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the urban planning + design journal of the university of michigan

volume 6 | 2012


Editor-in-Chief Katharine Pan

Editorial Board

Daniel Feinglos (articles) Carly Grob (layout) Steve Luongo (layout)


Funding for this publication was generously provided by the Saarinen-Swanson Endowment Fund and the University of Michigan Urban and Regional Planning Program.

Editorial Staff

Vadim Ashvalumov Laura Haw Payton Heins Daniel Johns Lauren Tucker

Staff Advisors Gavin Shatkin Julie Steiff

Cover Image

Marikina City Metro Manila, Philippines Photo: Katharine Pan

AGORA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoncommercialNo Derivative Works 2.5 License

Agora vol. 6 2012

The Urban Planning & Design Journal of the University of Michigan A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning

Letter from the Editor Connection. When Agora staff selected this theme for our sixth volume, it was in anticipation of a conversation that would highlight different segments of the complex networks that constitute the urban environment. With authors free to interpret the theme at any scale and from any perspective, we looked forward to a publishing a wide variety of ideas and observations, each identifying a unique point where connections are made. Unsurprisingly, submissions this year were incredibly diverse, and the 12 pieces that were ultimately selected represent this diversity very well. Whereas some authors chose to focus on entire networks – on transportation systems and infrastructure – others discussed cooperative relationships, the ties between theory and practice, and the interdisciplinary nature of urban studies. Separate pieces from distinct authors began to show relationships to one another. And this year, more than the past few years, the tone of many of the pieces invited another form of connection – a more personal and reflective one between the author and the reader. Whether they intended to or not, each of our contributors addressed the theme in some way. While we originally thought that it was the vagueness and openness of the word that made this possible, it seems that it’s the ubiquity of the concept that has made it inevitable. The first two articles advocate making connections as a means to an end. In “Embracing Smart Decline,” Payton Heins reviews the topic of shrinking cities, and the need in such cities for a paradigm shift that would enable decision-makers and residents to openly address and mitigate the negative impacts of population decline. She offers that many cities are reluctant to make this shift, and are not adopting strategies that are appropriate for the conditions that they face. These strategies, she notes, emphasize relationships, both in the theoretical sense that ties each city to its socio-economic and geographic contexts, and in the sense of partnership, between each city and its citizens. In her piece on public transit marketing, Melinda Morang declares that not enough has been done to connect public transit to its customer base. Following a history and discussion of marketing concepts in the United States, Melinda identifies the shortcomings in the ways that public transit agencies attract and maintain ridership. She argues that transit provides an opportunity to alleviate the negative social and environmental impacts of automobile dominance, but that we will never realize this if transit agencies cannot reach their riders. Eric Dennis, in “Critiquing the Culture of Critiquing the Culture of Sprawl,” theorizes a society divided into “cultured” and “uncultured” individuals with differing value systems and cognitive processes. He suggests that these differences may account for the disconnect between urban theories that advocate for higher densities in central cities, and the reality that people continue to settle at low densities in outlying suburbs. He also insists that theorists evaluate their own motivations for criticizing sprawl, noting that they may be more driven by subjective values than they would otherwise like to believe, and that this has negative consequences for the efficacy of the policies and practices derived from this process. The next two articles use analysis to unearth or expose the networks that underlie the systems that support our societies. Elias Schewel and Eric Seymour’s GIS analysis of food accessibility in the Detroit Tri-County area helps us to visualize the relationship between the network of neighborhoods and food destinations in the region. Their work evaluates the theory that Detroit is a “food desert,” identifying variations in the food landscape that both support and complicate that theory. The usefulness of their findings in clarifying our understanding of food availability in this region demonstrates the power of technology, information, and visual communication in connecting space and context. Elizabeth Renckens’ article on decentralization in Ghana examines the complexities inherent in the process of devolving power to local government, and the ways in which these complexities affect local governance of issues like infrastructure maintenance. She argues that the ways in which decentralization is actually carried out and practiced may complicate and undermine the goals of decentralization policy. Her analysis of the various points of friction in Ghanaian governance, and the ways in which community structure either promotes or overcomes this friction, reminds us that the dense networks of action and reaction within our societies are difficult to untangle and predict.


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Patrick Ethen offers a speculative vision of Manhattan as a city of no cars. This is an essay about movement, and it takes its cue from the Occupy movement of the past year. Having realized that the majority of Manhattan’s population does not drive cars, he proposes that they reclaim the island’s streets for non-motorized transit. The proposal includes plans for a series of parking megastructures that bar automobiles from entering the city. While audacious, the plan highlights a legitimate disconnect between the preferences of the majority and the dominant car-oriented paradigm. Joseph Jones takes a similar idea in a different direction. In his evaluation of New York City’s 80/20 Program, Joseph discusses the concept of spatial segregation in urban housing. He frames this in contrast to spatial justice, and describes various efforts that have been undertaken in order to achieve it. Among these is the 80/20 program, a policy with good intentions which is complicated in implementation by a host of factors. Just as in the decentralization in Ghana piece, we see that policy cannot be made in a vacuum, but rather with careful consideration of the actors and contexts to which it relates. Elizabeth Renckens’ second piece identifies the various milestones that led to the construction and subsequent decline of the I-81 viaduct in Syracuse, NY. It investigates long-term connections that must be drawn over decades of planning and policy-making as a means of understanding a place’s decision-making context. In “Architecture-City: Structuring Urban Environments,” Branden Clements suggests three means for uniting architecture and urbanism in the design process. This essay positions individual buildings as the most basic and enduring element of the city. Noting each building’s longevity and import at the small scale, Branden insists that designers consider classic, context-driven designs that will outlast shifts in culture and technology and promote continuity for residents. Professor Kelbaugh’s editorial piece on Dubai emphasizes points of disconnection in the city’s transportation infrastructure. He notes paradoxes and contradictions in the system, and describes Dubai’s development trends and transportation culture. He then provides an evaluation and offers recommendations for improvement. In this piece, he brings together his experiences as both an academic and a practitioner. Similarly, John Drain’s editorial piece brings together a number of personal experiences and interests with expertise that he has gained as both a professional in real estate and a student of urban planning. He tells a story of American malls, “dead” malls in particular, using anecdotes and observations acquired over numerous visits to various malls around the country. Through this narrative we gain the ability to generalize the mall experience to some degree, learning more about the similarities between “dead” malls across the Midwest. Moreover, we can begin to see that all places have continuity, and that even declining malls have an afterlife that is tied to the contexts of place and society. Lastly, Michelle Lam’s piece on a beloved public space takes us through a brief, intimate reverie in Hong Kong. Though set in a distant location, the sentiments and experiences that she shares will be, in some way, familiar to most. Our theme weaves lightly throughout, appearing at moments of recognition, of passing, of settling in, and of memory. In any given place, it seems, connections are pervasive and deep. At six years, Agora is still a young publication. From issue to issue, we strive to maintain a sense of continuity, tying to the lessons and the ideas of our predecessors while creating opportunities for growth in the future. Now at the close of another successful year, it’s clear that we owe our successes to the connections and networks that extend throughout the planning community here at the University of Michigan. Not only is this the source of endlessly diverse material, but it’s also home to the curious and dedicated researchers and writers who seek to articulate this material. We want to thank all those who have submitted and contributed this year and in years past, and our readers as well, for being a part of our community. Thank you so much for sharing your curiosity and dedication with us.

Katharine Pan Editor-in-Chief


Contributors Branden Clements is a graduate student in the Master of Architecture and Construction Engineering programs at the University of Michigan. His interests vary from the scale of singular buildings and their tectonics to urban design and a building’s relationship to the city. He attended Ball State University and received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture prior to attending the University of Michigan. Douglas Kelbaugh, FAIA is a Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. He worked in Dubai for two years as the Executive Director of Design and Planning at Limitless LLC, a government-owned international real estate development company with a portfolio of mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented projects in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Elias Schewel is an activist, environmental policy researcher, and geographer. He studies environmental planning and land use at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and will graduate in May 2012 with a Master of Urban Planning. He graduated from New York University’s Gallatin School of Interdisciplinary Study with a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies in 2007. Elizabeth Renckens is in her final year at the University of Michigan pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban Planning. She focuses on urban planning solutions through sustainable initiatives and the practical application of technical tools, such as GIS, statistical analysis, and strategic planning. Her professional experience includes extensive work in the United States and Africa. Elizabeth holds a Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Politics from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Eric Dennis is a second-year Master of Urban Planning student and a Michigan-licensed professional engineer (Civil & Environmental). He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Michigan State University, and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Michigan. He is a Detroit native and life-long Michigan resident. His research interests are in analyzing complex systems using a pragmatic interdisciplinary approach. Eric Seymour is a doctoral pre-candidate at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. His research focuses on emerging processes for planning after abandonment and the tensions these processes raise between equity and efficiency in housing, infrastructure, and service provision. He also works as a research consultant at Community Legal Resources in Detroit, providing analysis of Detroit Works’ public engagement process. John Drain graduated from the Master of Urban Planning program with a Graduate Certificate in Real Estate Development in May 2011. He now works in real estate acquisitions and development in metropolitan Detroit. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture from Miami University of Ohio. Joseph Jones is a second-year Master of Urban Planning student concentrating in housing, community, and economic development. Prior to enrolling in the Urban and Regional Planning Program, Joseph received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School. He is interested in understanding the connections between formal and informal institutions, society, and development.


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Melinda Morang has a broad set of interests encompassing transportation, GIS and remote sensing, environmental science, and entrepreneurship. She is now in her final semester of a dual master’s degree program in Urban Planning and Natural Resources & Environment at the University of Michigan. She was a physicist in a previous life and plays the bassoon in her spare time. Michelle Lam is graduating this year from the Master of Urban Planning program at the University of Michigan with a concentration in physical planning and urban design. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Oxford. Patrick Ethen is an undergraduate student in the architecture program at the University of Michigan. He previously participated in the University’s Wallenberg Studio, which was the basis for the essay that appears in this journal. Payton Heins is a 2012 Master of Urban Planning candidate specializing in housing, community, and economic development. Prior to her graduate studies, Payton worked as a Case Manager for Housing Choice Voucher programs in Eaton County. She has a B.A. from Michigan State University, where she majored in Social Relations and Policy, and German. Payton is committed to urban policies and planning practices that promote socially-equitable and environmentallysustainable communities. She has a special interest in shrinking cities and hopes to someday further research in this area.

Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, Duisburg, Germany, July 2011 (Photo credit: Michelle Lam)


Red Line Stop, The Loop, Downtown Chicago 2012 (Photo Credit: Emily Provonsha)


Agora Vol 6|2012

Table of Contents Embracing Smart Decline 1 Payton Heins

Public Transit Marketing 101 7 Why and How Public Transit Agencies Need to Market Melinda Morang

Critiquing the Culture of Critiquing the Culture of Sprawl Eric Paul Dennis


Going the Distance 22 A Regional Analysis of Food Accessibility in the Detroit Tri-County Area Elias Schewel and Eric Seymour

Decentralization in Ghana 33 Elizabeth Renckens

Power to the People 43 A Pedestrian-Centric Manhattan Patrick Ethen

Cure or Bandage? 52 New York City’s 80/20 Program Joseph Jones

Politics and Planning of the I-81 Corridor in Syracuse, New York 62 Elizabeth Renckens

Architecture-City 71 Structuring Urban Environments Branden Clements

The Environmental Paradox of Cities 74 Getting Around Dubai Douglas Kelbaugh

The Afterlife of Malls 82 John Drain

Hong Kong 89 Michelle Lam


Detroit River Front 2009 (Photo Credit: Oleksandra Topolnytska)


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Embracing Smart Decline Payton Heins For several decades many major U.S. cities and small towns have been shrinking, with populations drastically falling. This has led to the large-scale abandonment and deterioration of both residential and commercial properties, major losses in tax base and revenue for public services, and heightened conditions for concentrations of poverty. Some of the most well-known shrinking cities include Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, all having lost over half of their population, and all with losses occurring in every decade between 1950 and 2000.1 While shrinking is not a new phenomenon, planners and policymakers have been slow to address its realities. Many continue to either ignore population decline entirely or respond with growth-oriented policies like the production of new housing stock to generate real estate demand and private investment. Neither approach recognizes the true challenges of decline. In cities that are shrinking, it becomes necessary for planning discourse to shift from an emphasis on growth to smart decline. Smart decline, or the idea of planning for less, focuses on strategies that improve the lives of existing residents rather than exhaust city resources through hopeless efforts to increase population. This article discusses the strategies of smart decline, highlights examples of them in various cities, and points to the importance of citizen engagement in their development and application. Contrary to popular belief, shrinking is not an isolated Rust Belt or post-industrial phenomenon: other parts of the country are also experiencing its challenges. As Justin Hollander explains in Sunburnt Cities, the Sunbelt, known for its rapid growth during the housing boom, is also now home to its fair share of shrinking cities.2 The recent collapse of the real estate market led to increasingly widespread foreclosures, housing abandonment, and ultimately population loss in the region, adding many of its 1 2

Hollander et al 2009, Dewar and Thomas forthcoming Hollander 2011

cities to the ranks of the shrinking. While rate of population decline has slowed in many cities, the problems caused by this decline still persist.3 Many other developed countries, including Germany, Japan, and Britain, also face the problem of shrinking cities.4 Germany emerged as a clear leader in the initial body of shrinking cities research when in 2002 the German federal government sponsored the international Shrinking Cities initiative to examine shrinking on an international level.5 Detroit, along with Manchester and Liverpool (Britain), Ivanovo (Russia), and Halle and Leipzig (Germany) were chosen as primary case studies on the process of shrinking, with contributors from each country participating in the project.6 Other projects, including Cities in Transition, sponsored by the German Marshall Fund, have since been taken up to continue this overseas dialogue on shrinking cities, and exchange best practices for intervention.7 These efforts examine creative architectural, landscape, and policy approaches applied by practitioners world-wide to address the problem of large-scale property vacancy. Scholars and practitioners in the U.S. are also expanding the body of shrinking cities research, many advocating for the rethinking of current urban planning practice and policy in the U.S.8 While many American cities continue to shrink, most U.S. planners and policymakers continue to respond with the more familiar – and in American society, the more politically and socially acceptable – growth-oriented approaches.9 In a 2002 edition of Planning Magazine, scholars Frank and Deborah Popper coined the phrase smart 3 Beauregard 2009 4 Hollander et al 2009 5 Hollander et al 2009 6 Shrinking Cities Project 7 German Marshall Fund 2012 8 Popper and Popper 2010, Hollander 2011, Dewar and Thomas forthcoming 9 Popper and Popper 2010, Hollander 2011, Schatz forthcoming


Globe Building, Detroit, MI 2009 (Photo Credit: Oleksandra Topolnytska)

decline. It describes both a city’s acceptance of the fact that its population and financial resources are declining, and its willingness to develop creative new strategies to mitigate the harsh impacts of this decline. Popper and Popper encourage former industrial hubs to “rightsize themselves in authentic, resilient ways that shun past magical thinking and face the realities of the post-carbon world.”10 Smart decline calls for city officials, planners, and policymakers to accept that many shrinking cities will never return to their peak populations, and that new approaches are necessary to ensure that the best quality of life – including adequate service delivery – is possible for remaining residents. Adopting a smart decline strategy does not completely dismiss the possibility of future growth, but rather emphasizes the need for city infrastructure to more closely match the existing population of a city. Being able to concentrate services will reduce the overall financial burden on government and free up revenue for maintenance of and improvements to service delivery. Hollander describes smart decline as “a way to accommodate population loss in a way that does not require a manipulation of exogenous 10


Popper and Popper 2010, 6

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factors and with a focus on quality-of-life improvements in a neighborhood.”11 The necessity of new planning strategies and policy changes that effectively address the problems faced by shrinking cities cannot be overstated. American planners and policymakers must let go of an obsession with growth and recognize that smart decline is just as valuable of a tool for the future of our cities as smart growth.

STRATEGIES OF SMART DECLINE Many strategies exist to aid cities in their drives to downsize. Hollander proposes several strategies, including stronger building code enforcement, discouraging construction of new housing in high vacancy areas, land banking, swift rehabilitation or demolition of abandoned buildings, relocation assistance for residents in highly distressed areas, and relaxed zoning codes that allow for a greater variety of uses in declining areas.12 Other proponents of smart decline have argued for regional- and state-level policy changes, including the expansion of land banks to a regional scale and the prioritization of state funding to cities that plan for population loss and land reconfiguration.13 11 12 13

Hollander 2011, 11 Hollander 2011 Mallach and Brachman 2010

Many shrinking cities have utilized these strategies. The most comprehensive application of a decline-oriented approach is in Youngstown, Ohio. The Youngstown 2010 Plan explicitly states the city’s willingness to remain smaller, and highlights gradual and incremental changes to help maximize the quality of life for its remaining residents.14 Some of these changes include incentives for home repairs in more intact neighborhoods and relocation assistance for those wanting to leave less intact neighborhoods.15 As another example, the City of Cleveland has taken up stronger code enforcement strategies through a unique process of outsourcing to help reduce blight and maintain properties around the city. The Cleveland Code Enforcement Partnership, a formal agreement between the City and 19 of its community-based organizations (CBOs), places the majority of code enforcement responsibilities in the hands of the CBOs in order to reduce the financial burden on short-staffed government departments.16 This is also seen on a smaller scale in southwest Detroit with the Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) and its Nuisance Abatement Program. SDBA identifies properties in violation of the City’s building code and compiles documentation for the municipal Buildings, Safety Engineering, and Environmental Department (BSEED). This helps to expedite the enforcement process and allow the department to focus its efforts on the collection of violation fees.17 Another notable smart decline strategy is land banking, which has become increasingly popular as it streamlines the legal process for returning tax-reverted properties to productive use. This allows cities to remove abandoned and vacant properties from the market more quickly, and maintain them while not in use, thus preventing properties from becoming a space for illegal activities and a long-term eyesore and safety concern for the community. Ideally, a land bank would return any given property to the tax rolls as soon as possible. A number of states have passed legislation enabling the creation of local and regional land banks.18 One such land bank in Michigan, the Genesee County Land Bank, has been recognized nationwide by scholars and 14 15 16 17 18

Schatz forthcoming Gallagher 2010 Mallach and Brophy 2012 Southwest Detroit Business Association 2011 Center for Community Progress 2012

practitioners for its contributions to revitalization efforts in Flint. No combination is perfect or universally applicable; the appropriate combination of smart decline strategies will reflect their geographical and social contexts. Rust Belt cities that have been declining for decades will understandably react differently to decline-oriented approaches compared to cities in the Sunbelt which have more recently encountered the challenges of shrinking. Therefore, the process of selecting smart decline strategies is itself extremely important.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT While smart decline represents a valuable new tool in shrinking cities, planners and policymakers must ensure that citizens play a role in shaping this new strategy. Citizen engagement should be included in every planning process, but the problems of shrinking cities present unique challenges in a society unaccustomed to nongrowth language.19 Hollander and Nemeth warn that the discussion surrounding smart decline has focused primarily on outcomes and solutions while ignoring the process required to reach such solutions.20 This dismissal of process was clearly illustrated in the initial stages of Detroit’s city-wide smart decline planning initiative, the Detroit Works Project (DWP).21 In July 2011, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing suddenly announced that DWP organizers and their consultants had been working behind the scenes to develop a short-term implementation strategy that included the selection of three demonstration areas where city resources would be focused. No clear link existed between the initial community input that the DWP had solicited and the decision to implement revitalization strategies in these demonstration areas. Neglecting to truly engage the citizens of Detroit while simultaneously using politically charged terms like “rightsizing” put residents in a panic. It raised immediate concerns about service cuts and the potential abandonment of other neighborhoods by the City.22 More transparency throughout the decision-making process could have allowed residents and community leaders to identify the most appropriate demonstration 19 20 21 22

Dewar et al forthcoming, Mallach and Brophy 2012 Hollander and Nemeth 2011 Oosting 2011 Heins et al forthcoming


foster partnerships and encourage investment.23 Richmond also utilizes an online Citizen’s Response System (CRS) for residents to report problems ranging from illegal dumping to code violations to abandoned properties. Systems like this allow residents greater access to city government, making them active partners in the betterment of their communities.24

Barcelona, Spain. (Photo Credit: Steve Luongo)

areas and prevented them from becoming suspicious of the City’s intentions. In a decline-oriented approach, citizens are positioned both to be the most affected and to have the most to contribute. In a time of limited revenue sources, leveraging existing community resources - including manpower, local knowledge, information-sharing and grant money - becomes extremely important. It would be a devastating mistake for cities to attempt to tackle shrinking solutions without the support of its citizens. Not only does it foster distrust in city government, but it also hinders the opportunity for any future partnerships between the City and the community. This friction between the City and the community will only work to slow progress as most shrinking cities simply cannot afford the costs of implementing strategies on their own. Some cities recognize the value of citizen engagement in addressing problems associated with shrinking. For example, Richmond, Virginia’s Neighborhoods in Bloom program illustrates how inclusionary processes not only effectively gather input from residents, but also help to


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Some smart decline strategies are more controversial than others, making citizen engagement even more important. Relocation of residents to higher-functioning areas of the city, for example, may offer more positive outcomes for both individual residents and the city as a whole by allowing for more efficient delivery of services, but raises social justice concerns. To ensure that a fair relocation policy is adopted, citizens must be a part of the policymaking process. The City of Baltimore - guided and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation - utilized citizen engagement in the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative’s relocation policies to ensure that resident needs and concerns were addressed. Residents sat on permanent committees to shape policy recommendations on relocation support services and just compensation. Such inclusion of affected residents in policy development is something which could be adopted in other cities.25 Improving the coordination between community-based organizations (CBOs) and cities also presents a crucial opportunity for greater citizen involvement and improved efficiencies in service delivery. CBOs are already undertaking much of the revitalization work and engaging residents in their efforts. For example, in Detroit, the WARM Training Center provides workforce training in the deconstruction of homes.26 With an abundance of vacant structuresmany made up of durable and salvageable materialdeconstruction presents a much more sustainable alternative to demolition, and, through the inclusion of community partners and residents, becomes a more financially feasible strategy. Additionally, SDBA’s Nuisance Abatement Program works closely with community residents to identify properties that are a physical nuisance. This includes regular documentation, directly from 23 Dewar and Thomas forthcoming 24 City of Richmond 2011 25 Casey Foundation 2010, Cromwell et al 2005, Heins et al forthcoming 26 Deconstructing Detroit 2011

residents, that is then compiled by SDBA and given to the City.27 This reduces the financial burden on government and drastically expedites the code enforcement process. The WARM Training Center and SDBA, therefore, are clearly allies in a smart decline approach for Detroit. It would be a mistake not to build on partnerships with such community organizations and thereby coordinate and implement the most effective policies. Clear communication with these organizations helps the City reach its larger-scale goals, provided that it can gain the support of its CBOs and citizens.


In order to effectively address the problems of shrinking, planners and policymakers must look beyond advocating only for growth and begin to see the value in declineoriented approaches. Smart decline can help cities become more flexible and shrink gracefully while allowing them to remain open to the possibility of future growth. However, for smart decline approaches to be implemented successfully, residents must be considered valued stakeholders in the process. More research is needed in the area of shrinking cities, specifically in regards to the processes of planning and policymaking, and the role citizen engagement plays in these processes. Community organizations and residents are taking on the responsibilities of government more and more each day. Rather than attempting to impose top-down solutions to combat shrinking, city government should partner with its citizens and community organizations to address the needs of existing residents and implement smart decline strategies effectively. As recent history shows, the federal government - with its minimally-funded revitalization and housing programs - will be an unreliable ally for American cities. It will be up to city governments and local residents to develop the most socially equitable strategies for addressing the challenges of shrinking.

Works Cited Alexander, F. S. (2008). Land Banking as Metropolitan Policy. Blueprint for American Prosperity: Unleashing the Potential of a Metropolitan Nation. Washington, D.C.: Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution. The Annie E. Casey Foundation (2010). The East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative: A Case Study of Responsible Redevelopment. Beauregard, R.A. (2009). Shrinking Cities in the United States in Historical Perspective: A Research Note. In Pallagst, K., et al (Eds.) The Future of Shrinking Cities: Problems, Patterns and Strategies of Urban Transformation in a Global Context. Center for Community Progress (2012). Policy: Land Banking. City of Richmond (2011). Citizens Response System. Retrieved from ReportPriorityIssue.aspx Cromwell, P. M., Giloth, R.P. & Schachtel, M.R.B. (2005). East Baltimore Revitalization Project: Opportunities and Challenges in Transforming an Urban Neighborhood, Journal for Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 10 (2): 113126. Deconstructing Detroit (2011). The Environment Report: A Service of Michigan Radio. show.php?showID=562 Dewar, M. & Thomas, J. (forthcoming 2012). Introduction. In M. Dewer and J. Thomas (Eds.) The City After Abandonment. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Dewar, M., Kelly, C., & Morrison, H. (forthcoming 2012). Planning for Better, Smaller Places after Population Loss: Lessons from Youngstown, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan. In M. Dewer and J. Thomas (Eds.) The City After Abandonment. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Gallagher, J. (2010). Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. German Marshall Fund of the United States. (2012). Cities in Transition. policy-programs/urban-and-regional-policy-program/citiesin-transition


Southwest Detroit Business Association 2011

Heins, P. et al (forthcoming 2012). A system for citizen engagement in land-use planning. (Unpublished report). Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ann Arbor, MI.


Hollander, J. B. (2011) Sunburnt Cities: The Great Recession, depopulation and urban planning in the American Sunbelt. London/New York: Routledge.

Mallach, A. & Lavea, B. (2010). Ohio’s Cities at a Turning Point: Finding the Way Forward. Washington, D.C.: Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution.

Hollander, J.B. & Nemeth, J. (2011) The bounds of smart decline: a foundational theory for planning shrinking cities, In Housing Policy Debate 21 (3): 349-367.

Popper, D. & Popper, F.J. (2010) Smart Decline in Post-Carbon Cities: The Buffalo Commons Meets Buffalo, New York. In The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crisis. Santa Rosa, California: Post Carbon Institute.

Hollander, J. B., Pallagst, K., Schwarz, T. & Popper, F.J. (2009) Planning shrinking cities. In Progress in Planning (special issue: Emerging Research Areas) 72 (4): 223-232. Oosting, J. (2011) Past mistakes, future hopes: Detroit Works looks to win over residents, re-imagine city. http://www. future_hopes_det.html Mallach, A. & Brophy, P.C. (2012). Reforming Local Practice in Governance, Fiscal Policy and Land Reclamation. In A. Mallach (Ed.) Rebuilding America’s Legacy Cities: New directions for the Industrial Heartland. New York, NY: American Assembly.

Photo Credit: Mikhail Kim


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Schatz, L., (forthcoming 2012). Decline-Oriented Urban Governance in Youngstown, Ohio. In M. Dewer and J. Thomas (Eds.) The City After Abandonment. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Shrinking Cities Project (n.d.) Kulturstiftung des Bundes. Southwest Detroit Business Association. (2011). Internal Documentation.

Public Transit Marketing 101

Why and How Public Transit Agencies Need to Market

Melinda Morang INTRODUCTION In a world where greenhouse gas emissions are causing global climate change, suburban sprawl is consuming natural resources at an alarming rate, people waste hours in traffic congestion, and those who cannot drive are unable to access jobs and amenities, public transit is badly needed. A higher rate of public transit use would lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions, make denser development more practical and appealing, reduce congestion, and provide more equitable access to jobs and amenities. In order for public transit to be economically and operationally viable, it must maintain high levels of ridership. Unfortunately, most transit systems in the U.S. have trouble doing so. Transit agencies must pursue a variety of strategies to address this shortcoming. One of these strategies is marketing. In order to increase transit ridership and thus reduce automobile usage, transit agencies must adopt a marketing mindset, use effective, modern marketing techniques, recognize automobiles as the competition, and build a positive image for transit. This paper explains the basics of marketing, compares current automobile and transit marketing efforts, and explains how transit agencies can use better marketing strategies to increase ridership.

