Designing your own Peytonville, Part 2

The Nationwide commercial featuring Peyton Manning and Peytonville also includes broad shots of his layout. Here it is again:


While the close-up shows a small town (emphasis on single-family homes and a water tower), the big layout gives a different impression: Peytonville is actually part of a large metropolitan region with at least a few different areas. Here are a few of the things I can see:

1. At the top right, there is a typical urban downtown complete with skyscrapers and office buildings. What is the name of the central city – Peyton City?

2. At the top left, there appears to be a large domed football stadium. This seems appropriate given the star of the commercial.

3. The far left has wind turbines. These are usually located away from residential areas.

4. The bottom left is mostly single-family homes. This is likely where the Peytonville water tower is.

5. Located between the single-family homes and the urban center are mid-rise apartment and office buildings.

6. The bottom right has at least one farm. The food has to come from soemwhere.

Is the implication that when Peyton Manning has all the time and resources to create the landscape of his dreams, he recreates a typical looking sprawing American metropolitan region?

Amazon HQ#2 may be headed to a wealthy suburb

Crystal City, Virginia may be the new home of Amazon’s second headquarters site. Here are a few features of the suburban neighborhood located in Arlington:

With the Ronald Regan Washington National Airport two miles to the east, the heart of Washington D.C. five miles to the north, and a few stops on Washington’s Metro linking all three, Crystal City is in the right geographic spot for the Seattle-based company…

Today, the neighborhood, although a part of Arlington, has its own distinct downtown area. The walkable Crystal Drive is dotted with businesses, restaurants and public art, while public/private partnerships are bringing investment in parks and open space

Home prices in Crystal City might be more affordable than they are in Seattle, but that’s not saying much. The median home value in the 22202 area, a zip code Crystal City shares with neighboring Pentagon City, Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge, is $625,800, according to Zillow — nearly three times the U.S. median.

Might the lack of single-family homes also be attractive to Amazon?

Crystal City is dominated by one apartment building after another, most of which don’t have ground floor retail or restaurants that would create a sense of community or neighborhood vibrancy. Walk a few blocks away from the shopping mall during any evening of the week and it’s a quiet, almost desolate place. This lack of a community might have been the final piece that Amazon was looking for since it means they can come to town without much opposition.

A few quick thoughts:

  1. On one hand, it is interesting for Amazon to choose a suburban location. A sizable headquarters would be a boon for numerous communities, particularly cities that need a shot in the arm. On the other hand, this is an urban suburban location. The location is technically outside Washington D.C. yet it is a community of high-rises with little distance with the central city in the region.
  2. A location in this region contributes to the rising status of the Washington D.C. region. While other cities and regions may still be larger, this region with its collection of government, military, and business opportunities just keeps growing.
  3. It would be interesting to see how much Amazon would want to contribute to a thriving streetscape in the community. Based on several articles, it sounds like there is limited activity in this community after business hours. Does Amazon want to contribute money to trying to develop a vibrant urban neighborhood (even if it is located in a suburb)?

The fight over transit money between Chicago and its suburbs

A fight over funding is brewing between the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Pace, and Metra about how to divvy up sales tax revenues and discretionary money:

Twelve votes are needed to approve budgets, yet five out of the 16 directors on the board are Chicagoans who have the CTA’s back, conventional wisdom says.

And this isn’t just an RTA fight. It also involves the region’s political heavyweights like Mayor Rahm Emanuel and [DuPage County Board Chairman Dan] Cronin, who appoint RTA directors to their $25,000-a-year positions.

Cronin says he recognizes [CTA President Forrest] Claypool and Emanuel didn’t create the problem. But he describes the standoff as “bullying.”

“The money is collected from all the taxpayers in the region, the majority of whom reside in the suburbs. Why should we subsidize the CTA more than we already are?” he asked. “They seem to care little for their neighbors in the suburbs.”

This is tied up with two larger issues:

1. The Chicago area is infamous for its many governmental bodies. This is another example of the broader issues associated with metropolitanization: multiple transit agencies are fighting for revenues and surplus funds that are controlled by an umbrella organization. All three agencies could really use the money so how is it to be decided outside of what will end up being a very politicized process?

2. In the larger public discussion about taxes, a growing theme is illustrated here: why should funds/taxes raised in one area be spent in another area? This is what Cronin is arguing: the revenues raised from relatively wealthy DuPage County (#57 in the country according to 2011 figures) are being used to fund mismanaged services in the nearby big city that many DuPage residents and shoppers do not use on a regular basis. This, too, is tied to metropolitanization: how can communities, agencies, and governments across a region come together to address common problems if everyone is only looking out for their self-interests?

