Suburban efforts outside Atlanta to secede and form a new community; about race and income or business development?

Voters yesterday in unincorporated suburbia outside Atlanta voted on a proposal to create a new suburb:

The proposal to form a new city, up for a vote on Tuesday, has roiled Henry County, raising tense debate about racial and economic disparity and voting rights. Once a sleepy rural, predominantly white region, the county has seen an influx of minorities and a solidification of black political power as its population has exploded in recent years. In 1980, whites made up more than 80% of Henry County’s population, but now they have dwindled to less than 50%…

If Eagle’s Landing manages to wrestle away the southern portion of Stockbridge — a section that includes its most affluent residential pockets as well as its main commercial corridor that brings in nearly $5 million of the city’s $9 million annual revenue — Ford has warned the city would be forced to impose a new property tax on remaining residents…

Backers of Eagle’s Landing counter that their aim is nothing more than to lure new fine dining and retail to a freshly coined community with a median household income of about $128,000 — more than double that of Stockbridge. Imagine, they tell their neighbors, a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s, a California Pizza Kitchen or a Capital Grille…

For more than a decade, rich, white pockets of metro Atlanta have led a national movement to form new cities out of unincorporated land in an effort, they say, for greater control, more efficient government and lower taxes. But this could be the first time a new city would take an existing city’s land without all the residents of the existing city having a vote.

Perhaps both arguments could be true: there is a race and class component to the proposal for a new suburb and backers of the change are interested in unique business opportunities that might come to a wealthier suburb. This reminds of the argument Freund makes in Colored Property. By the late 1960s, conservatives realized they could no longer object to non-white residents in or near their communities based on race. They instead switched over to economic arguments to justify ongoing residential segregation: people with fewer resources simply could not access nicer communities.

The matter about annexation law in Georgia is strange. The annexation of suburbs to big cities was fairly common in the late 1800s in the Northeast and Midwest as suburbs saw advantages in joining the big city. But, as cities changed, suburbs in those regions became less interested in being annexed. Laws usually reflect this: people being annexed or affected by annexations generally have to agree to the changes.

Even if race was truly not a factor (and it certainly sounds suspicious here), it also sounds like some growth machine activity is taking place. Local officials and businesses (developers?) see possible profits at stake in a suburban area with little wealth thus far. They get the state legislature to make some special regulations. Who exactly will profit here? How much of the money will come back to the (new) community?

When considering redevelopment projects, balancing concerns of neighbors and “market demand”

A recent meeting in Naperville about redevelopment plans for 5th Avenue involved interested parties with two different perspectives. These two views are extremely common in debates about development and redevelopment. The Daily Herald encapsulates the issue in two sentences toward the end of the article:

Resident Sandee Whited said she thinks Ryan Companies is “ignoring what we want” in terms of building height.

McDonald said the company is listening to residents’ wishes but balancing them with market demand.

When opposing redevelopment, the argument of neighbors often revolves around this idea: the new structure or land use is out of tune with the surrounding properties. People bought single-family homes because they liked the residential character (single-family homes, lots, quieter, safer, etc.). Multi-family housing or a larger structure disrupts this character. In this Naperville case, concerns about the larger structure include changes to traffic and light.

When promoting redevelopment, developers and local leaders will argue – not always explicitly – that growth is good. Here, it is phrased in terms of “market demand.” In other words, there are possible businesses and residents who would be willing to pay good money to be located in the structure. Naperville is a desirable place to locate: certain businesses could generate a lot of money with a location near the train station and downtown while residents would enjoy the high quality of life, the status of the community, and the access to the train station. The new development will generate profits for the developers and perhaps more tax revenues and an increased status for the city.

Balancing these two perspectives is not easy. At times, neighbors might be able to rally the whole community with the implied threat that a single development could change what is possible in the community and more single-family homes will be under threat. This claim is a little harder to make in Naperville given its downtown and size but the city does have relatively few tall structures near single-family homes. The developers and the city may be able to convince the community that this redevelopment project is a good asset for everyone, even if a few neighbors are inconvenienced.

 

Assessing the Water Street development in Naperville

Several Naperville political and business leaders talked yesterday of the impact of the now open Water Street development:

There were lengthy delays, caused by the recession and by repeated rounds of changes to the plans. First there were condos, then a Holiday Inn, and finally developers proposed what actually got built: a 158-room Hotel Indigo that incorporates elements of Naperville’s history into its design.

Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico thanked the residents who supported public officials as they took “tough votes” in support of the hotel, shops and riverfront improvements…

Investors Peter Foyo and Dominic Imburgia, for whom the new plaza and fountain are named, told the crowd they were honored to put their money toward a project that created jobs in their hometown and beautified a public place for a bustling future…

Pradel said by the looks of it, he’d never guess the new Water Street District was in Naperville. Not the Naperville where he grew up, seeing the strip of land south of the waterway remain relatively underused for decades upon decades.

