Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Destination restaurants as a call for revisiting "Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization"

"Richard's Rules" dates to 2005 and originally was written in response to another post elsewhere discussing the value of "destination restaurants" to the revitalization of neighborhood commercial districts.

Interestingly, even then I disagreed about destination restaurants being the right anchor.  The basic point is that to get people to sample what had been neglected and underutilized neighborhood commercial districts, restaurants were key, but you had to focus on serving area residents, and develop them into repeat and frequent customers.

The Rules read pretty well today, although I have done some updates over the years.

-- "Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Driven Revitalization (updated)," 2005, is the basic piece, with five rules (below) and a list of elements denoting quality restaurants
-- "Revisiting Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization," 2010, discusses a couple restaurants which repositioned away from upscale to more "comfort" food, to better meet the desires of neighborhood consumers

The original rules:

*1. Relatively appealing cuisine that isn't too specialized; food that is attractive to a large number of people--Italian, Mexican, and "American," seem to work best. You want at least 100 customers/nite. These days Thai food is moving into this category.

2. Good food; it doesn't have to be stunning but it better be good. (Perhaps Mexican restaurants illustrate this point the best.)

3. Good, good plus, or better service; waiting isn't fun, and neither is dealing with a server that doesn't help you get what you want with a modicum (ideally none) of problems.

*4. Competitively priced; you can't have drinks at $8 or most of your entrees costing $13-$20. If your prices aren't competitive and maybe a little less expensive than the market, you won't get that frequent patronage that is necessary for your success. Pitchers of margaritas or sangria are good, maybe not pitchers of beer, which seem to attract a rowdier more alcohol-centered clientele.

*5. Nice interior; it doesn't have to be stunning or a $300,000 interior renovation, but it can't be threadbare, and it has to be appealing.

* -- updated as an "appendix"

In "Updating Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Driven Revitalization," from 2013 and "DC restaurants, location and equilibrium," 2014, I discuss restaurants more specifically in the context of commercial retail district development, and have these rules for that element:

1. Walkable neighborhoods adding population are key to DC's restaurant resurgence. (So driving neighborhoods lag in terms of restaurant and retail improvement.

2. Critical mass matters and supports a broader range of food options than was possible before.

3. Downtown and Georgetown are no longer the high point in area cuisine--neighborhoods are now supporting restaurant creativity.

4. Regionally-serving districts that are neighborhood-based, like H Street NE, 14th Street NW, and Barracks Row/8th Street SE/Capitol Hill, will support greater numbers of restaurants and more creative concepts than strictly neighborhood-serving districts.

5. Denser neighborhoods (Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights, U Street, etc.) will also support greater numbers of restaurants than less dense neighborhoods (Takoma).

6. Money (disposable income) matters. Emerging districts are still more risky and have fewer cuisine options than transitioning (and healthy) commercial districts.

7. Driving neighborhoods, like emerging districts, will continue to have a harder time attracting restaurants because of lack of density and parking options.

*8. Will the next wave in restaurant development be the addition of family-friendly restaurants?

*9. When restaurants shift their business model to late night music, you know their food business is failing.

*10. Chains aren't the wave of the future.

The rise of destination restaurants outside of the city core.  The rise of "destination restaurants" in DC, ranging from Rose's Luxury ("Rose's Luxury, the Best New Restaurant in America 2014," Bon Appetit) on 8th Street SE in Capitol Hill's Barracks Row Main Street district, Bad Saint ("Bon Appétit hails Bad Saint as the No. 2 best new restaurant in America,"Washington Post) on 11th Street NW in Columbia Heights, Himitsu (Himitsu, Timber Pizza Among Bon Appétit's 50 Best New Restaurants," Washingtonian) on Upshur Street NW in the Petworth neighborhood just off Georgia Avenue more recently, or Dupont Circle's Komi Restaurant ("Chef Johnny Monis - Komi Restaurant," Delish; "Here's Johnny!," Washington Business Journal, 2004) dating to before "when DC got hot" ("Restaurants in D.C. Are Moving Into Residential Neighborhoods," New York Times) or at least acknowledged, does call for a significant modification of the idea of restaurants as being key building blocks for:

(1) commercial district revitalization; and
(2) support of adjacent retail.

Establishments serving regulars/neighborhood residents have a more positive impact on commercial district improvement.  The original set of rules was focused on creating "neighborhood restaurants" serving neighborhood residents who were willing to eat at that particular restaurant multiple times per month.

Neighborhood residents have different interests from "foodies" visiting a high profile restaurant in a neighborhood with which they are otherwise unfamiliar.

Residents visit and buy from other neighborhood-based retailers, if not on the same trip to the restaurant.

Food tourists are unlikely to support neighborhood retail.  "Food tourists" choosing to eat a high profile restaurant are visiting the restaurant but not the place or what else is there.   Even if they become regulars at the restaurant rather than one-time customers, they are still not likely to explore the district beyond the restaurant.  They definitely aren't interested in extending their trip by shopping local retailers.

But the publicity value of destination restaurants can be leveraged.  Destination restaurants aren't good for developing complementary retail, but they do bring publicity to your commercial district ("Upshur Street has evolved into the best place to eat in DC right now," Washington Post).  And this publicity can be leveraged both in helping to attract new residents and in new development of businesses and new residential property. 

Although you have to be careful in terms of oversaturation of restaurants, as discussed in "DC restaurants, location and equilibrium," because ultimately there is only so much demand within a neighborhood, even if the restaurants are somewhat "regionally-serving," even if the definition of "region" merely means nearby neighborhoods without commercial districts or decent restaurants.

Conclusion.  In the words of Public Enemy, "don't [necessarily] believe the hype."

Update to points:

Original Rules

1.  Relatively appealing cuisineTake out "Italian."  Add "artisanal pizza."  American is pretty broad and has a wide range.

4. Competitively priced.  The definition of competitively priced has changed.  Price and cost matters less as average household income has increased and people spend more money on food "out of home."  These days, an $8 drink is run of the mill, and even entrees pushing $20 or more don't seem outlandish to many people, nor does a $13 burger served with potato chips, not French fries.

It's hard to get out of a restaurant spending less than $60 for two people, especially if you have an appetizer, multiple alcoholic drinks, and one or more desserts.  That being said, many parts of the meal aren't likely to justify the cost (to my "old way" of thinking).