MARKETING BASICS In order to understand how marketing can and should be applied to public transit, it is important to understand the basics of marketing. In this section, I describe basic marketing techniques, the evolution of marketing, and several techniques that are especially important for transit, including service marketing and social marketing. Additionally, I point out several challenges faced by public transit agencies in using these techniques to market transit. Marketing encompasses a broad set of activities centered on a firm’s existing and potential customers. One of these, advertising, serves to persuade potential customers to

purchase the firm’s products or services. Marketing also involves research to determine customers’ wants and needs.1 This information influences product or service design2 and the company’s overall strategy and direction.3 Thus, marketing links the firm’s various departments, using the customers’ demands to connect design, production, and distribution.4 Ultimately, marketing is about the customers, and a company with a marketing mindset is one which considers customers first and foremost. Marketing practice in the United States has evolved throughout the past century. Prior to 1925, companies focused primarily on production and ignored marketing.5 Good products were thought to sell themselves based solely on their merits; people would buy something because it was a useful and high-quality product.6 In a time when many people wanted good products and not many products were available, this belief was actually fairly accurate.7 From the 1920s to the 1950s, marketing practices started to evolve in response to changes in technology and the economy. Companies began actively seeking to increase sales by sending salesmen to convince people to buy their products.8 After World War II, the playing field changed significantly. In the post-war production boom, the market was suddenly saturated with enormous numbers of products and not enough people to buy them.9 In response, companies developed new marketing techniques in order to compete with one another for customers.10 Marketing 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


Boone and Kurtz 2006 Ibid. Lovelock 1987 Ibid. Boone and Kurtz 2006 Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.



efforts moved beyond the realm of sales and ventured into product development and design.11 Companies carefully crafted products to fill the specific needs or desires of particular market segments.12 These techniques still prevail in marketing today, along with some further 1990s-era developments in creating and maintaining individual relationships with customers, suppliers, and employees to build up brand loyalty to encourage repeat purchases.13 One key strategy of modern marketing is market segmentation. Marketers break up the market into groups of potential customers who share particular interests or needs.14 They then tailor their efforts specifically to each group, playing off the particular interests and needs of that group.15 For each segment, these marketing efforts aim to find a reason that the customers are unsatisfied with their current lifestyle, focus their attention on that dissatisfaction, and show how the company’s product can alleviate it.16 Further efforts entail showing the customer how to use the alternative and giving the customer a chance to try the alternative.17 The technique of market can be used for nearly any type of product or service. Modern marketing techniques have been developed primarily by companies that sell tangible products rather than intangible services. However, public transit is a service, not a product, and consequently, special service marketing techniques are especially appropriate. Service marketing developed much later than product marketing– as late as the 1970s.18 While service marketing has many commonalities with product marketing, some techniques must be slightly altered to address the differences between the two. In service industries, the company produces its goods when and where the customer purchases them, instead of far away in a factory as is often the case in product industries. Unfortunately for public transit, service marketing is inherently more challenging than product marketing. Services are abstract and consequently more difficult to represent easily to customers.19 Product advertisements 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19


Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Boone and Kurtz 2006 Ibid. Lovelock 1987 Ibid. Lovelock 1987 Shostack 1977

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generally combine physical representations of the product with abstract images that link the product to desirable emotions, status, and services.20 Service advertisements must deal with a concept that is already abstract, making it more difficult to create memorable and understandable representations. Consequently, branding is especially critical in service marketing. Similarly, the appearances of the physical spaces customers interact with are very important. People develop expectations about the quality of service they will receive based upon appearances of those spaces,21 so transit vehicles and stations must appear clean, safe, and efficient. Public transit in the United States today is an unusual service due to the not-for-profit nature of the operating agencies. These agencies aim not to maximize profits, but to maximize social good in their service areas.22 Transit agencies seek to decrease automobile usage in order to reduce congestion and pollution, to enhance mobility for those who do not have their own means of transportation, and to maintain the support of the taxpayers who typically fund the systems’ operations.23 Additionally, many of the social benefits of transit, such as improved public health, are subtle and invisible in the short term .24 Thus, public transit marketing could actually use techniques of social marketing, which attempts to promote individual or public good through behavior and attitude change.25 However, while transit marketing should address behavior and attitude change, increasing transit ridership is quite different from convincing people not to smoke or to wear seatbelts. Riding public transit produces social and environmental benefits, but public transit itself is an actual service that riders pay to use. Consequently, public transit should be marketed as a service. The social marketing aspects might be more appropriate for transit advocacy groups, while the public transit agencies themselves should focus on service marketing. Public transit marketing is further complicated by the fact that public transit’s primary competition is the automobile, which is very much a product. Automakers only have to convince their customers to buy a car once every few years. 20 21 22 23 24 25

Ibid. Ibid. Lovelock 1987 Ibid. Rhindress 2008 Kotler et al. 2002

Transit agencies, on the other hand, have to convince their customers to choose transit instead of another mode for every trip they make. Consequently, transit agencies must stay in constant touch with their customers. Furthermore, because cars are much more expensive than individual transit rides, automakers gain a far larger marginal benefit from each automobile purchase than transit agencies gain from each ride purchase. For these reasons, transit agencies should rely more heavily on modern relationshiporiented marketing techniques that focus on efficiently and effectively maintaining a loyal, repeat customer base.

AUTOMOBILE MARKETING Automakers have perfected the art and science of marketing, employing the full range of product marketing techniques described above. They develop different makes and models to appeal to different market segments. They closely follow their customers’ prevailing desires and adapt their products’ design and representation to match those desires.26 For example, in recent years, as customers have become more concerned with cars’ greenhouse gas emissions, automakers have started emphasizing gas mileage and environmental friendliness.27 Even if their recent engineering efforts have not greatly lessened environmental impacts, they make their customers feel less guilty when purchasing automobiles.28 Automakers do not fight against their customers’ changing demands. Instead, they alter their strategies to address these new concerns. Whether or not their way of addressing environmental concerns is laudable, it certainly demonstrates masterful marketing technique. In short, public transit faces fierce competition from an industry that really knows how to market. Advertising is one of automakers’ primary marketing activities. Automobiles are the most advertised of any product type.29 In the first half of 2004 alone, the 29 highestspending automobile brands put more than $5 billion into their U.S. media presence,30 which roughly averages to $350 million per brand per year. Automobile advertising goes beyond customers’ rational need for a quality product to play upon their desires and 26 27 28 29 30

McLean 2009 Ibid. Ibid. Conley 2009 Ibid.

emotions. Automobile advertisements do not simply display the product and its features but instead rely upon imagery and symbols to move beyond the rational realm.31 In an extensive study of automobile advertisements, Ontario-based sociologist Jim Conley32 found that most of these advertisements rely upon an established library of symbols and representations that the American public readily understands. The ads depict automobiles as fantasy objects that imbue the mundanities of everyday life with technical sophistication and glamour. The imagery, settings, and lighting emphasize ideals of status, autonomy, freedom, and excitement. These ads construct an identity and lifestyle that people want to buy into, but at the same time one that these same people feel they are already naturally a part of.33 Many of these symbolic qualities make appearances in media outside of advertising, including journalism, literature, and films.34 Popular culture glamorizes automobiles with images of picture-perfect car-based suburbia, exciting chase scenes, and sexy British agents with high-tech BMWs. Transit rarely attracts such obvious attention or positive representations. Some of these automobile depictions are purposeful: automobiles frequently get prominent product placements in movies and television, often for free in exchange for donating products to the studio.35

TRANSIT MARKETING In contrast, transit agencies in the U.S. have not typically partaken in innovative marketing.36 Throughout their past, transit agencies have instead focused mostly on operations.37 One reason is that transit agencies generally hold monopolies on the public transit services in their jurisdictions and consequently do not perceive any competition for ridership.38 Another is the inherent difficulty of marketing transit services as discussed above. In a survey of managers and employees from transit organizations in the U.S.,39 Cronin & Hightower found that only half of the contacted agencies had marketing 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39

Ibid. Ibid. McLean 2009 Conley 2009 Grover 2009 Cronin and Hightower 2004 Lovelock 1987 Ibid. Cronin and Hightower 2004


departments. A 1973 study40 revealed roughly the same results. Thus, although the field of service marketing has developed significantly since then, transit agencies have not really embraced these advances. The marketing departments that existed in the 2004 survey were generally small.41 Most of these did not have a dedicated marketing director; instead, this job was assigned to another employee as a secondary duty or dispersed among many employees. Although about two-thirds of the marketing departments had written marketing plans, most of those were shortterm and did not address long-term strategies. Some of the agencies surveyed contracted with outside marketing firms, but usually those firms focused more on advertising than on the full spectrum of marketing activities. About 29% of the agencies surveyed had annual budgets of less than $30,000, although about 20% had annual budgets greater than $500,000. Nevertheless, a budget of $500,000 is about 700 times smaller than the annual advertising expenditures for a single automobile brand. Informational resources and serious research on public transit marketing are hard to find, and there is a dearth of academic literature and textbooks on the subject. The literature that does speak specifically to public transit and marketing seems fairly rudimentary. For example, a study by Jones & Sloman42 concluded that “soft measures” (i.e., marketing) could lead people to change their travel behavior. If the authors had thought to consider the last hundred years of development in the field of marketing, such a conclusion should have been self-evident. Additionally, the authors suggest that the best way to change travel behavior is to make people aware of the problems associated with automobile travel and to accept personal responsibility for it. Such a strategy relies far too heavily on people’s rational thoughts and individual sense of duty and cannot possibly compete with automakers’ carefully-crafted strategies that play on customers’ emotions and subconscious desires. There have been some attempts at innovation. The IndiMark campaign, an initiative of the Munich-based research firm SocialData, has successfully implemented some slightly more innovative marketing techniques.43 In several cities in Europe and Australia, the campaign has used individualized 40 41 42 43


Lovelock 1973 Cronin and Hightower 2004 Jones and Sloman 2003 Brög et al. 2002

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Underbelly of Chicago’s ‘L’ system, 2011 (Photo Credit: Ellen Manasse)

marketing to encourage travel behavior change. Subjects were contacted for a conversation about their travel habits, told about public transit availability in their home cities, and given a free transit pass for one month. The campaign sought to change behavior for individual trips instead of changing people’s entire lifestyle. It succeeded in decreasing car usage among the targeted populations by about 10% and increasing walking, cycling, and transit use in its place. Despite the campaign’s success, it still focuses very heavily on information provision and rational decision-making. The technique is reminiscent of the pre-World War II era of marketing when salesmen simply provided potential customers with information about their companies’ products. In other words, the idea is hardly new. Consider IndiMark’s stated viewpoint: “People should receive information, which enables them to improve their perception and to motivate them and to empower them to make their own decisions, rather than telling them what they should do.”44 Compare 44


or non-existent, especially compared to the advanced and well-funded efforts of automakers. In order to increase transit ridership and decrease automobile use, transit agencies need to drastically increase and improve their marketing efforts. First, transit agencies need to adopt a marketing mindset, orienting all their functions toward attracting and serving the customer.46 They need to increase their marketing budgets, even if the increase is not covered by a corresponding revenue increase in the short term. Some agencies should consider forming a marketing department.47 However, a marketing department is not strictly necessary if the agency’s various departments fully adopt and integrate the marketing function into their activities.48 To some extent, a separate marketing department might actually serve to sequester marketing activities into a corner and encourage other departments to ignore them.49 Ultimately, the agency’s upper-level management must make a careful and concerted effort to integrate marketing effectively into the existing organization.50

Photo Credit: Mikhail Kim

this to the attitude taken by automakers in advertising, as described by McLean: “The goal of advertising is to create an urgent desire in potential consumers by developing a sense of lack and feelings of inadequacy... Symbolic meanings are attached to goods and their properties by associating them with our goals, values and dreams. The implicit suggestion is that owning or purchasing the product is the route to happiness and success.”45 Thus, public transit marketing speaks to people’s rational side while automobile marketing exploits their inner desires on a more emotional level. As we know, emotions can be extremely powerful in influencing people’s decisions. Thus, simply providing people with information about transit service and relying on them to make a sensible decision is unlikely to compete successfully with ads that convince them they have an “urgent desire” for automobiles.

IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Public transit agencies’ marketing efforts are rudimentary 45

McLean 2009, 60

Additionally, transit agencies need to use effective, modern marketing techniques, especially those developed for service marketing and those that emphasize long-term relationships with customers. Specifically: • Infrastructure should be clean and consistent in appearance.51 •

Signage and schedule information should be readily available and easily readable.52

Branding is essential.53

Operators should be polite and competent.54

Successful market segmentation can help increase the effectiveness of advertising and programs like workplace incentives and school travel plans.55

46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55

Lovelock 1987 Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Jones and Sloman 2003; Lovelock 1987 Jones and Sloman 2003 Ibid. Lovelock 1987 Jones and Sloman 2003


Better market research can improve planning, scheduling, and pricing. Marketing efforts that reach out to potential customers might even offer new avenues for public participation in the planning process.

Next, transit agencies need to recognize automobiles as the competition. Although transit agencies hold a monopoly on public transit service in their area, they exist alongside other modes of transit on a competitive playing field. Just as automakers stay on top of their competition and their customers’ current desires, so too must transit. Transit marketing should exploit the weaknesses of automobiles, taking advantage of drivers’ dissatisfaction with traffic congestion,56 environmental degradation, parking availability, high maintenance costs, and urban sprawl. Finally, transit agencies need to build a positive image for transit. Transit currently suffers an image problem. People think of transit as a low-cost and low-quality “alternative” option primarily for poor and elderly people,57 and automobile advertisements and popular culture negatively portray transit and the urban environment.58 In order for transit to build ridership, customers in all market segments must be made to see transit as something that is for them specifically instead of primarily for some other market segment.59 Just as automobile advertisements have done, transit needs to promote lifestyle images that people relate to and want to buy into. Image-oriented advertising campaigns, branding, and slogans are a way to start. Positive “product” placements in mainstream media could improve acceptance for transit. In conclusion, in order to address the environmental and social impacts of extensive automobile use, people must be convinced to switch from their cars to public transit. Marketing is one key component in a package of strategies for doing this. Public transit agencies need to become better marketers. They should adopt a marketing mindset, use effective, modern marketing techniques, recognize automobiles as the competition, and build a positive image for transit. 56 57 58 59


Lovelock 1987 Lovelock 1987; Rhindress 2008 Conley 2009 Rhindress 2008

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Works Cited Boone, Louis E., and David L. Kurtz. (2006). Contemporary marketing. Mason, Ohio: Thomson South-Western. Brög, Werner, Erhard Erl, and Nicola Mense. (2002). Individualised Marketing: Changing Travel Behavior for a Better Environment. Presented at the OECD Workshop: Environmentally Sustainable Transport, Berlin. Retrieved from Conley, Jim. (2009). Automobile Advertisements: The Magical and the Mundane. In Car troubles: critical studies of automobility and auto-mobility. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. Cronin, J. Joseph, Jr. and Roscoe Hightower, Jr. (2004). An Evaluation of the Role of Marketing in Public Transit Organizations. Journal of Public Transportation, 7(2): 17-36. Jones, Peter M. and Lynn Sloman. (2003). Encouraging Behavioral Change Through Marketing and Management: What can be achieved? In Moving Through Nets: The Physical and Social Dimensions of Travel. Presented at the 10th International Conference on Travel Behavior Research, Lucerne. Kotler, Philip, Ned Roberto, and Nancy Lee. (2002). Social marketing: improving the quality of life. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications. Lovelock, Christopher. (1987). Marketing public transit: a strategic approach. New York: Praeger. McLean, Fiona. (2009). SUV Advertising: Constructing Identities and Practices. In Car troubles: critical studies of automobility and auto-mobility. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. Rhindress, Mindy. (2008). Understanding how to motivate communities to support and ride public transportation (Volume 122). Transit Cooperative Research Program. Transportation Research Board. Schmich, Mary. (2010, October 22). “It’s already the Apple Red Line Stop: Once an eyesore, North/Clybourn station now sparkles thanks to computer maker opening a store nearby Saturday.” Chicago Tribune, 22 October. http:// Shostack, G. Lynn. (1977). Breaking Free from Product Marketing. The Journal of Marketing, 41(2), 73-80.

A Critique of the Culture of Critiquing the Culture of Sprawl

Eric Paul Dennis

PART I: THE CULTURED SOCIAL SCIENTIST Societies can be simplified, categorized, and dichotomized in a variety of ways. Any broad classification system for human beings is inherently flawed by oversimplification, yet such simplifications are necessary in order to discuss and theorize about a society. Social problems are often framed as a tension between supposedly definable and oppositional categories such as rich and poor, liberal and conservative, religious and secular, etc. Though incomplete, these frameworks can be useful to help conceptualize complex issues. One such dichotomy that is potentially useful is the categorization of people as cultured or uncultured. Culture is a concept commonly understood, but difficult to define. A complicating factor is that the word has various meanings in different contexts. It is used to describe completely unrelated concepts depending on context: an anthropologist, an art critic, a microbiologist, and a farmer all have drastically different meanings for culture. Even social scientists rarely reflect on variations of meaning when referring to an ethnic culture, national culture, culture of poverty, culture of sprawl, etc. This essay attempts to analyze the word as used to refer to a cultured man. In this context, culture is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

training? Finally, if aesthetic training is required for enlightenment ‒ and thus culture ‒ what is the distinction between a cultured man and an indoctrinated man? The distinction between acculturation and indoctrination is fuzzy, but fundamental. The difference is determined solely by the prevalence of a priori (independent of experience) consideration inherent in the learning process in the Kantian sense of a transcendental knowledge of the good. If a priori consideration is absent, the education is indoctrination. In pure indoctrination, the individual automatically accepts the tacit assumptions on which any further knowledge is predicated. Thus, “an educated man is not necessarily a cultured man.”1 In acculturation, by contrast, learned concepts and behaviors are constantly challenged by the individual; not only in formal method, but in a priori reflection. Humanist anthropologist Ashley Montagu, in The Cultured Man (1958), recognizes such a distinction between the processes of acculturation and indoctrination: “The process of making a cultured man does not depend on the transmission of knowledge, but upon the manner in which that knowledge is transmitted by the teacher. The teacher who is enthusiastic about teaching is likely to imbue his teaching with an infectious enthusiasm for the art of sound thinking; he will stimulate the imagination to soar but also to remain in control, he will increase the sensibilities of his students toward the appreciation of beauty and the will to contemplatively approach the mysteries that surround us; he will encourage the student to allow his imagination to play freely upon what he is learning: such a teacher will contribute toward the making of a cultured man, rather than a technician.”2

a: enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training b: acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills The formal definition demonstrates the elusiveness of the concept. Who is qualified to recognize excellence of taste? What is meant by enlightenment achieved through aesthetic training? If indoctrination is defined as in Merriam-Webster, “to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle,” is indoctrination not also aesthetic

1 2

Montagu 1958, 9 Montagu 1958, 62


Montagu further distinguishes the qualities of a cultured man from that of a “civilized man,” though the two may be outwardly indistinguishable. Montagu posits than an educated/ civilized man remains uncultured if he is not predisposed to challenge the virtues of his knowledge: “The civilized man naturally adopts the values, that is to say those qualities that are considered to be virtues, of his particular State as they are reflected in the practices of a particular town in which he happens to have his being. In the course of acquiring those local civilized virtues he may fail to achieve them with any accompaniment of refinement and with little or no humanity.”3 Thus, a cultured man and a learned man may outwardly exhibit the same mannerisms, breadth, and depth of knowledge. The crucial difference is the a priori consideration and reconsideration of accepted knowledge and conventional wisdom in the mind of the cultured man, what Montagu calls “humanity.” This difference implies a distinctively different cognitive map ‒ a mental model of the world – in the minds of the cultured versus the uncultured. Montagu quotes philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who succinctly defines culture as “activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling.”4 Montagu hypothesizes that every human being may have an inherent capacity for acculturation.5 He subsequently admits he may be wrong, but maintains that it is an experiment worth attempting. A concerted effort towards a wholly cultured society is a noble goal, but doubtfully attainable. We are not born blank slates. Individual human beings are genetically predisposed to distinct patterns of thought,6 and it is possible that some may be incapable of acculturation. Even if Montagu is correct in thinking that every human being is born with a capacity for acculturation, this capacity may easily be quashed in early childhood as an individual’s cognitive map takes shape. While the human mind is amazingly adaptable, most of our habits of thought are set very early on in life.7 Others who may be capable of such thought patterns may 3 4 5 6 7


Montagu 1958, 28 Quoted in Montagu 1958, 40 Montagu 1958, 32 Pinker 2002 Wright 1994

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never be inspired to develop them, as acculturation is not necessary in coping with the typical tasks and challenges of daily life. When we formally consider our world and society, we often rely on theories that have been formulated by professional academics in the fields of humanities and social sciences. These fields are generally abstract and interconnected, requiring the constant challenging of accepted norms. As this requirement for abstract analytical thought is combined with the relatively meager average salary for professional social scientists (which implies that most seek knowledge for knowledge’s sake), we find that this field is composed primarily of individuals from the minority of humanity who are not only acculturable, but fully cultured. Because professional academic social scientists are highly predisposed to be cultured, we find ourselves in a troubling situation where our society is professionally analyzed by a group of people whose cognitive processes are fundamentally different from the majority of the population. This dynamic is not necessarily a disadvantage, and is probably unavoidable. However, theorists and planners should be cognizant of this dynamic when drafting social theories that may become the basis of public policy. Such a practice raises the possibility of the value judgments of the cultured elite becoming the theoretical foundation of public policy for the masses. This is nothing new. The cultured have been making value judgments on the non-cultured since the dawn of civilization. Aristotle was quite sure that “happiness... is more often found with those who are highly cultivated in their minds and in their character... than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities.”8 In 1854, Thoreau noted that in his New England village of Concord, Massachusetts, the people were “so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them,” and from his rural cottage on the edge of town lamented that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”9 In 1903, German sociologist Georg Simmel lectured that in the growing industrial cities, the average man was “a mere cog in 8 9

Russell 1945 (1972), 189 Thoreau 1854

an enormous organization of things and powers which tear from his hands all progress, spirituality, and value in order to transform them from their subjective form into the form of a purely objective life.”10 In 1938, University of Chicago sociologist Louis Wirth wrote of the common recreation of city dwellers of his era: “Catering to thrills and furnishing means of escape from drudgery, monotony, and routine thus become one of the major functions of urban recreation, which... typically in the urban world results in passive spectatorism on the one hand, or sensational recordsmashing feats on the other.”11 It is truly amazing that to this day, the cultured man manages surprise at the uninspired daily life of “the masses.” Life of the uncultured appears to the cultured as perpetual drudgery. But it is a mistake for the cultured to believe that the masses can or should be “saved.” Being uncultured is not a crime, nor a flaw, nor a deficiency. The uncultured are not oppressed, depressed, unintelligent, or unhappy. The only difference is that they have not developed the “activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling” gained in acculturation. One area where this misunderstanding is evident today is in the study of the suburbs and the “culture of sprawl.” Ironically, when social scientists refer to suburban culture (or similarly an ethnic culture, national culture, culture of poverty, etc.), they mean the opposite of the word as defined for this essay. They use it more like biologists do – they mean that a people have emerged from an environment ‒ a culture ‒ and have uncritically adopted the accepted norms of their society. Yet very few politically correct social scientists would dare be overcritical of an ethnic culture, religious culture, or a culture of poverty. Suburban culture does not receive such respect. LeGates & Stout offer this summation of academic literature of the modern suburb: “The suburban developments if the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s in America and elsewhere gave birth to a massive literature, most of it highly critical. Damned as culturally dead and socially/racially segregated, the post-World War II suburbs were 10 11

Simmel 1903 (1950), 422 Wirth 1938, 96

called ‘sprawl’ and stigmatized as ‘anti-cities’ (to use Lewis Mumford’s term to describe Los Angeles). Titles such as John Keats’ The Crack in the Picture Window (1956), Richard Gordon’s The Split Level Trap (1961), Mark Baldassare’s Trouble in Paradise (1986), and Robert Fogelson’s Bourgois Nightmares (2005) capture the tone of much of the commentary. Indeed, James Howard Kunstler in The Geography of Nowhere (1993) calls the automobile suburbs ‘the evil empire,’ Joel S. Hirschhorn titles his analysis Sprawl Kills (2005), and another radical analysis screams Bomb the Suburbs (2001)!”12 This is a rather alarmist body of work for a study of what is fundamentally just medium-density development. Regardless, after half a century of literary attack on the culture of sprawl, the sprawled and sprawling masses have not much noticed. The prophesied resurgence of inner cities remains more the exception than the rule. New stripmalls and cul-de-sacs continue to chew on farmland on the outskirts of many of the nation’s metropolitan areas. Having lost the argument against suburbia on the grounds of its depressing banality, savvy critics have fallen back to arguments of sustainability. Not only are the suburbs creating vacant, shallow, alienated people, critics argue, they are squandering precious natural resources and destroying the environment. For many, the natural solution to this problem is to return to our urban “roots” of compact, high-density urban environments, supposedly the period of industrialization and early Fordism from about 1850 until about 1940. But how objective is the advocacy of high-density urbanism? What is the probability that those living in the brief period following the advent of mechanized production but before the broad availability of the automobile had really stumbled upon the ideal built environment for human society? Is this form really the most sustainable? After all, it was the slum conditions of 19th-century cities such as London, Paris, and Manchester that inspired the first urban planners to seek a better urban form. Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier are among the bestknown founders of the field of urban planning. Both men 12

LeGates & Stout 1996 (2009), 59


hated the compact crowded cities of their time. Howard proposed systematically depopulating London through construction of “Garden Cities” of 30,000 residents, each city separated by miles of countryside and connected by roads and rails.13 Le Corbusier proposed dismantling Paris entirely and reconstructing the city ‒ in place ‒ with giant monolithic skyscrapers separated by vacant green space and connected by superhighways.14 Likewise, the celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright proposed that United States cities should be encouraged to dissolve into vast regions of single-family homes, each set on no less than a one-acre plot.15 Urban theorist and sociologist Lewis Mumford anticipated the abandonment of the metropolis with its “ponderous disabilities” in favor of a “polynucleated city.”16 Eminent American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead forcefully advocated for the expansion of the cities to incorporate wider streets, more space between houses, and enough green space and tree plantings to “completely shut out the city from our landscapes.”17 The forefathers of urban planning theory were the original inventers and proponents of de-concentration! One must wonder what they would think of today’s theorists proposing to solve society’s problems by urging the public back into compact cities. There are certainly social, environmental, and other negative externalities related to sprawl. I maintain, however, that embedded in the critique of sprawl, the (cultured) contemporary urban theorists, consciously or unconsciously, weave subjective value judgments into supposedly objective analyses of built form. This is not a radical statement. Sustainable development scholar John Friedmann has admitted as much, saying, “the social sciences are inevitably imprinted with the values and interests of the author... We cannot escape ideology.”18 This is not implying that social science should be value-free, or even aspire to it. However, theorists should be aware that the opinions, worldviews, and even cognitive maps of social 13 14 15 16 17 18


Fishman 1996 (2003), 31 Fishman 1996 (2003), 52 Fishman 1996 (2003), 24 Mumford 1937, 61 Olmstead 1870 in LeGates & Stout 1996 (2009), 313 Friedmann 2000, 460

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scientists represent the cultured minority, and should be evaluated with respect to the thoughts and habits of the uncultured majority. It was the utopian visions of planners past that advocated disassembly of the metropolis; will anything be improved if the utopian views of planners present are allowed to re-assemble it? The remainder of this essay is an investigation into some of the ways that theorists incorporate value judgments and aesthetic preferences into discussions of sprawl, and a brief evaluation of prevailing views.