It is quite a sizable project along the Riverwalk in downtown Naperville; it is hard to miss. And I wouldn’t expect many local leaders to say bad things about a just completed project. However, here are some questions I would ask about the development moving forward:

  1. Is it a portent of things to come in downtown Naperville and elsewhere in the community? Naperville has very little open land remaining so for population and business growth, redevelopment is key. But, redevelopments can take a myriad of forms, including new larger structures. Is Naperville ready for more structures of this size?
  2. Who benefits the most from this new development? It would be worth keeping track of the jobs and taxes generated by this new development. In the long run, are the developers or the city residents benefiting? (Of course, both could benefit but the construction of a larger structure came at the expense of other options. And growth machines – collections of local politicians and business leaders – tend to do things that are in their financial self-interests.)
  3. How many residents will use the new structure and visit the business establishments? The construction of a downtown hotel is an interesting move, suggesting that there may be an interest for visitors to stay downtown rather than at the numerous other hotels in the community (particularly along the business corridor along Diehl Road and I-88). In other words, is this for the use of residents or others?

See earlier posts about Water Street in Naperville here and here.

On the failure of the High Line

Even as cities around the world attempt to emulate New York City’s High Line (earlier posts here and here), the creator discusses why he thinks the original failed:

But by one critical metric, it is not. Locals aren’t the ones overloading the park, nor are locals all benefiting from its economic windfall. The High Line is bookended by two large public housing projects; nearly one third of residents in its neighborhood, Chelsea, are people of color. Yet anyone who’s ever strolled among the High Line’s native plants and cold-brew vendors knows its foot traffic is, as a recent City University of New York study found, “overwhelmingly white.” And most visitors are tourists, not locals.

“We were from the community. We wanted to do it for the neighborhood,” says Hammond, who is now the executive director of Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit that funds, maintains, programs, and built the space (New York City owns it, and the parks department helps manage it). “Ultimately, we failed.”…

“Instead of asking what the design should look like, I wish we’d asked, ‘What can we do for you?’” says Hammond. “Because people have bigger problems than design.”

His organization finally did launch a series of “listening sessions” with public housing tenants in 2011. What people really needed were jobs, Hammond says, and a more affordable cost of living. Residents also said they staying away from the High Line for three main reasons: They didn’t feel it was built for them; they didn’t see people who looked like them using it; and they didn’t like the park’s mulch-heavy programming.

While it is easy to link such conversations to gentrification, I think this gets at a deeper issue regarding development in urban areas: who ultimately benefits? The short answer is that it is not typically the lower-income resident. Urban sociologists have made this point for decades; for example, the concept of growth machines suggests development decisions are typically made by political and business leaders who are looking to profit. In other words, developments are judged by how much money can be made (whether through the sale of property or buildings as well as through increased tax revenues) rather than by how many members of the local population experience a better quality of life. Or, see the the sociological study Crisis Cities that shows how money to redevelop lower Manhattan after 9/11 or New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina generally went to wealthier actors and made life difficult for the average resident.

Fear the growth machine in Flagstaff

One concerned citizen of Flagstaff, Arizona warns of the actions of a local growth machine:

Even though I bought into Flagstaff a scant nine years ago, the town that I bought into is no more. It was a town of vision and limited growth, of respect for nature and dark skies, with a government that deferred to public over narrow corporate interests.

Today it resembles nothing so much as urban sociologist Harvey Molotch’s famed “City as a Growth Machine.”

Our city government has been captured by outside interests and a mayor who promotes the well-discredited, but widely accepted, falsehood that growth is good for a city, that it brings jobs, wealth, and cheaper housing. Whereas the opposite is demonstrably true: Job opportunities bring increased population which increases unemployment and housing shortages with yet more growth as the alleged cure.

The falsehood originated in Chicago School of  sociology, but look at Chicago today, or Los Angeles, or even Santa Barbara. Now think of these ugly monstrosities coming to Flagstaff with ugly names like Standard, Core, and Tank. Envision the Weatherford just down the street from a looming modern hotel and ask yourself if it’s still the Weatherford. Finally, ask yourself how mindless urban development solves the hot social problem of the moment, gridlock traffic.

And if he wants to continue the critique offered by Logan and Molotch, he might add: who profits the most from new growth, particularly new development and infrastructure? It tends to be corporate interests who use their influence and capital to make money off the growth that is supposedly good for everyone.

I’m not sure I quite understand what is going on with this chain of events: “Job opportunities bring increased population which increases unemployment and housing shortages with yet more growth as the alleged cure.” More jobs leads to more unemployment?

