Naperville cannot easily rebrand and revive East Ogden Avenue

Naperville is considering ways to improve East Ogden Avenue on the suburb’s northwest side:

The city, along with the Naperville Development Partnership and the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, sponsored an open house Tuesday to gather opinions on a streetscape renovation plan — and how to pay for it — from property owners, business owners and nearby residents.

Those who stopped by Tuesday morning said they liked elements of the proposed facelift for the stretch of Ogden between Washington Street and Naperville’s eastern border east of Naper Boulevard, but they worried the cost could prevent it from happening…

The idea is to update the look and feel of intersections and parkways along East Ogden Avenue so drivers know they’re in Naperville, shoppers find the area more inviting and businesses see it as primed for development, said Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership…

Each [intersection] could receive some sort of sign for “Uptown Naperville,” some with large silver letters spelling out “NAPERVILLE” or referring to the city with a tall “N.”

As usual, there are questions about how to pay the $5 million the plan requires. That is one issue.

But, I would suggest there is a deeper issue: can these kinds of improvements truly lead to more development and a stronger sense of community? East Ogden Avenue is like many sizable suburban streets: it is fronted by numerous businesses (ranging from restaurants to auto care facilities to big box stores to home converted to offices), there are signs and buildings everywhere, and has numerous cut-outs to the road. To many, this look is not very attractive. These are the sorts of streetscapes that wealthier suburbs today try to avoid even if they were common several decades ago.

Does putting signs at intersections, putting in new landscaping, burying power lines, and rebranding the stretch “Uptown Naperville” really change what is there?  It may look nicer. It may tell people more clearly that they are in Naperville (God forbid that they are in Lisle). But, is this the true answer to a kind of development that is outdated and disliked? I am skeptical. Just contrast this stretch to downtown Naperville where a certain level of density and vibrancy leads to an exciting scene. The stretch on Ogden is too long, too broken up, devoid of attractive residential units (though they are often just behind the businesses), and difficult to connect.

An alternative approach might be this. Take one of the busier intersections, like the northeast corner of Washington and Ogden. There is a busy strip mall there with a Jewel grocery store and a Starbucks in the outlot. Why not build a mixed-use residential development just to the north or east. Make this small area a bit of a destination. Increase foot traffic (and who right now really wants to walk or bike along Ogden). Provide more anchors to a transient stretch. If this is successful, keep the idea moving to the east. This is a much longer project and it may not be possible to always put in attractive mixed-use buildings. Yet, there is demand for residential units in Naperville and units along Ogden are not that far from downtown or the downtown Metra station for those interested in commuting.

Reviving the dead shopping mall with residences, hotels

Efforts to resuscitate dead shopping malls include adding living space:

Four years later, after failing to make that work, owner The Krausz Companies is pitching a new plan that would keep existing anchor stores but demolish vacant Kohl’s and Sears stores and significantly shrink the size of the mall. The concept plan, proposed in April, also calls for building 155 town homes and 256 apartments north and east of the existing mall…

Melaniphy said he thinks there also will be more redevelopments that shrink the amount of space devoted to retail and mix it with residential or hotel development.

That’s already happened at the former Randhurst Shopping Center in Mount Prospect. It billed itself as the largest mall in the world when built in 1962 but struggled to keep up as more upscale shopping centers opened nearby. It relaunched as Randhurst Village in 2011, an open-air shopping center with shops, restaurants, a movie theater and hotel.

This sounds a lot like the retrofitting of suburbia suggested by Ellen Dunham-Jones. The key is to have a steady flow of people on the site – people who live there or who are staying at a hotel – rather than relying on people driving to the mall. If all goes well, it might be hard to tell decades from now that these sites were once large shopping malls. (At the same time: (1) these mixed-use developments might stick out in the suburban landscape and (2) the trickiest part of improving these malls might be linking the edges to the surrounding areas. Suburban developments often have fairly impermeable edges.)

A reminder: this does not mean that the traditional shopping mall is dead. There may just be a lot fewer and they will be concentrated in wealthier areas:

“The fancier malls are going to be healthy because there are always folks that want that aspirational lifestyle, but there’s still a lot of money to be made with people who might have more value-oriented customers as their focus,” Trombley said.

While food deserts were all the rage several years ago, we might talk of retail deserts in the future.

 

Chicago rated worst city for parking – but this could have some benefits

Nerdwallet named Chicago the worst city for parking based on the factors of price and number of car thefts:

Takeaways:

  • Chicago is the worst city for parking — and also the most controversial. Parking prices skyrocketed in 2009 after the city made a deal for a group of investors, organized by Morgan Stanley, to operate its meters for 75 years.
  • Though you’ll probably enjoy Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu is an extremely expensive city to park in; it’ll run you $42 a day.
  • There are a lot of car thefts in Oakland — 124.59% more per capita than the national average.