PART II: CULTURED CLAIMS EVALUATED Claim: Sprawl is a result of government subsidy and policy and thus “inorganic.” It is certainly true that sprawl in the United States was encouraged by substantial government subsidies. The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), tax-deductible mortgage interest, the Interstate Highway Act, subsidy of the oil industry, and more policies all contributed to the national sprawl epidemic. It is worth remembering that such federal subsidies accompanied public policy that acted on the utopian views of social scientists and planners in the early 20th century. In this era of industrialization, the compact city was seen as an enemy of the people; dirty, impersonal, and inhumane. Rent was too high. Homeownership was a luxury of the privileged class. Residents were immobile, tied to employment near the city center. As a solution to the problems of compact industrial cities, home loans were subsidized and highways were built to allow access to inexpensive land on the periphery. It could be argued that the subsidies worked as planned. A common indictment of sprawl is that because of such federal subsidies, the evolution of cities into sprawling metropolitan areas was artificial and “inorganic.” Evaluating this criticism for cultural bias and value judgments requires evaluating what is meant by “organic” community. Sociologist Louis Wirth considered the “organic nature” of human community to be the “rural-folk society.”19 Wirth’s view of the original nature of human society as consisting of small kinship groups is consistent with contemporary 19

Wirth 1938, 91

theories of evolutionary psychology20 and theories of the origins of social order.21 While this may have been the community structure in an evolutionary environment, nobody is suggesting that this is a preferred, or even possible, social order in contemporary society. Anyways, our current society is so different from the evolutionary environment that theorizing about the organic nature of human communities probably has limited applicability. A society based on small kinship groups may have been organic in the evolutionary environment. However, in different socioeconomic conditions such as those imposed by modern institutions, organic growth of society may take on a different form. Compact industrial and pre-industrial cities formed in response to the prevalent economic and institutional forces of their day, as do the automobile suburbs of today. Federal subsidies made homeownership and automobile travel more economical but did not mandate that sprawl should occur. Nobody was forced to leave central cities. Furthermore, the origins of suburbanization predated such subsidies; federal policy just made it more affordable. Sprawl was the organic growth of American society in response to the socioeconomic environment of the time, just as compact cities were the organic growth of society in response to the early industrial era. There is nothing less organic about sprawl than any other built form. Claim: Sprawl is oppressive to the poor. Claiming that sprawl is oppressive to the poor is an easy accusation to make when evaluating socioeconomic demographics. The American poor are crowded in inner cities or ignored in rural hinterlands, but they are practically absent from the sprawling “technoburbs”.22 Often absent in the framing of this issue is a substantial discussion of how sprawl is more oppressive to the poor than are other social structures. As Peter Marcuse points out, “cities have always been divided. Possibly they always will be – and possibly they should be.”23

hidden quarters of many inner cities, but class segregation is not a result of sprawl. Class segregation occurs under various urban forms. Many European central cities are populationdense economic hubs, yet high-value real estate in inner cities forces the Euro-poor into “high-rise housing on the urban outskirts.”24 In the rapidly growing cities of the global south, the rich and middle class inhabit fortified enclaves linked by restricted-access corridors comprising a parallel elite city overlaid on the existing landscape.25 Furthermore, even “successful” urban regeneration or gentrification often displaces inner-city poor who are economically or socially pushed out of their home neighborhoods.26 Many of the decentralizing planning theories of the early 20th century were specifically designed to address issues of economic disparity. For example, Ebenezer Howard’s “Garden City” was designed to alleviate “problems of intemperance, of excessive toil, of restless anxiety, of grinding poverty,” and other blights associated with crowded 19th-century London.27 The mistake made by the cultured person is the assumption that the urban poor are neglected because of the physical distance between them and the middle class. Unfortunately, reducing the physical distance without addressing gaps in education, resources, and culture will not sufficiently address the foundations of structural poverty. Advocates of compact cities as a solution to poverty should take care to consider that poverty persists in any socioeconomic system that exploits people. Any attempt to relieve the plight of the poor may be more effectively focused on the poor themselves, or the economic forces that perpetuate structural poverty.

It is a travesty that minorities and the poor been abandoned in

Claim: Sprawl consumes too much land. A window seat on a cross-country flight provides a depressing view: miles and miles of pointlessly curved roads and cul-de-sacs spiral outward from practically every city in the country, often stretching between horizons with no apparent center at all. When confronted with the fact that endless tracts of wilderness are being paved over, it is an understandable reaction to want the “destruction of

20 21 22 23

24 25 26 27

Wright 1994 Fukuyama 2011 Fishman 1996 (2003) Marcuse 2002, 11

Davis 2006, 31 Davis 2006 Logan & Molotch 1987 (2007) Howard 1898, 315


wilderness” to stop. But this is a value judgment. It is an aesthetic travesty that big-box stores, strip-malls, and neo-colonial single-family homes are covering desolate deserts, rolling hillsides, and lush meadows all over the country. But land is not being destroyed; it is simply being used in a different way. Wilderness is not consumed by sprawl. Wilderness itself is a myth. Modern humans have never known such a thing. Humans have become the dominant species on the planet through their ability to alter the environment; there is not one square inch on the surface of this planet that has not been altered by human activity. These effects on Earth’s global environment will probably outlast our species, and will certainly outlast the infrastructure of our current society. Is a forest preferable to a parking lot? The cultured likely think so. But it is flawed to frame the question as one of land consumption. The valuefree question is how we should use the land. Claim: Sprawl leads to alienation and isolation. It is ironic to read scholarly critiques of the alienated American suburbanite. Sociologists of the early 20th century could not write enough on the theme of the “loneliness of the crowd” in the compact city. Georg Simmel found the middle-class residents of dense metropolises to be misanthropic, narcissistic, and blasé. He postulated that a city forces adaptive modifications to the very psychology of its inhabitants ‒ generally related to “intensification of nervous stimulation.”28 This psychology manifests in the urban personality, he argued, as a “latent antipathy” and “practical antagonism” that are actually necessary for the metropolitan middle-class to psychically function in the context of a large, dense population.29 According to Simmel, “if so many inner reactions were responses to the continuous external contacts with innumerable people as are those in a small town... one would be completely [fractured] internally and come to an unimaginable psychic state.”30 Louis Wirth’s construct of community in the metropolis was similarly bleak, defined by alienated labor and alienated neighbors: 28 29 30


Simmel 1903 (1950), 410 Simmel 1903 (1950), 416 Simmel 1903 (1950), 415

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“The proximity of industrial and commercial establishments makes an area both economically and socially undesirable for residential purposes... The close living together and working together of individuals who have no sentimental and emotional ties foster a spirit of competition, aggrandizement, and mutual exploitation.”31 Wirth did, however, perceive city life to be a modest improvement over the limited opportunity for acculturation allowed by the ignorance of rural life. In the city, according to Wirth, “the individual gains... a certain degree of emancipation or freedom from the personal and emotional controls of intimate groups.”32 Simmel observed this same feature of metropolitan life: “Today metropolitan man is ‘free’ in a spiritualized and refined sense, in contrast to the pettiness and prejudices which hem in the small-town man.”33 With esteemed sociologists advancing such dismal descriptions of city community while simultaneously rejecting rural life as primitive, it is no wonder the preeminent planners of the day believed that development should proceed as described by Lewis Mumford: “The differentiation of foot traffic from wheeled traffic in independent systems; the insulation of residence quarters from through roads; the discontinuous street pattern; the polarization of social life in specially spotted civic nuclei... Instead of trusting to the mere massing of population to produce the necessary social concentration, and social drama, we must now seek these results through deliberate local nucleation and finer regional articulation.”34 In other words, says Mumford, for the good of society, we must sprawl! Suburbia proceeded in a way that physically resembled Mumford’s vision, but his utopian community did not result. By 1940, he already lamented that the suburbs represented “a collective attempt to lead a private life.”35 31 32 33 34 35

Wirth 1938, 15 Wirth 1938, 12 Simmel 1903 (1950), 422 Mumford 1937, 62 Quoted in Knox 2008, 150

Claim: Sprawl consumes too much energy. Sprawling communities – with large detached houses and automobile-centric travel – are usually found to be more demanding of energy resources than more compact communities. Thus, sprawling communities are often said to consume too much energy. But this is a value judgment. What is defined as “too much” energy consumption is partially an issue of engineering, but is primarily an aesthetic concern. Focusing on the issue of oil consumption, what even George W. Bush called America’s “addiction to oil,”36 really is unsustainable on multiple levels. In the near term, it puts us at a disadvantage in international relations with nations that sit on top of massive oil fields. In the medium term, as our economy is dependent on fossil fuel, American prosperity is tied to the cost of a barrel of sweet crude. In the long term, we will never run out of petroleum, but at some point it will become prohibitively expensive to drive the economy. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) is not willing to predict when world peak oil (i.e., when demand outpaces possible production rates) will occur any more precisely than estimating it will be “closer to the middle of the 21st century than to its beginning.”37 Current EIA forecasts extend 25 years forward, and predict crude oil to be selling at $145 per barrel in 2010 dollars in the year 2035. Such a price would be a manageable increase over today’s prices, which ranged between $85 and $110 per barrel in 2011. 38 If the EIA is correct, we can look forward to a 2035 model year lineup of V8 gasoline-powered sports cars and pickup trucks. In any event, replacing fossil fuels is just a matter of engineering and investment. We could meet projected energy demands through even minor increases in efficiency and alternative energy sources. Technology is making renewable energy sources increasingly competitive. If nothing else, our supply of nuclear fuel would last thousands of years, even with existing technology.39 Sprawl per se is not a threat to our energy supply.

36 37 38 39

Bush 2006 Wood, Long, & Morehouse 2004 U.S. Energy Information Agency 2012 Lomborg 2001, 129

PART III: THE UNDERLYING ETHOS OF CULTURED CRITICISM To an educated yet uncultured individual living in one of America’s countless suburbs, it may be difficult to understand why many urban planners and social scientists are waging an ideological war against the suburban way of life. Are the suburbs really harming anybody? Why is sprawl such a lightning rod for cultural criticism? It does not seem reasonable that the density of development could attract such controversy. What is more likely is that sprawl represents values within contemporary society that the cultured do not generally share. It is often said that the history books are written by the winners of wars – implying that history may be biased to the author. Similarly, social critiques are written by winners of advanced degrees in social science, and are similarly biased. Social scientists have admitted that the field is inherently subjective,40 but do not often recognize that the subject is fundamentally different from themselves. Cultured social scientists believe they are studying abstractions of themselves, when in reality they are studying the uncultured masses. Sprawl is a product of conspicuous competitive consumption – a drive that the cultured do not understand. Cultured men have been repeating a serial critique of their societies for centuries: As Aristotle said, “Happiness... is more often found with those who are highly cultivated in their minds and in their character... than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities.” Aristotle could not understand the apparent need of his contemporaries to conspicuously consume far beyond their material needs while allowing their potentially miraculous human minds to rot on the vine. Cultured men today continue to puzzle over this, and yet the answer is simple: most of society is not cultured. The uncultured majority is the inspiration for the expression, “ignorance is bliss.” They are the reason that Rome’s public executions necessitated a Coliseum. They are the reason that gold was worth dying for long before it found a use in electronic circuits. They are the reason that Las Vegas profits from a 40

Friedmann 2000


combination of simulacra-spectacle, all-you-can-eat buffets, and anonymous sex. They are the people that built endless highway loops between fortified strip-malls, country clubs, and gated communities. They are the masses. They always have been. They are human. All humans have inherited from eons of evolution an instinct to consume and an intellect to invent remarkable new methods of consumption.41 Only a minority have developed the cognitive patterns necessary to explore what it truly means to be this human animal; this is the cultured minority, and this is the pool from which social scientists invariably spring. Social scientists must account for this when they are theorizing the mass majority ‒ they are different. The average person is not a cultured social scientist. Cultured social scientists have trouble understanding how an uncultured suburbanite could possibly be happy living in a place so ugly. The cultured fail to recognize that the uncultured do not possess the same a priori conceptions of aesthetics. To them, a sprawling suburb is not ugly – it’s home. We should not be surprised when suburbanites defend their home ‒ their way of life ‒ with the same passion that the cultured have for the communities where they choose to reside.

PART IV: CONCLUSION We live in a society that has sprawled and ‒ negating a drastic shift ‒ will continue sprawling. This built form is an organic result of the current social and economic environment. Taking for granted the technologies of modernity such as transportation and communication technology, this paradigm was probably unavoidable. Conspicuous, competitive consumption is a natural response of the majority of uncultured human beings within such an economic environment. Sprawl is a byproduct of such an economy. This dynamic is difficult for most social scientists to understand, as social scientists tend to fit the definition of cultured individuals. There are objectively valid criticisms of sprawl as unsustainable, but they are often difficult to dissociate from hidden value judgments. This is not to suggest that social scientists should withhold moral values or simply evaluate 41

Timothy Miller 1995


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society without suggesting improvements. If we assume, in theory, that the myriad of problems that accompany urban sprawl are either (a) not endemic to sprawl but a feature of modern society in general, or (b) can be solved in ways that do not include land use restrictions, then there is nothing to gain by advocating the end of sprawl except aesthetic improvements. It may even be that Montagu was right, and the whole of society has the potential for acculturation. Even if this is true, such a process cannot begin with wholesale densification. It is doubtful that societal-scale problems such as racial prejudice or religious intolerance would be affected by reshuffling of population, and these types of clear moral issues are where the cultured should concentrate their energy. If they really wish to nudge society towards utopia there is much work to be done even to convince the mass of men that they are all equally human. Works Cited Bush, George W. (2006) State of the Union Address. Davis, Mike. (2006). Planet of Slums (2007 paperback editioned.). London and New York: Verso. Fishman, Robert. ([1996] 2003). Urban Utopias: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier. In S. Campbell, & S. Fainstein, Readings in Planning Thoery (pp. 21-60). Blackwell. Friedmann, John. (2000). The Good City: In Defense of Utopian Thinking. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 460-472. Fukuyama, Francis. (2011). The Origins of Political Order. New York: Farrar. Straus and Giroux. Howard, Ebenezer. (1898). Garden Cities of To-morrow. In R. T. LeGates, & F. Stout (Eds.), The City Reader Fourth Edition (pp. 314-321). New York: Routledge. Knox, Paul. (2008). Metroburbia, USA. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press. LeGates, Richard. T., and Frederic Stout. ([1996] 2009). The City Reader (fourth edn.). London and New York: Routledge. Logan, John R., and Harvey L. Molotch ([1987] 2007). Urban Fortunes - The Political Economy of Place. University of California Press.

Lomborg, Bjorn. (2001). The Skeptical Environmentalist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Life. In The Sociology of Georg Simmel (K. H. Wolff, Trans., pp. 409-424). Glencoe: The Free Press.

Marcuse, Peter. (2002). The Partitioned City in History. In P. Marcuse, & R. van Kempen (Eds.), States and Cities: The Partitioning of Urban Space (pp. 11-34). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Thoreau, Henry David. (1854). Walden.

Montagu, Ashley. (1958). The Cultured Man. Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company. Mumford, Lewis. (1937, November). What is a City? Architectural Record, 82(5), 59-62. Olmstead, Frederick Law. ([1996] 2009). Public Parks and the Enlargment of Towns. In R. T. LeGates, & F. Stout, The City Reader (Fourth Edition ed., pp. 307-313). London and New York: Routledge. Pinker, Steven. (2002). The Blank Slate. Viking. Russell, Bertrand. (1945 [1972]). The History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Miller, Timothy. (1995). How to Want What You Have: Discovering the Magic and Grandeur of an Ordinary Existance. Markham, Ontario: Henry Holt and Company, Inc. U.S. Energy Information Agency. (2011). Annual Energy Outlook 2012 - Early Release. Retrieved from http://www. Wirth, Louis. (1938). Urbanism as a Way of Life. (R. T. LeGates, & F. Stout, Eds.) American Journal of Sociology, 1-24. Wood, John H., Gary R. Long, and David F. Morehouse. (2004). Long-Term World Oil Supply Scenarios. U.S. Energy Information Agency. Wright, Robert. (1994). The Moral Animal. New York: Vintage Books.

Simmel, Georg. (1903 [1950]). The Metropolitis and Mental

Michigan Central Station, Detroit, MI (Photo Credit: Oleksandra Topolnytska)


Going the Distance

A Regional Analysis of Food Accessibility in the Detroit Tri-County Area

Elias Schewel and Eric Seymour

INTRODUCTION Recent studies on the relationship between health and the built environment have focused on the existence and extent of food deserts, which are generally defined as lowerincome areas characterized by a dearth of affordable and healthy food options.1 This project uses GIS to compare neighborhood accessibility to food destinations by travel mode in metropolitan Detroit, specifically the tri-county area consisting of Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne Counties. This analysis confirms, but also complicates, the commonly held perception of Detroit as a food desert. The results of this project contribute to a clearer understanding of the relationship between geography and opportunity in the Detroit area, which is critical given the city’s current efforts to reconfigure residential patterns to mitigate inefficiencies in service delivery.

PROBLEM STATEMENT Far from being homogenously distributed across metropolitan space, recent studies have shown that the location of such critical resources as food retailers constitutes a highly uneven “geography of opportunity,” the contours of which place low-income and minority households living in the central city at a particular disadvantage.2 In the absence of accessible, affordable, and healthy food options, inhabitants of food deserts are left with little choice but to consume unhealthy food items from “fringe food” venues such as fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.3 In turn, poor dietary habits can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other adverse health conditions. This is a major concern in the United States, as 4 of the country’s 10 leading causes of death are diseases for which diet is a risk factor.4 Residence in a food desert poses not only dietary, but also financial problems. For example, 1 2 3 4


Short et al., 2007; Warm et al., 2003 Briggs 2005; Galster and Killen 1995 Cheadle et al. 1991; Marie Gallagher Consulting Group 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2009

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health complications stemming from dietary habits can lead to increased medical expenses. Additionally, centralcity food retailers charge more, on average, than their suburban counterparts, placing a larger financial burden on consumers.5 Further, those using public transportation to access distant food destinations often face time-consuming and inconvenient trips. Low-income and minority residents, who are the least able to overcome the difficulties posed by residence in a food desert and the most adversely impacted by them, are also disproportionally likely to have insufficient access to healthy food options. Research has shown that the type of food destination available to neighborhood residents varies according to income and race.6 Supermarkets, which offer affordable and healthy food options, have been found to be more accessible in higher-income areas. On the other hand, convenience stores, which offer more expensive and less-nutritious options, are found to be more accessible in lower-income neighborhoods. In addition, low-income neighborhoods have been found to be less likely to have fruit and vegetable stands, bakeries, and natural food stores, but more likely to have liquor stores than more affluent neighborhoods.7 Reflecting the relationship between neighborhood racial characteristics and access to healthy food destinations, a study of supermarket accessibility in metropolitan Detroit found that predominantly black neighborhoods with high levels of poverty were, on average, 1.1 miles farther from supermarkets than were low-income white neighborhoods.8 In light of this pressing problem, this project investigates the contours of the food environment in the Detroit tri-county area along several dimensions. Specifically, this project identifies differences in the accessibility and type of food 5 6 7 8

MacDonald and Nelson 1991 Helling and Sawicki 2010; Moore and Roux 2006. Moore and Roux 2006 Zenk et al. 2005

Table 1. Food destination classification, Detroit tri-county area

destinations available to neighborhoods based on location and whether or not they are predominantly black, lowincome, and transit-dependent.Further, it examines these differences across travel mode. The results of this analysis could inform current plans for altering Detroit’s urban form to better accommodate its remaining residents.

METHOD The study area for this project is the Detroit tri-county area. The unit of analysis for this project is the Census Block Group (CBG); those with no reported population in the 2000 Census are excluded from our analysis.9 CBGs are frequently used as a proxy for neighborhoods in similar analyses and they allow for a finer-grained analysis than Census Tracts do.10 Demographic data for this project was obtained from the 2000 Census (SF1 and SF3), shapefiles for census geographies were retrieved from ESRI’s portal for Census TIGER/Line shapefiles, and the road shapefile and network dataset used for the network analysis were derived from ESRI’s Streetmap Premium. Information on food destinations was retrieved from Reference USA, a commercial database of individual businesses. Care was taken to remove duplicate and errant entries. This data includes Standard Industrial Classification codes (SICs) and number of employees for each establishment; these variables were used for classifying food destinations in our analysis. Table 1 presents the food destinations we selected for this project, their corresponding SIC codes 9 10

This project was completed prior to the availability of 2010 Census data. Raja et al. 2008

and employee counts, as well as an example of each type. Records for businesses included their latitude and longitude coordinates, which were used for geocoding. Finally, the road shapefile and network dataset used for the network analysis were derived from ESRI’s Streetmap Premium. To determine differential levels of accessibility to food destinations based on travel mode, we used the Network Analyst extension in ArcMap to produce five-minute service areas for walking, biking, and driving from the center of each CBG. Although five minutes is a short interval, it is a conventional benchmark used in accessibility studies. In preparing the different network datasets used for each mode, we established a time-based cost attribute for each dataset using speed limits for motorists, a constant speed of 10 miles per hour for cyclists, and a constant speed of three miles per hour for pedestrians. Highways and limitedaccess roadways were excluded from the network for biking and walking analyses. We then determined the number of food destinations located within the service area for each CBG for each mode of transportation. In order to provide a different measure of accessibility to compare against our primary method, we also calculated the average distance from the center of each CBG to the nearest food destination by store type. Limitations of this study include the fact that the data on the number and type of food destinations is neither entirely current nor reliably categorized. Businesses classified as convenience stores are often liquor or party stores, which


are disamenities and not likely to be viable food destinations from a public health perspective. We also assumed that all pedestrians and cyclists move at the same speed, which is certainly not the case. Furthermore, the results are based on the assumption of a five-minute travel time for each mode – a relatively short travel span that will overstate accessibility in denser, street-grid locations such as the inner city compared to suburban locations.

8% of the entire inventory of food destinations in the tricounty area, they constitute only 2% in Detroit. This pattern is even more pronounced when examined on a per capita basis: the tri-county area has 0.38 supermarkets per 10,000 residents, while Detroit has only 0.08. However, Detroit has more grocery stores and meat and fish destinations than the tri-county region as both a share of the total number of destinations and per capita.


Figure 1 and Table 3 illustrate the auto-dependent character of the food environment in the tri-county area. Table 3 shows that, on average, there is not a single food destination available within a five-minute walk of any neighborhood. When the range of accessibility is broadened by assuming travel by bike, only grocery stores may be reached within a five-minute travel time. Not surprisingly, numerous food destinations are accessible within five minutes by automobile. In fact, this is the only mode by which it is typically possible to reach a supermarket within five minutes. These accessibility levels, however, differ between the tri-county area as a whole and Detroit alone.

Table 2 presents the number of food destinations in the entire tri-county area and in Detroit alone, both as a raw count and as number per 10,000 residents. Grocery stores are far and away the most numerous type of food destination (representing 37% of the tri-county food stores), followed by convenience stores (23%) and bakeries (16%). This is hardly surprising given that that they are generally much smaller than supermarkets, the vast majority of which are more than 40,000 square feet, as compared to 2,500 to 10,000 for grocery stores. Table 2 also shows that the percentages for type of food destination are similar for both Detroit and the tri-county area, with the exception of supermarkets and grocery stores. Although supermarkets constitute Table 2. Available food destinations, Detroit tri-county area, 2000


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Table 4 shows that Detroit neighborhoods have higher

average accessbility to some food destinations than those in the region taken as a whole,thoughsupermarkets are, on average, inaccessible without a car. Access to grocery stores within a five-minute travel time by bike from neighborhoods in Detroit is, on average, 1.89 times greater than the average for the entire study area. However, neighborhoods in Detroit have, on average, only 0.78 times the number of supermarkets accessible to them along the same measure of access. Within a five-minute drive, Detroit neighborhoods have more than twice the regional level of accessibility to meat and fish stores , and 1.39 times the tri-county average accessibility level to fruit and vegetable stores. This table also shows that Detroit neighborhoods, in comparison to the tri-county area as a whole, have better access to meat and fish and fruit and vegetable destinations, illustrating that Detroit is better served not only by convenience and grocery stores, but also by smaller fresh-food retailers.

Our examination of access to food destinations for disadvantaged and vulnerable communities presents a picture that, while certainly less than satisfactory, is somewhat more variegated than commonly believed. For instance, Table 5 shows that, on average, transit-dependent neighborhoods, defined as CBGs in which the share of households without access to private vehicles exceeds 50%, have very poor access to all types of food destinations. The average number of supermarkets available by private vehicle, the mode for which access is greatest, is only 0.38 within a five-minute travel time, which is only 0.23 times the regional average. This general finding is true for each of the three travel modes. However, these results also show that grocery stores are located within a five-minute bike ride of transit-dependent neighborhoods. With the exception of supermarkets, transit-dependent neighborhoods have better than average access to food destinations within a fiveminute travel time for both biking and driving. Unfortunately,

Figure 1:


Food Destinations within a 5-minute walk 0 1 2-3 4-6 7 - 10 Detroit

N 0



20 Miles

Food Destinations within a 5-minute drive 0-5 6 - 34 35 - 56 57 - 91 92 - 135 Detroit

N 0



20 Miles

Created by E. Seymour and E. Schewel, 4/18/11 Source: Reference USA


Table 3. Average number of food destinations accessible within a five-minute travel time, Detroit tri-county area

Table 4. Average number of food destinations accessible within a five-minute travel time to neighborhoods in Detroit by travel mode


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residents of transit-dependent neighborhoods would be expected to have significant difficulties in taking advantage of these better-than-average levels of driving accessibility to food destinations. Table 6 depicts similar results from the analysis of accessibility levels for high-poverty neighborhoods (those in which more than 40% of households are in poverty). Alarmingly, these results show that high-poverty neighborhoods have only 0.18 times the tri-county area average number of supermarkets available to them within a five-minute bike ride and less than half the area average number of supermarkets available by driving (still less than one store). Table 7 shows that predominantly black neighborhoods (those in which more than 60% of households described themselves as black alone on the 2000 census) face accessibility levels similar to those in high-poverty and transit-dependent neighborhoods. The similarities between these groups are hardly surprising given that they are all highly correlated. Our measure of the average distance to the nearest food destination produces a somewhat crude, but certainly

useful measure of proximity to the nearest food destination from each neighborhood of interest. Given that many food destinations were entirely inaccessible within a fiveminute travel time for walking and biking, we wanted to find out just how far away the nearest food destination was actually located. Table 8 shows that, on average, the nearest supermarket is nearly two miles away from any given Detroit neighborhood, and nearly three miles from transitdependent neighborhoods. This is a considerable distance to overcome for transit-dependent individuals, particularly considering the poor coverage and performance of the Detroit transit system. The average distance to the nearest food destination, regardless of type, falls beyond the 0.25mile threshold commonly used to indicate a convenient walking distance. However, grocery stores, on average, are located within the 0.5 mile threshold for a convenient biking distance. In order to focus on areas where we perceived food deserts to be located, we isolated CBGs exceeding our transit-dependency and poverty thresholds from which no supermarkets or grocery stores may be reached in a five-

Table 5. Average number of food destinations accessible within a five-minute travel time to transit-dependent neighborhoods, Detroit tricounty area


Table 6. Average number of food destinations accessible within a five-minute travel time to high-poverty neighborhoods, Detroit tri-county area

minute walk. Table 9 shows that nearly 20,000 people were living in food deserts across the tri-county area in 2000. We define food deserts as CBGs that meet the following criteria: the share of transit-dependent persons exceeds 50%, the share of persons in poverty exceeds 40%, and there are no supermarkets or grocery stores available within a five-minute walk. In Detroit alone, the number of persons living in a food desert CBG in 2000 was 13,749. The dataFigure 2 shows that food deserts are predominantly concentrated in Detroit’s east side, but that there are also pockets of inaccessibility in other areas, including Pontiac, to the northeast of Detroit.


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CONCLUSIONS This analysis confirms what other research has clearly established: there are significant inequalities in access to affordable and healthy food options in the Detroit metropolitan region. In particular, transit-dependent neighborhoods are severely disadvantaged in their access to food destinations. This has implications for viewing public transportation as an important piece of the food access puzzle in the Detroit region. Expanding transit opportunities between food destinations and transit-dependent neighborhoods should be considered in any plan to address food deserts. However, this study also shows how the overwhelming emphasis placed on accessibility to supermarkets leads to some oversimplified characterizations of the food environment. Numerous smaller grocery stores located in the central city are accessible to many neighborhoods, including those that are disadvantaged. Any future plan for reconfiguring patterns of residence and destinations should be predicated on such a nuanced understanding in order not to disrupt functioning food networks in Detroit based on the belief that none exist.

