Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Decline of the Urban Downtown

In looking at the decline of the urban center I plan to look specifically at the effects suburban sprawl has had on the downtown proper. Most states are full of towns where the downtown is a virtual ghost town when the city and county offices close. I see suburban areas that are being built to invoke a feeling of the downtown center, mixing commercial and residential uses to attract the people who most likely would not think of going downtown to shop.

Some of the areas that I plan to look and hopefully answer are these:

Have the suburbs pulled the desirable businesses out of the downtown or were they already on the way out? If they left for the suburbs do they succeed?

Do downtown areas do enough to keep businesses from leaving and of attracting new business?

Why do shoppers ignore the downtown areas? Is it purely based on what stores are there or is it a feeling of safety?

What can be done to save these areas from total decline?

Are there viable options available to existing businesses that encourage them to stay in the downtown?

Would residential uses help reinvigorate the downtown area?

I think that the biggest question and maybe one I won't be able to fully answer is whether the downtown centers have become obsolete.

I'm sure that as I continus to research these questions, many more will come up. Hopefully the answers can provide some insight into saving the downtowns of old from complete elimination.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What I Think....

Based on the readings and class discussions I think that I really didn't know what place was or really the definition of place and how I fit into it.

Going back to the Bickford article I had made the comment that I felt that the article was throwing blame for the ills of society to the white middle class. It was a feeling that there was no solution presented to the problems of gating communities either by real or imagined gates. I still believe that each of us prefers to live and be active in a place that we will make us feel comfortable, and safe. What I now see is that all people have a tendency to look at someone or something that is different or unknown and try to isolate the perceived threat so as not to disturb the gated boundaries. I probably will never agree with alot of the positions in that article, but I now see the other side of some of the points that she was making.

What I could agree with was that communities are separated by class structure. I never had taken the time to think about the alphas, betas or tradesman of my community and how we selected where we live by what our place in society was. After reading the Duncan article, it struck me that my own community is very much like Bedford Village. I sat down that night and really looked at how and where I fit into my community and where the imagined gates were. They were always there but I had never stopped to look.

Each successive article led me to stop and really think about society and where I fit into it. Not only on a personal level but in the professional level. The questions that kept coming back to me was quite simple, "Am I doing what I need to do to make society a better place, not only for me and my family, but for the people I come in contact with?".

While I probably will never understand human behavior, I hopefully have a better grasp on how to make society better by being able to understand what place is and how it effects each group of people. Once I understand that, maybe I can start trying to understand human behavior.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sounds Familiar

I found the Duncan article to be a true representation of what is going on in many small towns across America. As the large cities become more crowded, and highway systems make commuting increasingly easier, more people want to and can experience the "country setting". Most often wanting to close the door to others on their way in. I see the zoning as Bedfords effort to keep the landscape as a pure form of what they want it to be, never changing from, at least in some of their minds, an ideal past. What they don't realize is that with new housing and people that the ideal landscape, that they all dream of and are trying to preserve has already been changed from the ideal and cannot be repaired.

The people of Bedford have a made a classification based purely on socio-economic status and how each group fits within. I guess the question that I have is, do those unseen boundaries ever get blurred? For example, if someone from the tradesman class, say, wins the lottery, does his status increase with his bank account, or is he always seen as a lower status? He can buy an alpha house but is he truly an alpha? The point I'm trying to make is that when the alpha and really the betas for that matter look at status, does it ever really matter how rich you are? We can all achieve wealth, but can we achieve the status that goes with old money?

As I read the Duncan article on Bedford Village I could have sworn that he was talking about where I live. The town is separated in much the same way, especially when talking about the alpha and beta segments of the population. There is a village center that cannot change in any way without controversy, working class neighborhoods, similar to the Tradesman's landscape and a zoning code (along with some of the locals) that tries to keep anything objectionable out. Much like Bedford, many have boycotted the drugstore (myself included) when the local owner sold out to a chain. Most prefer to shop at the local market and patronize the local businesses if possible.