1. Chicago, Ill.

This city is known for its parking woes—especially the controversial privatization of the parking meters, which led to a dramatic increase in parking fees in 2009. A consortium called Chicago Parking Meters LLC operates the meters. You’ll drop $35 a day to park in the city and $289 per month. The city lists the fines you’ll receive for various parking violations on their website.

This spring, Chicago will test its new ParkChicago app, which allows drivers to pay for parking via an app rather than a meter. There are various websites that help you find the cheapest parking in the city. Chicago is one of the cities supported by SpotHero.com, which helps you find parking and prepay. However, if you want to ditch driving altogether, the city has multiple public transportation options. Bus and “L” riders will soon be able to use their phones to pay for rides.

Unfortunately, Chicago also has 33.4% more motor vehicle thefts per capita than the national average. And if you get a citation, you must contest it within seven days of receiving it or pay the fine online.

Parking is heavily dependent on the number of people and amount of space available. In other words, urban density. If you look at the bottom of the list, or “the best cities for parking your car,” they are all sprawling Sunbelt cities. Presumably, they have much more space and are less dense, driving down parking prices.

Of course, there are positives to having bad parking. Such urban densities that make parking more expensive can lead to:

1. Vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods with plenty of housing as well as businesses, stores, public spaces, and culture. Lots of people in a small amount of space can lead to some exciting urban scenes.

2. Plentiful and efficient mass transit. This is difficult to provide when there are a limited number of riders and the transit has to cover a lot of ground.

3. A lot more people walking and riding bikes. This is good for health, limiting pollution, and livelier streets.

4. The space that might be devoted to cars (wider streets, on-street parking, parking lots and garages) can be devoted to other things. For example, see this analysis of snow plowing on Philadelphia city streets that reveals the potential space.

Facebook partnering to build a new mixed-use development for its workers

Here are a few details about Facebook’s plans to help put together a new mixed-use development near its main campus:

The planned complex, designed by architecture firm KTGY Group, is the first major housing development in Menlo Park in 20 years, and is expected to open in 2016. According to Deanna Chow, a senior planner in Menlo Park’s planning department, the city is largely occupied by single-family homes. This 394-unit residential community will be the first mixed-use development of its scale in the city…

While Facebook’s investment in the complex only extends to subsidizing 15 low-income units, Anton Menlo could very well become a “Facebook Town.” Besides its proximity to Facebook’s campus, the designers also kept the company’s employees very much in mind. A series of focus groups and electronic surveys gauging employees’ needs and desires translated into amenities like a “grab & go” convenience store, sports pub, doggy daycare, bicycle repair shop, and an “iCafe” filled with community WiFi zones, printers, and office supplies. Once construction begins, St. Anton will market the apartments to Facebook employees first before opening up to the general public. The developer is also working to establish a leasing office on Facebook’s campus.

Beyond concerns about Facebook employees becoming slaves to work or the beginnings of a community made up entirely of “brogrammers,” the project is actually a much-needed step in addressing Menlo Park’s housing strain. According to a housing fact sheet from the city, Menlo Park has a “jobs/housing inbalance,” with 41,320 workers but only 13,129 housing units…

On the plus side, housing employees close to work can help reduce traffic and gridlock. In fact, the Anton Menlo project aims to make several specific transit improvements. The Facebook corporate shuttle will be adding a stop at Anton Menlo. On a mission to get people home as soon as possible, the developer is working with the city to put in a bike path that runs directly from the Facebook campus to the new complex. Also in the works are separated sidewalks, crosswalks that light up to caution cars, and an underground tunnel linking Facebook’s campus to the apartments.

So, Facebook might help alleviate some housing pressure in a community that is difficult to live in but there will be questions about this being a “company town.” There are a lot of American companies that could afford similar actions. If they provide housing for their employees without being too controlling, two good things might emerge: (1) the workers might be more productive and (2) the community could be helped. Either way, it will be interesting to watch the outcome of Facebook’s real estate development activities.

While companies might get flack about providing housing, I wonder if developers and those involved in real estate are regarded more highly for their efforts to develop housing. For example, this 2009 Harris Poll regarding occupational prestige has real estate agent/broker at the bottom of 23 occupations. Developers sometimes provide big houses people want but they can also raise the ire of neighbors whose NIMBY hackles are raised.

Peak sprawl does not mean the end of suburbs but rather their densification

One researcher argues the suburbs of the future will be less sprawl and have more density:

Since 2009, 60 percent of new office, retail and rental properties in Atlanta have been built in what Christopher Leinberger calls “walkable urban places” – those neighborhoods already blessed by high Walk Scores or on their way there. That new construction has taken place on less than 1 percent of the metropolitan Atlanta region’s land mass, suggesting a shift in real estate patterns from expansion at the city’s edges to denser development within its existing borders.