Also see "It’s not your imagination. It is getting more expensive to eat out," Boston Globe. From the article:
A national report on the health of the industry, by the NPD Group, found that high prices are taking a toll, with business flat or down by 1 percent. The “weakness” started in 2016 when labor costs started to rise, analyst Bonnie Riggs said. “So they increased restaurant prices quarter after quarter to the point where consumers have said, ‘It’s not a good value, it’s cheaper to eat at home.’

But in Massachusetts customers aren’t — yet — staying away, according to Luz of the restaurant association. Business at the majority of his member restaurants ranged from flat over last year to up by as much as 4 percent, he said. But larger chains, especially those in malls, aren’t doing as well as local independents that focus on quality.

Indeed, much of the griping is triggered less by the price of a meal than by its perceived value. It’s one thing to pay $160 for dinner for two at a restaurant with ambience, groovy servers, interesting cocktails, and local, fresh ingredients. It’s another to pay $55 for two warm glasses of white wine and bland appetizers at a spot that screams “hotel lobby."
The advantages restaurants have is they are a "third place," plus people see eating out as entertainment, and fewer people can cook. But if the price-quality-value equation isn't positive, at least certain restaurants will lose out, and it does motivate some people to start to cook.

5.  Nice interior.  Should be "interesting" and doesn't have to be expensive.  Outdoor beer gardens are one example, but generally interesting interiors.  Interesting can mean polished concrete and funky chairs, it doesn't have to mean multi-million dollar renovations.

Industry Trends Points
8. Will the next wave in restaurant development be the addition of family-friendly restaurants?  It turns out the answer is sort of yes, sort of no.  The answer is the rise of restaurants that are more friendly to and accommodating of children, but we wouldn't call them a family restaurant in the classic sense of a Howard Johnson's, Hot Shoppes, or Big Boy/Frischs/Shoneys/Cracker Barrel.

Family-appealing restaurants may benefit from an "early seating" between 5pm and 7pm when restaurants tend to be empty, providing a nice boost to evening sales.

From the Washington Post review, "Little Coco’s previewed: Fit for a much younger crowd":
But one of the greatest needs this restaurant fulfills is that it’s a kid-friendly place that doesn’t serve chicken fingers. Little Coco’s is for families, and not just in the sense that they merely tolerate the presence of young diners. Our server seemed to delight in my friends’ two children — they are adorable, after all — which set their parents at ease.

“If you come in early, around 5 o’clock, it’s like Chuck E. Cheese in there. There are strollers everywhere,” Harvey says.
9. When restaurants shift their business model to late night music, you know their food business is failing.  In terms of dealing with some liquor license renewals in my greater neighborhood, I've come to believe that we need to change how we award and manage liquor licenses. 

Rather than treat every establishment mostly the same, establishments should be ordered according to "land use context," not unlike how the Smart Transportation Guide makes recommendations for roadway, roadside, and posted speed limits depending on land use and the nature of the district we need to do the same thing for liquor licensing, so that a one block commercial district embedded in a neighborhood is treated different from a regionally-serving commercial district.

We need to create a typology of commercial districts (the city has done this for the most part) and link the alcoholic beverage licensing process to this typology.  It would mean restrictions on hours of operation and music (with the possibility for an exception process) in establishments deep within neighborhoods, and looser rules in regionally-serving districts.

10. Chains aren't the wave of the future.  "Restaurant chains" aren't doing too well in DC. Some of the more upscale chains like Legal Seafood or Ruth's Chris Steakhouse succeed partly due to their familiarity or appeal to clients on expense accounts, middle market chains like Ruby Tuesday's haven't had much success in the city.

But "restaurant groups" are chains, just not national ones.  Local restaurant groups with multiple concepts drive a significant amount of a city's restaurant business.

In DC, think Neighborhood Restaurant Group ("Restaurant Hospitality 25: Neighborhood Restaurant Group," Restaurant Hospitality), Clyde's, Great American Restaurants in the Virginia suburbs, the Black Restaurant Group ("Black Restaurant Group is a top restaurant company," Restaurant Hospitality, Joe Englert ("Joe Englert: The Life of the Party," Washingtonian) are what we might call a kind of area or regional chain.  Similar groups operate in most major cities.

Restaurant groups have advantages over individual operators because of established relationships with vendors and financiers ("Financing A Top Chef," Eater DC), and expertise in developing concepts and outfitting buildings, working with regulators, etc.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Biking for transportation roundup

1.  The Washington Post Health and Science section on Tuesday focused on biking--bike commuting primarily but also a sad story of a cyclist recovering from a crash with an automobile as well as helmet safety.  By and large the coverage was positive.

-- "Cycling to work means better health and a longer life. Here’s how to get started"
-- "A short bike ride put him on a long road to recovery"
-- "Why wearing a bike helmet may not protect you as much as you think"

2017-09-11_09-52-552.  I noticed an electric air compressor public bike pump, produced by Bike Fixtation, at The Yards development, on the side of the Philz Coffee Shop off Tingey Street SE.

It's the first of this type of pump I've seen around the DC area.  Most of the air pumps put in the public space aren't rated for heavy public use, and fail pretty quickly after being deployed.

In secure situations, such as at Metro Stations and public buildings, an electric air pump is probably the best choice.

3.  People are complaining that because of the construction of the Purple Line light rail line, the section of the Capital Crescent Trail/Georgetown Branch Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring will be closed for the next five years ("Purple Line Construction to Reroute Popular Bike Trail for 4 to 5 years," NBCWashington).

A very circuitous detour route has been developed.  But that's not the fault of bicycle planners. 

It's the fault of the Town of Chevy Chase, which has fought the Light Rail line for years, and continuing to be obstreperous, refused to authorize an on-street alternative. 

Fortunately, experienced bicyclists who know the streets can come up with better alternatives.

4.  The Dutch reach/opening the car door with your right hand, to limit dooring of cyclists, is being promoted by cycle advocates in the UK as a way to reduce the likelihood of dooring ("Encourage Dutch reach to stop cyclists car door deaths," Guardian).   It works because it forces you to look in the lane abutting the car door, whereas if you open with your left hand, you don't look behind you.  From the article:
Cycling UK says people are being killed by people opening their car doors without checking first for passing cyclists. It wants people to be trained to open their doors with their far hands to avoid “car-dooring” riders.

The problem has caused the deaths of eight people – primarily cyclists – in five years and injured thousands more, according to official figures.
There ought to be a state standard sign for this...5. Are bright strobe lights for bikes a safety hazard? I didn't think so, but Washington State does. They are banned. I wouldn't have known without coming across a Flickr photo by Joshua Putnam of a notice sticker placed on a lightpole.