Here the alphas live on a hill at what used to be the edge of town, called of all things Mt. Parnassus. The area is set up about the same as the residential neighborhood in Bedford, curving streets, large trees, and separation from others. Most know this area as the "old money". The betas live in the new development that used to be a large farm on the east side of town. Their lots are usually about an acre, but the houses are mostly the same, large and boring. The betas try to show off their "wealth" in pretty much the same way as the betas in Bedford, the look at me and what I have mode. The only problem is that it is only a show for the neighbors. The homes may look good on the outside but they are empty on the inside. On the other side of town you find the smaller houses and gardens of the tradesman. There is a decidedly different character between the east and west side of town, with the lots on the west being smaller and houses closer together giving it the feel of a neighborhood. When we moved there 20 years ago, we came to know all the neighbors. Now as older neighbors move or die and new people move in, we find that we only know a few people, but only in passing.

The biggest difference is the amount of diversity out here. There are so many different races and religions here as compared to Bedford. As of last count there are at least 9 actual church buildings all practicing a different religion and many other religions that meet in non church buildings. There also seems to be more interaction among the differing groups than in Bedford.

As with most areas, change is inevitable. Granville, as is common with most small villages only will address zoning when a project that some find objectionable comes to town. The local government will react to the problem when they have no other choices available. The people from all classes will only speak up when they feel that their ideal landscape is threatened. However once the threat is gone, most of the classes will go back to their perceived rank in the community.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

As I read through the Bickford article, I feel that the main point that is being made is that any one who may be white middle class should be ashamed of that designation. Bickford has ignored the fact that there are other races that are middle class, yes including blacks that she has professed to being gated out of the "prime neighborhoods" To me Bickford is too busy pushing the agenda that the white middle class is walling themselves in and allowing the rest of society to rot. She like many others before and after her are too busy assigning blame to a particular group rather than working to provide solutions to the problems.

I live in a small town just outside of Columbus where people are accepted based on who they are as a person, not on their race, gender, or sexual orientation. It isn't how much money they bring to the community but how they work within the community to make it better for everybody. I have seen people of all races, genders and sexual orientation working side by side to solve problems. Maybe this area is some what different than the area Bickford looked at.

In my experience working with different communities, a PUD designation is given to a property to control how a development works, ensuring that there is some green space instead of wall to wall housing. I have worked with developers that do condo style units that provide quality housing for low income individuals to the extremely wealthy. Each development was done to make the area desirable, with the idea that you provide housing based on what the market needs. In Virgina,there are some new communities that are requiring that new developments have what they have termed "Mixed Income". A basic requirement that each new development have a certain percent of low income housing mixed in with moderate to high income housing. In these areas you will find families with poverty level incomes mixed in with families in the dare I say, middle and upper level incomes.

When the idea of gentrification comes up, it is a no win situation. If you want urban areas to be revitalized then you must introduce new money to the area. One cannot expect that a person or business is going to invest large amounts of money into an area and not expect to get some kind of return. If they do then they will not be investing for long. It basically comes down to the idea that you should invest in the urban areas but don't displace anyone, nor expect a return on your investment.

One moves to an area because they want to feel a certain comfort level with it. They want a place where people have similar needs and desires. I don't look at areas and think to myself, I don't want to live there or visit there because a certain type of person lives there. A neighborhood or any place is more interesting when there are diverse cultures and ideas. The same goes for public spaces. I don't want to go to areas where everyone is the same, but I also won't take my family to areas that are unsafe. People of all races need comfort levels.

I want to believe that as this article was written quite a few years back, that society has been able to move froward and that the main context of this article has become outdated. I know that in reality that there are for lack of a better term, gates that hold, or separate people by race, or income, but I don't feel that it is fair to single out one group of people as the reason that those gates exist. Anybody can be poor, just as anybody can be middle class.

What makes us succeed is the desire to better ourselves and our surroundings.