Bent on Preservation, a Design Board Stuck in Time

Like America’s other Main Streets, the one in my hometown of Charlottesville, VA, has long wandered in and out of relevance. In 1819 it helped connect downtown with the University of Virginia, which was founded that year by the city’s native son, Thomas Jefferson. In the years following several neighborhoods formed in between, and Main Street became a bustling retail corridor. But the city destroyed much of its surroundings in the 1960s for “urban renewal”, and this, along with suburban flight, has made renewing it back a longtime challenge.

One pioneering move came when its downtown portion was converted into a pedestrian mall, which is now nationally renowned, with a red brick layering that echoes another of Jefferson’s masterpieces—Monticello—just up the mountain. UVA, meanwhile, has experienced an enrollment boom, padding its reputation as one of the “Public Ivies”. But there are still problems with Main Street, and they lie mostly in this area between, which is called “West Main” Continue reading

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Oakland–the Next Brooklyn?

Someone walking today through Brooklyn might be hard-pressed to envision its rougher eras. Much of the borough is now defined by cafes and renovated brownstones, and a new basketball arena. But in the 1970s Brooklyn was, along with the burning Bronx, a national showcase in urban blight. This continued through the 1980s crack epidemic, when neighborhoods like Bushwick suffered crime and abandonment, and some intentional fires of their own. It wasn’t until New York City’s overall reemergence the last twenty years that Brooklyn became trendy, full of these amenities, and a bunch of postmodern writers named Jonathan. Just last year it was labeled by GQ the “coolest city on the planet”.

It might be equally hard to imagine, while walking through Oakland, a similar transformation into what Brooklyn is now. Continue reading

Big City Sparkplug–an Introduction

Why are America’s major cities relevant, over its suburbs and towns? And why particularly are they in a country that still romanticizes the agrarian ideal over the concrete jungle? This is what I asked myself before starting a blog about how to revive them, because it begged the question of whether doing so is really an economic priority.

It can after all be argued that Americans answered this question with their own feet well before World War II, when federal funds were used for suburban housing. Within decades cities deteriorated, while economies grew and living standards improved across the nation’s metropolitan peripheries.

It wasn’t until the last two decades that people began moving back, due to a positive shift in how cities were being governed. But even this has proven somewhat a façade. Continue reading