Table 7. Average number of food destinations accessible within a five-minute travel time to predominantly-black neighborhoods, Detroit tri-county area

Table 8. Average straight-line distance to the nearest food destination (in miles)


Table 9. Comparative statistics for food desert CBGs, Detroit tri-county area, 2000

Works Cited Briggs, Xaviar de Sousa. (2005). More Pluribus, Less Unum?


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Created by: Elias Schewel and Eric Seymour 4/22/2012

Source: Census 2000 and Reference USA

Food Deserts

Miles 0 1 2

Food areare here defined as Census Fooddeserts deserts here deďŹ ned as Cens us ďż˝ Block Groups where more than 40% of Block Groups where more than 40% of households are in poverty and more than 50% in poverty andtomore than ofhouseholds households are do not have access a private 50% of households do not have access to vehicle.

a private vehicle.





Detroit Food deserts Census block groups

Figure 2


In The Geography of Opportunity: Race and Housing Choice in Metropolitan America, ed. X. D. Briggs. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). “Leading Causes of Death.” Retrieved April 17, 2011, from http:// Cheadle, Allen, Bruce M. Psaty, Susan Curry, Edward Wagner, Paula Diehr, Thomas Koepsell, and Alan Kristal. (1991). Community-Level Comparisons between the Grocery Store Environment and Individual Dietary Practices. Preventive Medicine, 20(2): 250-261. Galster, George C., and Sean P. Killen. (1995). The Geography of Metropolitan Opportunity: A Reconnaissance and Conceptual Framework. Housing Policy Debate, 6(1): 7-43. Helling, Amy, and David S. Sawicki. (2003). Race and Residential Accessibility to Shopping and Services. Housing Policy Debate, 14(1&2): 69-101. MacDonald, James M., and Paul E. Nelson, Jr. (1991). Do the Poor Still Pay More? Food Price Variation in Large Metropolitan Areas. Journal of Urban Economics, 30(3): 344-359. Marie Gallagher Consulting and Research Group. (2007). “Examining the Impact of Food Deserts on Public Health in Detroit.” Commissioned by the LaSalle Bank, Chicago, IL. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from site_media/dynamic/project_files/ 1_DetroitFoodDesertReport_Full.pdf Moore, Latetia. V., and Ana V. Diez Roux. (2006). Associations of Neighborhood Characteristics with The Loca-

Greektown, Detroit, MI 2009 (Photo credit: Oleksandra Topolnytska)


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tion and Type of Food Stores. American Journal of Public Health, 96(2): 325-331. Powell, Lisa. M., Sandy Slater, Donka Mirtcheva, Yanjun Bao, and Frank J. Chaloupka. (2007). Food Store Availability and Neighborhood Characteristics in The United States. Preventive Medicine, 44(3): 189-195. Raja, Samina, Changxing Ma, and Pavan Yadav. (2008). Beyond Food Deserts: Measuring and Mapping Racial Disparities in Neighborhood Food Environments. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 27(4): 469-482. Short, Anne, Julie Guthman, and Samuel Raskin. (2007). Food Deserts, Oases, Or Mirages?: Small Markets and Community Food Security in The San Francisco Bay Area. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 26: 352-364. Wrigley, Neil., Daniel Warm, and Barrie Margetts. (2003). Deprivation, Diet, and Food-Retail Access: Findings from The Leeds ‘Food Deserts’ Study. Environment and Planning A, 35(1): 151-188. Zenk, Shannon. N., Amy J. Schulz, Barbara A. Israel, Sherman A. James, Shuming Boa, and Mark L. Wilson. (2005). Neighborhood Racial Composition, Neighborhood Poverty, and the Spatial Accessibility of Supermarkets in Metropolitan Detroit. American Journal of Public Health, 95(4): 660-667.

Decentralization in Ghana Elizabeth Renckens This paper investigates how the planning process currently functions in the city of Techiman, Ghana. As in many countries, the process of decentralization in Ghana is challenging. Legal and administrative decentralization began in the 1990s after several decades of central government attempts to de-emphasize ethnic and regional differences by supporting Pan-Ghanaianism, a notion that identification as Ghanaian superseded subnational characteristics. Today, under the new paradigm, local governments seeking to build transparent and sustainable infrastructure projects must still overcome unique challenges, including widespread inattention to infrastructure maintenance and the reemergence of powerful traditional chieftaincies.1 As I will explain later in this paper, the central government in Ghana does not provide funding for communities to repair or maintain local infrastructure or services. Therefore, municipalities are responsible for long-term savings programs to maintain new and existing projects. On the positive side, Ghanaian communities also offer unique resources that can support planning goals: traditionally, all the members of a community come together when necessary to accomplish common goals, like the construction of a new facility or organized clean-up days. Decentralization has encouraged and required a return to this community culture.2 Development planning in Ghana is central to the long-range development goals of the country. Nevertheless, execution of local planning goals in the city of Techiman remains difficult. Based on research and interviews, I believe that the execution of three-year development plans (called mediumterm plans) is hindered by a lack of political and fiscal devolution of power from the central government to the local government. I tested this hypothesis using evidence collected through on-site interviews and observations, as well as a review of strategic and development plans 1 2

Acheampong 2011 Asomani-Boateng 2007, 132

spanning the 10-year period between 2002 and 2012. A review of literature pertaining to decentralization in Africa informs the analysis of the achievements and shortcomings of the decentralization process in Ghana. This paper is divided into four parts. The first section is a review of the decentralization theory that I am applying to my research in Techiman. The second section provides background on Ghana and the municipality and city of Techiman. The third section describes how political, administrative, and fiscal powers have been transferred from the central government to local authorities. This section includes observations of how this process was taking place during my research. The fourth section of the paper reviews my findings and conclusion.

DECENTRALIZATION For the purposes of this paper, decentralization is defined as a central government formally transferring powers to actors and institutions at lower levels in a political-administrative and territorial hierarchy.3 The underlying logic of decentralization is that democratic or locally accountable institutions can better discern and respond to the needs of the local population than a distant central government can. Making local government actors downwardly accountable to their constituents is the central mechanism of effective decentralization. A successful downwardlyaccountable governance system requires that local and regional actors possess the necessary fiscal, political, and administrative independence to respond to local demands. When decentralization is carried out effectively, the system becomes an institutionalized form of community participation.4 There are many reasons that a country may pursue a path toward decentralization. According to Rondinelli, (1983, 10) some of these reasons are: 3 4

Agrawal 1999, 473 Agrawal 1999, 473






Ideological interest due to distrust in central government and a belief in the value of local government and autonomy, Political interest in increased government accountability through the democratization of local government, Desire for efficient and direct provision of public services and infrastructure development, coupled with the belief that local authorities are better able to tailor services to the needs of a local area and can better maintain and improve infrastructure systems, Interest in the equitable distribution of funds to local authorities so that they may pursue local priorities and needs.

Path dependency and the sequential theory of decentralization. Throughout the developing world, central governments unwilling to cede power have undermined decentralization efforts.5 A key tool that central governments use to accomplish this is the power to alter the order in which powers are devolved to local authorities. Decentralization is a decision making process wherein each choice made leads to an increasingly predetermined next step: as an institution proceeds down the path of decentralization it becomes increasingly difficult to change the path.6 The result is that if a decentralization process begins in an order that is not conducive to building local autonomy and providing necessary resources, reorganizing the process later is extremely difficult. A change in the path requires either an exogenous shock,7 such as demands from the international community for structural reforms, or gradual influences from endogenous mechanisms,8 which can lead to long-term changes in political systems. Tulia Falleti’s 2005 article, “A Sequential Theory of Decentralization: Latin American Cases in Comparative Perspective,” presents a three-pronged theory of decentralization: (1) The design of decentralization policies are highly dependent on when policies are implemented in the process of reform; (2) There is a preferred order of decentralization components that varies between central government preference and local government preference, 5 6 7 8


Crook 1994, 342 Collier and Collier 1991 Pierson 2004 Boas 2007, 50

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and (3) The geographic and market orientation of the local state is crucial to the decentralization process.9 For this paper I will analyze the decentralization components of political, fiscal, and administrative powers via the preferred order of decentralization that Falleti presents in her paper and that has been recognized by numerous authors since her 2005 publication. As defined earlier, decentralization is the formal transference of power from central governments to local governments to increase downward accountability.10 The components of decentralization and how they are disseminated from central to local governments are crucial to the successful empowerment of local people. Defining the components of decentralization Administrative decentralization is typically the first component that central governments hope to disseminate to local governments and, conversely, is the last component that local governments want to accommodate. Administrative components include the enablement of regulatory decisions and law enforcement at the local level. Functional administrative components include planning and delivery of economic, education, health, and sanitation services.11 In Sub-Saharan Africa the administrative components of decentralization are the most commonly distributed. There is a long history of delegation of responsibilities of enforcement and regulatory oversight since the colonial period. The second component of decentralization is devolution of political authority. Political decentralization provides for direct election of the local government, including members of the executive branch .12 Frequently, local governments feature popularly elected legislative bodies, but with appointed mayors or executives. In the case of Ghana, the Chief Executive (Chief Municipal Executive or Chief District Executive) is appointed by the Ghanaian President and holds the executive powers of the local government.13 The Ghanaian system also features an intermediary level of government at the regional level, which I will discuss more fully later in the paper. Fiscal decentralization is the third component of 9 10 11 12 13

Falleti 2005, 3 Agrawal and Ribot 1999, 475 Awortwi 2011, 350 Falleti 2004, 6 LOGnet 2007,

decentralization. It includes the ability to raise funds locally through taxation, local control over centrally-generated funds, transparency in fund allocation, and an open and participatory system for citizens to engage in budget development and decisions.14 Circumstances may limit the impacts of fiscal decentralization: while the World Bank notes that many Sub-Saharan African countries have provisions for local government to levy taxes, their tax base is often so weak that they can raise little revenue. Additionally, local governments’ reliance on the central government as their primary source of revenue is so ingrained that local administrators do not even attempt to strengthen local revenue capture capacity.15 Tension between central governments and local governments Tulia Faletti’s 2005 paper presented the theory that there is an inherent tension between the order in which central governments or executive entities want decentralization to occur, versus how local governments and legislative actors and local level public employees want decentralized powers to be transferred.16 Central governments prefer to follow a pattern of decentralization that begins with the transfer of administrative powers, then fiscal, then political; local governments prefer an order of decentralized powers that begins with political powers, then fiscal,and only then administrative. Faletti explains that administrative decentralization can only increase local government accountability if the local government has the necessary fiscal independence and political autonomy to execute its new administrative responsibilities. She goes on to point out that if administrative decentralization takes place without the necessary fiscal decentralization strategy also in place, the local authority becomes increasingly dependent upon the central authority to be able to deliver administrative services and infrastructure.17 Administrative decentralization without fiscal decentralization results in unfunded mandates, which undermine the ability of the local government to deliver services and effectively returns control to the central government. The next section of this paper will introduce the historical, political and cultural setting of Ghana and Techiman. 14 15 16 17

Awortwi 2011, 351 World Bank 2003, 13 ; Smoke 2000 Faletti 2005, 6 Falleti 2005, 6

POLITICAL AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ON GHANA AND TECHIMAN Background on Ghana Ghana is a West African country located on the Gulf of Guinea. Prior to gaining independence in 1957, Ghana was a British colony called the Gold Coast. During the colonial period, which stretched for nearly 500 years and included half a dozen colonial powers, the traditional ethnic tribes of Ghana developed complex relationships with the colonial powers and with each other. The most famous of the tribal struggles is that of the Ashanti, who fought vigorously to maintain their autonomy and protect their traditional capital of Kumasi from British domination. In 1874 the battle for Ashanti independence came to an end when the British burned Kumasi to the ground. The British subsequently established a fort on the site of old Kumasi and began setting up a new city. In addition to physically razing Kumasi, the British also attempted to ethnically dilute the Ashanti population in the region. The British treated Kumasi as a frontier town to their colonial power and began by forcing coastal populations to move inland and resettle there. The goal was a widely practiced British strategy of divide and defeat, controlling the Ashanti power by diversifying the ethnic make-up of the region.18 Colonial practices remained oppressive over time. In 1948, galvanized by the suppression of the middle class and continued economic exploitation, Kwame Nkrumah and the five other leaders known as “The Big Six” took the lead demanding Ghanaian independence. Nkrumah soon became a figurehead, then prime minister, and then the first president of the new Republic of Ghana when, in 1957, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence.19 Nkrumah remained in power until 1966 when he was overthrown by the first of four consecutive military coups that marred Ghana’s economy and reputation. The last military coup was orchestrated by Jerry John Rawlings in 1981, who held power from 1981 until 2000. Pressured by international and domestic actors, Rawlings allowed elections to take place in 1992. After winning the election in 1992, he went on to win the next two consecutive elections, finally stepping down in 2000. John Agyekum Kufuor won the elections in 2000 and 2004, after which newly-enacted term limits required him to step 18 19

Pelling 1999, 251 and Intsiful 2011 GhanaBusiness, 2011


down ahead of the 2008 elections. The current president, John Atta Mills, won by a .5% margin in 2008, narrowly beating the incumbent party candidate Nana Akufo-Addo. Mills served as the Vice President to J.J. Rawlings from 1997-2001.20 I retell this election cycle because it is important to recognize the relative youth and fragility of democracy in Ghana: there have only been 3 democratic transfers of power since Ghana’s independence 54 years ago. Background on Techiman Techiman is known for being the site of a massive outdoor agricultural market. The Techiman market is a trading hub for agricultural and animal traders throughout Ghana and West Africa. Situated on major north-south and east-west highways, the city is well-suited as an economic center and has experienced exponential growth over the past several decades. Over the last two decades the market in Techiman expanded from one day to three days per week, and is approaching four full days. The population of the city has grown from 8,700 people in the first recorded census of 1960 to a current estimated population of 80,000 in the city and over 100,000 people living in the surrounding municipal area.21 In addition to Techiman’s recent growth and economic strength, it also boasts a unique ethnic heritage. Techiman is the center of the Akan people, which comprises a wide variety of Ghanaian tribes including the Twi, Fante, and Ashanti.22 Complementing this rich Akan history, the market has drawn various ethnic and religious groups from across West Africa. Techiman’s culture of acceptance and reputation as a melting pot is visible through its traditional, political, and administrative authorities. Overall, Techiman is a success story in terms of creating an inclusive multiethnic community.23

80% of property in Ghana is owned by traditional chiefs, and this stays true in Techiman.24 Compounding the problem is the fact that traditional chiefs will frequently hire private consultants to divide their land for development and leasing. The traditional authority will typically not consult administrative staff prior to leasing out plots of land, and the private surveyors will rarely make accommodations for necessary public services. Complaints are made to the administrative staff first because services are not being provided to new developments, and conflicts arise when the municipality tries to appropriate parts of the newly leased-out property to provide necessary infrastructure.25 In the next section of this paper I will describe how the decentralization process occurs in Techiman and provide more in-depth explanations of the local governmental structure in Techiman and throughout Ghana.

ADMINISTRATIVE, POLITICAL AND FISCAL DECENTRALIZATION IN GHANA Administrative Within the framework of decentralized development planning, the Ghanaian Parliament passed the Local Government Act in 1993 (Act 462) and its Legislative Instrument in 1994 (LI 1589). These acts established “administrative districts” throughout the country. Today Ghana is divided into ten regions.Within each region the Local Government Act established legislative bodies that are defined by the population size of the area they serve. Administration districts, or MMDs, are referred to as municipalities, metropolitans, or districts. Currently, there are six metropolitan assemblies, 40 municipal assemblies, and 124 district assemblies. Techiman is a municipal assembly located in the Brong-Ahafo district. The Techiman Municipal Assembly (TMA) represents a population of over 200,000 residents, and currently has two parliamentary members representing the area.26

However, challenges remain between the administrative and traditional authorities and there is increasing tension among the traditional authorities of Techiman. One of the most significant challenges that Techiman’s administrative staff faces surrounds property rights and land procurement:

The Local Government Act of 1993 established 170 district assemblies.27 Since the mid-1990s, the principles of development planning were fundamental to the continued process of decentralization and economic development taking place in Ghana. Through the 1994 establishment of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC)

20 21 22 23

24 25 26 27


Ghana Electoral Commission, 2008 Blighton 2010 Warren, 1975, 25 Acheampong 2010

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Odotei and Awedoba 2006, 89 Intsiful 2011 Blighton 2011, 70 Maks Publications & Media Services, 2006

and the National Development Planning System (NDPS), participatory planning and a decentralized system of grassroots decision-making has been a centerpiece of Ghana’s economic development agenda. The District Planning Committee Units (DPCUs) are at the heart of these initiatives. DPCUs are the professional planning staff that work at the local assembly level throughout Ghana. These civil servants are held accountable for successful development planning ranging from building inspections to water provision. A DPCU Officer oversees the work of the Planning Office itself, but also serves as the head of the Strategic Planning Committee, which is comprised of civil servants from the Water and Sanitation Committee, Financial Committee, Physical Planning Committee, and the Sanitation and Environment Committee.28 As part of their work, DPCU officers prepare medium-term plans, which summarize the current state of the physical, social, and cultural health of their district. The format of the mediumterm plans is provided by the NDPC. Each region collects the medium-term plans from its districts and creates a metasummary, which in turn is given to the central government to direct the development agenda for the next term. Political Under the Ghanaian Constitution, district assemblies are made up of elected and appointed officials. Two-thirds of the members are popularly elected, while the remaining one-third of the assembly members are appointed by the Ghanaian President. The district executive member, the Chief Executive, is appointed by the President, following a two-thirds vote of approval in the assembly. Each local government assembly also has a Presiding Member who is chosen by a two-thirds vote of the assembly body.29 This person serves as the assembly speaker, but the role is largely symbolic because of the overriding power of the Chief Executive. During my interviews, I received an array of opinions on the structure of the local government. According to the Constitution, the reason that 30% of local assemblies are appointed is to ensure that there are legislative members with technical skills in the government. Because the rest of the assembly is elected by popular vote, there is no way to ensure that those elected members will have the necessary skills and knowledge to run the 28 29

Mahama 2011 LOGnet 2007, 27

assembly.30 Dr. Daniel Inkoom, a senior member of the Architecture and Urban Planning Department of Kwame Nkrumah University for Science and Technology (KNUST), had a very different impression of the appointment system. In his view, the appointments politicize the local government and manipulate the local assemblies to fulfill the goals of the central government.31 Dr. Inkoom also emphasized that while the Constitution grants the assembly body the right to issue a vote of no confidence and remove the Chief Executive, most members are not aware of this provision. Dr. Inkoom’s concerns are echoed by outside donor agencies reporting on Ghana’s local government system. In 2007, the Ghanaian government sponsored a review of the country’s decentralization policy and progress. The findings from this report include recommendations to eliminate local assembly appointments.32 Under the local assembly, most areas have a number of smaller micro-assemblies, or sub-districts. In Techiman, the municipality’s 10 micro-assemblies are called Zonal Councils. The Zonal Councils are made up of at least a chairman, secretary, and treasurer, and these councils are pivotal in disseminating information to their zone residents. However, their members are appointed, not elected, and it is possible to have zonal committee members who live outside of the zone they represent. Additionally, because there is a lack of funding from the central government, most of these positions are unfunded, underfunded, or irregularly funded, causing the responsibilities of the idealized zonal councils to fall on a willing volunteer or an eager political appointee.33 Above the local assembly is the Regional Coordinating Council (RCC). This council oversees all of the development planning work taking place in the region. The RCC is comprised of a presidentially-appointed Regional Minister and his or her Deputy, the Presiding Member and Chief Executive from each district, two chiefs from the Regional House of Chiefs, and Regional Heads of decentralized ministries who are non-voting members.34 Of the six voting members of the RCC, only one is an elected official. The RCC is extremely important in the governance of the region, controlling all funding for water and sanitation projects. 30 31 32 33 34

LOGnet 2007, 26 Inkoom 2011 LOGnet 2007, 22 Mahama 2011 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana


8. The local assembly and the zonal water and

Districts receive District Assembly Common Funds (DACF) from the central government, but these funds are not allocated to water and sanitation. I will explain more about the DACF and other financial structures in the next section. To learn more about the Water and Sanitation systems in Techiman I met with David Tontrong, a 17-year veteran of the civil service in Ghana and a former United States Peace Corps Technical Trainer. He walked me through the steps of a water or sanitation project.

1. An individual community prepares a request for a project and submits it to the local assembly.

2. Water and Sanitation Officers from the local







assembly staff visit the community and perform a needs assessment to decide if the request meets the highest need of the community or if the request needs to be adapted. Working together with the community, the Water and Sanitation Officers prepare a project proposal and submit it to the RCC. The RCC collects proposals from throughout the region and sends Regional Water and Sanitation Committee members to review each requesting community. Based on the preparedness of the community, the total funds available and urgency of the requested projects, the RCC chooses which projects will be funded and hands the decisions and funding packages back to the local assembly. The local assembly should send a delegation (including the local assembly representative and the sub-committee or zonal representative to the community and begin preparing the community to build the project. Unfortunately, because of a lack of funding, local representatives may not have the financial capacity to travel to the community and there may not be a zonal representative for the community. Depending on the scope of the project, either the local assembly or the RCC will bid out the contracts on a regional or national stage. The RCC has the power to dissolve a contract made by the local government. If a local assembly bids out a contract and less than three responses come in, than it must be bid again and may be taken over by the RCC to be bid out at the national level.

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sanitation committees are responsible for overseeing the project and ensuring people in the community are trained in maintenance and repair of the project mechanisms. Maintenance and repair training includes instruction on the why and how of creating a local fee collection and savings program for use and future repair of the system. Despite the fact that the Ghanaian Constitution bans politicization of local government, political appointees make up half of RCC members. Distribution of water and sanitation services by central government appointees increases the risk of patronage relationships forming between the communities and the regional councilmen. Fiscal As seen in the example of how water and sanitation decisions are made, finances and governance are closely related. Currently, local assemblies have three revenue streams: the District Development Fund (DDF), the Internally Generated Funds (IGF), and the DACF (District Assembly Fund). How these funds are raised, allocated, and spent requires close coordination between the local and central governments. This is especially true concerning how a local government’s IGF affects its DACF allocation. DDF: District Development Fund The DDF is Ghana’s development fund basket. This pool of funds is made up of the external funds flowing into the country in the form of aid, grants, and loans. To ensure that the DDF is being appropriately transferred and disseminated, in 2008 the World Bank created the Functional Organization Assessment Tool (FOAT), which a district needs to satisfactorily complete in order to have access to funds. Accompanying the assessment is a packet on expectations and guidelines on transparency, accountability and good governance. In 2009 the Techiman Municipal Assembly scored a 96/100 on the FOAT, a success that was trumpeted throughout Ghana. 35 IGF: Internally Generated Funds The IGF is made up of the funds raised internally by a district from fees, fines, rents, taxes, or other sources. The most prominent source of IGF is from market fees, fines, and taxes. 35

Ghana News Agency 2011

Each locality has the power to tax market revenue, and this money goes directly into liquid assets. In a local effort to increase transparency, the Techiman Municipal Assembly publically posts the total tax revenue from the weekly market on a board outside of the market area. Originally founded by a traditional chief, today the municipal assembly is responsible for market management, maintenance and fee collection. Ownership and management of the market is a mix of benefits and challenges to the Assembly. Techiman’s Finance Officer, Mr. Kosmas Inuri was able to provide me information on both sides. Through the market fees the assembly is able to cover the cost of sanitation, festivals for the traditional council, and support the functioning of local town and area councils. Additionally, the assembly uses the money to pay for laborers, such as movers, cleaners,

and yard workers who work for the assembly. Salaries of assembly staff are paid from the central government’s DACF allocation. Managing the market is not cheap, however. The assembly is responsible for removal of market waste and the creation of market infrastructure: the assembly has installed pathways, lighting, and service areas such as medical centers and public toilets in the market. A serious concern for the market and for the assembly is that the market has not spatially expanded in years. Because the market is situated in the center of Techiman, there is no space for the market to expand horizontally, and the assembly is not building vertical shops, so it is not expanding upwards. Despite that, additional vendors have continued moving into the market,

Table 1. Techiman Municipal Revenue Performance 1997 – 2001 SOURCE 1997      1998    ESTIMATED ACTUAL Actual %   ESTIMATED ACTUAL Actual % 1.Rates 26,300,000 16,141,520 61   26,700,000 20,373,100 76 2.Lands 26,900,000 19,598,300 73   28,300,000 33,381,100 118 3. F& F 286,356,000 360,371,521 126   332,806,000 386,280,103 116 4.Lin. 41,906,000 35,657,400 85   35,989,000 19,945,200  5.Rent 6,420,000 1,708,000 27   2,392,000 942,000 55 6.Grants 7.Invest. 8.Misc.

1,585,550,395 31,000,000 17,730,000

1,100,362,397 2,816,620 22,709,660

69 9   128  

TOTAL 2,022,162,395 1,559,365,418 77         SOURCE   1999      ESTIMATED ACTUAL Actual %   1.Rates 29,000,000 17,848,156 62 2.Lands 38,800,000 14,417,000 37 3. F& F 4.Lin. 5.Rent

2,637,397,630 5,400,000 26,580,000

1,532,162,400 11,364,991 44,555,420

58 210 168

3,095,564,630 2,049,004,314 66       2000  ESTIMATED ACTUAL Actual %   7,960,000 7,346,512 92   33,000,000 19,159,800 

804,020,000 64,000,000 1,584,000

740,207,819 32,203,301 962,000

92 50   61  

1,879,515,000 78,445,600 4,584,000

1,090,119,096 37,154,343 6,366,100

58 47 139

6.Grants 7.Invest. 8.Misc.

2,741,136,541 18,000,000 32,048,000

1,422,353,410 25,147,907 27,354,523

52 140   85  

6,123,160,000 25,000,000 18,520,800

2,218,373,598 2,295,000 47,198,000

36 1 254









making it increasingly crowded and increasing the waste, pollution, and degradation of the market area. Due to these increasingly dangerous circumstances, people are beginning to look elsewhere for market opportunities. Already, some surrounding towns have begun holding weekly markets, which are attracting vendors away from Techiman. The advent of these competing markets signals a more pressing need to reform how the Assembly reinvests market revenue into market infrastructure. Taxes may also be levied on businesses and commercial property owners. A large portion of Techiman’s commercial tax comes from banks and cellular service providers. The Techiman Municipality has 34 banks, including several international institutions, such as Barclay’s Bank, Standard Charter Bank and Merchants Bank.36 In 2009, 21% of Techiman’s total revenue was was made up of IGF. The remaining 79% was generated from DACF, DDF, and privatepublic partnerships, with the vast majority coming from DACF. Table 1 shows the TMA revenue from 1997 through 2000. DACF: District Assembly Common Fund The DACF is money disseminated from Ghana’s central government to the district assemblies. Currently, 5% of the total central government revenue is earmarked for DACF funds.37 50% of the DACF is allocated according to a district’spopulation. The other 50% of the DACF is allocated based on an elaborate equation that takes into account district population, population density, poverty level (needs assessment), and management capacity. The management capacity, which has a 5% weight of the remaining 50%, is influenced by a district’s IGF.38 Unfortunately, the DACF calculation is not only complex, but the allocation process is opaque. The DACF is consistently released late, which pushes back how districts may use the funds and how they can plan their fiscal years. Lastly, the DACF is unreliable. As seen in Table 1, the total DACF funds that the Techniman Municipality received from 1997 through 2000 was consistently below the expected amount. The upshot of the unreliable and unpredictable DACF is not just a negative impact on planning; it also means that IGF is used up as it comes in, leading to the additional problem of market maintenance. The funds generated by the market are not 36 37 38

Blighton 2010 LOGnet 2007, 57 LOGnet 2007, 58


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retained for maintenance and repair because they need to go towards more immediate recurring costs, allowing the market to fall deeper into disrepair. There is an outstanding problem related to both financial development and physical and development planning in Ghana. This is the problem of land tenure, which, though I will not be able to address in this paper, poses a significant challenge to planning initiatives and merits further research and explanation.

