CEO’s for Cities meets in Indianapolis

Photo by David VanDeman

I was sitting in a ULI meeting last week in DC hearing that Indianapolis is one of the top ten cities with prospects for job growth in the country.  At the same time, there was a group on the ground in Indianapolis taking advantage of the city to study urban livability. Hmmm?  Why did CEO’s for Cities choose such a place?  They call themselves a “civic lab of today’s urban leaders catalyzing a movement to advance the next generation of great American cities.”  That’s a giant challenge, especially when you consider the current economy and you think about this Sprawl Crawl graphic on their website.  In second place in the country, only behind Detroit, the Indianapolis-Carmel metro area spends a hefty amount of time commuting by car.  However, those of us who live here know the city is doing some pretty amazing things recently that must have captured the group’s attention, including the Cultural Trail, the new 100acres at the IMA, the East 10th Street streetscape enhancements, and the many improvements around the city in advance of the Super Bowl in 2012.  We all know this work certainly isn’t for one football game.  According to a recent Indianapolis Business Journal article, the city anticipates growing from 25,000 downtown residents to 40,000 by 2020.  More to the point of the meeting in Indy last week: the CEO’s for Cities has launched an ambitious initiative to redefine the American Dream. Quoting from their website, “The US Initiative imagines opportunity, community, connectivity, livability and optimism as best achieved through good urbanism.”  Considering the recent projects and reports out of Indianapolis, I can see why they made the trip.  With everything going on, maybe Indy is breaking out of its perception as a mid-tier, midwestern market with a shyness about it.  We’ll see.

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CityVista DC

Busboys and Poets entrance located behind the public art

You do not have to look very hard in DC to find some good projects.  Check out for a closer look at this very “mixed” use project.  It’s tenant list almost sounds like the wish list of every downtown in America today.  Grocery Store? Check. Hardware store? Check. Dry Cleaners? Check.  In addition to a bank and and pharmacy, it includes a Starbucks on one side and Busboys and Poets on the other.  Don’t forget the public art.  Check.  As an additional amenity, the project includes a 1-acre park in the middle of the block.  The residential component offers apartments for rent as well as condos for sale.  Today you find many potential residents debating the economics of renting versus buying.  Why not offer both?  (In DC you can get away with that as it seems the recession is over here.) Anyway, it appears the developer, Lowe Enterprises, assembled a terrific team and pulled off a great deal.  More pics below.

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ULI Fall Meeting Preview

The Urban Land Institute’s annual Fall Meeting convenes in Washington DC this week.  Milhaus will be there starting tomorrow catching up with friends and colleagues.  The headline for this year’s meeting is “Capitalize on Emerging Opportunities” and it couldn’t me more timely.  It was also a nice coincidence to see this weekend a Richard Florida article about retrofitting suburbia in the Wall Street Journal. In it he highlights the many ways that different cities are realizing the visible effects of the built environment during our changing economy. He finishes it with this:

Historically, America’s economic growth has hinged on its ability to create new development patterns—economic landscapes that simultaneously expand space and intensify our use of it. The rebound after the panic and long depression of 1873 was based on the transition to an urban-industrial economy organized around great cities and their early streetcar suburbs. Our recovery from the Great Depression saw the rise of massive metropolitan complexes of cities and suburbs. Today the challenge is to remake our suburbs, to turn them into more vibrant, livable, people-friendly communities and, in doing so, to make them engines of innovation and productivity.

We’ve talked here before about the state of the economy and the implications for urban development, and you know our outlook. We talk a lot about the promotion of mixed use development being a tool for cities to grow more responsibly and sustainably.  These types of projects are certainly more difficult to implement, but the long term benefits more than make up for it.  The challenge today, of course: what happens when there isn’t much of a market for one of the uses – like when the retail market is facing its greatest challenge since the Depression?   Do we look no farther than evidence of the problem to find the solution?  Certain suburbs and their struggling malls may be the answer.  Stay tuned this week for images and and updates from our nation’s capital.

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Shanghai World Expo ReUse

China Pavilion at Shanghai World ExpoIn the one half day, and misty rain environment of which I had to enjoy and check out the World Expo in Shanghai, I must admit China is putting on quite a show.  What an incredible spectacle of buildings, park, shops, infrastructure, views, and information.  This is an incredible venture. 

However, the real question is re-use?  According to one of the informed participants in my rapid tour, there are significant pieces of the project that are going to remain in place long after the World Fair closes, however, what is the reality of the market for this large and open space.  If it is anything like many of the former Olympic Villages I have visited, they turn into large unused parks.  However, I have a better idea for this reuse, and in China I think it can be done, and that is to turn it over to a private developer to create a new World Expo City.  This would include office towers, apartments, condos, retail, a new destination.  Although the location is close to the downtown of Shanghai, with the incredible investment in infrastructure, the multiple public art pieces that may likely remain, it seems like and incredible City could be created that would be incredible.  If you look at the sales pitch of Mori building company, they focus on building the City vertically to create green.  What a better place than this environment to do this, and what a better developer than the creator of Ropponghi Hills in Shanghai to tackle such a task.  I would love to see what this would become as a reuse under the likes of Mori Building Company, Shui Yuan Land, or Mitusi Fudosan, it would be a truly incredible site, and an even more incredible city.

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Cities producing net positive energy consumption

It is incredible to think, entire cities producing net positive energy instead of sapping the grid, but what is more incredible is that “More than 800 Italian communities now make more energy than they use because of the recent addition of renewable energy plants.”  According to Elisabeth Rosenthal’s New York Times article, this fact brings dreams of not writing that monthly utility company check.  While I read the NYT’s, I see former president Carter 30 year old replay on CNN installing a solar power water heater in the White House claiming the year 2000 this will be standard, I am sure now in 2010 we have missed that mark.  However, I see focus by our customers, lenders, investors, and designers that these sustainable practices are trending significantly in the right direction.  Now the daily question comes is how do we make Indianapolis and Milhaus projects net positive energy creators, a precursor to creating net energy cities?

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Micro Retail Cluster Vibrancy

Farmer's Market at The Grove

National developers often overlook the micro retailer, however, some of the most fantastic retail and mixed-use developments are anchored by or have significant participation by small scale retailers. It seems there is a fatal attraction by the retail industry with supposed “credit” or “national” retailers, specifically the big box and junior anchors, many of whom are closing and leaving the developers who depended so much upon them in a bind.

Do these boxes drive as much traffic as an appropriate grouping of micro retailers, and is there really the “credit” in a box compared to the success of those micro-retail clusters. While most larger retail projects and developers focus on the big/jr. anchor box to draw traffic, some of the most successful retail destinations and retail happens in very small square footage, or clusters thereof.

Consider one of the best examples, The Grove in LA, whereby without empirical data, but many personal visits, I would assume the micro retailer driven market must drive substantially more volume and traffic that any of the national credit tenants or big box tenants draw. And I would argue that the center would work even without the big boxes with which it has attracted. In light of the recent market, as well as the success of many of these micro retail clusters, it seems like there would be a much larger focus on trying to create these micro retail clusters to act as anchors and redevelop these big box anchors.

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Mixed use and crime linked?

Here some interesting research out of Ohio State University that studied the effects on crime given different levels of residential and business activity in neighborhoods.  It seems to support a link between increased density, a balance of uses, and a lower level of violent crime.  I question whether density alone can explain the trend.  I think urban design factors affect the potential for crime quite a bit as well, ie. lighting, landscaping, window placement, parking configurations, etc.  There is currently a trend in cities to implement Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) techniques and guidelines that address some these issues.  You can learn a lot about it here.

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