6.  The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the MPO for "Chicagoland," calls our attention to two international publications on best practices in bicycle planning.

Global Environment for Walking and Cycling: Policies & realities from around the world is published by the United Nations Environment Program.

The Brazilian chapter of the World Cycling Alliance have published the guide How to Include Cycling in Urban Mobility Plans, with the assistance of the Instituto Clima e Sociedade. The publication is part of the organization's campaign to ensure that bicycling is included within all scales of transportation planning.

And separately I came across a publication by the UN Habitat program, Global Report: Planning and Design for Sustainable Urban Mobility on Human Settlements (2013).

7.  A Guardian Bike Blog report ("How much could commuter cycling increase in your part of England") discusses the (UK) Propensity to Cycle software application, which analyzes routes and areas according to four different scenarios.  From the article:
The Government Target scenario assumes a doubling of cycle commuting nationally – the Department for Transport’s current aim. The tool identifies where those extra trips might take place, based on how long and hilly commutes are in each area.

Gender Equality calculates how cycling levels would change if women were as likely as men to cycle every commute between any two locations.

The Go Dutch and Ebikes scenarios are more ambitious. Go Dutch shows what would happen if we reached average Dutch commuter cycling rates in England, accounting for differences in trip distances and hilliness between the two countries. Ebikes adds to Go Dutch the potential for mass electric bike ownership to facilitate longer and hillier trips, based on data about their use in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Under the Go Dutch scenario, nearly one in five people across England would cycle to work – around a sixfold increase. Under Ebikes, it’s more than one in four. Distance and hilliness aren’t the main barriers stopping people cycling to work in England, although some areas (such as Cornwall and Devon) may need an extra electric bike boost as well as better infrastructure and policy support to reach Dutch levels of cycling.
8. The article also provides a link to an important journal article, "Cycling provision separated from motor traffic: a systematic review exploring whether stated preferences vary by gender and age," Transport Reviews, 37:1 (2017), which makes the point that to increase the take up of bicycling for transportation by people interested but less likely to do so in high traffic situations, more emphasis needs to given to the creation of separated bicycle infrastructure.

9. Cyclists want a more comfortable bike route configuration along the I-66 Freeway.  The Washington Post reports ("Biking advocates worry I-66 expansion puts a bike trail too close to traffic") that cycling advocates want to move the proposed bike lane extension from within the right of way of the freeway to outside of it, outside of the "barrier walls."  Residents tend to be opposed, fearing cyclists as outsiders and not wanting to give up more land.

From the standpoint of encouraging cycling for transportation, the cycling advocates have a point, especially from the perspective of the quality of the environment for biking. Claudio Oddo of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling produced a video simulation of how the current plan would work in place. It's not pretty.

VDOT is concerned that design changes will delay the highway expansion program. From the article:
The bike path, part of the $2.3 billion interstate expansion project, has drawn cheers and criticism from biking aficionados who welcome the addition of the trail but say, if built as proposed, users will be too close to cars whizzing by on the interstate and exposed to toxic exhaust fumes.

For about five of the project’s 22.5 miles, the trail would be squeezed between the highway and the concrete wall that will serve as a buffer between traffic noise and adjacent neighborhoods.

“It is air pollution, it’s noise, small particles that get kicked up from the highway,” said Bruce Wright, a member of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling. “Imagine riding on this trail and there is really no place to go if you have a problem. You are right next to a very tall soundwall, and you are right next to a jersey barrier.”
10.  DC considering adding "dockless bike share" to the city's bicycling mix. There are two forms of bike sharing systems. Dock-based systems are "hardened" and designed to reduce the likelihood of vandalism, as earlier forms of bike sharing failed because a number of "users" wrecked or stole the bikes. Dockless systems provide for a kind of "free-form" locking.

-- DDOT Seeks Public Feedback on Dockless Bikeshare

In China, the systems have suffered from a great deal of "dishonorable use," and the bikes have been abandoned by users at a high rate, bringing the systems to a standstill ("As Bike Sharing Brings Out Bad Manners, China Asks, What’s Wrong With Us?," New York Times).

Now the companies are aiming to bring their programs to Europe and North America, although I seem to recall the first deployment in the UK didn't go so well.  Programs are moving forward in Cambridge, Oxford, and London, among other places.

For me, I think the real problem in the US is that outside of a couple of cities, bike share isn't experiencing significant use. The point of a dock based system is to "focus" use in areas where you want to encourage sustainable mobility. Dockless systems disconnect that policy goal from the system footprint.

I do think it's worth testing. I can't remember what I thought about the concept of one-way car sharing by Car2Go. I do remember being asked about it by a then-DDOT staffer and I said it's worth testing. As a user, I have to say I love it!

Abandoned dockless bikes in Shanghai have been moved to a storage yard.  Different colors represent the different systems.

But early on, Car2Go vehicles would "accumulate" at the outskirts of the system.  But as more users joined, this problem worked itself out. 

The same could be true of dockless bike share, if lots of people were regular bikers.  But we don't have lots of regular cyclists in DC or in most other US cities.

But I think the issue with take up for biking as transportation isn't merely "access to bicycles," it's something more. If it weren't, then we'd have at least double the number of regular cyclists, compared to what we have.

However, the advantage of dockless bikes would definitely obtain in outer areas and in areas with lower station density.  For example, were I to use DC's bike share system, I'd have a half mile walk to and from the station.  With dockless, I could lock a bike up on my block.  Then again, I can do the same with my own bike, although with bike share, you offload the cost of maintenance, storage, and vandalism to the operator.

11.  Support for the Idaho Stop.  The Washington Post article ("Bicyclists learn from bicyclists to break traffic laws. But perhaps the law should learn from them, researcher says") on dockless bike share references research on why bicyclists run stop signs and red lights.  It's very interesting.

-- "Scofflaw cycling: illegal but rational," Journal of Transport and Land Use, 10:1 (2017).