CONCLUSION As stated at the outset, the goal of this paper was to compare the decentralization process in Ghana with Faletti’s 2005 Sequential Theory of Decentralization. Based on my field research in Ghana and a review of decentralization literature, I believe that Ghana’s decentralization process is largely administrative in nature and the central government retains a substantial amount of political and fiscal control over local affairs. Although the Ghanaian government has incorporated decentralization into the country’s strategic development plans, there is resistance to moving toward a fully democratically-elected local government and a severe lack of transparency between the district governments and central governments in regard to financial transfers. Furthermore, changes in 2007 to the Regional Coordinating Council recentralized fiscal power and service procurement to centrally-appointed actors.39 This trend is not uncommon in sub-Saharan Africa. Based on findings from the United Nations Global Urban Observatory, Helmsing (2005) found the following: · In 19 out of 27 Sub-Saharan African surveyed countries, the central governments have the power to close down local governments. · In only 10 out of 27 countries do local governments know what transfers will be received from central government (Ghana is counted in the countries where local governments do know what transfers will be provided). · In only 9 of 27 countries do local governments have full autonomy to select their own contractors for infrastructure projects.40 Reasons for the failure or delay of decentralization include ethnic tensions which could destabilize local governments, 39 40

Awortwi, 2011, 368 Helmsing 2005 13-19

concerns of elite capture,41 lack of human resource capacity at the local level, and the central government’s own financial hardship. I believe that in Techiman the history of cohesion amongst a diverse population,42 the stable management of the Techiman Market and the stunning score (96/100) on the World Bank’s Functional Organization Assessment Tool, may demonstrate that responsible decentralization is an achievable goal in Ghana. However, more research is necessary before we can know exactly how applicable the lessons of Techiman can be to other regions of the country. The presence of the market and a highly-motivated administrative staff and dynamic traditional leaders could make Techiman an incomparable case. Speculatively, I believe that an increase in financial transparency and democratically-elected lawmakers would increase the effectiveness of decentralization throughout the country. As money in the form of aid, investment, and private capital increasingly flows into Ghana, it is necessary for local governments to be able to respond to the needs of the people. By decentralizing authority and finances, Ghanaians will be able to determine their own development path and marginalize the few who would control and manipulate the country’s rise. Works Cited Acheampong, B. O. (July, 2010). The Nkwantananso Cultural Centre Project and Peace Promotion in Techiman, Ghana. Dissertation. University of Ghana. Acheampong, B. O. (2011, June 14). Ghana Museums and Monuments Board. (E. Renckens, Interviewer) Addai, I., & Pokimica, J. (2010). Ethnicity and economic well-being: The case of Ghana. Social Indicators Research, 99(3), 487–510. Agrawal, A. (1999). Accountability in Decentralization: A framework with South Asian and West African Cases. Journal of Developing Areas, 473. Asomani-Boateng. (2007). Closing the Loop : CommunityBased Organic Solid Waste Recycling, Urban Gardening, and Land Use. Planning in Ghana, West Africa. Journal of Planning Education and Research 2007 27: 132 Awortwi, N. (2011 ). An unbreakable path? A comparative study of decentralization and local government development trajectories in Ghana and Uganda. International 41 42

Review of Administrative Sciences, 347. Blighton, S. (2010). Techiman Municipal Assembly’s Medium Term Development Plan 2010-2013. Techiman, Brong-Ahafo Region, Ghana. Boas, T. (2007). Conceptualizing Continuity And Change, The Composite-Standard Model Of Path. Collier and Collier (1991). Shaping the Political Arena: Critical Junctures, the Labour. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Constitution of the Republic of Ghana. (n.d.). Chapter 20: Decentralization and Local Government . Electoral Commission of Ghana. “2008 Results Summary”. Falleti, Tulia G., 2004, A Sequential Theory of Decentralization and Its Effects on the Intergovernmental Balance of Power: Latin American Cases In Comparative Perspective, Working Paper #314, July. Falleti, T. (2004). A Sequential Theory Of Decentralization And Its Effects On The Intergovernmental Balance Of Power: Latin American. Working Paper # 314. GhanaBusiness. (2011, December). History of Ghana. Ghana News Agency. (2011, March 9). “Techiman Municipal Assembly Scores High In FOAT”. Ghana Government Official Portal. php/.../documents/anniversary/anniversary/census/ index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id= 5078:techiman-municipal-assembly-scores-high-infoat&catid=28:general-news&Itemid=162 Helmsing, A.H.J. (Bert) (2005). Governance of local economic development in sub-Sahara Africa: Who are the dancers and do they act ‘in concert’? In: Egziabher TG, Helmsing AHJ (Bert) (eds) Local Economic Development in Africa. Maastricht: Shaker Publishing BV, 300–331. Inkoom, D. (2011, June 15). Senior Member, College of Architecture and Urban Planning KNUST. Personal Interview. Intsiful, G. (2011, June 26). Director of Architecture, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Personal Interview. Inuri, Kosmas. (2011, June 17). Finance Officer, Techiman Municipal Assembly. Personal Interview.

Addai & Pokimica 2010, 488 Acheampong 2010


LOGnet. (2007). Joint Government of Ghana and Development Partner Decentralization Policy Review.

Pierson, P. (2004). Politics in Time: History, Institutions and Social Analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Mahama, I. (2011, June). Planning Officer at Techiman Municipal Assembly. Personal Interview.

Smoke, P. (2003). Decentralisation in Africa: goals, dimensions, myths and challenges. Public Administration and Development, 23(1), 7–16.

Maks Publications & Media Services. (2006). “List Of All MMDAs In Ghana”. home/?_=27&sa=5601

Tontrong, David. (2011, June 18).Water and Sanitation Officer, Techiman Municipal Assembly. Personal Interview.

Odotei, IK and Awedoba, AK. eds. Chieftaincy in Ghana: Culture, governance and development. Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2006. 700 pp.

Warren, D. (1975). The Techiman-Bono of Ghana: an Ethnography of an Akan Society. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co.

Owuso, G. (2008). The Role of Small Towns in Regional. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 453–472.

World Bank. (2003). Module A: Decentralization Policy and Practices Participants Manual. World Bank.

Pelling. M. (1999). “The Political Ecology of Flood Hazard in Urban Guyana,” Geoforum 30:3, pp. 249-261.

Frank Gehry’s Neuer Zollhof - Dusseldorf, Germany. (Photo Credit: Steve Luongo)


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Power to the People

A Pedestrian-Centric Manhattan

Patrick Ethen Recent Occupy Wall Street protests have expressed discontent towards “an unsustainable global system based on poverty, oppression, and violence.” Many cite “growing disparities between rich and poor, frustrated by government policies that benefit a tiny elite at the expense of the majority.” Their signs read, “We are the 99%.”1 Despite this commanding majority there is little concrete notion of what can or should be done to fix our prevailing inequalities. At least there seems to be some agreement that the site of our troubles lies in our nation’s political and governmental infrastructure. Infrastructure is a complex word, because there are many different types of infrastructures, connections, and networks, ranging across all spectrums of social, political, and economic relationships. Their intertwining webs provide the often-unseen structure (commonly known as culture) that facilitates our daily lives. By calling for infrastructural change, the Occupy protests become cultural movements. They have cited the recent financial scandals on Wall Street as evidence that the privileged minority has been behaving poorly and negatively impacting the 99%. They argue that we must edit our legislative infrastructure so that such social and influential disparities cannot persist.


By all means, let’s edit these intangibles — our rules and legislation, our societal values and priorities — so that our culture becomes more representative and less oppressive. But what about our tangibles? What about the physical aftermath that remains? Regardless of how our society changes socially, we’re still living in the infrastructural ruins of 1950s America. The population boom of the postwar era meant that when public transport infrastructure was constructed, it was designed and built not just by the technology of the 1950s, but also by the culture of the 1950s, and in it we can see the same prejudices that era carried. It is no coincidence in that era the highways meandered through the poorest, most underrepresented minority neighborhoods. A six-lane expressway through the heart of black Detroit is no chance occurrence. White privilege, racism, oppression, classism — all justified, processed, and written into concrete and steel. We still drive through these same streets today. In fact, these streets continue to have a strong impact on our lives. Roads do more than simply guide our movement and structure the growth of our cities: they help us define our sense of time, space, and social status. Therefore, transport infrastructure designed with inherent prejudices produces a ripple effect that is expressed in our cities and felt in our society. If we’re willing to edit our intangible infrastructure to promote equality and lessen

Occupy Wall Street 2012


oppression, then I argue that we absolutely can — and should — edit our physical infrastructure for the same reasons. As an appropriate example, let’s head to the heart of the Occupy protests: Manhattan, NY. Manhattan is relatively small but hyper-dense: there are 69,000 residents per square mile on an island 11 miles long and 2 miles wide. In 1.5 hours you could bike the perimeter and trace a circle around 1.5 million occupants.2 If the roads weren’t full of cars you’d be able to bike the width of the island in 10 minutes. In Manhattan the actions of a privileged minority are having large-scale effects on the less-influential majority. One doesn’t need a financial scandal as evidence; we can see it written into the physical infrastructure of Manhattan, where the transportation network is increasingly dominated by a private interest — namely, the culture of the Car. In Manhattan the minority population that can afford to drive and park a car has a disproportionately large impact on the built fabric of the city. In Figure 1 to the left, there is a dot for each parking lot on the island of Manhattan, totaling approximately 900 lots.3 Each of these sites has a unique approach to car storage: there are surface lots, multi-story highrise structures, multi-story subterranean structures, and every variation in between. As seen in the image below, many of them have started to use space-frame parking lifts to increase their storage capacity. Regardless of what means they use, the results are the same: lots that are devoted to parking typically become cultural voids in the city fabric.

Figure 1: Distribution of parking lots in Manhattan


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2 3

US Census 2010 Google Earth 2010

Despite the enormous amount of infrastructure dedicated to the car, it might come as a surprise that only 25% of Manhattan’s commuters drive to the island. Additionally, 20% of this car traffic only uses Manhattan as a stepping stone to bridge the Hudson River, bringing nothing but congestion and fumes to the city.4 The points where this traffic crosses the island are huge infrastructural scars in the urban fabric. Even bridges play an obtrusive role in the city: because they ramp down to mediate an elevation change, bridges must extend deep into Manhattan and then double back on themselves a few times before they can empty into the city streets. If 75% of Manhattan’s population doesn’t drive, or even own a car, then why should the car and its infrastructure have such an iron grip on Manhattan? Can we edit Manhattan’s infrastructure to better serve its carless majority? For the remainder of this essay I will illustrate a hypothetical possibility for Manhattan’s future. It will illustrate, more than anything else, an ideal — a way of working and thinking that has been notably absent from the design of past public infrastructure projects. I don’t want to vilify the car, because it isn’t inherently bad. In actuality cars are a fantastic invention, and at this moment in time our culture is quite dependent on them. However, cars simply do not belong in the densest urban conditions of our cities. Compared to a pedestrian, the car is an inherently aggressive object, both physically and psychologically. I’m sure that you, reader, have experienced this firsthand. What kind of cultural exchanges, other than some expletives and unsavory gestures, happen in the middle of a five-lane road? Does a passing car have the ability — or the willpower — to help a person being mugged? I don’t want to sound like I’m pining for the past, but our streets used to be a locus of cultural interaction. The streets belonged to the people — as they should — because at ground level the street is the most minimal and basic kind of transportation infrastructure that exists, and it shouldn’t be dominated or denigrated by a privileged minority. Therefore, in this proposal the car is banned from Manhattan’s city streets (with the exception of emergency vehicles).

4 Shaller Consulting 2007

A congested crossing point.

Bridges extend deep into the city.

It’s possible to assume that Manhattan could institute a ban on cars primarily because as an island, Manhattan exists in partial isolation, with distinct borders and access points. It’s important to recognize that everywhere outside of Manhattan will probably remain highly dependent on the car for transport, and there will still be a demand for those who wish to drive cars to the city. The optimal scheme anticipates car demand and facilitates the shift to a pedestrian occupation of the city streets. For starters, let’s focus on the waterfront. With property values so high and skyline views so prized, one might assume that waterfront property is highly contested territory. In reality, there is no contest. Six-lane expressways, built during an era that was hooked on vehicular voyeurism, suffocate much of Manhattan’s shoreline. As a result, these



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expressways have fantastic views, and the drive is great — when there’s no traffic. Yet as a consequence, the population of Manhattan is physically disconnected from the water that surrounds it. In this proposal, the waterfront expressways are lifted high into the air, to the same elevation as the bridges that feed traffic into the city. Lifting the expressways this high creates a massive, well-lit sheltered space beneath. At the ground level this opens up 22 miles of linear riverfront property and physically reconnects city occupants to their rivers. If the space is kept open and public, the condition becomes a linear urban park/beach, and brings with it enormous potential to invigorate the perimeter of the island with activity and function as a monumental civic resource. It is safe to suggest that the design of this park should seek to replicate the attitude and success of another linear park in Manhattan, the High Line. Once the expressway is elevated, it can link into and accept commerce from the off-island bridges to expedite the movement of all cross-river traffic around the island, rather than through it. As a brief summation, so far the proposal includes a double-height ring road expressway looping traffic in both directions around the perimeter of the island, at an elevation of at least 70 feet.

What is then needed is an interface that acts as a filter and a sponge, accepting traffic from the elevated expressway and returning pedestrian foot traffic on the ground level. This project proposes that we utilize technology that already exists in Manhattan — space-frame parking lifts, which are automated so that space and material are utilized as efficiently as possible. The task is to scale the technology up and incorporate them into the expressway. If the car is banned from the island, about 138,000 vehicles will be displaced. This number includes the 38,000 cars that reside in the streets, and the peak number of 100,000 cars that arrive in the afternoon.5 This is a huge number of parking spaces, but if distributed at highly efficient parking hubs and diluted around 22 miles of expressway, the physical ramifications are greatly lessened. Because these interfaces will facilitate the movement of large quantities of people and goods into the city, the transportation hubs at ground level become a logical place to site public transportation amenities such as bus and light rail stops. Because of the drive to accommodate the car, road infrastructure in Manhattan is quite large and extensive. The ordered accumulation of these roads composes a grid and helps facilitate much of Manhattan’s development. The grid is structured potential, a flexible system that can easily 5

Shaller Consulting 2007


adapt to change. Therefore, the grid holds great potential for re-use under the new paradigm. This project recognizes that roads are only as destructive as the traffic they carry. Banning the space and resourceintensive demands of the automobile frees up the roads for new and alternative forms of transportation that are smaller and more pedestrian-friendly. Without the car, the streets become magnificent garden boulevards centered around public pedestrian traffic. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs argues that a strong pedestrian presence in the streets is the single most important factor in achieving lower crime rates.6 If Jacobs is correct, this proposal has the potential to transform Manhattan into a safer place for city occupants. Additionally, decreasing the volume of all kinds of traffic in the streets will result in a much more efficient traffic flow. For the 75% of the population that already navigates Manhattan without the use of a car, life continues as normal — except now the sidewalks are larger, the air is cleaner, the streets are more efficient and less dangerous, and the city now operates on principles of equality and representation. For the 25% that previously depended on a car to navigate 6


Jacobs 1961

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Manhattan, the options are numerous: they can walk, ride a bike, hire a pedicab, hop on the bus, jump on the subway, or catch a ride on a light rail train. Though this project is intended to have a positive effect on the city and empower a previously disenfranchised population, it is important to note the negative side effects of this proposal. The no-car policy will undoubtedly be devastating for car garage and taxi services. Also, New Yorkers should be concerned about the policy’s effect on their iconic skyline, and the resultant noise and blocked views that nearby buildings may experience. Although this proposal would result in the loss of large sums of revenue from parking fees, the lost money would be at least partially replaced by revenues from the new parking hubs. Additionally, the City could offer assistance to taxi companies in order to help facilitate the shift from car-taxis to a more pedestrian-oriented fleet, such as pedicabs. It is valid to be worried about the effect on Manhattan’s skyline. However, it’s a question of values: which is more important — the privatized, privileged views from high-rise buildings on Manhattan’s perimeter, or the common ground

Figure 3: Location and number of transport hubs and the subsequent light rail routes they establish.


that the majority of Manhattan’s occupants experience on a daily basis? The image to the right shows the effect that this proposal would have on the skyline. By catering to the needs of the majority rather than to the moneyed minority, the project seeks to find equilibrium ‒ the very moment where the power structures from either side are equally balanced. Seventy-five percent of a population is a large majority, but is it large enough to stand up to Wall Street’s money? If we assume that individuals in the majority will vote for a proposal that is specifically crafted for them, then this proposal could easily pass — if put to a vote. Unfortunately, projects like this are never so straightforward. Therefore, the remainder of this essay will illustrate how this project can be beneficial for both sides — specifically, how this project can align with the needs of city occupants as well as those in the business of making money. If the waterfront expressways are lifted to create 22 miles of linear park space, it goes without saying that it will be enjoyed by the entire city and itself enjoy a large amount of publicity. As noted previously, its design should seek to

replicate the success of the High Line, in terms of public draw and its acceptance by the city, as well as in terms of economic growth. In a recent lecture at the University of Michigan, Elizabeth Diller, an architect who collaborated in the construction of the High Line, explained that the High Line cost $115 million dollars to construct but has generated over $2 billion in private investment. 7 The waterfront isn’t the only area that would enjoy a large amount of growth. At the beginning of this essay, the image below was used to illustrate the sheer quantity of parking lots in the city as justification to ban the car. If the car is indeed banned from the city, these 900 lots would all have potential for re-use, repurpose, or new construction — thereby transforming these cultural dead zones into areas of productivity and engagement. Each new development has the opportunity to engage the pedestrian-oriented street condition and cement it into the built fabric of the city, ultimately leading to new modes and conditions of urbanism that are founded on principles of equality and representation.



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Diller 2011

Works Cited Diller, Elizabeth. (2011, Feb 1). Architect, Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Lecture at the University of Michigan. Google Earth. (2011). New York City, Satellite view. Jacobs, Jane. (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. (Vintage Books edn.) New York: Random House. Occupy Wall Street. (2012, Jan. 3). “2011: A Year in Revolt.” Schaller Consulting, (2009, April). “CITYinFLUX: Understanding and Untangling Traffic and Transportation in New York City.” pdf US Census Bureau. (2010). “State and County QuickFacts for New York.” states/36/36061.html Images (in order of appearance): Occupy protesters. Occupy Wall Street. (2012, Jan. 3). “2011: A Year in Revolt.” article/2011-year-revolt/ Parking Lift: A Manhattan parking lift, New York, NY. Source: Google Maps Street View “A Congested Crossing Point”: Trans-Manhattan Expressway through Manhattan, New York, NY. Source: Google Maps Satellite View, 2011. “Bridges extend deep into the city”: Lower Manhattan, New York, NY. Source: Google Maps Satellite View, 2011. Before and After rendering: FDR Drive near 37th Street, New York, NY. Source: Google Maps Street View, 2011. Traffic in Mid-Manhattan: Mid-Manhattan, New York, NY. Source: Google Maps Satellite View, 2006. Skyline Render: Lower Manhattan skyline, December 1991. Author: Lars Plougmann. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Cure or Bandage?

New York City’s 80/20 Program Joseph Jones American society is fragmenting at an unprecedented rate. The dream of a pluralistic society in which groups can peacefully coexist is proving to be just that – a dream. Difference and diversity, along a range of attributes, have become hard and fast lines in the sand-- areas in which there can be no shared common ground but rather a constant struggle for dominance, control, and supremacy. This fragmented society is manifesting itself in space. Opposing terms such as red state/blue state, wealthy/poor neighborhood, city/ suburb, and ethnic enclave/ghetto have become part of our vocabulary, describing spatial manifestations of entrenched divides. Although much public attention has been focused on spatial racial divides – from the New York Times’ Mapping America project, to formulations of the dissimilarity index, a statistical measure that estimates how many people of one racial group would have to move to a different neighborhood so that the city could have an even racial distribution – the more insidious threat of spatial socioeconomic division has been largely ignored outside of academic circles. For example, although the recent ‘Occupy’ movement has focused on financial inequality, the movement has largely ignored spatial manifestations of inequality. Several theorists have formulated frameworks for understanding spatial injustice. One of the most influential comes from Henri Lefebvre’s Production of Space1, which extrapolates that the organization of space is a metareflection of human social interactions; that is, how spaces are organized mirrors how society is organized. Following in Lefebvre’s footsteps is Edward Soja, who in his recent book Seeking Spatial Justice2 extends Lefebvre’s arguments to point out how injustice is reproduced in space. He asserts that if society ever wants to achieve the elusive concept of “social justice,” we must first achieve what he terms “spatial justice;” in other words, all residents of the city must have 1 2


Lefebvre 1992 Soja 2010

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equal “rights” to access, utilize, and reside in the city. Social justice can never be achieved as long as wealthy residents have access to the benefits of the city, while the poor are forced to endure its harms, based solely on their residential locations. A key component of spatial justice, then, is the elimination of economic residential segregation. There have been numerous federal schemes to do this, ranging from HUD’s CHOICE Neighborhood program – established to replace the controversial, though more commonly known HOPE VI program – to Bill Clinton’s and George Bush’s homeownership strategies, which some have tied to the housing bubble of 2008.3 In addition to these federal programs, several municipalities have proposed their own schemes to decrease segregation. This paper will focus on New York City’s 80/20 program – a mixed-income affordable housing incentive program. The 80/20 provides government incentives to new construction that dedicates at least 20% of its new units as affordable for people making less than 50% of the area median income. We will analyze the extent to which this program has been or can be successful at seeking Soja’s spatial justice, and question whether it is possible that it has been co-opted and instead become a tool for the furtherance of spatial injustice.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK Spatial injustice is not a random by-product of a developed economy, but a deliberate result of particular policy choices and strategies which have been employed to disenfranchise the poor and to foster capitalism’s extractive nature. This section will explore how spatial polarization is the byproduct of a systematic agenda to dismantle the middle class and absorb resources up the economic ladder. It will also investigate how neoliberal philosophies have co-opted governmental processes and are intentionally destroying the state – which once stood as a buffer between the insatiable 3

Coy 2008

appetites of the wealthy and the limited resources of the lower classes. It will then analyze this process through the lens of the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas and his theories on the life-world, the ideal speech situation, and communicative action. Geopolitical shifts have contributed to the shrinking of the middle class in Western countries, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom. The focus on cheap production costs has vastly decreased the amount of manufacturing jobs available in these countries, or, in the U.S. example, in particular regions of these countries. The neoliberal agenda, which has been embraced ‘hook, line, and sinker’ by the global elite, is actively working against the middle class, dismantling the very institutions that worked to create and sustain them – institutions such as unions and the welfare state. The welfare state, provided by government, created not only benefits for a broad spectrum of the citizenry but also created many bureaucratic roles necessary to administer these benefits. Government jobs have always been seen as a reliable and safe path to the middle class, particularly for minorities, who so often were (and still are) discriminated against by the private sector.4 The small government and anti-tax rhetoric, which has become so popular in American discourse is actively waging war against middle class citizens, blacks in particular. For example, of all the employees facing layoffs in Chicago, which has a large black middle class, two-thirds of the public employees facing layoffs are black.5 That those who preach this selfish and individualistic dogma are in alignment with the wealthy corporate elite, who demand deregulated markets and decreased union protections, should come as no surprise. There is little hope that these destructive trends are reversing any time soon. In fact, they seem to be accelerating.6 Job growth portends a two-tiered economy: an elite sector of those who control global capital flows (executives, financiers, lawyers, consultants, etc) and a low-wage, low-skilled service sector designed to help them (cleaners, cooks, maintenance, non-unionized health care professionals, etc). Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class documents how urban areas that have successfully attracted the members of the aforementioned upper tier 4 5 6

Williams 2011 Ibid. Katz 2010

have captured the vast majority of the world’s economic growth and an even larger share of the world’s job growth.7 This global elite is highly mobile, but for various reasons they tend to collect in large “global” cities: New York, Hong Kong, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Singapore, Sydney, Moscow, Chicago, San Francisco, and so on.8 Members of this class jet between these various control nodes of the world economy, but rely on an underclass of service workers to enhance and facilitate their consumption of these urban spaces. Because the members of the proletarian class are not as mobile as their bourgeois counterparts, each of these urban spaces has to develop a homogenous base which is easily and readily consumable by the elite class.9 This can be done through the economic principle of supply and demand. The supply of non-elites is enormous compared to the size of this “creative class” of professionals.10 The small size of the creative command and control class means that demand for the services provided by the lower class is minimal. Low demand plus large supply means that the price (or value) of service workers is kept very low. The low-worth poor become easily interchangeable cogs in the global machine of capitalism. It should be no surprise that the gap between workers’ wages and CEOs’ wages has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. In 1971 the gap was approximately 30% – or $200,000 for the average CEO, compared to $6,540 for the average worker – but in 2000 the gap was 557.6%, or $13.9 million to $25,000.11 The polarization of society is being accelerated by the capitalist project of wealth extraction. Total net wealth is no longer increasing; rather, it’s being leeched away by the bourgeois capitalists from the other social classes, particularly the middle class. As the natural processes of globalization – augmented by political and legal mechanism that allow the free flow of goods and capital around the world – produce more integrated societies, this extractive class has a greater base from which to drain resources. Members of this growing elite class, which is increasingly globally-oriented, have leveraged their enormous private resources – garnered from the spoils of finance, trade, contracting, etc. – to produce fortified exclusive spaces in 7 8 9 10 11

Florida 2002 Sassen 2001 Weber 2002 Florida 2002 Moss 2011


which they can be separated from the rest of the ‘teeming masses of humanity.’ As their extraction of capital shifts from workers and the poor to members of middle class – once their allies in the capitalist endeavor – the wealthy have developed an aversion to living near the middle class as well. One recent article reports that the population of middle-class neighborhoods in large metros has shrunk from about 65% in 1970 to about 44% in 2007; a trend which was likely exacerbated by the subsequent recession.12 At the same time, people living in either exclusively wealthy or exclusively poor neighborhoods increased from about 15% to 33% over the same period.13 While the exclusivity of wealthy enclaves is a problem unto itself, the true problem is the inequality of “public” services between the wealthy enclaves and the poor (often minority) ghettos. The poor are left spatially isolated, with little political agency and even less economic mobility. Despite their reliance on the poor, the wealthy often exclude their domestics – the transposable underclass that provides service work for the wealthy – from their neighborhoods and lives. This can be done subtly through price controls (when the median price of a house in a particular neighborhood far exceeds the buying capacity of the poor) or actively through exclusionary zoning mechanisms. Housing choice is expressed as exactly that – choice. People’s spatial location and residential choice is expressed as a market choice and any curtailment or intervention into that “choice” is negatively viewed as governmental restriction of personal liberty.14 The same neoliberal philosophy that helps to create the overwhelming income disparity works to preserve it. The machine of capitalism reproduces itself spatially. In order for the system to continue in its exploitative capacity, it must isolate the classes and fragment the social fabric.

most simplistic form is discourse in which all participants are on the same level and equitable decisions can be made. Capitalism is one of many systems that Habermas identifies. Systems are antithetical to the notion of communicative action. A system, unlike communicative action, actively encourages those who participate in it to not be selfreflective; in other words, systems reward members who are mindless drones and do not question the basic tenets of the system. When the lifeworld becomes colonized or infiltrated by systems, societies no longer reflect critically on themselves. This allows entrenched power dynamics to go unchecked and continue to create injustice. Another theory Habermas contributed to our understanding of spatial segregation was that of the ideal speech situation. The ideal speech situation allows people to critically reflect on societal privilege and engage in meaningful dialogue that mitigates the effects of differing levels of social power. Colonization removes shared areas of life experience from the purview of the ideal speech situation, preventing societies from ever reaching communicative rationality.16 Capitalism is typical of a Habermasian system, because it prevents critical inquiry and allows people to move along in a fog, unaware of the external forces manipulating them.17 The invasion of the lifeworld ethos is designed to further segment and weaken the collective “we,” allowing the system to perpetuate itself without repercussion or balance. For example, in America, anyone who even hints at the downsides of capitalism is labeled a socialist, or even worst a Marxist threatening the very ‘freedom of our country.’18 Systems, and capitalism in particular, do not take kindly to criticism and social ostracism and political backlash are only a few of the ways it punishes those who dare to question it.

