The Road that Goes, Mercifully Enough, to “Nowhere”

The cobblestone streets of historic Fells Point, where a nearby expressway was once proposed.

The cobblestone streets of historic Fells Point, where a nearby expressway was once proposed.

Baltimore, MD

Like with other planning-related narratives, the one told about America’s “freeway revolts” usually describes their effect on its most notable cities. One of the more famous of these revolts, for example, occurred in the 1960s in San Francisco, where plans would have sent the Central Freeway from south of downtown to the Golden Gate Bridge, defiling several historic neighborhoods in-between. But because of protests it was only partially completed, and after damage from the 1989 earthquake, was further torn down and replaced with the tasteful Octavia Boulevard. Another revolt came a decade later against the Mount Hood Freeway, which would’ve divided eastern Portland. Rather than building it the city redirected funds to light rail, establishing a nationwide trend towards alternative planning. The Vieux Carre Riverfront Expressway in New Orleans would’ve run adjacent to the very neighborhood—the French Quarter—that it was named after, but was eventually nixed by local leaders. And of course the Lower Manhattan Expressway would’ve demolished much of the borough’s southern portion, but was defeated in the infamous neighborhood battle between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses.

But one project less talked about—although equally devastating—would have been the East-West Expressway proposed in the 1960s for Baltimore. Continue reading

Weekend Reading: The Decline of Malls

-This week Chris, a loyal reader and friend of the blog, sent an article from The International called “The Death of the American Mall and the Rebirth of Public Space.” It describes how indoor malls—which redefined American shopping the last half-century—are in decline.

“In 2007,” writes Robbie Moore, “no new malls were built in America, for the first time in 50 years. A mall in Salt Lake City which opened in March 2012 was the first to be built since then.”

They are being replaced not only by outdoor ones that provide a more urban experience, but by online retailing, which last year grew at 5x the rate of retail sales overall. Yet malls are still publicly subsidized, making them yet another industry gambled on by government, despite their clearly weakening output. One recent case was in New Jersey, where the “ambitious $4 billion Xanadu mall and indoor ski slope – now re-financed and re-named the American Dream Meadowlands – still languishes, half-built. According to the New York Times, the American Dream, which was conceived before the crash, has struggled despite receiving upwards of $1 billion in the form of tax write-offs, free land and a highway connection from the state.”

This decline, Moore continues, is part of a broader trend by America back to the cities:

“Architect and critic Mark Hinshaw argues that the mall’s ‘terminal decline’ corresponds with the fate of America’s exurbs, in which large-scale malls are chiefly located. Writing for Crosscut, Hinshaw points to census data showing extremely low growth in the outskirts of cities. In 2011, cities and dense inner suburbs grew faster than emerging suburbs and exurbs, after decades of flight to the fringe. William Frey, a demographer with The Brookings Institute, believes the trend may be the ‘new normal:’ ‘The fact that outer suburban growth has continued to falter two years after the recession ended calls into question whether today’s younger generations will hold the same residential preferences as their forebears’.”

-Also much thanks to the Baltimore blog Welcome to Baltimore, Hon, for publishing my article on the city’s heroin problem. The blog deals with miscellaneous city issues, particularly on the cultural front. Check it out when you get a chance.

An Echo of Past Mistakes in Florida’s “Department of Cities”

Recently Richard Florida wrote in the Daily News that for President Obama to define his legacy, he must not only focus on gun control, immigration and climate change, but on an even more important issue: America’s urbanization.

This is because today, he explained, the nation’s 50 largest metros contain two-thirds of its population and three-quarters of economic output, while most innovations are even more concentrated. But these metros have been neglected by a government that romanticizes suburbs and small towns, while ignoring the greater productivity of dense areas. The answer to this misallocation of resources, wrote Florida, would be for Obama to form a Department of Cities. Continue reading