Nearly everyone has jaywalked, rolled through a stop sign, or driven a few miles per hour over the speed limit, but most such offenses face no legal consequences. Society also tends to see these relatively minor infractions that almost all people make—though they are unmistakably illegal—as normal and even rational. Bicyclists who break the law, however, seem to attract a higher level of scorn and scrutiny. While the academic literature has exhaustively covered unlawful driving behaviors, there remains little research on bicyclists who break the rules of the road. This paper examines rule-breaking bicyclists and the factors associated with such behaviors. We also explore the question: are bicyclists making rational, albeit illegal, choices—similar to most drivers and pedestrians—or are bicyclists reckless and dangerous? Because it’s proven effective for reaching hard-to-reach populations, we employed a snowball-sampling framework and an online, scenario-based survey completed by nearly 18,000 respondents. Via multi-level statistical analyses, our results suggest that younger people and males tend to exhibit higher levels of illegal bicycling behavior, but even when combining high-risk factors, the overwhelming majority of bicyclists are not reckless. Controlling for the context and social norms of the city where one lives tends to outweigh individual bicyclist characteristics such as race/ethnicity and income. Unlawful drivers and pedestrians tend to rationalize their behaviors as time saving; bicyclists similarly rationalize their illegal behaviors but were more inclined to cite increasing their own personal safety and/or saving energy. Most bicyclists can generally be described as rational individuals trying to function safely and efficiently given the context and norms of where they live and the transportation system put in front of them.

12. Hornby separated bike lane in Vancouver has some nice landscaping treatments. (I don't think we'll be seeing this kind of treatment along I-66.) A photo of this cycletrack was in planning materials produced by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for their Folsom-Howard Streetscape Project.  Thank you to Anthony Easterbrooks and Kelli Rudnick from the SF Department of Public Works for tracking this down.  Anthony says he was clued into the image from this article, "Top 5 Best Safety [Treatments] for Urban Cyclists," from Momentum Magazine.

Hornby Separated Bike Lane

Hornby Separated Bike Lane

Hornby Separated Bike Lane

13. Problems with the Baltimore bicycle sharing system. The Baltimore Sun reported earlier in the summer that only about 20% of the bikes were readily available, either out of service or not properly returned--the system dedicated two employees to retrieving missing bikes.  The introduction got a lot of press because it was one of the first larger scale deployments of e-bikes.

The system has just been shut down for a month for security improvements ("Baltimore Bike Share temporarily shutting down amid thefts").

The Baltimore Business Journal is also reporting on the matter, "Why most of Baltimore's bike share racks are sitting empty" and this article, which has restricted access, "What can Baltimore do to improve its bike share system? Other cities weigh in."

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International entities that affect communities: embassies; sewage

A woman walks along a beach closed due to sewage contaminated water Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Coronado. (Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports ("Tijuana sewage, wastewater spills continue with no end in sight") about how problems with waste water treatment in Tijuana, Mexico leads to contamination of ocean waters in Greater San Diego.   From the article:
Hundreds of thousands of gallons of polluted water often carrying sewage and other contaminants have flowed over the Mexico border into the San Diego region every month this year — including a nearly four million gallon spill on Sunday, according to federal records.

The continued flows come in the wake of a massive spill in Tijuana that polluted beaches as far north as Coronado in February. The contamination came as sewer pipes cracked and manhole covers bubble over amid winter storms, which caused 256 million gallons of wastewater to go unaccounted for south of the border.
In the US, water service and waste water treatment is conducted on a large scale--metropolitan, multi-county, or regional.

The article discusses an existing compact between the US and Mexico, the International Boundary and Water Commission, which handles water treaties between the two countries. The US also funds a small grant program, the U.S.-Mexico Border Water Infrastructure Grant Program, which is one of the many programs threatened by budget cutbacks or elimination in this case because of the severe reduction in the federal budget proposed by the Trump Administration.

From the article:
Efforts to improve infrastructure along the border have greatly reduce the amount of sewage that flows across the board since the 1990s, when millions of gallons of raw sewage flowed daily down the river and across the border into the ocean.

Despite efforts, South Bay beaches have continued to suffer more than 80 percent of all the beach-closure days in the county since 2006, according to data from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health. Imperial Beach, which stretches past the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge to the Mexican border, has had sections of its shoreline off-limits to swimmers for more than a third of each year on average in the last decade, according to county records.

The city of Imperial Beach has taken steps to sue the IBWC in an effort to force action on the part of the federal government.
It appears as if the need within San Diego County for safe waters outspans the capacity of the International Boundary and Water Commission to deal with the problem posed by decayed and decrepit infrastructure in Tijuana, because even if the grant program were not threatened, the grant amounts--$5 million or less--pale against the needs of the waste treatment system in Tijuana, which total many hundreds of millions of dollars.

Solution: Because the quality of waste water management and treatment in Tijuana has cross-border ramifications, San Diego County should aim to create a bi-"county" authority with the City of Tijuana to run waste water treatment.  It would have to involve the respective states (Baja California and California) and the nations, because cross-border arrangement such as this have to be approved by the national governments.

(In the Great Lakes region, the Great Lakes Basin Commission, an organization of US states, includes the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec as associate members, while the International Joint Commission brings the US and Canada jointly to address common interests concerning the waterways connecting the two countries.

Other cross-border agreements. More recently, a cross-border pedestrian connection from San Diego County to the Tijuana Airport was authorized and constructed ("How San Diego Built a Bridge Over the Wall," Politico).

This year is the 150th anniversary of the creation of Canada, and the Toronto Star published an article ("Canada 150: How the St. Lawrence Seaway changed the channel") about the Saint Lawrence Seaway as a seminal event in the country's development, a shipping canal along the US-Canadian border.  Canada had to strong arm President Eisenhower to accede to the project, which had been discussed for decades.  The US ended up paying about 1/3 of the cost of the project.

Until 1974 , at least one of the City of El Paso's streetcar lines crossed the border into Juárez.  The system is being rebuilt and service to is part of the plan ("A Trolley And A Dream: Texas Border City Aims To Boost Ties With Mexico," Fast Company).

In Detroit and Windsor, the privately owned Ambassador Bridge connects the two countries.

In Arizona, the Arizona-Mexico Commission, a public-private organization, brings together Arizona and Mexican stakeholders, including the State of Sonora, to address matters of common interest.

2.  Decrepit foreign mission buildings in DC.  There have been articles ("Neighbors face uphill battle against abandoned foreign missions" and "Norton pushes State Department to act on vacant foreign missions") in the Northwest Current/Dupont Current, a DC community media publication, and more recently the Washington Post ("Only in D.C.: What to do when your neighbor is a foreign government") about unhappy residents abutting decrepit foreign mission buildings--unused embassy and chancery buildings. From the Post article:
From Alan and Irene Wurtzel’s master bathroom, they can watch shingles fall off the neighbor’s roof, pigeons flutter through broken windows and rain pour into the four-story brick behemoth. And then there are the rats.