Jürgen Habermas was a German philosopher whose major scholarly contribution was his theory of communicative action, which can only be reached through what he terms communicative rationality. Capitalism’s reproduction is what Habermas would term a colonization of the lifeworld by the system of capitalism.15 The lifeworld is the basic level of commonalities that societies share, which enable them to reach a state of communicative rationality – which in its

One of the principal ways in which people make sense of life is through absorbing their physical environments. To the extent that these environments are entirely distinct and un-relatable, they represent spaces in which members of the same society can simply not communicate – or achieve communicative rationality. When communication becomes impossible, the only way to resolve problems is through bullying, coercion, and domination.19 Thus the fragmentation we discussed earlier reinforces itself

12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19


Tavernise 2011 Ibid. Frug 1999 Habermas 1984

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Ibid. Ibid. Duke 2011 Habermas 1996

in society’s collective psyche, etching our diversity into hardened lines of difference. The social contract designates government as the protector of the public interest. 20 Yet the government has shirked its duty as advocate for the collective public interest, assuming the economic positivist notion that the public interest is nothing more than a collection of utility-maximizing individuals’ interests.21 With no great societal vision or purpose, government, as part of the shared lifeworld of its citizens, has become susceptible to colonization by capitalism and the vast resources at the disposal of the wealthy elite. But this unholy cohabitation between politicians and business interests (who are often one and the same – there is a reason the U.S. Senate’s nickname is the ‘millionaires’ club’)22 is only one part of government’s failing. Capitalism’s stealthy twin, neoliberalism, rears its head once more. These systems are not simply content co-opting the political machine as we know it (see the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court case)23, but turn their vitriol and hatred on the very same operation, demanding that governments be cut and shrunk, or if that plan of attack fails, they demand lower taxes to the point where government is starved and must, by necessity, wither and die. They justify the exploitative and harmful effects of their policies by appeals to the flawed economic principles of rational thinking, market orientation, and utility maximization.24 Their rhetoric, often skimmed from Ayn Rand and her intellectual brethren, proclaim the wealthy as ubermensch, supermen, worthy of praise, adoration, and special protection lest they take their creative talents and flee, leaving the entire world less productive and poorer. Call it the ‘rich man’s burden’.25 Today that rhetoric is employed in advocating for tax policy that is not just flat or equally distributed, but actually regressive instead of progressive, forcing the poor to pay more of their income than the wealthy.26 Government becomes a tool not to break the cycle of polarization and inequality, but to actually perpetuate it, a total reversal of their socially contracted role. In the face of this systemic failure of liberal democracy, 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Baumol 2003 Malloy 1991 Alfano 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) Turley 2011 Rand 1957 Thompson 2011

capitalism, and the laissez-faire market economics that Western nations have come to rely on, it becomes difficult to envision a path out of the segmented, isolated, and impoverished urban structure we have inherited. Furthermore it becomes seemingly impossible to imagine that any one municipality could create a policy that can mitigate these omnipresent forces. This is particularly true for urban areas, which bore the brunt of neoliberalism’s destructive tendencies under the Reagan administration.27 The American psyche has been anti-urban since perhaps the Industrial Revolution; yet as much as Americans despise cities, they also need them; both for the economic agglomeration benefits they provide and also for the amenities which can be consumed in them – shopping malls, museums, restaurants, sports venues, and the like.28 This love-hate relationship is fueled by the notions of cities as bastions of poverty surrounded by affluent suburbs– the manifestation of the spatial injustice mentioned before. However, not all cities are equally impoverished. Some, like the aforementioned “global cities,” have served as magnets for wealth and capital accumulation in the central city and not simply in the suburban parts of its metro region.29 The remainder of this paper will talk about how New York City – perhaps the quintessential global city – has initiated a policy that, while clearly incapable of reversing the systemic failure that leads to spatial segregation, may perhaps mitigate it to a degree. To what extent does the 80/20 affordable housing problem provide a good model for governments elsewhere to combat the cycle of spatial isolation and socioeconomic polarization?

WHY THE 80/20 PROGRAM? The concept and mechanics behind the 80/20 program are not unique; there are many similar programs built into lowincome tax credits and other government subsidies. Two things make 80/20 unique: its geographic location (New York City) and its ubiquity (all qualifying developers between 2008 and 2010 chose to use the program)30. New York City has some of the worst income inequality in the developed world. As of the 2009 American Communities Survey, 21.7% of New Yorkers were living in poverty, 300,000 of whom became poor between 2005 and 2008, prior to the 27 28 29 30

Brenner and Theodore 2002 Glaeser 2010 Sassen 2001 Santora 2011


Great Recession.31 Additionally, New York state is constantly ranked among the worst states for income inequality, with a GINI coefficient around .5, meaning that the top 10% of income-earners have almost double the income of the bottom 10%. By comparison, the United States as a whole, which is the most unequal of all developed nations, has a GINI coefficient of .47.32 Additionally, New York City has 59 billionaires (second only to Moscow) and approximately 667,200 millionaires.33 In fact, although conservative billionaire David Koch remains the wealthiest permanent resident, many other billionaires have bought second or third homes there, helping to drive already sky-high real estate prices even higher – further evidence of the existence of a wealthy mobile elite class.34 This wealth is contrasted with areas in New York City where the median income is less than $8,900 a year.35 Besides its rampant inequality, New York also has some of the most expensive real estate in the country. In January 2011, an average apartment in Manhattan cost $1.38 million, and the rest of the city is not much better-off, averaging around $889,000.36 The median household income for the city is about $68,500, meaning that after taxes a typical salary is about one-sixth of what would be needed to make a monthly 30-year mortgage payment.37 The high price of property ownership trickles down to inflate rental prices. Anecdotal evidence of four or six people sharing a two- or sometimes one-bedroom apartment are so common they’ve almost ceased to be interesting.38 But costs are not just high for residents: developers also struggle to assemble land and build in the densely-packed and built-out environment. Because there are very few greenfield sites left in the city (none in the denser-packed boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn), all construction projects must allocate a large amount of money for environmental remediation. The high price of real estate, both from the residents’ and the developers’ sides, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the 80/20 program was initially developed in the 1970s to 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38


Roberts 2010 United States. Bureau of the Census. Brennan 2011 and Huffington Post 2011 Barbanel 2010 Venugopal 2011 The Real Deal Online 2011 and SurePayroll Santora 2012

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provide capital to developers and defray their construction costs. At that time, New York already had rent stabilization laws in place which were already impacting developers’ bottom line. Unable to raise rent enough to make their desired profits, developers threatened to leave the city altogether for Westchester County, Connecticut, and New Jersey. In order to prevent an exodus from the city’s markets, the State Assembly created 80/20 in the hope that developer profits would be maximized and new real estate would be constructed.

HOW DOES IT WORK? The 80/20 program applies only to new construction projects on residential housing developments with minimum costs of around $50,000,000.39 The program is by three agencies: two city agencies, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the New York City Housing Authority, as well as the state’s Housing Finance Agency. Developers of large properties apply and – if they meet the program’s criteria – become eligible for a bundle of financing incentives. First, any bonds or debt they need to take out are given the same tax-exempt status as a government bond. Second, these bonds can be given “credit enhancement,” which means that the private developers’ debt will be treated as if it has the same credit rating as government debt. On top of that, developers using at least 50% debt to finance their deals (that is, taking out a loan for 50% of the development cost) are eligible for a 4% low-income tax credit.40 In order to be eligible for these perks, developers must qualify. The requirements are rather loose; for example, developers must have at least 10% equity in the project, 2 - 4% of which must be cash. They are encouraged (though not required) to use green building codes and build in transit-accessible destinations. 41 Obviously, however, the biggest requirement for developers is the affordable housing component from which the program draws its name. In order to qualify, developers must set aside 20% of their units for residents whose incomes are 50% or less of the area’s median, which for New York City was set at $62,800.42 Alternatively, developers can choose to set aside 25% or more of their apartments for families making 60% of the AMI. These income restrictions will be 39 40 41 42

New York State 2011 Ibid. Ibid. New York City Housing Authority 2011

spelled out in a regulatory agreement. All 80/20 financing deals are governed by this legally binding document, including, but not limited to: low-income housing tax credit requirements, tenant certification requirements, leaseup procedures and benchmarks, restrictions on transfers, inspections, and financial reporting requirements. In addition, the income specifications are spelled out. These specifications include the exact number of apartments to be set aside, what income they are targeted to, and how long the housing must remain guaranteed low-income. 43

HOW DOES IT PLAY OUT IN REALITY? The 80/20 program underwent a significant transformation in 2008 when the New York City Council closed two important loopholes in its administration. The first was a loophole in the previous language of the program which allowed developers to sequester away affordable housing units in a separate building, often on the very edges of one of the outer boroughs.44 Often these new developments would be placed in already poor neighborhoods, reinforcing the cycle of concentrated poverty, with each new building perpetuating the spatial manifestation of a socially fragmenting society. The ills of poverty, including economic isolation, lack of political and social capital, and the potential for “chronic unemployment” – where being unemployed is the default condition – have been shown to be magnified and exacerbated by spatial concentration.45 What was so remarkable about this previous loophole was how it aligned itself so well with capitalism and neoliberalism. The older incarnation of 80/20 was the perfect wealth extraction vehicle. To clarify: an extremely wealthy developer, part of the global elite (e.g. Donald Trump), would propose a building in a wealthy part of the city (e.g., the Upper East Side). They would apply for 80/20’s financing mechanisms – that is, they would extract public sector resources from the average taxpayer (most of whom could never hope to live in the new building) by promising that they would provide a smaller building elsewhere, often in an already impoverished area (e.g., the South Bronx). The affordable buildings would generally be of significantly worse quality than the market-rate buildings that the developer built at the same time; though perhaps, by virtue of their newness, of higher quality than the buildings 43 44 45

Ibid. Santora 2011 Wilson 1997

around it in the impoverished areas. In one swoop, the capitalist bourgeois extracted resources in the form of tax revenues from the public sector and directed it back into the private sector, reinforcing the cycle of exclusion and social fragmentation and making handsome profits in the process. There was a second and even more nefarious undertone to these transactions. After gaming the system and extracting ever larger amounts of capital, these same elites cloaked themselves in the guise of neoliberal reformers, who would say affordable housing programs (like the one they had just exploited) were wastes of government resources that should be ended because they failed to provide adequate housing in the most unaffordable parts of the city. The tenor of their diatribes would never be to end the extractive capacity of the wealthy, but rather that the poor should seek marketrate housing and not depend on government handouts This allowed them to then push ostensibly private sector policies (e.g. subprime mortgages) which continued to exacerbate the wealth divide and extract capital from the poor to the rich. 46 The City Council’s 2008 program change prevented developers from building off-site housing; that is, if they want to qualify for the 80/20 program today, they must provide the 20% affordable units within their new development. The new changes also closed a second loophole, requiring the affordable and market-rate housing to look “substantially similar.” While both of these changes seem rather small in the grand scheme of things, they represent such a radical departure from the status quo that they are remarkable in and of themselves. The government that previously had abandoned its role as protector of the public interest (or at least the interest of the disadvantaged) has now reasserted itself as a check on the unmitigated exploitative nature of capitalism. While spatial integration and social defragmentation should be seen as positive ends on their own, there is also a potentially added benefit that comes with mixedincome communities. William Julius Wilson, a sociologist whose work involving the harms of concentrated poverty was cited earlier, also talks about the benefits accrued through positive role-modeling. That is, when people see others working as the rule, rather than the exception (as is often times the case in the ghetto), they are more likely to 46

Sassen 2009


understand the value of work and model themselves after it.47 Similarly, Wilson’s fellow sociologist Elijah Anderson identified additional benefits which come through the value of empathy and chance encounters. That is, when people of different social classes meet one another, even if they are consciously unaware of their differences, social learning takes place and both parties leave the encounter enriched and with more empathy for the other person.48 This is true even if the encounter is as fleeting as a shared elevator ride. There are also the obvious benefits of improved public services for the poor in wealthier neighborhoods – better policing, schools, streets, and so on. In addition to improved services there is also a decrease in social problems, particularly a decrease in crime, in more affluent areas. In total, there seems to be an overall benefit to having people live in mixed-income neighborhoods.

CHALLENGES Despite these improvements, nothing in life is ever as succinct as it is in theory, and there are enormous drawbacks and disadvantages to the program. I will briefly mention four: two practical and two theoretical. The first practical drawback to the program is the extremely low numbers of people it houses; the 80/20 can only provide housing for part of the population that needs it. Waiting lists can be months, if not years long, effectively prohibiting anyone who is looking to move immediately. In addition, the program has only added a few thousand affordable units to the housing market since the change in 2008 (figures range from 2,000 to 8,000 units).49 With such low numbers, it is reasonable to question the overall effectiveness of the program. For the lucky few who manage to get one of the apartments, it is excellent. But for every one lucky person, there are 1015 unlucky people who remain marginalized. Part of the low numbers can be explained by the collapse of the real estate market from 2008 - 2010 (based on the latest data available).50 It will be interesting to see as the real estate market rebounds how the numbers of apartments provided increases. Still, even with an increase in new construction, it is hard to imagine creating fully inclusive neighborhoods, let alone cities, with such a small portion of their housing stock comprised of affordable units. 47 Wilson 1997 48 Anderson 2004 49 See Santora 2011 and New York City Housing Authority 2011 50 New York City Housing Authority 2011


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The second drawback is a compounded problem. Since the change in the law, the locations of 80/20 projects have shifted dramatically. Prior to the inclusivity requirements, developers in all parts of the city would apply for the benefits associated with the program. Today, only developers working in “borderline” neighborhoods seem to be applying for the program. We use the “borderline” to refer to areas that have a historic pattern of disinvestment, but are either on the border of wealthier neighborhoods, or are areas which themselves are on the rebound. Harlem, Manhattan; Williamsburg, Brooklyn; and Hunter’s Point, Queens have been the primary areas for new developments. These are places where developers feel that the property is cheap enough that they can buy it at a reasonable price, but are ‘marketable’ enough that those who can afford fullprice housing would still be inclined to live there. However, because new buildings often create inflationary pressures on surrounding real estate, driving costs up, there is a fear among current residents of displacement. Although it is arguable that by providing low-income housing in an area, developers are ameliorating concerns about gentrification, there is no guarantee that a person who was displaced from their borderline neighborhood due to rising price pressures will be housed in the new building. Because developers do not believe that they can get maximum profits from developing in more traditionally wealthy neighborhoods (where gentrification concerns would be nonexistent), they become urban pioneers, carving out fortresses of wealth in borderline neighborhoods. This is a practice which may or may not lead to increased displacement, thereby negating the original purpose of the program. The third problem is both theoretical and psychological. New York City has been one of the few American cities which have managed to retain an extremely wealthy core while other cities’ hollowed out; both poverty and opulence reside in the city’s borders, spatially segregated through housing. New York’s fortune in holding onto wealth could be seen as a direct result of the elite’s ability to spatially segregate themselves from the poor. They get unparalleled access to the amenities of the city and live free from the masses of poor minorities. Perhaps the current spatial balance represents equilibrium, a stasis which prevented the movement of even greater numbers of wealthy whites away from the city. Though this program has a small long-

term effect, does the general progressive policy direction ensconced in it represent a shift away from the segregated balance? If so, what does that foretell about the future of New York’s wealthy? Will New York’s “limousine liberals” overcome a more basic primal human urge to segregate and flock into distinct packs?51 The last theoretical problem for the 80/20 program may be the most damaging. Although it is ostensibly designed to counter prevailing trends of polarization and segregation, it may actually be reinforcing them. Assuming that the program worked as intended – that is to say, if it integrated the very poor with the well-off, and brought them back into economic and political mobility in society –the middleclass would still be ignored and compressed. As outlined earlier, middle-class jobs are disappearing due to extractive capitalism. Additionally, their housing options are being severely curtailed – most middle-class families cannot afford to live in large swaths of New York City. To the extent that the government is attempting to do anything to combat the affordable living problem, it seems to be focusing on the poorest segment of the population. While this is a worthy goal, it simply perpetuates social bifurcation– imposing the mold of the two-tiered economy on the built environment. Middle-class families face the ultimate double-bind – they are not wealthy enough to buy and live like the wealthy, but neither are they poor enough to receive whatever limited benefits the government can provide.

CONCLUSIONS While the 80/20 program seems to represent a progressive step toward reasserting a genuine ‘public interest,’ its prescription seems to be too weak. If we want to reestablish the Habermasian lifeworld, we must recognize that 80/20 and programs like it will fail if implemented on their own. In the case of the 80/20 program, there are four key reasons for this: 1) The program remains incapable of housing the required number of people. 2) Although, the program facilitates Soja’s “right to the city” for a small number of people, it has the potential to displace even more people than it helps, ultimately magnifying the spatial inequality it was designed to solve. 3) Despite the fact that sociological theory explains that integration and diversity are beneficial to society, psychology (and experience) shows that humans seem to prefer to live in homogeneous pockets. This means 51

Hannerman 2005

that 80/20’s economic integration might result in the financial equivalent of the 1970s’ white flight. 4) The 80/20 program might work to reinforce a bifurcated economic system in which only the poor and rich are accounted for and the middle class is relegated to invisibility, required to fend for themselves if they want to survive. In other words, the 80/20 program may be simply another manifestation of the capitalist prerogative. Wealth is extracted back into the hands of the small global elite, while the rest of society becomes serfs on their proverbial feudal-estates. Does 80/20 move the bourgeois estates out of the 1500s into modern-day New York penthouses, and if so, what, if anything, can be done about it? To the extent that its four critical problems remain unaddressed, the 80/20 program will actually worsen the problem. A radical transformation of our institutions and systems may be the only solution to a world being spatially and socially torn asunder.

Works Cited Alfano, Sean (2010, Oct. 28) “Is the Senate a Millionaire’s Club?” US News and World Report, October 28, 2010. Anderson, Elijah (2004). “The Cosmopolitan Canopy.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 596.1: 6-7. Mortgage Calculator. http://www.bankrate. com/calculators/mortgages/mortgage-calculator.aspx Barbanel, Josh (2010, July 28). “Carlos Slim Buy’s Fifth Ave.’s Only Private Townhouse” The Wall Street Journal. Baumol, William J. (2003). “Welfare Economics and Theory of the State.” The Encyclopedia of Public Choice. (2nd edn.) Rowley, Charles and Friederich Schneider eds. Brennan, Morgan (2011, May 24). “Cities with the Most Billionaires, 2011.” Yahoo! Real Estate. http://realestate. html Brenner, Neil and Nik Theodore (2002). “Cities and the Geographies of ‘Actually Existing Neoliberalism.’ ” Antipode 34.3: 349–379.


Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 558 US 08205 (2010). United States Supreme Court. Coy, Peter (2008, Feb. 27). “Bill Clinton’s drive to increase homeownership went way too far” Bloomberg Businessweek. Duke, Selwyn (2011, Dec. 9). “College Mate: Obama was an ‘Ardent’ Marxist-Leninist” The New American. Florida, Richard (2002). The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books. Frug, Gerald E. (1999). City Making: Building Communities Without Building Walls. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University. Glaeser, Edward L. (2010, Mar. 5) “Why the anti-urban bias?” The Boston Globe. why_the_anti_urban_bias/ Habermas, Jurgen (1984). A Theory of Communicative Action. Boston: Beacon. Habermas, Jurgen (1996). Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Mass. Institute of Technology. Hannerman, Robert A. “Spatial Dynamics of Human Populations: Some Basic Models.” University of California Riverside, 2005. Huffington Post (2011, May 25). “New York Has Most Millionaires In The Country.” The Huffington Post. http://www. Katz, Lawrence F. (2010, Apr. 29). “Long-Term Unemployment in the Great Recession.” Testimony for the Joint Economic Committee of the United State Congress, Hearing on “Long-Term Unemployment: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions.”

and-the-ceo-employee-gap New York City Housing Authority (2011). New York City Housing Authority (website). nycha/html/home/home.shtml New York State (2011). Division of Homes and Community Renewal. New York State’s Homes and Community Renewal’s 80/20 Housing Program. assets/documents/8020TermSheet.pdf Rand, Ayn (1957) Atlas Shrugged. New York: New American Library, 1999 [Orig. 1957]. The Real Deal Online (2011, Jan. 13). “Average Manhattan apartment price climbs.” The Real Deal Online. Korangy Publishing. average-manhattan-apartment-price-climbs-10-percentaccording-to-rebny-real-estate-board-of-new-york-andsteven-spinola Roberts, Sam (2010, Mar. 2). “Calculating Poverty in New York: More by City Standards Less by Federal One.” The New York Times. nyregion/03poor.html Santora, Marc (2011, Sept. 2). “Across the Hall, Diversity of Incomes.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes. com/2011/09/04/realestate/across-the-hall-diversity-ofincomes.html Santora, Marc (2012, Apr. 20). “The City of Sky-High Rents” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes. com/2012/04/22/realestate/manhattan-the-city-of-skyhigh-rent.html Sassen, Saskia (2001). The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. (2nd edn.) Princeton, NJ: Princeton University. Sassen, Saskia (2009). “Cities Today: A New Frontier for Major Developments.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 626.1: 53-71. Soja, Edward (2010). Seeking Spatial Justice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.

Lefebvre, Henri (1992). The Production of Space (1st edn.) Malden, MA: Blackwell.

SurePayroll. Salary Paycheck Calculator. http://www.

Malloy, Robin Paul (1991). Planning for Serfdom: Legal Economic Discourse and Downtown Development. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Tavernise, Sabrina. (2011, Nov. 16). “Middle-Class Areas Shrink as Income Gap Grows, New Report Finds.” The New York Times. middle-class-areas-shrink-as-income-gap-grows-reportfinds.html

Moss, J. Jennings (2011, Jan. 26) “Mind the Compensation Gap”. blogs/daily-brief/2011/01/26/revisiting-income-inequities-


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Thompson, Derek (2011, Dec. 15). “The Gingrich Tax Plan

Is a Disgrace, and It’s Not Partisan To Say So.” The Atlantic. the-gingrich-tax-plan-is-a-disgrace-and-its-not-partisan-tosay-so/250067/ Turley, Jonathan (2011, May 8) “Who’s Shrugging Now?: A Post about Rep. Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and the GOP Path to Prosperity.” http://jonathanturley. org/2011/05/08/whos-shrugging-now-a-post-about-reppaul-ryan-ayn-rand-and-the-gop-path-to-prosperity/ Venugopal, Arun (2011, Dec. 8). “Census Pinpoints City’s Wealthiest, Poorest Neighborhoods.” WNYC News Blog. New York Public Radio.

Weber, Rachel (2002). “Extracting Value from the City: Neoliberalism and Urban Redevelopment.” Antipode 34.3 (2002): 519-540. Print. Williams, Timothy (2011, Nov. 29). “As Public Sector Sheds Jobs, Blacks Are Hit Hardest.” The New York Times. http:// Wilson, William J. (1997) When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. New York: Vintage Books.

Greektown, Detroit. (Photo Credit: Oleksandra Topolnytska)


Politics and Planning of the I-81 Corridor in Syracuse, New York

Elizabeth Renckens

Throughout the United States, the Interstate Highway System is deteriorating. Responding to the failure of the most expensive and expansive public infrastructure ever built is a challenge that municipalities, states, and the federal government must all face. In Syracuse, NY, the decline of Interstate 81 (I-81) is compounded by an elevated portion that extends 1.4 miles through the city’s downtown. Referred to as an “elevated viaduct”, this portion is actually a series of 124 linked bridges that thread through the city center.1 For 60% of the bridges that make up the viaduct, aspects such as lane width, carrying capacity, and roadway alignments do not meet current bridge standards, resulting in a classification as “functionally obsolete”.2 Currently, the viaduct runs between East Syracuse and Syracuse University, and separates Syracuse University from downtown. There are two stories to tell regarding the viaduct. The first is the historical account of how this stretch of highway came to be located where it is, why it is elevated, and who the players were in those decisions. The second is what the future holds for both the highway and for Syracuse. The history of the viaduct in Syracuse is tightly interwoven with national and state transportation policies and slum clearance projects, later called “urban renewal.” This paper will discuss how Syracuse’s strict fiscally conservative position empowered state and federal engineers to impose their own plans on the city, giving little consideration to public opinion or social justice. The physical and economic damage caused by the viaduct, along with a deep mistrust of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council and state engineers, has led to a painstakingly slow process of public engagement and trust-building today. This paper will focus primarily on early transportation planning in Syracuse, including the construction of the viaduct. The latter part of the paper will examine how various actors in the city are attempting to build a participatory approach to 1 2

Onondaga Citizens’ League 2009, 17 Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council 2011, 4

cope with the structure’s deterioration. Transportation infrastructure has defined Syracuse. Fortuitously located along major east-west and north-south corridors in Central New York, Syracuse has hosted trade and travelers via canals, railroads, and highways. The first of these infrastructures, the Erie Canal, opened in 1825, the same year that Syracuse incorporated as a city.3 The Erie Canal passed through the center of downtown Syracuse and single-handedly drove the downtown development and city layout that remains in 2012. Figure 1 shows Syracuse’s downtown at the height of the Canal’s use. Originally, Syracuse and her surrounding environs were known for their salt mines and swamps, but with the arrival of the canal system, Syracuse began to rapidly expand into a major commercial center for trade from Chicago to New York. In addition to the Erie Canal, a series of feeder canals threaded through Syracuse on the way to Watertown, Binghamton, and throughout western New York. The population of Syracuse expanded rapidly in the late 19th century, rising from 22,000 to 108,000 between 1850 and 1900.4 In 1910, when the New York Central Railroad system replaced the Erie Canal, it laid the groundwork for Syracuse to remain a focal point in travel and trade throughout the eastern United States.

EARLY HIGHWAY PLANNING Throughout the early 20th century, downtown Syracuse remained a hub for regional economic activity. As transportation methods shifted again ‒ from railroads to automobiles ‒ the city began grappling with how to plan for and build new infrastructure systems. Nationwide, between 1930 and 1940 the number of people riding mass transit declined by nearly 20%, while car ownership increased by 30%.5 Locally, in 1921 Onondaga County had 25,700 registered vehicles. By 1941 the number 3 4

5 62

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Layden 2001 Syracuse Herald 1897

Scott 1969, 362

Figure 1: The Erie Canal at Salina Street, circa. 1900 (Library of Congress) Now the site of Clinton Square, once speculated to be the perfect site for a surface parking lot to serve local businesses. Source: Library of Congress

of registered vehicles jumped to 88,400.6 In the 1940s, transportation planning in Syracuse was an unlikely mix of local progressive interest and private sponsorship. In 1940, Fortune Magazine nominated Syracuse as a “model mid-size city” and provided the framework and funding for Syracuse’s first transportation plan. This plan, which was published in the Syracuse Post War Traffic Report (SPWTR), outlined the development of two major transportation arteries: an east-west artery following the old Erie Canal, now called NY Highway 5, and a north-south artery following NY Highway 11. These two roads converged in downtown Syracuse as Erie Boulevard and Salina Street. This plan also included a beltway and proposed exchanges to integrate the downtown portions of the streets to through-highways and Interstate 90.7 The SPWTR sought to alleviate congestion in downtown Syracuse, while improving the city’s connection to the trade routes it sat astride, allowing access to New 6 7

Cohn 1978, 19 Cohn, Page 29 (Traffic Committee, Traffic, pg. 26, 43)

York City, Buffalo, and Watertown. During WWII, 85% of traffic on New York highways traveled to or from New York City, and it was natural for Syracuse to want to capitalize on this economic trade route.8 Figure 2 shows how the proposed Highway 11 and Highway 5 would intersect with the proposed Interstate 90. The second goal of the SPWTR was to help downtown Syracuse combat a new challenge: gridlock. As in many places, city leaders sought to reduce traffic pressure in downtown by creating through-highways that would move traffic into and out of the city more smoothly. Early in the development of the SPWTR, a city engineer named Nelson Pitts expressed his concern that focusing too much on highway construction could lead to people traveling out of the downtown, rather than into it.9 The Syracuse Onondaga Post-War Planning Council (SOWPC) finally published the 8 9

Cohn, Page 31 (Traffic Committee, Traffic, pg. 26, 43) DiMento 2009, 148


Figure 2: Vision of the development of traffic facilities, Syracuse urban area, primary and secondary routes Source: Syracuse–Onondaga County Post-War Planning Council, “Postwar Perspective: A Report to the People of the City of Syracuse and the County of Onondaga, 1944” (draft, Sergei Grimm), 66.

