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Urban entertainment districts @ Salon.com

You can read a few quotes from myself over at Salon.com in a great piece by Will Doig. Will writes about cities in Salon and has some really stellar pieces (e.g.: Rust Belt chic: Declining Midwest cities make a comeback and Whole Foods is coming? Time to buy).

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

The problem with these created-overnight districts is that you’re trying to create a culture as opposed to letting one grow,” says Nathaniel Hood, a Minneapolis-based transportation planner. “You’re getting the culture that one developer or city council member thinks the city needs, as opposed to the ground-up culture that comes from multiple players.”

“That’s a defeatist choice to have to make, but the monocultures created by urban districting make it almost inevitable. At last week’s 20th annual Congress for the New Urbanism, Hood spoke about the folly that is Kansas City’s Power & Light District, an $850 million entertainment district whose neon signage is as blinding as its eagerness to be hip. But no one would mistake Power & Light for a neighborhood created by cool kids. “Land costs are higher downtown, so you have to create something genuinely unique,” says Hood. “It can’t just be an outdoor mall with slightly cooler bars.”

It’s not just that the developers are boring people — the economics of single-owner districts incentivize blandness. Chain stores and restaurants can afford to pay higher rent, so they get first dibs. To boost rents even higher, tenants are sometimes promised that no competition will be allowed nearby. “Starbucks will be willing to pay the higher rent if [the developer doesn't] let other cafes into the area,” says Hood. And forget about occupying the Power & Light District — you’re on private property. For a full list of the rules (no bicycles, panhandling, profanity on clothing) you can consult its website.

I feel uneasy about self-promotion. Nonetheless, the article at Salon is well-done and I recommend it.

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4 comments

  1. Good work. I actually came across the article from some random tweet, but was reading it and saying to myself it sounded very familiar. Don’t feel bad about pimping yourself out there, what you’re saying is dead on. But if you get your car wrapped top to bottom saying “check me out” then it’s game over.

    1. It was okay. Not bad, but not great.

      The CiyPlace was designed well, but I couldn’t help but notice that something was missing. I think it was authenticity and history. The public space and fountain were nice. The frustrating part about it (besides it being hyper-corporate, read as stores you’d find in a mall), was that the second you left the confines of the CityPlace you’d find yourself in the worst type of American geography (e.g.: uber-depressing 10 lane Ockocobee Rd). I didn’t spend much time here though, but I did see real housing on the 2nd and 3rd floors, and some decent looking town homes. It also had a grocery store geared toward walking, so that was good.

      The actual downtown of West Palm Beach (Clemintas St?) has some nice urban elements, but I only visited there during the evenings. And during those evenings, it was a party and it was loud. If you’re into that type of thing, it was fun. I went to a rooftop party there on Saturday night and it was undoubtedly “cool” … but they’ve successfully turned their downtown into a party zone that was kind of scuzzy. That means all the traditional apartment buildings, and even some larger ones, aren’t good places to live. I didn’t spend much time there, and didn’t visit during the day, so it is hard to say – maybe I’m jumping to conclusions. I don’t know if people work there at all during the day? I imagine that whatever retail / office was, or would be, in the traditional downtown was cannibalized by CityPlace.

      At the end of the day, I was impressed because it was good for Florida. I wish I would have had more free time to check it out though. Your thoughts?

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