Quiet issue: over 60,000 on CHA waiting list

While this story is mainly about why the Chicago Housing Authority has 3,400 unoccupied units, there is another long-running issue here: the CHA has over 60,000 people on a waiting list for housing.

The CHA currently operates 20,000 properties that serve about 57,000 families, but about 3,400 units remain unoccupied. CHA’s wait list was almost 60,000 families as of March…

We are in the business of affordable housing; our goals are generally aligned with those of the (Chicago Housing Initiative),” said CHA spokeswoman Kellie O’Connell-Miller. “But from our perspective, we’re moving forward as quickly as we can. This is a multiyear redevelopment plan. The biggest challenge is the part of the plan that requires some units to come offline.”…

O’Connell-Miller said wait list standings aren’t made public because it’s not a fair assessment tool.

“It’s not a straight numbering system. Placement is dependent on family size and what bedroom need is,” she said. “The turnover varies on what the tenant needs. There are so many variables.”

The CHA is planning to take a fresh look at its Plan for Transformation this year under new leadership, Woodyard said, and welcomes suggestions and input from the community.

There are a couple of problems with this large waiting list:

1. The waiting list has been long for year and has continued to grow. In my article “The Struggle Over Redevelopment at Cabrini-Green, 1989-2004,” here is what I found about the waiting lists:

By 1984, 24,000 people were on CHA waiting lists for apartments, while another 56,000 households were waiting for CHA Section 8 vouchers…

The waiting lists for public housing continued to be long; in 2002, 48,000 families were waiting for public housing, while 38,000 more waited for Housing Choice vouchers.

2. The CHA says they are working on this issue. This might be believable if we haven’t heard similar things for decades and we haven’t seen many projects being delayed. Taking a “fresh look at its Plan for Transformation”? Sheesh.

3. The issue of affordable housing needs to be addressed on a broader scale, preferably throughout the Chicago region. Even if more affordable housing is made available in Chicago, are there good or at least subsistence jobs available in the city? Both cities and suburbs need to work on this. Unfortunately, neither the City of Chicago or suburbs have really shown a willingness to tackle this. See, for example, the contentious of affordable housing in Winnetka and Westchester County.

In sum, even if these 3,400 units were suddenly occupied, there are still over 50,000 people in Chicago looking for housing. This is an issue that needs to be addressed more comprehensively.

“A region’s workforce is not defined by its immediate suburbs”

The Chicago Tribune has a story about “super-commuterswho make the trip between Chicago and St. Louis. While the story seems more intent on putting a face on this growing phenomenon (although the numbers are still relatively low), there is a very interesting quote from a researcher about how we should view jobs and regional economies:

Regardless, said Mitchell Moss, the NYU professor who authored the study, the trend speaks to both the increased flexibility of modern-day workers — “the office” can be almost anyplace — and the challenges facing two-income families in a weak job market: Why uproot your family when your spouse can’t get a job in the new city?

The trend illustrates how the economies of places like St. Louis are increasingly hitched to their neighbors.

“It tells you that there is an inter-regional economic relationship, which is growing between places like St. Louis and Chicago,” Moss said. “A region’s workforce is not defined by its immediate suburbs.”

I’ve written several times about the need for more regional cooperation in the Chicago region between city and suburbs (see this post regarding Mayor Daley and this post about Mayor Emanuel). With limited cooperation, communities can end up fighting over corporations and jobs, whether tax money from a particular municipality should be spent elsewhere, and how best to address regional-level issues like transportation or affordable housing.

What exactly would it mean for Chicago and St. Louis to cooperate? One area could be transportation: I assume both Chicago and St. Louis were on-board for plans to construct a high-speed rail line between the cities. Environmental issues could be another area. For example, both cities rely on interconnected water sources and shipping so common issues could arise (but remember there is a regional fight about Asian carp). But what about business issues? Could they set aside their separate issues to encourage economic development that might benefit both cities? Are there really economic opportunities they could both benefit from in spite of the distance between them?

Forming historic districts in the Los Angeles suburbs

Los Angeles is often considered the prototypical suburban city: the city and the suburbs sprawl over a wide expanse of land, the population of the region boomed from the 1920s on, and the region has a car culture (see my thoughts about last year’s “carmageddon” as an example). So it may sound strange to talk about historic preservation districts in the Los Angeles suburbs but a historic preservationist provides a quick overview of efforts in the region:

A representative from the Los Angeles Conservancy this week said Burbank’s efforts to preserve its architecture has been at about the C- level. But that will likely improve as the city’s Heritage Commission moves closer to adopting a process for forming historic districts…

While not many homes have been submitted for the historical registry, there has been more interest in the past several months because of increased outreach efforts by the commission, which may improve Burbank’s standing in the preservation community, Vavala said.