SPWTR in 1945. This final plan offered a visually attractive option, but the engineering science behind the plan was never articulated. In this early plan, all of the highways would be at-grade, with generous boulevards to ease pedestrians’ passage through the city. Figure 3 shows a sample of this early highway vision. Unfortunately, the proposal excluded specific explanations of how the through-boulevards would connect to other city arteries or to Interstate 90.10

FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS AND STATE INTERVENTION The Syracuse city government did not embrace the Post-War Traffic Plan. In 1943, Mayor Thomas Edward Kennedy stated that the city would only finance post-war planning programs on a pay-as-you-go basis. He and fellow conservatives on the City Commission refused to accept any plans that led to deficit spending. This staunch anti-deficit, anti-bond position carried through to his successor, Mayor Frank Costello. Although the Syracuse city government widely acknowledged downtown traffic congestion as a leading 10

Cohn 1978, 30A


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problem, there was little hope for a major infrastructure project to gain momentum. Fortunately for Syracuse, it was just ahead of its time in traffic planning. Beginning in 1945, the State of New York and the federal government took a renewed interest in inter-city highway systems and in urban highway systems. In New York, the passage of the Urban Arterial Laws galvanized investment in urban highway planning. The first step of New York State’s Expressway Program was for every city in the state with over 5,000 people to create a master transportation plan. New York State and the local municipality would then share the implementation cost of the final plans in each city. 11 The newly deployed New York State Department of Arterial Route Planning capitalized on the work of SOPWPC to inform the plan for Syracuse. Many similarities existed between the two agencies’ plans. Each featured the east-west and north-south development of Route 11 (Salina Street) and Route 5 (Erie Boulevard) with a center-city circulation nucleus. The most prominent difference between the two plans was that the State’s 11

Tallamy 1947, 35

plan eliminated the SOPWPC’s proposed beltway, which was more consistent with the State’s other transportation plans. With these two plans developed, financing the infrastructure project became the last hurdle for Syracuse. Despite the willingness of New York State to provide 50% of the funding, local politicians were still unwilling to put the city into any debt for the project. Over the 10-year period from 1946 to 1956 the paralysis surrounding Syracuse’s traffic troubles continued. While the majority of city stakeholders supported the construction of new highway systems, no party was inclined to push the city into debt in order to fulfill these wishes.


Showing separation of the artery from adjacent residential property by means of buffer strips. Residents have access to local streets only.

In 1956, an answer to the funding question arrived. That year, Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act, the largest government infrastructure program in US history. Armed with this new source of funding, New York State engineers reopened the case for downtown arterial highway development in Syracuse. These late-stage plans brought a major change: a key element of the state engineers’ proposal was a raised viaduct that would cut through southeast Syracuse to downtown. The viaduct proposal infuriated local business owners and residents. Downtown business owners worried that the viaduct would cut downtown off from its customers. Residents feared that the viaduct would not only divide their neighborhood, but also create a dead zone for development under the route of the highway. Syracuse was not the only city where local sentiment conflicted with state and national technocrats: across America, local organizers motivated city residents to fight against the elevated highways and found at least limited successes. Unfortunately, as one historian noted, “The people of New York entered into a devil’s bargain: to secure a system closed to localism and patronage, they bought into a system closed to all but highway engineers.”12 The State touted the elevated highway as the only option for the downtown arterial, and for fear of losing the state funds, city leaders accepted the viaduct with little argument. The federal highway funds and engineering recommendations were not the only factors behind the viaduct. City management and willful disenfranchisement contributed to the selection of the viaduct route and the subsequent destruction of a primarily African-American neighborhood. 12

Fein 2008, 4; 167

The former through-street becomes a local street severing the shopping center. A service street with off-street parking at the rear of shopping center is completely separated from the artery by a buffer strip. Another buffer strip protects the rear or residential properties which face on another street.

Showing center division strip and buffer strips separating artery from traffic on local and service street.

Figure 3. The Post-War Traffic Report featured center lanes for through traffic and outside separate lanes for local traffic. Source: Jerome Allan Cohn, “Urban Background to the Interstate Highway Program: The Planning and Politics of Highways in Syracuse: 1944–1960” (PhD thesis, Syracuse University, 1978).30A

ARTERIAL DEVELOPMENT AND SLUM CLEARANCE While the Federal Aid Highway Act provided much of the funding needed for the through-highways, the city still needed to provide the funding for local street improvements


and re-routings. Federal funding available through early urban renewal programs provided a potential source of funding. Concurrently with the highway planning, Syracuse was investigating how to manage blight in East Syracuse. East Syracuse, or Ward 17, was a primarily African-American working-class neighborhood. According to the 1950 Census, 51.8% of the dwelling units in the area were dilapidated and 34.2% had no running water.13 This area was a prime target for blight eradication through urban renewal. By marrying the two projects ‒ highway construction and slum clearance, later called urban renewal ‒ Syracuse was able to use urban renewal funding to raze a blighted area, while at the same time securing federal highway funding to build the state-supported I-81 viaduct. Figure 4 shows the site of the proposed slum clearance project and the eventual route of the raised viaduct. City leaders answered stakeholders’ requests for downtown highway circulation without putting the city into debt by holding up the state engineers’ conclusion that a viaduct was the best technical and fiscal solution. The execution of this plan literally and figuratively bulldozed over any opposition. Construction on the viaduct began in 1958. Nelson Pitts, the same engineer who raised concerns about the effectiveness of highways in supporting a healthy downtown now raised questions about the equity of the viaduct plan. He estimated that the highway system would displace over 1,400 households throughout the area.14 City officials used the 1950 Census data to argue that property values in the area were already so low that the viaduct could not possibly further damage the area. State engineers glazed over concerns about the community of East Syracuse. The plan promised to produce an artfully constructed highway that would connect the community to Syracuse’s downtown and waterfront. Yet almost immediately upon completion, the Syracuse Post-Standard declared the elevated highway an “eye-sore” and a mistake.15

VIADUCT BACKLASH Through the 1950s and 1960s, heavy-handed bureaucrats defined the decision-making process, and extensive public input was not considered a viable option. However, Syracuse quickly realized that the viaduct was a technical, social, and economic failure. Technically, the viaduct’s narrow lanes and reverse S-curve pattern make its stretch of the highway treacherous for drivers. This, coupled with 13 14 15


DiMento 2009 DiMento 2009, 148 Onondaga Citizens’ League 2008

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the lack of a shoulder to allow the passage of emergency vehicles, means that the viaduct is not only difficult to reach in case of emergency, it is also quickly jammed by even minor occurrences. Syracuse now faces the dual problem of a rapidly deteriorating viaduct and an economically depressed downtown. Economically, the downtown highways were not the civic panacea the city hoped they would be. As Pitts predicted, the highway carried people away from and through the center of the city, but rarely to it. The social failure of the viaduct has left southeast Syracuse cut off from neighboring communities. The area remains desolate as development under the viaduct area is undesirable and impossible to finance. Unfortunately, over the past 20 years while downtown fell behind and the highway systems crumbled, city leaders poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a mega-mall project built on the shore of Onondaga Lake, two miles from the city center. The retail expansion of the mall continues to prevent businesses from investing in stand-alone stores in downtown Syracuse and draws people away from the city center into corporate enclaves for everything from shopping and dining to celebrations and receptions.

PARTICIPATORY PLANNING TODAY Today, Syracuse is keener to incorporate public input into the planning process. In an effort to reach out to the community on how to address the crumbling viaduct, the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (SMTC) is working with local organizations to gather community opinions on the wide range of options. The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council is the State-designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), responsible for administering the continuous and comprehensive transportation planning process in Syracuse and the surrounding area. The Governor of New York established the SMTC and similar SMOs in 1966 to oversee the long-range transportation plans for state and individual cities. According to Nell Donaldson, a Senior Transportation Planner at the council, the new form of community-based urban planning is clearly part of SMTC’s agenda. SMTC is one of the two major actors behind the I-81 Challenge, a local and regional effort to gather input on the future plans for the regional highway system. Online, the I-81 Challenge provides visitors a wide range of information on the history of the highway system, current challenges, and potential options for the future. The case study section

Figure 4. Urban Renewal Zone: Note: Almond Ave at the eastern border, along the eventual route of the elevated viaduct. Source: Jerome Allan Cohn, “Urban Background to the Interstate Highway Program: The Planning and Politics of Highways in Syracuse: 1944–1960” (PhD thesis, Syracuse University, 1978).pg. 202A


provides the reader with 19 studies of how cities across the United States are managing similar highway challenges. Interestingly, while SMTC is leading the community outreach and focus group meetings, much of the engineering and technical analysis is in the hands of the second organizational actor, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). Given the contentious history of NYSDOT in Syracuse, the two agencies decided it would be more effective for NYSDOT to remain a shadow actor, while SMTC plays the leading role during the initial community outreach phases.16 The galvanizing question regarding Syracuse’s highway system is the viaduct. Although I-81 as a whole needs upgrades, the 1.4-mile stretch of elevated highway is rapidly deteriorating. One possible option is to lower the viaduct to street level. This solution would be similar to action taken by the city of Milwaukee in the 1990s to lower the Park East Freeway. In the case of Milwaukee’s freeway, the challenges were similar: the elevated highway cut into the city’s downtown, and the communities bordering the highway suffered from economic depression and were cut off from their adjoining neighborhoods. However, there are dramatic differences between the two projects. The major difference is that the Park East Freeway was a spur connecting downtown Milwaukee to Interstate 43, whereas the viaduct in Syracuse is the interstate itself.17 The I-81 Challenge goes beyond just revitalizing downtown Syracuse. The decisions made about the future of I-81 affect regional traffic patterns. The city’s highway system is a linchpin in north-south and east-west traffic at the city, regional, and state levels. The solution that Syracuse eventually identifies for the failing viaduct cannot only serve residents of the immediate area. As Ms. Donaldson said, “Whatever the solution, it must distribute burdens and benefits equally to all users, both intra-city and inter-city.”18 SMTC recently announced that, following the completion of focus group studies, engineering analysis, and outside research, a potential plan will be released for public review in 2017. SMTC notes that this plan will not be a final decision, but a roadmap for how the city may proceed. According to Syracuse’s City Council, funding for the project cannot come from the municipality. This leaves the City dependent on federal and state aid for the vast amount of 16 17 18

Donaldson 2011 SMTC 2010, 12 Donaldson 2011


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project capital costs.19 At the same time as the I-81 Challenge program, NYSDOT is developing plans for traffic from I-81 to efficiently circulate through the area. The recommendations from NYSDOT engineers may be complementary to the goals of the City of Syracuse and downtown residents, or it may not. NYSDOT’s reputation as a technocratic body, that delivers top down solutions, makes both city leadership and residents wary of the State’s plan for efficiency. Lastly, there is the federal position. Under President Eisenhower in the 1960s, the administration saw infrastructure planning as the function of civil engineers and technical workers. The Eisenhower administration articulated top-down transportation and planning strategies that did not give consideration to the social science of city planning or longterm social effects of urban renewal. In today’s political climate, it is impossible to say what infrastructure doctrine will be flowing out of Washington in five to ten years. Formerly public services, including infrastructure provision continue to shift toward the private domain, It is possible within the next decade that reconstructing highways will rely on a private investors, rather than government funding. Although the philosophies of infrastructure and planning have evolved, the economic bottom line is still in place. SMTC and NYSDOT may seek the economic, environmental, and equitable solution for Syracuse, but that triple bottom line is destined to dissolve into one, which is the same as it has ever been: What will it cost and who is willing to pay?

Works Cited March 1957-March 1958. A Syracuse tale of city, suburbs, public housing, arterial highways...and bowling. http://syracuseb4.blogspot. com/2011/03/march-1957-march-1958.html Case, D. (2011, Jan. 27.) “What should be done with I-81 in Syracuse? The state wants your help” http://blog.syracuse. com/opinion/2011/01/what_should_be_done_with_i-81. html. accessed on 3/12/11 Cohn, J.A. (1978), “Urban Background to the Interstate Highway Program: The Planning and Politics of Highways in Syracuse: 1944–1960” (PhD thesis, Syracuse University) Dimento, J. (2009) Stent (or Dagger?) in the Heart of Town: Urban Freeways in Syracuse, 1944—196.7. Journal of Planning History May vol. 8 no. 2 133-161 19

Case 2011

Donaldson, N. (2011, Feb. 17). Senior Transportation Planner, Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council. Personal Interview. Fein, Michael R. (2008). Paving the Way: New York Road Building and the American State 1800– 1956. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. Hearst, W. (1897, Oct. 10) “Events in City’s History 1848– 1897”. Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York). Layden, S. (2001, Sept. 2.) “The Square comes full circle. Renovation project gets heart of Syracuse beating again.” Syracuse Post-Standard. March 21, 2011. Onondaga Citizens’ League (2009). “Rethinking I - 81.” 2008-2009 Study, Report No. 29. Onondaga Citizens’ League (2008). “Rethinking I-81 – OCL’s Study Blog”. 13 August. page/3/ Scott, M. (1969). American City Planning Since 1890. Berkeley, CA: University of California. Slater, Rodney E. (1996). United States Department of Transportation. Federal Highway Administration. http:// p96sp2.cfm Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (2010). Case Studies of Urban Freeways for The I-81 Challenge. Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council (2011). “The I-81 Challenge: A Brief Transportation Overview”. February update. Syracuse-Onondaga Post-War Planning Council (1945). The report of the Syracuse-Onondaga Post-war Planning Council to the citizens of the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County. Syracuse, NY. Tallamy, B. D. (1947, Sept. 18). “Report on Arterial Routes in the Syracuse Urban Area.” Syracuse Department of Public Works. United States Census. (2011). qfd/states/36/3673000.html


Architecture City

Structuring the Urban Environment

Branden Clements INTRODUCTION When design professionals speak of the city and of urban planning, they focus on the large-scale – its urban core, its infrastructure, its roads, its public space. The smallest part of this, and sometimes the least noticeable, is perhaps the building, which is like an atom of a chemical compound. It fundamentally structures the way the city operates, from bottom to top. As design professionals explore contemporary aesthetic and cultural objectives, they must be cognizant that buildings foremost contribute to urbanism and outlast changes in culture and in technology. Recently, however, contemporary designers have been foregrounding mass-customization, free form, and parametric architecture in ways that do not always contribute to the pedestrian experience. Presented here are three alternative methods by which an architect and urban designer can consider architecture which instead foregrounds urbanism. First, identical objects and variability are contrasted with mass customization, investigating the potential in using identical objects in varying ways. Second, emergent grids are explored, illustrating how new conceptions of

the grid can be advantageous and contemporary. Third, using parametrics as background, rather than foreground elements, acknowledges the role parametrics can play at an urban scale.





Contemporary culture continues to employ mass customization as an expression of individuality and as a solution to unique and specific problems. When considering the built environment, however, the acceptance of mass customization should be weighed against an alternative concept – that of the identical object with variability. For most of architectural history, identical objects have been varied in position and configuration to create variety. It was the architect’s innovative use of the same materials that both allowed individuality and legibility at the urban scale. In the modern era, architects who have been particularly adept at this technique include Frank Lloyd Wright and Will Bruder, who worked with brick and concrete block, respectively. More provocatively, SHoP Architects has recently used custom form-work to create variable brick patterning on a base of only twotypes of bricks. This becomes an intriguing moment where the individual object with variability accomplishes a contemporary aesthetic. Unlike mass customization, in which unique objects are used to perform very specific functions, identical objects with variability expose an object’s potential and celebrate its skillful deployment. Not only contemporary, this type of architecture converses with its urban neighbors, creating an urban experience that is potentially more intriguing, cohesive, and longer-lasting than many of its alternatives.

EMERGENT GRIDS 290 Mulberry uses two different brick sizes with a variable arrangement to create a contemporary facade. Figure 1. SHoP Architects, 290 Mulberry, New York, New York, 2010, photograph. (, 2/11/2012)


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The majority of urban buildings continue to be created within grids, with only a few iconic structures breaking from this time-tested approach. The grid has been mostly considered a tool of function and rationality, making it an ideal target to eliminate in favor of an irregularly-shaped “freedom.” In

Figure. 2. Toyo Ito, Tama Art University Library, 2007, floor plan drawing. (, 3/14/2012)

terms of design tools, grids have been largely discarded as both past history and an unnecessary architectural constraint. This is not always ideal for architecture. When totally eliminated, one can end up with the Denver Art Museum, in which all the parts are essentially equal. The grid, on the other hand, can be used productively as a tool that allows variation within a structured framework. The grid provides for a level field that is organized and equalized. By breaking the grid, designers can place an emphasis or accent on unique features, makingmaking variability visible. For example, the plan of Tama Art University exhibits an inflected grid, one that provides unique moments within a cohesive and legible framework. The contemporary grid, however need not be orthogonal, but simply must establish reference points that can thus be broken. Toyo Ito, a prominent Japanese architect, speaks of an “emergent grid” which emphasizes points of local inflection, allowing for daylight, ventilation, and socialization to occur at specific places within a grid architecture. Byapplying the grid, architects can regain control over their design, provide greater legibility within the urban context, and make their variations more powerful, particularly for iconic buildings. The grid has become a ubiquitous tool for dealing with space. Because the grid is nearly omnipresent in dense urban spaces buildings that acknowledge it, are better able to connect with the city.

Tama Art University uses an inflected grid to structure space.

small doses. When a whole city becomes formal, however, architects should reconsider designing buildings to take a background role to the city’s activities and street life. Subtle architecture adds to a space but does not dominate one’s entire attention; rather, it is discovered over time. Subtle is not synonymous with quiet architecture, which implies the inability to be heard. Subtle architecture is visually intriguing but not formally dominant. Form, often parametrically driven at the scale of the building, has attracted all of host cities’ attention, leaving little room for intrigue or interpretation. This creates an architecture that is not only foreign, but that feels uncontrolled and impersonal. Architects can reconsider the most important reason to use parametrics; it allows for continuity and connectivity between physical objects using variables. This makes it particularly useful to the city facing a myriad of influences and inflections, whether political, environment, or societal. Parametrics can be used to establish relationships between parts and relationships of the parts to the whole, making for a multi-performative architecture. The California Academy of Sciences, although not an exemplar of urbanism, is an excellent example of parametrics as background.

PARAMETRICS AS BACKGROUND Digital culture has strongly affected the design of cities’ infrastructure and buildings, particularly allowing for a greater variety in formal expression. Highly formal work, which can include work by contemporary architects like Daniel Libeskind and Frank Gehry, is beneficial to a city in

The lack of a grid makes all parts equal in the Denver Art Museum. Figure 3. Daniel Libeskind, Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, 2006, floor plan (, 2/11/2012)


Architects should embrace parametrics for their variety and intrigue that is contemporary and revelatory in today’s culture. Parametrics, however, should be used to create patterns that are subtle and which reveal themselves over time and through movement. The work of starchitects often prioritizes an architecture of visual experience, leaving little room for the occupant of the city to move by, question, and interpret their surroundings.

that contributes to the creation of urban place. Through a consideration of individual objects with variability, the emergent grid, and parametrics as subtle backgrounds, we can create a city that is visually more compelling, spatially more intriguing, and practically more useful as a long-term urban asset than contemporary structures. The potential is there, now who will take the charge?

CONCLUSIONS With these three means of foreground urbanism, urban designers and planners can better advocate for architecture

The Academy of Sciences uses parametric design for its subtle yet sweeping roof. Figure 4. Renzo Piano Building Workshop, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, 2008, photograph. (, 2/11/2012)


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The Brooklyn Bridge Brooklyn, NY 2011 Alex Bullo

The Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn, NY 2008 (Photo credit: Alex Bullo)


The Environmental Paradox of Cities An Editorial on Getting Around Dubai

Douglas Kelbaugh

This editorial on transportation in Dubai is based on the environmental paradox of cities: when humans inhabit dense urban space, they decrease their impact on the global environment more than they increase their impact on the local environment; in other words, their ecological footprints per capita are smaller than in low-density sprawl. This young city of superhighways, superblocks and superhighrises rapidly developed in a disconnected pattern of homogenous enclaves that has undermined physical accessibility by automobile, public transit and foot, as well as the inherent vibrancy and sustainability of compact, complex, connected and complete urbanism.

DENSITY AND MIXED USE MATTER Cities perform better environmentally than sprawling suburbs. It is widely known that cities consume colossal amounts of resources and produce prodigious amounts of pollution and waste. Yet, they are surprisingly – shockingly – greener environmentally and more sustainable. This can be expressed in a number of ways to different audiences. For the urban planner it is no surprise that dense urban space that is mixed-use, walkable, bikeable and transit-served impacts global climate change less than low-density sprawl that is oriented to motorized vehicles. More surprising is that it has less impact than urbanism of equal density that does not have a fine-grained network for accessibility. However, dense urbanism of any layout typically has a greater impact than sprawl on local climate, because of the “urban heat island effect” caused by the more spatially concentrated absorption and retention of solar energy, as well as by the waste heat generated from energy usage. Despite being hotter than surrounding suburban and rural areas (especially during the night), cities decrease their residents’ impact on global climate change more than they increase their impact on the local climate.


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For the environmental scientist, the darker albedo/solar reflectivity of urban surfaces and materials, greater water and air pollution, lower level of evapotranspiration from vegetation, and higher ambient air temperatures of the typical city are higher per acre than low-density urbanism or sprawl, but its average ecological footprint per capita of greenhouse gases (GHGs), carbon, water, and solid waste is smaller. For the economist: because measuring all of these factors per person is the more equitable metric in a global society with widely varying levels of land, wealth, and population, cities are more efficient in terms of land consumption, the construction and maintenance of infrastructure, and the mechanical heating and cooling of buildings, as well as transportation and communication. Cities deliver higher personal and collective productivity and creativity with fewer negative externalities than less-dense settlement patterns. Finally, for the average citizen, the paradox can be expressed simply: suburbs may be greener per acre, but not per capita. In short, the ecological footprint and environmental impacts of cities are larger than suburban sprawl per acre but smaller per capita; and the benefits of cities with a grid/network are even greater than non-gridded, fragmented ones. In addition, there are other, better-known benefits and advantages of urbanism that favor our species. Many of the positive consequences of urbanism help compensate for the human load on the planet. By mitigating and adapting to environmental impacts, on top of all their other recognized social, economic, and cultural merits, cities will prove an essential part of addressing the multifaceted crisis of climate change. This is not to say that cities are the only solution,

Figure 1: Stylized high-rises rise and shine on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s ultra-wide and ultra-long High Street. There is little if any functional or bulk zoning and the towers – many over 70 stories – neither taper with height nor space themselves for daylight and air. In this photo, nestling up to the wall of skyscrapers on the right is a low-rise subdivision of condos and villas on cul-de-sacs (Photo credit: Aaron Del Duca).

or even that there is any single comprehensive solution to the cumulative and compound environmental pressures of humanity on the planet. Some experts (like physicist Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute) have put a numerical value on this remarkably universal phenomenon: when a city doubles in population, its infrastructure and resource consumption increase by only 75-85% rather than by 100% (similar to the diminishing metabolic and heart rate of animals as they increase in weight). As a result, today’s rapid global urbanization ‒ if it isn’t low-density sprawl ‒ is generally a positive trend for the planet. It’s especially good news if cities are dense and have a seamless, well-connected mix of land use and transportation/transit modes.

Increasing the size, density, and mix of uses has related salutary effects, such as promoting walking, biking, and transit, which often enhance the public realm and sense of community in today’s increasingly diverse cities. And it offers more convenience, with fewer and shorter trips, especially by automobile. Productivity, wages, and innovation (as measured in inventions and patents per capita) also rise, as does economic, cultural and social opportunity. Also, a compact city keeps the surrounding countryside more intact, whether it’s agrarian or wild. In short, compact cities are good for nature – human nature and Mother Nature. There are well known negatives, like increased pollution, noise, congestion, walking speed, and communicable disease, as well as crime, overcrowding, and mental illness if the urbanism is of low quality.


Figure 2: The lack of places to turn left tripled the distance of my evening commute home. The morning commute was one-third as long, because of more opportunities to turn right. With a grid many times coarser than Manhattan, everyone lives, works and shops on large islands surrounded by a ring of asphalt and sea of sand. (Source: Google Maps)

DUBAI In its lightning-fast and audacious development, Dubai, much to its credit, has got half the equation right: it’s dense enough to begin to partake of the paradox. Its next challenge is to embrace the other half of the equation – mixed use – with lots of worthwhile destinations in walking distance of lots of people, supported by transit and a well-connected grid of streets and roads. Its low-rise residential areas are typically single-use and separated by an array of gates, walls, cul-de-sacs, and open land. And the high-rise clusters are also often single-use and difficult to reach by car or foot. The chorus line of high-rises along Sheikh Zayed Road, like fanciful perfume bottles competing with each other for attention, is stunning at night. (Figure 1) But these trophy


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towers often ignore their context on the ground, making urban space that can be alienating and scaleless. There are some wonderful exceptions, like the new development ironically called Old Town, with the shimmering, tallest-ever Burj Khalifa elegantly punctuating both the sky above and the complex below, which includes a world-class fountain and gigantic mall. The Walk at Dubai Marina and the Dubai Financial Center are also delightful on foot, the latter during the day and the former on evenings and weekends.

As an architect I could rant about the city’s architectural excesses and superficialities, but I want to wear my other hat as an urban designer and planner and to focus on getting around the city. Despite the new and impressive Metro

Figure 3: An RTA plan to carpet the entire emirate with a supergrid of superhighways is over-the-top and hopefully over its shelf-life. A supergrid is not an urban grid: it is less a Corbusian “machine for living” than a machine for moving machines that move. (Source: Dubai RTA)

system – a momentous step in the right direction – the city is still mired in the superblock/superhighway/supergrid transportation model. Like all such systems, it privileges mobility over accessibility – i.e., it’s designed to move as many vehicles as rapidly as possible, rather than enabling as many people as possible to get to where they want or need to be. And the vaunted mobility is compromised by frequent traffic jams and pervasive 24/7 construction traffic, although both have slackened since the recession. It goes without saying that the roads and streets are inhospitable to pedestrians and bicyclists.

NO LEFT TURN – THE PARADOX OF INTERSECTIONS The superblock pattern is a result of vast tracts of land granted to public or private developers by the government to promote growth. With the relentless drive for fast buildout and no comprehensive regional plan, these large parcels have been typically developed as self-contained if not gated communities, creating an archipelago of independent neighborhoods and districts. Most of them act like large lakes that must be driven around. This makes for a less

permeable network of public roads, resulting in longer, less direct trips, more traffic, gas consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. There simply aren’t enough intersections, especially ones that allow left turns, which is the point of greatest friction and conflict – the Achilles Heel – of any vehicular network. Traffic roundabouts have reduced the friction inherent in the left turn. However, widening them to three or four lanes has proved very dangerous for drivers, and impossible for pedestrians. The lack of intersections that allowed left turns extended my nightly commute home – 6 km as the crow flies – to 18 km! (Figure 2) Fortunately, for any car but the many Porsches and Ferraris, this ridiculous route could be cut in half by illegally cutting across several hundred meters of sand. The paradox here is that more intersections increase accessibility by shortening routes and travel times, even though turning vehicles slow the speed of traffic. Network connectivity – and its sibling, proximity – are usually of greater value in driving around cities than high travel speeds on the road. A network is better than a tree; accessibility trumps mobility.


