementation of powerful brands functioning across the corporation's various divisions.

I think the issue with Kroger and problem solving vs. possibilities thinking is the velocity of change, disruptive innovation and competition, the difficulty of scaling and moving transformation forward across a large company with (according to Wikipedia):
2,778 supermarkets and multi-department stores; 786 convenience stores; 326 jewelry stores; 37 food processing or manufacturing facilities; 1,360 supermarket fuel centers and 2,122 pharmacies.
I think it's fair to say that the company is reasonably innovative, but not quite transformational, although they seem transformational compared to their supermarket competition. And that may well come down to the difference between problem solving and possibilities thinking.

It's all relative.  To be competitive with all the various entrants and segments of the market, not just supermarket chains, Kroger needs to be more focused on the possibilities they have.  Clearly, they have plenty and the tools and knowledge to execute, but the knowledge and practice isn't fully harnessed in visible and effective ways.

And that failure to fully execute -- problem-solving vs. possibilities thinking -- is common, especially with local governments and various government agencies, where all too often people are satisfied with getting something done, rather than getting the right thing done, or striving to constantly improve ("New Year's Post #5: DC City Council committees and striving to be a world-class city," 2011) a la the writings of Charles Landry ("Global cities don't just take, they give," which in part is a reprint of an Urbanophile entry in 2013, sparked by a back and forth conversation with Aaron Renn).

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Upcoming Dupont Circle (and other) house/walking tours, also an opportunity to consider DC historic preservation issues

  • The Dupont Circle House Tour is Sunday, October 15 from 12 - 5 pm – celebrating its 50th House Tour, highlighting the Avenue of the Presidents: 16th Street NW. Tour goers will explore the corridor’s varied architectural buildings ranging from four-story row houses to apartment buildings, Embassies, institutional buildings, and churches.  PHOSTINT WASHINGTONIncluded in the tour is an afternoon tea at the Temple of the Scottish Rite. Designed by John Russell Pope (who also designed the National Archives and the Jefferson Memorial), the temple was constructed between 1911 and 1915, and was modeled after the tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus.  Tickets are $40 in advance; $50 at the door, and may be purchased online. Tickets on the day of the tour are available at the Temple of the Scottish Rite, 1730 16th Street, NW, from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm. 
  • On Saturday October 28th, design buffs can join the Historic Bloomingdale: Victorian Secrets Modern Truths House Tour, which celebrates this hip, fast-changing neighborhood in Northwest DC. The event includes self-guided tours of eight to 10 notable Bloomingdale residences; a lecture by architect Ahmet Kilic on the history of the neighborhood’s architecture; and design workshops by other local architects and designers on lighting, urban landscaping and color.
  • On Saturday October 28th: A walking tour of McMillan Park, an historic landmark designed by Frederick Law Olmsted that surrounds the McMillan Park Reservoir. Led by local resident Paul Cerruti, the tour will highlight the park’s history, vistas and connection to Bloomingdale.  
DC and historic preservation

Preservation "saved" the city.  I've argued for many years that combined with the urban design begat to the city by Pierre L'Enfant. and until recently both a robust transit system and the steady employment engine of the federal government, neighborhoods constructed of attractive historic architecture are a fundamental component of the city's "competitive advantage" and primary "unique selling proposition," for choosing to live in the city.

Bloomingdale RowhousesThe Bloomingdale neighborhood is typical in that it features historic architecture but is not designated as historic, so buildings lack the protections present in other districts such as Capitol Hill.

During the many decades that residential choice trends disfavored center city living, people who found cities and historic architecture attractive moved in regardless, despite the evident problems with crime, poor quality schools, and dysfunctional municipal government. 

Preservation provided a strategy and approach capable of stabilizing neighborhoods that otherwise were experiencing population loss and decline.

As trends reversed and favored a reconsideration of urban living, which became evident around 2000-2005, simultaneously the population of residents favoring the city finally hit critical mass, so that the momentum of neighborhood stabilization and improvement became self-sustaining.

Unfortunately, while the positive economic and stabilization impact of preservation on cities and urban revitalization is widely understood among professionals, that realization hasn't been accepted more widely, especially by elected officials (often influenced by real estate development interests) and other stakeholders. 

Interestingly, this is true despite the fact that DC is a classic example in urban planning as being a "designed" city through the creation of a master urban design plan for the city by Pierre L'Enfant. 
L'enfant plan
Known as the L'Enfant Plan, it called for the creation of a grid system organized as blocks and streets, bisected with radial avenues, and at those locations where the avenues intersected with streets otherwise laid out at right angles, "circles" (called reservations), plazas and squares were to be created to showcase civic functions.  The L'Enfant Plan and the city's urban design is a historically designated feature of the city.