Besides, he added, “half the cities in Los Angeles County get an F.”…

“Certainly, there are a lot of great homes scattered through cities throughout the county, but there’s no assurance that five years after you move in, a ‘McMansion’ might go up across the street, which will perhaps lower property values,” Vavala said.

Historic preservation efforts are well known in many other places in the United States so it is interesting to note that it hasn’t quite caught on in the same way in the Los Angeles region. I would want to know what homes in Burbank, Glendale, and other suburbs are ripe for historic preservation: are these homes from the 1920s, 1940s, or later? Is it more difficult to convince Los Angeles area residents that historic preservation is needed? Would the average American know that there are even homes in southern California that are worthy of historic preservation?

Cities and suburbs continuing to converge

Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution recently gave a talk highlighting how the growing links between cities and suburbs in the United States:

First, the initial results from the 2010 Census signal a continuing demographic convergence within U.S. metropolitan areas, one that is blurring the lines that have long separated cities and suburbs.

Second, this convergence results from a complicated mix of economic, social, and physical changes in metro areas, and raises a host of consequences for suburban communities at the front lines of change.

And third, in light of these growing and shared challenges, we must adopt a metropolitan approach to managing and making the most of demographic change in an increasingly metropolitan world.

We’ll be hearing more about this in the coming years. I am most curious to see how individual municipalities, cities and suburbs, are able to put aside their self interest and sacrifice for metropolitan solutions. People have been pushing metropolitan solutions for a long time but most suburbs (and cities?) that are well off on their own haven’t felt the need to truly cooperate on larger issues.

Sugrue: “It’s not clear that this new [black] migration [to the suburbs] is a positive step”

Recent figures suggest more minorities are moving to the suburbs (see here and here). But looking at evidence from Detroit (see a related story here), historian Thomas Sugrue suggests blacks moving to the suburbs may encounter a lot of the same issues they faced in the city:

So far, Detroit’s black suburbanization has followed a well-trodden path. Those blacks heading outward from Detroit aren’t moving to all suburbs equally. Rather, they move into places with older houses, rundown shopping districts and declining tax revenues. Such towns also typically have poorer services and fewer job opportunities than wealthier suburbs — where, despite strong antidiscrimination laws, it is still harder for blacks to find housing.

It’s not clear that this new migration is a positive step, even if it allows blacks to escape the city and its troubles. For whites, suburbs have often been a big step up — but as long as most blacks find themselves in secondhand suburbia, the American dream of security, prosperity and opportunity will remain harder to achieve.

This term “secondhand suburbia” is an interesting one. Perhaps this term lines up with the concept of “inner-ring suburbs.” A number of commentators, notably Myron Orfield (in texts like American Metropolitics), have discussed how inner-ring suburbs, those closest to the big city, have many of the same issues of the city: large and growing minority populations, declining white populations, limited tax bases, crowded conditions and an older housing stock, crime, and more. Sugrue’s phrase, however, seems to emphasize the racial transition these suburbs, probably classifiable as “inner-ring suburbs,” are experiencing as he describes how these “second-hand” places are changing over from white to black. The implication is that these places are hand-me-downs: the whites used them up and are now using their wealth to move further from the city.

In the long run, if these suburbs don’t offer suburban opportunities but simply reproduce problems like residential segregation, has anything been gained?

Conference talks suggest future is bright for big cities

A number of mayors and planners from big cities around the world are meeting in France this week. According to one report, the future looks bright for big cities:

“The future of the world lies in cities,” London’s mayor Boris Johnson told a packed auditorium at the opening day of MIPIM Monday…

“We have to keep putting the village back into the city because that is fundamentally what human beings want and aspire to,” Johnson told the crowd, adapting a famous statement made by India’s Mahatma Gandhi that the future of India lay in its 70,000 villages.

“Cities are where people live longer, have better education outcomes, are more productive,” Johnson noted, adding that cities are also where people emit less polluting carbon dioxide per capita…

A recent study by Citigroup published in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper forecast that mega-cities expected to have the fastest growing economies by the middle of the next decade include London, Chicago, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Moscow.

What is being said here is not just the optimism of big-city mayors: others agree about the benefits cities offer such as reduced carbon emissions and being centers of innovation.

A few questions about this conference:

1. Are people bullish about the prospect of big cities because they live and work in big cities and therefore have to be more optimistic? Is this simply boosterism?

2. Is there a distinction made at this conference between central cities and metropolitan regions? When Boris Johnson, mayor of Greater London, talks about London’s prospects, is it safe to assume that he is referring to the whole region and not just Central London? I assume this is really about full metropolitan regions and not just about central cities.