There’s nothing the city can do about the vacant Kalorama property because it’s owned by the government of Argentina, which doesn’t have to pay property taxes, adhere to local building codes — or evict vermin. ...

Residents like the Wurtzels must rely on the State Department to delicately encourage foreign governments to clean up their properties without instigating retaliation at U.S. embassies abroad. Sometimes it works, other times not so much.
Because of the way international law works, a locality can't enforce building regulations on such properties, which may moulder for decades.

Although according to the Current article, the State Department can revoke diplomatic designation on buildings, which then subjects them to local taxation and building regulation, but even then, there is no real ability to enforce the regulations and taxes may not be paid.

Solution: Because the issues are usually financial, I'd suggest that DC and the State Department facilitate the creation of what we might think of as "Friends" groups for the buildings, working with the foreign government, to help maintain the building, secure financing for improvements, etc.

The International Border and Water Commission and its grants program is another (imperfect) model for an organizational structure that could help to address this problem.

... When I first moved to Washington in 1987 and worked at 16th and P Streets NW there were two different buildings nearby, one on 16th Street, the other on Massachusetts Avenue, that were neglected properties owned by foreign governments.  Eventually the buildings were sold and renovated, but it took many years.  Having a mechanism to facilitate better relationships and solutions between residents, DC Government, the State Department, and foreign missions would go a long way towards rectifying this long standing problem.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Cincinnati Enquirer special 20-page section on opiod epidemic

For whatever reason, I am not particularly sympathetic or empathetic about drug addiction (except for addictions deriving from overuse of pain medication), although I recognize it is a public health issue and a matter that local government and agencies, especially emergency services, have to deal with.

The scourge of opioid abuse in the American heartland has to be addressed, but it is somewhat ironic that the current approach seems to favor "helping people" rather than the more punitive approach--law and order/"lock 'em up") favored for the county's inner cities.

Regardless, that the Cincinnati Enquirer has published a 20-page section on the problem, covering the issue from a variety of perspectives, is pretty amazing, and harkens to the time when "local" newspapers did much more of this kind of in-depth reporting on issues of "local" concern.

-- "Heroin addiction: Why we took on this 7-day project"

Note that for all of the complaints about chain journalism dumbing down local newspapers, I have noticed over the past couple years that many Gannett Newspapers are doing remarkable in-depth coverage on local matters, from the Indianapolis Star's coverage of abuses of the property tax lien process, the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader's coverage of the K-12 education system and particularly, teaching reading, and the Wilmington News-Journal's ongoing coverage of revitalization activities.

Plus, USA Today is doing a number of in-depth investigative reports.  One was an out-reporting of the Washington Post on sanctioned cheating on standardized tests in schools in the DC Public Schools system.

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Friday, September 08, 2017

Developers activating properties: restaurants and tenant allowances

There is an article in Washingtonian ("Developers are giving DC restaurants crazy deals they can't resist, but should they") about how restauranteurs are being offered great deals by developers aiming to lease space in their buildings.  The article makes the point that even with a year of free rent, maybe the location doesn't make sense.

That should be obvious.

Slides from a presentation by LWLP--Live Work Learn Play, a real estate consulting and development firm based in Toronto.

For all the talk of placemaking, one has to remember that the goals of the property owner may not jibe with the tenant.

The property owner aims to "activate" its property and make it exciting, to help lease up commercial and/or residential space.

That's done with funky retail and restaurants.  Activation is more important to the developer than the success of the tenant--although there is no question that the developer wants the tenant to be successful. From the article:
After all, a hip eatery might be one of the reasons someone buys a condo in an up-and-coming area or might be among the amenities that help justify a law firm’s high rent. It might even be the catalyst a developer needs to make its neighborhood the next 14th Street corridor.

But with so many shiny new buildings popping up, landlords are getting more aggressive, offering restaurateurs such perks as heavily discounted initial rent or occasionally even a free restaurant build-out. Developer PRP Real Estate Investment Management is dropping about $10 million to bring the celebrity sushi spot Nobu to its West End condo building.

Isabella says these sweetheart deals have helped him expand, at times without other investors. They’re part of the reason he opened a trio of eateries—Yona, Pepita, and Kapnos Taverna—in Ballston.
Usually, the developer aims to do this with the proprietor of a business paying for the privilege of being in their development. Only in extreme circumstances or for particularly high profile firms would the developer be willing to provide a whole lot of incentives, in terms of free rent, reduced rent (typically this is offered), and build out allowances.

For ultimate success of the business, the proprietor needs to have a great business plan and concept and the ability to execute, whether or not they get significant "TI", tenant improvements ("Basic Tenant Improvements for Commercial Real Estate," Real Estate Optimizer; "Restaurant Build-out Allowances: Lease Negotiation and Restaurant Real Estate," Restaurant Voice), the long term rent needs to be reasonable, etc.

And the location needs to be good.  From the article:

But the bargains don’t work out for everyone. “Getting these great deals is like enabling a drug addict—then the restaurateur almost can’t say no,” says restaurant real-estate broker John Asadoorian. “They may have overlooked a lot of the concerns they had, because a lot of the risk was taken out of the equation.”
Specifically, many of these deals happen in areas with low density and foot traffic. (Think Ivy City, a once-industrial neighborhood in Northeast DC.) No matter what the rent, operating can be awfully expensive while you wait for the surrounding area to arrive.

Even if the financial toll is lessened, the risk to reputation remains. Jeff Black, who owns Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black’s Bar & Kitchen, among others, says he had one offer to open a Silver Spring spot with three years of no rent. He passed: “I’ll have three great years, and I’ll have two years of sucking wind and trying to Band-Aid it together, and then I’ll have to close the store, and that reflects poorly on me and my brand.”
As far as being an early entrant into a "new district," depending on the location and the period of time required for success, I'd ask for many years of free rent, or a rental agreement based on a percentage of revenue, with rents escalating only as revenues increase, so that the developer continues to share the risk for the entire period that the district remains emerging.

Plus, rents still need to be in the ballpark of industry metrics. Generally retailers shouldn't be paying more than 4% to 10% of gross revenue in rent, and restaurants no more than 15%. If the numbers are higher than that, and extraordinary revenues/s.f. aren't expected, walk away.