Books such as The Living City and Cities: Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz, and Changing Places by Richard Moe are particularly good resources on the value of historic preservation as a sustainable urban revitalization strategy as is Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Heritage Assets for Sustainable Development, published by UNESCO the World Bank and freely downloadable.

How does the preservation movement grapple with growth?  Today, increased demand to live in the city, especially in "historic" buildings, puts great pressure on neighborhoods, mostly in price appreciation, because it is not possible to produce more historic buildings ("Exogenous market forces impact DC's housing market," 2012), and because most sites suitable for single family housing have already been developed.

Preservationists developed their skill set when stabilization was the priority, simultaneous with the need to protect communities from unfriendly urban renewal and freeway initiatives and discordant architecture.

Urban renewal, Adams-Morgan Heritage Trail SignDC neighborhoods abutting the central business district also had to ward off the expansion and extension of the business district into residential quarters, because the height limit made it impossible to build taller in order to accommodate commercial demand (see the reprint of the 1974 Washington Post editorial, "Preservation Frustration," within this past blog entry).  This further biased preservationists to reflexively oppose new projects.

But today, given 21st century circumstances and conditions, cities need more population and commercial activity in order to be economically resilient. 

Mostly, because of the high cost of land, new housing tends to be multiunit, and is inserted somewhat surgically into neighborhoods through conversion of properties in commercial districts, on land in and around transit stations, and sometimes through the conversion of formerly institutional properties.

How do preservationists update their approach to help cities become stronger, more stable and resilient during growth conditions?, especially when economists like Edward Glaeser argue (see his book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier; review from The Economist) that preservation unduly limits growth

DC has the strongest historic preservation law in the US.  By that I mean that (1) buildings can be nominated and designated without requiring owner permission; (2) decisions are made impartially by an independently appointed commission, the Historic Preservation Review Board; (3) unlike in other communities, neither the Executive Branch (Mayor) nor City Council (Legislative Branch) make the final decision and they lack the authority to overturn decisions; (4) for the most part, buildings that are listed, either as landmarks or as "contributing buildings" within historic districts can't be demolished; (5) changes are reviewed, and are required to be in keeping with the building's architectural style and period of historic significance.

Kennedy Warren Apartments, Washington DCThe Kennedy-Warren Apartment Complex was constructed during the Depression.  A loss of financing meant that part of the planned building was not constructed until the early 2000s.

What separates DC's law from virtually every jurisdiction is that an impartial board makes the decisions and they can't be countermanded by politics--although that being said, some of the board members are definitely "political" appointees, not preservationists, and they may not always make decisions that are based on the architecture and history rather than politics.

Another element of preservation regulations that people sometimes may not grasp is that in a historic district, proposals to change properties, build new buildings, etc., require mandatory review, while in undesignated areas, the equivalent project can be "matter of right" and no extranormal review triggering citizen involvement is required.

Preservation regulations provide a framework and process for "managing change."

But the preservation law only protects properties and districts that are designated.  DC's preservation law is great, but only covers those properties and districts that have already been designated. 

DC has no demolition protections for buildings that would qualify to be listed as historic resources.  There is only one remedy to protect an undesignated building, and that is to designate it.

This unusual feature of an oriel on the alley side of a rowhouse is located on the unit block of R Street NW in the undesignated Bloomingdale neighborhood.

But for that to work, the building must satisfy a high ceiling.  The average building cannot meet that threshold.  And there is no quick way to create a large historic district.

Note that the building regulations do provide for retaining particularly distinctive architectural features such as turrets in undesignated buildings, but a process for ensuring this happens is underdefined, as is the definition of what qualifies--porches?, oriels (above grade bay projections)? porches?, cornices?, etc.

Columbia Heights rowhousesThe Columbia Heights rowhouse architecture tends to be larger than many other districts across the city.  The neighborhood is undesignated.  Washington Post photo.

While arguably DC has more historic districts and protected properties than any other city in the U.S. (although New Orleans and New York City sometimes argue otherwise), the number of undesignated properties and districts eligible for designation is a much larger number.

An important question that few people ask is what strategies are there for protecting the buildings and districts that are unprotected?

In the last few decades a rise in property rights sentiments and changes to laws and regulations have made it much more difficult and cumbersome to create new historic districts compared to the time when areas like Capitol Hill, Anacostia, Dupont Circle, and LeDroit Park were designated.

(Although the process for landmarking individual buildings has not been affected by these changes.)

This is complicated by the fact that to many people, an "ordinary" house doesn't seem "historic" compared to Mount Vernon, the U.S. Capitol, or the Chrysler Building, even if it is more than 100 years old, "it's just an old house" (past blog entry "Historic preservation and public history: whose history is history anyway?," 2009).

Therefore it becomes much harder to protect buildings in "an average neighborhood," even if elsewhere the same building would be considered historic.