3. Do city leaders in the developing world see things in the same way as the mayors from First World countries cited in this story? For example, mayors of places like London or New York or Chicago or Tokyo are already in charge of world-class cities that have established their place at the top of the hierarchy. Would a mayor of Cairo or Calcutta or Sao Paulo have the same rosy perspective?

Two more thoughts on Daley’s speech on campus: lack of partisanship and regional cooperation

I’ve already written two posts about Mayor Daley’s visit to campus (see here and here). But a few days later, two themes, a lack of partisanship and an emphasis on regional cooperation, continue to stand out for me as I have thought about how this talk fits with my research on suburbs. Here is why these two themes matter:

1. To start, many people might look at Daley’s visit to the suburbs as strange, particularly since he came to Wheaton, a community known both for its political and religious conservatism. Daley is quite well-known for being a Democrat and one who sits atop a broad Democratic machine in Chicago. And yet, Daley stressed that many issues facing cities and municipalities are not partisan issues. Rather, they are issues of serving the people and having a balanced budget.

On one hand, we could view this as Daley simply knowing his audience: with a more conservative crowd, Daley might have been unwilling to sell a Democratic agenda. But on the other hand, this idea of a lack of partisanship is quite common in suburban government. While certain communities are known to be more Democratic or Republican (roughly, further out suburbs are more Republicans, inner-ring suburbs are more Democratic), local mayors and councilman (or alderman) rarely run on party platforms. Rather, their “parties” tend to be called things like “Citizens to Improve Wheaton.”

When a problem arises, such as dealing with police or firefighter unions, Democratic or Republican communities might approach the issue in different ways. But at the same time, it is not as if Republicans can dismiss or ban the unions while Democrats can’t simply give in to every union concession. With a more limited budget in many suburbs, city governments have to maintain good levels of service (indeed, good suburbs tend to be marked by a lack of crime and good fire coverage) while still meeting a budget.

Additionally, Daley mentioned the need for businesses in a community multiple times. Whether Democrat or Republicans, communities need businesses to provide jobs for citizens but also to maintain and grow the tax base. This issue of a tax base is not just an abstract matter: it is directly linked to the size of the municipal budget. Therefore, mayors and leaders on both sides have to be pro-business (though their approach might differ somewhat) in order to provide services.

2. A second theme was the need for regional cooperation. Daley was introduced by former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert who said, “what is good for Chicago is good for northern Illinois, and what is good for northern Illinois is good for Chicago.” Daley said something similar that what is good for the suburbs is good for Chicago and vice versa.

Again, Daley might have been playing for the crowd but I don’t think this is a full explanation. One, regional cooperation is needed on certain issues. Daley mentioned O’Hare expansion several times. Although the land is in the City of Chicago, the slow process has involved several suburban communities who have opposed Daley’s plan. Unlike a situation like Meigs Field where Daley could do what he pleased, he has had to work with others on this project. (Whether he wants to work with others on O’Hare is another matter.) Another transportation issue that drew regional emphasis was the fight over whether Canadian National should be allowed to purchase the Elgin, Joliet, & Eastern railroad line. Similarly to the O’Hare issue, this purchase harmed certain suburbs by increasing train traffic while reducing traffic on other lines in other communities. (See the largest regional group opposed to this purchase.)

Two, Daley mentioned regularly meeting with suburban mayors (as well as with big city mayors in the US and around the world). Outside of particular large issues, regional mayors and city managers get together to discuss “best practices.” While there were county groups that did this (like the DuPage Mayors & Managers Conference), Daley brought together mayors from 272 communities across the region in the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus which began in 1997.

At the same time, we could ask why groups like these don’t push harder for tackling larger regional issues like planning or crime. The Chicago region is notorious for having a large number of independent, taxing bodies. The whole region would benefit from a regional planning approach that could start to tackle issues like affordable housing across the region (and not sticking it only in certain less wealthy communities) and containing sprawl (which impacts issues like traffic congestion and pollution levels).

We know historically that the split between cities and suburbs really became clear in the early 1900s when suburban communities no longer wanted to be annexed into the nearby big city. Communities want to work together: just recently, a number of suburban leaders said they were looking for help from new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (though I also wondered whether these suburban mayors would help Emanuel in kind). Today, these regional groups are better than having no groups but primarily focusing on practical or technical municipal matters leaves a whole range of regional issues left to be tackled. Granted, these regional groups have no binding legislative authority but they could also be leveraged to do big things in a region.

Ultimately, a mayor or city leader has to respond to the needs of one’s citizens. However, many of the issues that mayors face are similar across communities and the challenges are often beyond the scope of just one municipality. All suburban and city leaders need to deal with the tax base, balancing the budget, and thinking about regional issues such as transportation and how to manage growth.