For example, an inexperienced group ("Food co-op to save New Haven's crisis?," Yale Herald; Elm City Market Food Co-op - A Model for Downtowns") creating a food cooperative in New Haven Connecticut agreed to big rent increases as sales increased, despite the reality that supermarket profit margins are less than 5% of gross sales (which is why supermarkets typically pay lower than market rent). As sales increased, rents increased, but profits didn't--especially as a growing business finds that expenses tend to increase extranormally with growth.

They failed ("Elm City Market auctioned off," Yale Daily News). Similarly, a lot of Cosi's problems have come from the fact that they are paying upwards of 25% of gross revenue on rent for locations in central business districts ("What Happened at Cosi?," Restaurant Finance Monitor). From the article:
“We estimate that on average the rest of Cosi's portfolio has rents of around 15% of sales,” said Brenner. “But for the worst performing stores with bad leases and too low sales, rents in some instances are greater than 25% of sales, making it virtually impossible for those stores to be profitable.”
-- Small Restaurant/Food Service Self-Assessment
-- Retail Business Check up survey

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Thursday, September 07, 2017

An example of using variegated road material treatments in Bothell, Washington

Looking north along Bothell Way Northeast’s “multiway” boulevard in downtown Bothell.
Looking north along Bothell Way Northeast’s “multiway” boulevard in downtown Bothell. The “multiway” boulevard shows faster traffic and a separated lane used for parking, bicycles and business entrances in downtown Bothell. Photo: Steve Ringman, Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times reports ("Fast lane meets slow lane on Bothell's new 'multiway'") about a project on Street in the suburb of Bothell, where a five block stretch of street in the Downtown has been reorganized to separate "fast" from "slow" traffic.   From the article:
The city took over the lower five blocks of state Highway 527, put up new signs saying Bothell Way Northeast and created a “multiway” that’s like three parallel streets, totaling as many as 11 lanes — a five-lane main roadway, sandwiched by a slow zone on each side where drivers can park or drop off passengers. ...

"This roadway is designed to knit together the old historic part of downtown with the new downtown. Previously, the highway was a sort of barrier,” said Steven Morikawa, city capital division manager.

Bothell residents said in community meetings they wanted to keep the walkable vibe of old downtown, Tung recalled. “How would we extend that character, and adapt to the fact we would still have automobiles?” the architects wondered. ...

The slow parking zones are built on concrete blocks that resemble giant cobblestones, with sand in the gaps to drain rainwater. The zones are cordoned by dividing curbs, trees and rain gardens where people walking can pause and look for cars. This effectively reduces the most strenuous of the pedestrian crossings to only five lanes.
From the description, we could say instead that "through" traffic is being separated from "local" traffic in a manner that doesn't degrade the urban design and placemaking qualities of the street and roadside in terms of how it serves local needs and conditions.

While the street seems particularly wide, which is counter to the general principles of placemaking in a Downtown, the concept extends and implements principles laid out in at least two planning documents that come to mind, the Smart Transportation Guidebook produced by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission for the States of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the Oregon DOT publication, Main Street: When a Highway Runs Through It.

The STG argues one size fits all road construction doesn't make sense, that road and roadside characteristics, desired operating speed, whether or not a road is regionally or local serving, and the land use context ought to shape outcomes in differentiated ways.  In short, it's reasonable for a downtown or urban street to be treated much differently from a suburban arterial or rural road.

Similarly, MS:WAHRTI acknowledges that "state transportation department" concerns about how to operate roads can come into conflict with local land use context, especially in traditional commercial districts, and it lays out a framework where State DOTs and communities can work together to achieve better outcomes.

-- American "multiway" boulevard examples, National Association of City Transportation Officials

What distinguishes the Bothell "multiway" from others is the use of differentiated road treatments, whereby other multiways (parkways) use the same paving material throughout.

In DC, I have suggested for many years that "neighborhood" streets with a primarily residential-serving purpose, and streets in pedestrian-centric areas, such as commercial districts, around transit stations, schools, parks, libraries, and other civic facilities, should be constructed of pavements more in line with the desired operating speed of motor vehicles--25 mph or less--when roads constructed of asphalt or concrete typically allow speeds that are double or triple.

-- "What a "Complete Places" land use and transportation planning philosophy would mean in practice," 2008
-- "Complete Places are more than Complete Streets," 2010
-- "It's time for a new 'City Beautiful' movement in DC," 2011

This also illustrates my more recent concept of "Transportation infrastructure as an element of civic architecture," which is described more completely as a sub-section of this post:

-- "Town-City Management: We are all asset managers now," 2015

Streets constructed of asphalt block give visual, aural, and physical cues to slow down, such as on 4th Street NW between the east and west wings of the National Gallery of Art.
Stone paver street between the East and West buildings of the National Gallery of Art

While the Bothell roadway isn't fully constructed of block pavers, they are using a mix of roadway treatments, with a block-brick type material to denote "local" streets, in the context of a street that mixes both through and local traffic.  While it's probably not an absolute "first," it's clearly an atypical step forward, and more urban transportation departments need to consider greater use of block pavers--which may be used in crosswalks but not streets, or on streets that are adjacent to heritage buildings, such as Washington's Eastern Market.

7th Street SE craft market, Eastern Market, Washington, DC
The street in front of Eastern Market is closed on weekends, much to the consternation of the interior food merchants who constantly advocate for the reversal of this decision.

Brick crosswalks on Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 6th Street
Brick crosswalks on Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 6th Street

While I believe the STG is in need of a serious update to reflect advances in sustainable mobility practice, it's a great starting point for thinking about roads in terms of appropriate land use context.

Matrix of Design Values for Regional Arterials, From Smart Transportation Guidebook
Matrix of Design Values for Regional Arterials, From Smart Transportation Guidebook.

Seven land use contexts for transportation planning, Smart Transportation Guidebook
Seven land use contexts for transportation planning, Smart Transportation Guidebook

Cross section elements, Smart Transportation Guidebook
Cross section elements, Smart Transportation Guidebook

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Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Membership benefits of museums participating in the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM): 923 museums offer free admission

When I came up with what I thought was a great idea, a "local resident history pass" ("A proposal for a DCResidentCulturePass in DC"), John Suau, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Washington, pointed out to me that a form of that exists already, through museums and related organizations participating as members of the North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM).

Membership in a museum at a certain level--for the Historical Society of Washington it is $100 and above--entitles members to visit other museums and sites across North America for no additional charge.