Figure 4: A dense network of roads/streets (on left) has greater capacity than the tree-like hierarchy of the superhighway and superblock arterials with collectors and cul-de-sacs (on right). Travel distances and times are shorter with a network while moving more vehicles on an equivalent amount of roadway (which also means less pavement to install and maintain, plus less runoff, land use and heat gain for the same capacity and travel times.) (image adapted by author, with graphic help from Kathleen Johnson, MArch’12)

And then there’s the superhighway supergrid – the American model on hormones. With up to six or even seven lanes in either direction and the world’s largest and most baroque interchanges, it can be hair-raising to drive and hair-pulling to navigate. If you miss your exit, you might well miss your meeting. It can take 15 - 30 minutes to recover, and that’s only if you have a co-pilot or GPS; and neither maps nor electronics can quite keep up with the changing roads and construction detours.

MORE ROADS, NOT MORE LANES Let’s hope the Roads and Transport Authority’s (RTA) plan to carpet the entire Emirate with this supergrid is no longer on the table. (Figure 3) The hubris and absurdity of this vision is enough to make Los Angeles or Houston blush; the kneejerk policy of adding more lanes to decongest roads needs to give way to adding more roads, especially the missing links in a grid that is too coarse and too incomplete. And those empty 12-lane bypass roads, which feel like a future


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whose time has passed, should give way to investment in the UAE’s proposed national rail system. There are other smaller discontinuities in the road network, most notably the cul-de-sac, which contribute traffic to the network without providing additional capacity to it. People living on these dead ends may enjoy their quiet privacy, but they are transportation parasites within the larger network. Low traffic on cul-de-sacs means more traffic elsewhere. A city has two basic options: spread out its traffic across a close-grained network of many streets to equitably share the traffic burden, or channel it through a more hierarchical network of cul-de-sacs, collectors, arterials, and highways (which typically spares the wealthy neighborhoods). The former strategy favors accessibility and the latter mobility (as long as the major roads are not overloaded with traffic). In fact, the connected grid has greater capacity per lanemile, because the many intersections allow turning left without traffic signals, by slipping between oncoming cars.

Conversely, the arterial grid requires dedicated left turn lanes and multi-phase traffic signals, with a red light that not only seems longer but actually is longer than the green light. (Figure 4) In Dubai, the preferred traffic calming device is the speed bump. They are more than a constant pest – they shorten the life of your vehicle’s suspension system and the length of your cervical spine, and can be a literal pain in the neck. (There were several dozen speed bumps on my daily commute.) Sometimes they are placed sensibly on neighborhood streets, to warn the driver of an upcoming pedestrian crosswalk or intersection. But too often they are used on arterials and even highways, to simply slow down drivers, who are all assumed to be speeders if unchecked. This assumption may be true for many of us, but there are less tyrannical ways to put the brakes on fast drivers. Research and personal experience have shown that driving speed is determined more by street and lane width than by posted speed limits. Narrower roads not only slow traffic, they cut the consumption of land, asphalt, and energy, as well as reduce stormwater runoff, road maintenance, and the flooding and erosion that often follow rainstorms. Why build wide roads that are engineered for high speed, and then impede that speed with jarring bumps? It’s like putting one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the brake pedal at the same time.

TRANSIT: PUBLIC AND PRIVATE The RTA has made significant progress in public transit, now operating the first line of the world’s largest automated Metro, as well as a growing fleet of handsome standard and double-decker buses. (Figure 5) There are even gleaming (if under-insulated) air-conditioned bus shelters, which are welcome for the half of the year that is intensely hot and humid. The seldom-discussed transportation backstory, however, is private transit. I mean the many private vans, minibuses, and buses that ferry workers to and from their workplaces (mainly construction sites) and their often remote, segregated and very crowded living quarters (eight men to a room!). According to government statistics, these vehicles total about 200,000! They are everywhere, mostly vans, but over 10,000 light and heavy buses – 10 times the number of public buses. It’s rarely mentioned, but it’s this private transit that is doing the lion’s share of moving workers around the city. This system results in much

lower vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and tailpipe emissions (although some of these buses are old and polluting) than if the workers were commuting in private cars, or even in public buses, which are not usually as packed as the company buses. These tens of thousands of poorly-paid, over-worked construction laborers are the unsung transportation heroes, as well as construction heroes of Dubai. It’s no secret that the traffic fatality rate here, especially for pedestrians, is among the highest in the world. It’s often blamed on poor drivers who hail from many different countries and cultures. But surely, the excessive width of the local roads and number of high-speed roadways contribute. Other fallout of Dubai’s automobile-dependent lifestyles includes the lack of physical exercise and the fast-food culture of roadside eateries. Both factors contribute to the native Emiratis’ rates of obesity and diabetes, probably the highest in the world, according to government statistics. But Dubai’s best known stigma is the planet’s highest per capita ecological footprint, pumped up by the high vehicle usage (as well as by a “construction economy,” which continues despite the economic downturn, at palpably slower pace).

INFILL THE MISSING FABRIC AND LINKS Dubai, having built an extensive infrastructure and many high-density areas, is now in a position to get the second half of the urban paradox right. It can infill existing development, and build more mixed-use, walkable urbanism on the open urban land that has been leapfrogged, as well as add the missing links in the transportation network. Just as important as connecting the dots, the existing single-use dots need to be transformed into more complete and complex districts and neighborhoods. New and retrofit development is best located near Metro stations, with the highest densities within a quarter-mile radius. To be fair, this type of infill is exactly what many U.S. cities also need to do, if they are to overcome the equally unsustainable imprint of single-use zoning and the leapfrog development of endless suburbs. If these places are well-designed, interesting, humane environments, people will live, work, shop, and recreate there – not only because of proximity, but because they want to be there. They will enjoy being footloose pedestrians on pleasant days and evenings, just as they now flock to The Walk in Dubai Marina or mob the dancing fountain at Dubai Mall. Walking is the healthiest, greenest, safest, cheapest,


friendliest, and most enjoyable way to move around a city. With a rich mix of uses and a pedestrian scale, walking will flourish, even in less than perfect weather. And transit, which always starts and ends with a walking segment, enables the pedestrian to get around the whole city. A city without mixed use is simply dense, high-rise sprawl, which is typically the worst of both worlds: it offers neither the stimulating life of cities nor the quiet privacy and greenery of suburbs. If suburban sprawl is boring to GenXers and -Yers, dense sprawl is not only boring, but noisy and crowded. Monocultures, like over-specialized species and ecosystems, are inherently less sustainable. In social, economic, and environmental terms, they are less resilient, less able to adapt and co-evolve with changing conditions. Nor are they as culturally vibrant, architecturally rich, or spatially interesting. The government-owned company in Dubai for which I worked while on leave from the University of Michigan had an international portfolio of projects that embodied these principles. Alas, like most developers in the global recession, it had no choice but to radically downsize itself and cancel most of its projects before it could help reshape the prevailing development model. On the other hand, this hiatus in the economy’s breathless pace of growth – whether for several years or a decade – is precisely what’s needed in Dubai and other over-heated, over-leveraged economies, and in cultures of excess, including my home country. Except for the unequal distribution of economic pain across society, the interlude provides this small emirate the opportunity to take stock of its breakneck trajectory from creekside pearling village to world metropolis in half a century. To its credit, this remarkable explosion of an instant city in an empty desert was fueled as much by raw gumption and vision as by the petrodollars flowing through it. Like many countries the world over – including and in some cases especially in the industrialized West – now is the time for Dubai to harness that energy and bravura to a new vision, one that is not short-sighted or naively futuristic, but more measured and mature. It can become more sustainable, strategic, and, in more ways than one, streetwise. It is poised to embrace a more complex urbanism, with its paradoxical environmental dividends. Its survival – like that of every metropolis – depends on it.


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Figure 5: Cars, taxis, vans, buses, trucks and Metro trains stream and sometimes scream by the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which stands higher than the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings stacked one atop the other. (

New York Times Building New York, NY 2008 Alex Bullo

New York Times Building, New York City, 2008 (Photo credit: Alex Bullo)


The Afterlife of Malls John Drain INTRODUCTION It seems like it was yesterday: Grandpa imagined the search for some new music would distract him from an illness that was reaching its terminal stage. This meant a trip to the Rolling Acres Mall at Akron’s western fringe; probably the destination was a Sam Goody, which in 1996 was as synonymous with record store as iTunes is with music today. Grandpa bought a couple tapes and then happily strolled the mall concourse. But his relief quickly faded; he slowed his clip and sidled into a composite bench-planter on a carpeted oasis, confessing, “I am so tired.” Grandpa and his cohort – the rubber workers – have mostly vanished from Akron. The Rolling Acres Mall is abandoned. The so-called “shadow retail” that gradually built up around the mall is today the shadow of a ghost.

THE “DECLINE” OF THE MALL Rolling Acres Mall, like so many other malls, were built – invented – by and for people like my grandpa, a veteran who ascended into the middle class by working his way up the organizational ladder at B.F. Goodrich, one of Akron’s former rubber institutions. The trajectory of the Rolling Acres Mall is not unusual. Malls just like it have closed all over the country. The obvious conclusion is that there is an “epidemic” among malls today (malls being frequently likened to an organism or an ecological monoculture). There are hundreds of news articles heralding the supposed death of the entire indoor mall concept. In a poll of the vox populi, as represented by the online comments sections1 of several of these pieces, I’ve noted a roughly even mix of sentimental pity and dispassionate, even morbid curiosity. I can relate to both perspectives: I’ll forever associate my local malls with 1


Hudson and O’Connell 2009

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teenage embarrassments and rejection, along with fonder memories – from visiting Mall Santa to getting fitted for my prom tux. Some spectators interpret the decline of malls as a signal that auto-oriented suburban sprawl is finally unwinding. Iconoclasts might attribute their abrupt collapse to a conspiracy of “planned obsolescence,” or even declare this a symptom of a decadent society. Some will fault today’s politics or the Great Recession (anachronistically, in most cases). Some attribute the decline to a compromised sense of safety among crowds of people who aren’t exposed to an intensive security screening (certainly the violent incidents in Ward Parkway Mall in Kansas City2 or the City Center in Columbus3 lend some credence to this view that violence has played a role). Others attribute the decline of certain malls to shifting consumer preferences for lifestyle centers or bigger super-regional malls. Some blame their inconvenience, overbuilding, consolidations of anchors, systemic mismanagement, or some combination of these market factors. There are many explanations for why particular malls decline, yet many malls are still very much alive, or at least stable for the time being. For example, Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, MI could have passed for Rolling Acres Mall’s identical twin at its outset in the 1970s. Yet it remains a positively uplifting and opulent venue that’s full of shoppers at any given moment. There is still a robust investor appetite for large-scale retail environments. A glance at the stock prices of some of the Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) that specialize in malls and shopping centers suggests that malls are recovering from the recent crisis. The real estate information service Reis reports in their 1Q 2012 market commentary that regional malls maintain the highest occupancy rates of the various retail asset classes, although 2 3

CNN 2007 Columbus Monthly 2011

Southwyck Mall. Toledo, OH (Google Maps)

that may be due to the dearth of new malls needing to be leased. The market seems to be saying that some malls are just fine, and others will need to be adapted. The mall REIT General Growth Properties (GGP), having divorced itself from its second-tier malls in the aftermath of its 2009 bankruptcy, apparently sees two futures for its malls: some are truly outstanding, such as the Ala Moana Center in Waikiki, where GGP recently invested an enormous sum to buy its Sears anchor out of the premises4 (Sears typically owns its stores). GGP is standing by its strongest malls. Some of GGP’s other malls required special business plans, known as repositioning, and therefore might not be suitable to the dominant class of investor in the parent REIT, which has limited tolerance for risk. 4

Pacific Business News 2012

GGP’s bankruptcy has thus spawned a new company: an exclusively “B”, or second-tier mall REIT – “B” as opposed to “A.” In creating this new company, GGP even used a legacy name of one of its former acquisitions, Rouse Properties, to identify the vehicle through which it has consolidated 30 of its enclosed malls all around the country.5 These are not dead malls per se, but GGP wouldn’t have spun them off if they were not defective in some way. An optimistic analyst might say that the new company combines the experience of a reputable mall operator with the flexibility to take entrepreneurial risks that the parent REIT wouldn’t or couldn’t take. Alternatively, this move facilitates the sale of the portfolio to an investor who will take on challenging but potentially profitable “value-added” redevelopments. I cannot predict whether Rouse will be successful, but I can imagine several possible outcomes for individual malls: some lack the potential for growth, but can be profitable 5

Hudson 2012


as long as they are able to defer maintenance. Or perhaps enough of these markets will improve on their own, prompting significant reinvestment in the malls. I suspect that in many cases, however, the underlying “B” mall assets will require a radical fix. It remains to be seen if Rouse’s investors will have the necessary patience with this mission, or if a successor will take on such a project. Meanwhile, many of the surviving malls are themselves also transforming – some by design, and others in entirely unexpected ways.

MISSING MALLS I have visited a number of dead malls and other diminished retail landscapes. Commercial real estate is, after all, my occupation. I have not yet been involved in any attempted mall resuscitations, however. My interest in dead malls is more of a hobby than anything else. But while I am honing a working theory about retail, I am conflicted both about how bleak the situation really is for malls, and whether malls are actually worthy of preservation. Certainly Northland Center in Southfield, MI comes to my mind as a mall that belongs on the National Register, being the first of the modern malls. But are there other malls that are so worthy? Is it even possible for a self-enclosed mall environment to be a contributing historical resource? After all, malls have always been about newness, and totally dependent on shoppers and the mall managers who shaped the retail ecosystem to supply these malls with their vibrancy. A mall bereft of shoppers is profoundly bland.

Metcalf South Shopping Center, Overland Park, KS (Photo credit: author)

I know that I’m not alone in missing what malls were. The blog is a great resource for stories about malls that have seen better days. Through this blog I am aware that there are other people who seek these places out, and I have some hunches as to why this is so. When the Muzak stops and the perfume and Cinnabon aromas have dissipated, and the mall is emptied of people and things, it becomes a surreal place, one that’s haunted. In walking these places, I’ve invented games, such as “What store was that?” Maybe there’s only a ruined pilaster, indicating a Victoria’s Secret, or a red streamer suggesting a KB Toys. The attraction of the dead mall is its familiar strangeness. Some malls persist in a less intense capacity than their creators could have envisioned. I have visited malls that manage to support a handful of passion projects that sell niche objects, such as religious icons, Ziggy paraphernalia, and model train scenes. Some of these dead malls have become hosts to post offices and DMVs, tenants of last resort. I know of at least one mall that has – or recently had – a typewriter repair shop. Several malls I’ve visited have even reverted to non-commercial uses such as churches (or, in Euclid, OH’s Euclid Square Mall, at least 16 churches). And as long as the concourse is open and the air is conditioned, senior citizens will use the mall as a place to walk. Perhaps this explains why an eyeglass store can survive in Kansas City’s North Park Mall, among a nearly unbroken chain of more than a hundred vacant storefronts. Dead malls inspire. I recently visited the Cleveland Museum of Art, where there happened to be an exhibit of the photographs of Brian Ulrich, a known photographer of dead malls. In an interview, the artist explains that he was compelled to document the peeling veneer of retail landscapes after the proliferation of post-9/11 admonitions that “shopping is patriotic.”6 Ulrich’s photographs were darkly realistic, prompting me to wonder, “Were these places ever nice, or was it all an illusion?” The Museum is currently undergoing an extensive renovation that will unify the exhibit spaces around a vast interior atrium, and while viewing Ulrich’s exhibit from the partially complete gallery, it struck me how similar the experience was to visiting a mall. Soon, the Museum will cease to be the dense, quiet labyrinth I got lost in, becoming instead a 6


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Ritchie 2009

Rolling Acres Mall. Akron, OH (Google Maps)

coherently organized, bright and open space, the outcome of its designers’ focus on circulation and accessibility. And who couldn’t agree that the interior accessibility of malls (to those with cars, that is) and their appeal to people young and old, affluent, average – anyone at all – is not a genuinely good and once-innovative feature of the mall? No, malls were not so bad.

REVISITING ROLLING ACRES Rolling Acres Mall in Akron has been closed to the public since 2008, but I’ve continued to periodically revisit this place in my mind. Rolling Acres was developed by Forest City, an illustrious commercial real estate firm based in nearby Cleveland that only dabbled in malls. When the mall opened in 1975, it was a major regional mall – perhaps a super-regional mall, boasting 4 anchors and 1.3 million or so rentable square feet over two levels. This was a middleclass, rubber workers’ mall. A JCPenney and Sears Mall.

What went wrong here? The mall wasn’t exactly in the middle of nowhere, even if it wasn’t situated at the intersection of a major thoroughfare and an arterial route, a reliable rule of thumb in mall site selection. The mall had plenty of parking and few competitors. Yes, several of the rubber companies left town, but Akron proper is still solidly middle-class. I interviewed my mom, who patronized Rolling Acres Mall in its early days. “Do you miss the mall?” I asked. “Definitely.” “Why is that?” “I felt safe. It was very Midwestern. And as a newlywed, it was a longitudinal dreamscape of my aspirations. I felt that its purpose was to inspire, or simply inform you of what’s current. It was like a survey course for living.”


I suppose this is true of every mall. Mom couldn’t conjure up anything uniquely special about Rolling Acres, other than what it meant to her as a touchstone in her life. Mom would go there because JCPenney extended her store credit, which department stores offered directly before the proliferation of commercial credit cards. She and Dad would go to the mall at least once a month to make a payment on a piece of furniture in person, and maybe to pick up a few more things, get a Salisbury steak at the York Cafeteria, and imagine new acquisitions. “Malls were very nice,” she concluded. But Mom, a baby boomer, became increasingly busy with balancing work and a growing family. Out of necessity, she evolved into a Montrose Road shopper, or a Great Northern Boulevard shopper – these being long chains of value-oriented shopping centers where customers can drive right up to a particular store (e.g. Walmart), buy some discounted merchandise, and drive to another store or away completely. Malls don’t deliver these economies of scale with comparable efficiency.

WHERE ELSE ARE CONSUMERS GOING? To get another perspective, I recently attended a panel at an International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) industry function, on the topic of “Navigating the Issues Presented in Marketing Unproductive and Excess Space.” One of the panelists offered his experience as a court-appointed receiver of a dead mall in suburban Chicago as a case study. This particular dead mall property was unique for its relative youth, having an early 1990s vintage. Apart from its unfortunate color palette, it featured an attractive atrium interior. The receiver explained how he had found ways of trimming the mall’s operating costs, and how he negotiated longer-term leases with many of its existing tenants. It sounded like a good success story, because the receiver was successful in disposing of this asset in 2011 to a consortium of California investors backed by foreign capital. I asked myself: are these investors just deep-pocketed impulse buyers? What is their plan? What do they expect will come of this? As the panel session closed, I overheard chatter among the audience insinuating that the recent buyers had overpaid for the mall. I overheard speculation that it was only a


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matter of time before the mall reappeared in foreclosure. I also learned later on that Sears had since closed its store in the mall, even though this is in Chicago-headquartered Sears’ own backyard, so to speak. Sears Holdings Corp., which also owns Kmart, is in the process of closing stores en masse, most of which are in malls all over the country. I have a friend who works for Sears’ corporate office who is unconcerned. “We sell more things online nowadays,” he tells me. The near-term projections for shopping centers are mixed. At the recent industry conference the consensus view among industry insiders was that the market has “hit bottom,” and that consumer spending is poised for a rebound. I won’t dispute whether that is the case. However, industry sentiment about the future is much less clear. Many industry figures are presently confounded by these structural changes to the ways in which we consume. Specifically, many believe that the smartphone poses a serious threat to store sales margins and profitability. The link between retail traffic and direct sales is now broken; consumers may flock to stores in greater numbers than ever but, increasingly, the ultimate sale is taking place online. This trend bodes ill for all brick-and-mortar retailers, and by extension, for their landlords. Some landlords are bracing themselves for the changing winds, but aren’t about to abandon the ship. One landlord explained to me that Staples, for example, might not need 20,000 square-foot “big-box” stores anymore. Rather, it might now be able to get by with 5,000-10,000 square feet.

Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi, MI. (Photo credit: author)

On the other hand, the new Staples might be willing to pay more rent on a per square foot basis for the more efficient store format. If retail landlords can adapt their centers to these market changes, in theory they stand a chance of doing better than ever.

ADAPTING TO CHANGE Ad hoc attempts at adaptation haven’t worked at the Parmatown Mall in Parma, OH, whose owners have managed to replace shuttered department stores with big boxes in situ. The big problem here is that the anchors aren’t attracting inline tenants, and the mall court is mostly vacant. Parmatown is currently in receivership, and its appointed manager has publicly suggested that a comprehensive redevelopment is imperative, using the nearby Westgate Mall in Cleveland as an example. Westgate’s owners were swift to close its doors at the first signs of serious distress. Like Parmatown, Westgate had a 1950s vintage, and both malls were located near Nike missile defense sites and a vast array of bungalows, but not as close to major highways as malls of a later era were. These two centers were among the country’s original malls, with the modern mall originating only a few years prior at the J.L. Hudson-anchored Northland Center in Southfield, just north of Detroit. Incidentally, Detroit was also the metropolis that spawned the Kmart-anchored retail strip, and these two pioneering concepts coexisted for many years, reshaping the retail landscape of the entire country. At the redeveloped Westgate, these two models have become one, as Westgate appears to be transitioning successfully into an open-air promenade with a campus-like cast of big-box discount anchors. But the new Westgate clearly isn’t a mall anymore. Perhaps this is the future of the Rolling Acres property, too. It is likely that eventually the market will find some way to reuse a large and contiguous site in a relatively dense region. Locations such as these won’t normally have the same challenges as some contaminated industrial sites of a similar scale. But with virtually no income in place, and having been vacant for a few years, Rolling Acres is well past the point where anyone but a highly audacious private investor would take on such a redevelopment project. And, in a world where obsolete malls and distressed properties are everywhere, why would an investor choose this particular property? Then again, as with the aforementioned dead mall in suburban Chicago, Rolling Acres’ putative owners are another obscure investor group from California. You never know. Maybe all it

will take is one euphoric real estate investment cycle for the mall to make its comeback.

CONCLUSION I can accept that malls bear a resemblance to living organisms, hence why anyone can appreciate what the term “dead mall” means. Thus the decline of malls is not necessarily a problem to be remedied, but rather more like a natural lifecycle. But at Rolling Acres, the label takes on a sort of literal relevance. In April of 2011, a would-be copper thief was fatally electrocuted while committing the act.7 Toward the end of that year, while the so-called Craigslist Killer(s) made national news, one of the victims’ bodies was discovered in a wooded area near the mall.8 Evidently these cruel, calculated killers thought this was the last place anyone would look. I would prefer to see the more urban of these places mercifully reused or otherwise adapted to the highest and best extent possible. But for this to happen, the market has to be enabled to function. I suggest to planners and local government officials to be keenly aware of the vulnerability of their local malls, however healthy they appear today, and I caution against being too prescriptive about permissible uses, propping up antiquated parking ratios, or otherwise discouraging experimentation with the retail experience. There could be exciting, entrepreneurial opportunities for reinventing these places. Or, if no market solution is feasible, there may be other unique possibilities that come with large, contiguous lands for the communities nearby. Nature preserves. Urban agriculture. On-shored manufacturing. Or even storage facilities, for all the things we picked up at JCPenney and grew attached to, unable to give or throw away. The interior unity of the classical mall may be difficult to sustain in any case, but perhaps future patrons will be as charmed with ephemeral “pop-up” retailers, farmers’ markets, event spaces, or whatever else is dreamed up my tomorrow’s place managers. As for malls that are significantly distressed today, I suggest taking that last look soon.

7 8

Associated Press 2011 Telegraph 2011


Works Cited Associated Press. (2011, Apr. 13). “Would-be copper thief electrocuted at Rolling Acres Mall.”, 13 April. Hudson, Kris. (2012, Jan. 4). “General Growth starts year with a gamble.” Wall Street Journal, 4 January . 730397938746.html Hudson, Kris and Vanessa O’Connell. (2009, May 22). “Recession turns malls into ghost towns.” Wall Street Journal, 22 May. SB124294047987244803.html CNN (2007, Apr. 29). “Officials: Three shot dead at Missouri shopping center.” CNN, 29 April. http://articles.cnn. com/2007-04-29/us/mall.shooter_1_police-officer-manshot-mall-shooting?_s=PM:US Pacific Business News. (2012, Feb. 23). “General Growth acquiring Sears at Ala Moana; will close store.” Pacific Business News, 23 February. pacific/blog/morning_call/2012/02/general-growth-acquiring-sears-at-ala.html Ritchie, Abraham. (2009, June). “Interview with Brian Ulrich.” ArtSlant. Columbus Monthly (2011, Feb.) “Short North Posse: A timeline.” Columbus Monthly, February 2011. http://www. The Telegraph (2011, Nov. 26). “Two more bodies discovered by police investigating ‘Craigslist killer.’” The Telegraph, 26 November. worldnews/northamerica/usa/8917432/Two-more-bodiesdiscovered-by-police-investigating-Craigslist-killer.html


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Hong Kong Michelle Lam The planes don’t land in the centre of the city anymore, but the shotcrete-covered hill that I’ve known as the chequerboard still stands as a beacon, the highest point in Kowloon Tsai Park. The aviation navigation lights were dismantled from the top of the hill when the airport moved in 1998. Yet the unmistakable red-and-white squares painted on the south side of the hill remain, just as the old gong-gongs and poh-pohs unfailingly turn up every dawn to scale the service steps up the concrete hill, defying padlocked fences and arthritis to face the city with their morning exercises. I usually catch only the tail end of this activity as I turn up for a morning tennis session, futilely trying to beat the summer’s heat. The courts are at the foot of this hill, and the elastic pok-pok-pok of the tennis balls resound and bound off the steep concrete behind. I’ve been coming to this park for years; the chequerboard backdrop to years of tennis lessons, family strolls, school sports meets and swimming galas. Even before Hong Kong’s public works movement produced this urban park, the redand-white squares were there to guide landing jets and

my mother, then a child, scrambling to keep up on the way to the market. In the 1960s, my mother’s family lived in a squatter settlement, which was separated from the market by the empty expanse that would become the park. The chequerboard is my favourite vantage point in the vertical city of Hong Kong. Due to the flight path to the old city-centre airport, this area of Kowloon is uncharacteristically low-rise, offering unobstructed views out towards the typhoon shelters of Victoria Harbour and the glass and steel skyscrapers on the Island beyond. From here I could survey my city and feel its activity, from harbour to airport to streets to public park. In recent years this depth of vision has diminished somewhat as pencil towers pierce the urban fabric and encroach on the park. Relaxed building height limits and seemingly endless real estate profits are steadily displacing the three-storey shop-house with thirty-storey misnomers such as “Urban Loft Living”. From the chequerboard I can’t see as far out in space or as far back in time anymore. Yet like no other place in the world could you sum up the experience of a city, my city, in one moment here.

Drawing by Michelle Lam 2012, edited by Katharine Pan


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Turkey, Duffield Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 2011 (Photo credit: Joel Batterman)


Agora Vol 6|2012

Agora: The Urban Planning and Design Journal of the University of Michigan is a publication of student work from the Urban and Regional Planning Program at the University of Michigan.  The Journal is intended for students to share their work within the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and with others outside the University.  We encourage any and all submissions that explore and challenge issues related to planning and design in the goodnatured spirit of a “marketplace of ideas.” Please visit our website for more information:

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ag•o•ra (n.)

1. A place of congregation, originally a market or public square; the Agora, the chief marketplace of Athens, center of the city’s civic life. 2. A primary locus of social exchange, emblematic of a great diversity of cultures; A marketplace of ideas.

University of Michigan Urban and Regional Planning Program

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Agora v6 2012  

The Agora Planning Journal is a publication of student work from the Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Design and Real Estate Certificate P...

Agora v6 2012  

The Agora Planning Journal is a publication of student work from the Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Design and Real Estate Certificate P...