Housing demand puts pressure on extant buildings.  As demand for housing in the city increases, and because most land zoned for single family housing has already been built upon, this puts pressure on extant housing in an urban "McMansionization" phenomenon, converting properties to flats/condominiums, constructing additions either outward or upward, and demolition and replacement with bigger buildings. 

Although at the same time we have to acknowledge that larger buildings and lots may be better utilized if "expanded" to a set of smaller units, and can accommodate such changes somewhat easily with minimal negative impact on a neighborhood (depending on the nature and quality of the changes).

Really unsympathetic third floor addition, Bloomingdale neighborhoodDiscordant third floor addition on a corner rowhouse in Bloomingdale.  Photo by Steve Pinkus.

Upward additions, referred to as "pop ups," create controversy because the new sections  tend to be out of proportion and use different materials compared to when the buildings were originally constructed ("Changing matter of right zoning regulations for houses to conform to heights typical within neighborhoods, not the allowable maximum," 2012).

More recently, building regulations have been changed to make conversion more difficult, but haven't stopped such efforts altogether in undesignated areas, which lack the requirement for additional review that is mandated for historic districts.

No special protections for avenues.  Another area where new protections are needed are the city's "avenues," streets like Massachusetts Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, and Connecticut Avenue, but also streets without "avenue" in their name, like 16th Street, which tend to be lined by majestic apartment buildings and other distinctive buildings constructed mostly before the 1940s, but even into the 1960s most buildings constructed on such streets were designed with aesthetics in mind. 

5333 Connecticut Avenue NW.  WBJ photo.

Now aesthetics are of little concern and new buildings such as 5333 Connecticut Avenue NW ("After 25 years and a neighborhood kerfuffle, Cafritz readies 5333 Connecticut for tenants ," Washington Business Journal) generally are a poor fit ("An argument for the aesthetic quality of the ensemble: special design guidelines are required for DC's avenues," 2015) compared to extant apartment and condominium buildings from the past.

Best Addresses by James Goode, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press, discusses the architecture of DC's apartment houses.

Historic preservation and new construction. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation don't specifically discuss the design of new construction within historic _districts_ so much, as the standards concern individual buildings.

But the point in the Rehabilitation Standards:

"Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken"

generally has been interpreted to mean that new construction in historic districts should be of the current time, rather than a copy of the old.

In the field, there is a debate about this, whether architecture should be "of its time" or "of its place." One of the reason that the "of its place" argument is so important is that the inclusion of new construction of different design tends to cheapen the whole of a district, certainly of its block, as it tends to be out of character and it shows.

Of its place represents the position that the quality of the overall built form matters the most, when it comes to livability and maintaining the qualities that make neighborhoods great places.

I've been fortunate to hear Professor Steven Semes speak on this and he's also written about it, in "New Buildings Among Old: Historicism and the Search for an Architecture of Our Time" and more in depth in book form, The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation (review of the book from Traditional Building Magazine).

Semes' paper lays out all the arguments for why the way these issues have been interpreted lead to the "decontextualization of historic buildings—they become museum artifacts instead of remaining part of our living world." His concludes that:
This growing dissent within the architectural and preservation communities represents the paradigm shift now in progress as the grip of historicist doctrine is gradually broken. In its place, a new conservation ethic is emerging, drawing together traditional architecture, new urbanism and historic preservation in pursuit of a built environment that is beautiful, sustainable and just. In the new paradigm, the architecture of our time will be the result of a critical engagement with the architecture of place, seen as a continuously self-renewing field of character and civility.
There are some good examples of new construction that fits in quite well, and other that doesn't.  But the majority of new buildings don't work well, in terms of design, materials, and proportions.

Preservation as a manipulative tool/opportunity costs.  One of the problems that arises from the existence of preservation regulations is that they can be manipulated as a way to fight development proposals, no matter how worthy. 

Such practices lead many people to criticize historic preservation as a hindrance and barrier to "progress."

And because of the mandated review process, it is not uncommon for final approvals to include project shrinkage to assuage/as a sop to community concernings, without acknowledging the economic opportunity cost to the city in terms of fewer units leading to fewer residents, lower property, income, and sales tax revenues, and higher housing prices due to supply constraints.

Recommendations: mandatory design review.  Recognizing that the city's competitive advantage is tied to historic architecture, I've argued for a long time that the city should mandate design review for new construction, whether or not an area or building is historically designated.

Other cities such as Baltimore and Cleveland have special design review requirements for certain types of projects, whether or not they are in historic districts.  Lancaster, Pennsylvania does the same for the core of the city, which was built in the 1700s and 1800s.

Another way to think about this conceptually is DC at the scale of a cultural landscape, and to ensure that as a whole the city's aesthetic qualities are maintained and supported, create a design review process focused on creating better outcomes.