“This is indicative that we’re seeing the end of sprawl,” says Leinberger, a research professor with the George Washington University School of Business, who led the study in conjunction with Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Regional Commission. “It does not say that everything turns off. There will still be new drivable suburban development. It’s just that the majority will be walkable urban, and it will be not just in the redevelopment of our downtowns, but in the urbanization of the suburbs.”…

“I think there’s a cause-and-effect issue here,” he says. “I think that when the economy picks up steam, it’s going to be because we learn how to build walkable urban places. Real estate caused this debacle, and real estate has always acted as a catalyst for economic recoveries.”

He figures we’re sputtering along at 2 percent growth precisely because we’re not building enough of the walkable urban product that the market wants. “And it’s signaling with pretty flashing lights,” he says, “to build more of this stuff.”

New Urbanists FTW! The argument here is that the suburbs will continue – with their features of home ownership, cars, local control, autonomy, etc. – but they will look different due to denser designs, feature different kinds of community and social life, and include more features like cultural centers or mixed-use neighborhoods that are more traditionally associated with cities.

One obstacle to this might be how much existing suburbs are willing to increase their densities. This make make financial sense or be good for growth but it could also alter the character of more sprawling communities. For example, many suburbs have already considered or built transit-oriented development where denser housing and space is built near mass transit. But, would they be willing to extend such construction across more of their area?

Transforming a Bell Labs complex into a mixed-use development

The famous Bell Labs complex in Holmdel, New Jersey is due for a makeover into a mixed-used development:

Developer Somerset Development has tapped Alexander Gorlin Architects to convert the 1.9 million-square-foot facility into a contained island of retail, dining, residential, hotel, performance, and office space—providing new amenities, from a town library to an outdoor sports complex, for the sprawling suburban community. Two New Jersey–based firms, NK Architects and Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design, will also collaborate on the design of the interior tenant space.

“It is almost like the Romans have left the arena. How do you re-inhabit the coliseum? How do you inject new life in a space that is waiting for something to happen?” said Gorlin. “It symbolized America at its post-war peek in 1962.”

The colossal, quarter-mile-long atrium will be the cornerstone of the renovation. Gorlin imagines that this vast, open space will serve a similar function to that of the Armory, and host a variety of events such as large and small-scale performances, a farmer’s market, and pop-up shops…

So far the development has one tenant, Community Healthcare Associates, which plans to take over 400,000 square feet of the building. The developer envisions the complex will house a variety of tenants that meet the needs of the rather affluent surrounding community. “Everything has to mesh and come together: the clientele, the target market. There is room for many different levels,” said Zucker.

A fascinating building where much technological progress took place will be converted into another sort of lifestyle center for wealthy suburban residents. On one hand, it is a good idea to use the building for something the community can utilize now rather than let it fall into disrepair. On the other hand, the building could be treated like any other big box facility. There is potential here to market the new offices and uses as part of technological history – but this may not fit the theme of farmers markets, pop-up shops, and boutiques.

As the article notes, this building may just symbolize America at its post-war peak: big business, modern architecture, technology, all in a bucolic suburban (median household income over $140k) office campus setting. Perhaps after its redesign it will symbolize America of the 2010s: consumption, entrepreneurship, mixed-income developments, still in a bucolic suburban setting.

Some Chicago aldermen, businesses argue they want parking meters to move cars and customers along

As Chicago debates a parking meter policy, some aldermen and businesses want metered parking on Sunday so they can keep customers moving through the parking spaces:

Some aldermen are saying “no thanks” to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s offer of free Sunday parking when it comes to their commercial districts for fear it would hurt businesses that rely on street parking for their customers…

“As soon as this deal happened, I got a letter from my chamber of commerce, saying … this is going to hurt local businesses,” Ald. Michele Smith, whose 43rd Ward includes most of Lincoln Park, said during a Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday to weigh the mayor’s proposal. Businesses need parkers to move on so others can take their place, several aldermen said…

“In some commercial areas, with some businesses, the businesses actually want the turnover that payment on Sunday gives, because having spots filled by somebody that’s just leaving it there all day hurts business, and that’s the concern that we’re trying to address on a case-by-case basis,” Patton said.

Intriguingly, this puts the aldermen in a tough position between residents/customers and businesses:

But aldermen would have to request it, something Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, said could leave council members in a tough spot. “What it ends up setting up is a situation where, ‘Well, whose side are you on — the businesses or the constituents?’ It’s problematic,” Pawar told Patton.

This highlights an advantage of parking meters: they can keep the parked traffic moving so that cars can’t clog up spaces. Without them, city residents and visitors are likely to sit in the spots for a long time. This also is a reminder of the mix of uses often found in urban neighborhoods: both residents and businesses are vying for parking for much of the day. In contrast, parking is more plentiful in suburban shopping areas and many suburban downtown businesses gave up parking meters decades ago to keep customers happy. But, these suburban downtowns rarely have the density and demand for street parking that cities face.

So, if residents in these neighborhoods complained loud enough about wanting free parking on Sundays, would they be able to force an alderman to side with them?