Ultimately, using this growth machine concept to fight particular political candidates might be very effective in local elections as it highlights the actions of the politically powerful and questions their motives. In other words, people who are suspicious of leaders could find this theory complementary to their existing feelings. If faced with such criticism, officials and leaders would likely fall back to arguments about how growth is generally good (as Logan and Molotch note, this is not really up for debate in American cities) and that their actions benefit a broad range of residents. To counter, opponents should find significant projects that didn’t help many – like sports stadiums or big corporate developments –  and highlight the ongoing day to day issues that were not addressed like affordable housing and increased congestion.

Santa Clara: from small city to Super Bowl host

How did Santa Clara come to be the home to Super Bowl 50? It involved particular decisions made from the 1970s on by local leaders about zoning and land use:

Newly elected mayor Gary Gillmor and city manager Don Von Raesfeld were determined to keep Santa Clara comprised of specific sections — with residential property assigned a large but non-elastic section.

This meant buying undeveloped land in the north and east parts of the city for business and industrial purposes and building a robust tax base. McClain doesn’t recall much about the vacant land other than a dairy where families bought their milk if it wasn’t delivered.

The city already had three major highways and expressways that funneled into the undeveloped area, where high-tech companies such as Intel, Applied Materials, McAfee and National Semiconductor gradually started and became a large part of what is now Silicon Valley.

Gillmor, 79, cited three factors that helped Santa Clara maintain its preferred blueprint: a strong middle class, a huge industrial base for tax purposes and its own municipal power plant that reduces residents’ electric bills to about half of what is charged in neighboring cities…

A convention center and another large chain hotel were built in 1986, but the city’s fondness for the 49ers surfaced during the height of the team’s dominance.

The 49ers were given a sweetheart deal to move their training facility from Redwood City — 18 miles north of Santa Clara. Then-mayor Eddie Souza enticed then-49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. with a deal that gave the team 12 acres at $1,000 an acre with a 4 percent annual increase for 55 years, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Today, Santa Clara is a wealthy place as a city with over 122,000 residents: the median household income is $93,840, 53.9% of adults over 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or more education, and Intel, Texas Instruments, and other semiconductor firms have thousands of jobs in the city. But, this sort of growth doesn’t just happen. Decisions made by civic and business leaders – operating as a growth machine trying to boost profits – often help execute a particular vision of growth. As suggested above, it sounds like land in the city was intentionally set aside for business use and the city was able to attract a number of companies. Not everything can be controlled by civic leaders but they can set themselves up to take advantage of particular opportunities.

On the other hand, having a football stadium is not necessarily a win for a city. This is particularly the case if local tax dollars are used for the stadium. The stadium might be a status symbol – note that the San Francisco 49ers now do not play close to San Francisco – but they often bring other issues.

Claim: Broadway brought NYC back from the 1975 brink

A New York journalist suggests Broadway helped revive the city and improve Times Square:

Much credit typically goes to mayors like Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, who cleaned up vice districts, pushed out undesirables and clamped down on nuisance crimes. Once the infrastructure was functioning and crime reduced, the argument usually goes, the natural asset of a great city, the draw of its history, the life-affirming force of its romance, its prestige and its pull, could all be trusted to work their magic. The politicians just had to make it possible for New York to be New York.

But Riedel argues that it was actually the theater and restaurant owners — people sick of plying their struggling trade in an environment that was collapsing all around them — who did the real work on the ground that transformed the fortunes of New York. The offices of Gotham City chugged along; people could head home right after work. But you can’t run an entertainment or dinner business if the police are telling people to get off the streets by 6 p.m.

So, in Riedel’s telling, the late Gerald Schoenfeld of the Shubert Organization went to work, back there in the mid-1970s. He harassed cops on the take to do their jobs and arrest the pimps and prostitutes; he organized all of the businesses in and around Times Square so that they had a collective voice; he found private cash to fill the potholes and empty the garbage cans that the city was leaving full; he waged war against corruption and vice. Retail-style.

With some well-chosen allies, he went about this mission block by block, nasty business by nasty business, sometimes resorting to unsavory, hardball tactics. This was controversial at the time — streetwalkers had rights — but Schoenfeld and his pals also were confronting a massive sex business with documented ties to the mafia — a sex business that dominated the very streets where kids now go to see “Aladdin.” Schoenfeld’s contribution was not least his figuring out that the one had to go before the other could arrive. Ergo, the circle of life.

This may be a popular argument these days about those in the arts and some urbanists: culture industries can help revive moribund cities or neighborhoods. The artists or creative types move in first and then others follow, drawn by the intriguing cultural experiences and economic opportunities.

The story above complicates the narrative a bit though. These theaters had been present for a while – they didn’t move in all the sudden in the mid 1970s. The theater industry also had resources in terms of social connections and money to use – poor artists they were not. The narrative told above may lend itself more to growth machine models of urban development rather than cultural ones. A collection of powerful business owners (probably with the aid of political leaders) were able to make things happen behind the scenes to clean up and revive Times Square.