Just within DC, it means that if you're a member of the HSW, you can also visit:
  • Dumbarton House
  • Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
  • International Arts & Artists/Hillyer Arts Space
  • Jewish Historical Society & Lillian & Albert Small Jewish Museum
  • Kreeger Museum
  • National Building Museum
  • Phillips Collection
  • Tudor Place Historic House and Garden
for no additional charge. Additionally, some DC museums that don't charge admission are also members:
  • American University Museum (Katzen Center)
  • George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum
Plus, there are some participating museums nearby in Virginia and Maryland.
Note that it turns out there is a competing organization called ROAM, the Reciprocal Organization of Museums, and some organizations are members of both. So by joining a museum or organization that is a member of both, such as the Hillyer Arts Space or Kreeger Museum, you can expand your options.

There is also the Western Reciprocal Program linking a number of museums from Minneapolis to the West Coast, and the Time Travelers Network, organized by the Missouri History Network, of history museums.

Interestingly, Philadelphia area museums put a 15 mile radius restriction on NARM participation, so that unlike in DC, you can't join one museum and visit others with no additional charge or membership fee.

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(Some) Museum matters

The Berkshire Museum's plan to sell 40 works of art, including one of Norman Rockwell's best paintings, to pay bills has generated protests. (Gillian Jones / AP)

1.  Berkshire Museum: there are merits to its proposal to sell paintings. There has been an uproar because the Berkshire Museum, a community museum that is more of a cultural center with a wide ranging collections of objects, including paintings, has proposed to sell a number of works and refocus not on paintings but other elements of its program.  The proceeds would be used to build an endowment and invest in the museum.

-- coverage from the Berkshire Eagle

This is contrary to ethical practice guidelines in the art museum profession, which states that proceeds from sales of objects can only be used for purchasing other works of art.  The guidelines forbid selling of works to fund programs, renovations, construction, or endowment ("Why a Massachusetts museum selling its prized Norman Rockwell painting should worry art museums everywhere," Los Angeles Times).

The Berkshire Museum argues it isn't really an art museum, that as other institutions in the region--including MassMOCA, the Clark Institute of Art, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and university and college museums--developed deeper fine arts programs and collections, its art collection was outspanned, which gives them the opportunity to focus their mission and program, and become very good at it.

Much of the writings about their proposals haven't been favorable.  But Joseph Thompson, director of MassMOCA--the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts in North Adams, disagrees, writing ("A case for the Berkshire Museum's decision to sell art") in the Berkshire Eagle, stating that the Museum has done exactly what people are saying it should do--plan and make hard choices.

I thought he was pretty convincing.  From the article:
The Berkshire Museum's role within this constellation of art-centric institutions is not diminished by the shifting landscape — indeed, its profile and mission have become uniquely and increasingly valuable. But its offering is based, at its core, not on its art collection — which is quirky and delightful, if episodic, and often less than ideally displayed — but rather in the manner it juxtaposes the natural sciences, antiquities, art, and historical artifacts in ways that educate, excite and beguile.

That is to say that the Berkshire Museum's unique cultural advantage within our region — gathering us as a community to discover and explore our connections to the world — does not rely on a single work of art, nor 40, nor even 400. The very being of many cultural institutions is built around particular works of art, or on the strength and concentrated essence of certain parts of their collection. Rockwell at Rockwell. Impressionism at The Clark.

The Berkshire Museum is simply not one of those. Instead, we cherish the Berkshire Museum for the quixotic diversity of its collection, and its power to draw interdisciplinary links between science, nature, and culture through layered educational programs. It can continue to do that with the 2,400 works of art in its collection and 38,000 other wonderful objects, specimens and artifacts. It cannot do that, however, without the means to remain in business. When Berkshire Museum Executive Director Van Shields said that this is a moment of existential crisis, he meant it. Let's get real: The museum's survival is at stake.
Note that wrt the sale of particularly beloved paintings, when deaccessioning, I believe a museum should make every effort to ensure that the works of art stay local, such as how the Eakins painting "The Gross Clinic," was acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art when Jefferson Medical University put the work up for sale ("Philadelphia Raises Enough Money to Retain 'The Gross Clinic,' an Eakins Masterpiece," New York Times). That's probably what should happen with the Rockwell paintings in the Berkshire Museum collection.

2.  Newseum: will it close? In DC the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the news-gathering industry and created by what had been a foundation associated with Gannett Newspapers (publisher of USA Today and many metropolitan newspapers across the country), is facing serious financial difficulties ("Newseum considering outright sales of its Pennsylvania Avenue home," Washington Business Journal).

Because it was built at time of great economic chaos for newspaper chains and even television station groups no longer have the great profitability they once enjoyed, they haven't been able to build much of an endowment ("The Newseum opened as the journalism industry tanked," Washington Post).

The Newseum has found, like other museums in DC, that charging admission when most of the city's museums--run by the federal government--are free is a losing proposition. It's not helped by liberal salaries from the foundation to board members.  Nor the fact that they spent so much--reported to be $450 million--to build it.

It's a cool place, but then I have always loved newspapers (not so much local television news programming) and their relevance is rapidly fading in the face of digital news delivery.

One of the reasons the Newseum has financial problems is that at the time they decided to move to DC, they acquired their site at a very expensive price, paying the DC Government $100 million, at a time when DC was still only just beginning its Post-Marion-Barry upward trajectory ("D.C. Mayor Agrees To Newseum Plan," Post, 2000).

It was a strong vote of confidence in DC at a time when such "votes" were still few and far between.

Had the Freedom Forum been able to keep most of that money and apply it to the endowment for the museum, it would be in a much different financial position.

Most non-federal museums in DC have a tough time, with one exception, the International Spy Museum. It's a for profit museum, but seems to remain successful, even as other for profit museums like Madame Tussaud's or the now shuttered National Museum of Crime and Punishment limp along.

The degradation of facts in news and the ongoing vilification of the profession by President Trump is proof of a pressing need for such a museum.

3.  Proposal for an model railroad and architecture museum in the Berkshires. Speaking of a museum plan likely to fail, the Boston Globe reports on a proposal for a new museum in the Berkshires, to be designed by Frank Gehry.

The Berkshires--Western Massachusetts--is a widely touted example of arts-based revitalization, anchored by MassMOCA ("MassMOCA: expansive plans for the future," Boston Globe), complemented by a number of related institutions and initiatives ("The promise of MASS MoCA," CommonWealth Magazine; "MassMOCA and the revitalization of North Adams," Create Equity).

Separately, Frank Gehry's architecturally sculptural buildings have had some success in generating what is called "architourism," with the best example being the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The term “the Bilbao effect” has been coined to describe how dramatically designed buildings in major cities can be the foundation of post-industrial urban revitalization agendas linked to the creative economy and a revived tourism industry, organized around what is called “architectural tourism” (“Public space and Architectural tourism, Archipaper).