"Tear up" of a colonial revival house, 6400 block of 9th Street NW
This colonial revival brick house on 9th Street NW near Piney Branch Road likely dates to the 1940s. The original construction was primarily brick. But a second floor addition was fitted with frame-style siding, which is a building material that is incongruent with the original construction and architectural style.

Out of proportion rowhouse popup, 3615 10th Street NW
Out of proportion and ersatz rowhouse popup, 3615 10th Street NW.  (The Second Empire "styled" third floor addition doesn't fit the craftsman style porch front rowhouse dating to the 1920s.)

The idea wouldn't be to prevent new development, but to ensure that from a design standpoint, the new construction would be more compatible and architecturally proportionate.

For example, with popups and additions, new additions would have to be constructed with compatible materials.

DC's Historic Preservation Office publishes such guidelines for work in historic districts, including Additions to Historic Buildings and New Construction in Historic Districts.

But there is no requirement that these resources be consulted and followed in those areas of the city that are not designated as historic.

The city's Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Code, and set of building regulations should be revised to recognize this need and lay out guidance and a process for addressing and providing design review for those parts of the city that are not historically designated.

"Of its place" should be the guiding principle for new construction in residential neighborhoods, while such decisionmaking can be more flexible in commercial and transit districts, depending on the site, context, and the nature of the built environment around the site.

This aerial view of DC's Logan Circle (image from Wikipedia) shows how circles and avenues shape DC's cultural landscape and are a signature element of the urban design created by the L'Enfant Plan.

Recommendations: mandatory design review for DC's avenues.  The architectural coherence and attractiveness of the city's avenues should also be a priority. 

While the Comprehensive Plan describes the city's avenues as an important element of the city's urban design, it makes no substantive recommendations with regard to maintaining, extending, and enhancing the architectural integrity and attractiveness of the city's avenues, which are key gateways into and out of the city.

The city's "circles" and the triangular lots that are formed where the grid of numbered and lettered streets intersect with the avenues provide special opportunities for particularly unique, interesting, and attractive buildings (see the past blog entry "16 Grant Circle and the landscape of DC's avenues and circles as an element of the city's identity").

Unfortunately, in today's era of modern and post-modern architecture typically these opportunities are ignored in ways that diminish the overall beauty of the city.

The city's Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Code, and set of building regulations should be revised to recognize this need and lay out guidance and a process for addressing and providing design review for those sections of avenues that are not designated.

"Of its place" should be the guiding preference for new construction on the city's avenues, for residential buildings definitely, and for commercial buildings preferably, depending on the site and its context.

Pattern books as a model for forward progress.  Ideally, like in the days of pattern books ("History of the Pattern Book," City of Roanoke; "The Institution of Residential Investment in Seventeenth-Century London," Business History Review (Jstor]), more structured guidance could be provided to ensure that new construction "works," both for new buildings and with modifications for existing buildings.

More recently, pattern books have been a major component of work within the field of "New Urbanism," as a way to ensure design harmony within new developments as well as infill construction. 

But many existing communities are creating pattern books as a way to provide more structured guidance, with the aim of facilitating development, simplifying the regulatory process, and ensuring higher quality outcomes from new construction. 

As examples, the City of Roanoke published an award-winning Residential Pattern Book, and the City of Alexandria, Virginia has been developing a similar document for the Del Ray neighborhood.

Besides the Historic Preservation Office publications mentioned above, in the 1970s DC created similar publications for the Anacostia and LeDroit Park neighborhoods, and in 2014 a pattern book was created by the city's Department of Housing and Community Development to shape infill development for the Congress Heights and Anacostia neighborhoods.

DC should direct more resources to the development of pattern book type treatments specific to the rowhouse type and its various architectural variants such as Second Empire and the porch front variant of the Craftsman style.

Multiunit buildings.  Best Addresses is a DC-specific resource, but other books and resources from other cities and other resources can also be compiled and codified to provide pattern book guidance for multiunit residential buildings.  

Some resources include Apartment Buildings & Hotel/Motels Building Types produced by the Utah Division of State History, articles on Chicago building types, "The Residential Hotel," and "Courtyard Apartment Buildings," from the Moss Architecture blog. books, etc.

Because of the cost to repair, this unique two-story oriel on a building at the northwest corner of the intersection of 12th and H Streets NW was pardged and enclosed, significantly diminishing the architectural integrity of the feature, the building, the block, the intersection, and the street.

Conclusion.  If resources aren't used, they are immaterial.  As recommended above, there need to be requirements and processes put in place for design review across the city so that not only are resources consulted but the appropriate guidance is applied to construction projects going forward, with the aim of maintaining historic architecture and aesthetic attractiveness of the city's built environment as a fundamental element of the city's competitive advantages and "unique selling propositions" in the 21st century as much as this had been key to the city's competitive advantage from its founding in the 1790s through the early part of the 20th century.

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