– “The Bilbao Effect,” Dwell Magazine
– “The Bilbao Effect,” Art Newspaper
– “The Bilbao Effect,” American Way Magazine

Although many cities that have tried something similar, believing any type of museum will suffice, have failed. In her thesis, Evdoxia Baniotopoulou argues that only art museums seem to have the transcendent drawing power that makes for successful projects ("Art for Whose Sake? Modern Art Museums and their Role in Transforming Societies: The Case of the Guggenheim Bilbao," Journal of Museum and Conservation Studies, 2001).

The new museum will cost $65 million to build and will feature 110 model railroad layouts in continuous operation as well as exhibits from a collection of architectural models. They forecast far more annual paying visitors than is likely--500,000 to 700,000--given that MassMOCA gets about 165,000 annual visitors and the Clark Art Institute about 170,000. The museum will be privately financed as a for profit venture.

It is part of a larger project, an expansion of the Western Gateway Heritage State Park, spearheaded by Thomas Krens, former director of the Guggenheim ("Grand plans in North Adams," Berkshire Eagle), who also is the person who came up with the idea for MassMOCA, back in the 1980s, when he was director of the Williams College Museum of Art and the factory buildings in North Adams were shuttering as the businesses ceased to operate.   From the article:
Totaling an estimated $300 million and comprising 11 components, the citywide redevelopment plan aims at creating a "cultural corridor" between North Adams and Williamstown, leveraging existing Northern Berkshire assets like the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and Clark Art Institute.
I am big on planning and creating "cultural corridors," but I am not sure I would stake the success on this particular museum concept.  It doesn't seem likely to succeed, although at a cost of $65 million to build versus the $450 million cost of the Newseum, its construction and operating costs will be much easier to handle, but still steep.

Still, while Thomas Krens ("Whatever happened to Tom Krens?," Observer) has been criticized in many quarters for his Guggenheim expansion program, which has reshaped the field more generally, his successful creation of MassMOCA and Guggenheim Bilbao are very much to his credit, even if some of the branches failed (Las Vegas) or closed (Berlin), while the Abu Dhabi museum still hasn't started construction ("A decade later, still no contract to build Guggenheim in UAE," AP), and the project in Helsinki did not move forward.

4.  Metropolitan Museum of Art interview with Thomas Campbell, who recently stepped down.  There was a lot of controversy over the tenure of Thomas Campbell, the director of the Met, who had the misfortune of succeeding one of the art museum world's leading directors.  Coverage of the museum's financial and other matters in the New York Times put Mr. Campbell in a particularly bad light, and he resigned, replaced by the Museum's president.

In the artnet two-part interview, Campbell argues he was an agent of change, and even though the changes went forward, successfully, resistance to the changes, a change in the board of directors, and the media coverage and protest in the art world made it time for him to leave.

-- "From Tapestry to Twombly: Thomas Campbell on Why He Became the Met’s Surprise Champion of New Art"
-- "Mutiny at the Met? Thomas Campbell on the Price of Modernization at America’s Greatest Museum"

5.  My proposal for a heritage streetcar system to serve the National Mall has a model in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I haven't been to Lowell, Massachusetts, where the city's revitalization program has been anchored in part by the creation of a (now federally designated) heritage area, focused on the industrial history of the former mill town. 

Therefore, I didn't know that the heritage area has a small streetcar system run by the Seashore Trolley Museum, using heritage streetcar replicas of designs with New England roots, to move people around the park.  It's an example that I'll have to tout in the future.

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I don't think DC's tax reform is an exact model for the US

DC is the nation's only "city-state."

By that I mean that DC is a fully urbanized place (no rural or exurban land), a city with close to complete taxing power, including income taxes--with the huge exception that the city can't tax nonresident income, which among other effects means, unlike every other jurisdiction in the US, DC can't assess nonresident income tax on professional athletes (which is one way cities and states collect additional monies after subsidizing sports facilities).

Last week, the New York Times columnist James Stewart suggested ("For tax reform lessons, Congress needn't look far") that DC would be a great example for Congress to consider as a model for how to go about "tax reform" -- although tax "reform" if by reform you mean improvement seems to be off the table in favor of a tax cut for the rich.

From the article:
... in 2014 the council cut corporate and business taxes, reduced individual rates for everyone earning less than $1 million and broadened the tax base by eliminating many loopholes.

In the ensuing years, economic growth and tax receipts have surged, enabling the city to accelerate cuts that were being phased in. The legislation was not revenue neutral, in the sense that broadening the tax base offset the reduction in rates. It was a tax cut. But in a development that would surely warm the hearts of pro-growth Republicans, the economic lift was so strong that tax receipts increased, and last year hit a record.
Tax cuts were simultaneous with significant growth.  The problem with the argument is that DC's economy and population have been growing significantly over the past ten years.  It's easy to "cut" taxes when your economy is growing.

In the last nine years--despite the 2008 Great Recession--DC's population has grown by slightly more than 110,000 people ("D.C. population reaches four-decade high," Washington Post), an increase in population of almost 20% over the base number of 570,000 residents in 2007.

From 2014 when the tax cuts were approved and 2016, the population increased by about 3%, from 660,000 to 680,000. 

New condominium and apartment buildings continue to open and plans for large mixed use developments continue apace.

Income tax and property tax revenues were already increasing at an increasing rate.  Most of the new residents, excepting children, are paying out plenty in terms of income and sales taxes, and property taxes for home owners.

It's easy or at least comparatively easy to cut income taxes when the number of earners is growing and it's easy to cut property taxes when the number and size of buildings is growing, along with property values and assessments.

Plus, DC's property tax base is insulated somewhat by the inclusion of a hefty tranche of highly valued commercial property, primarily but not limited to Downtown DC.  DC's commercial property is highly valued in part as a safe place to park money from overseas, generated in countries with lower economic returns and/or more unstable economies.

Expanding the range of sales taxes had limited impact on revenue.  Complementing tax cuts by expanding somewhat the range of goods and services being taxed is likely a minimal proportion of the total revenue mix compared to the large increase in the number of people paying income taxes and rising property tax revenue from residential and commercial property.

Kansas as a lesson.  Although DC's economy is much stronger than that of Kansas, which has been wrecked by Governor Brownback's application of classic Republican supply-side tax cuts, which decimated state and local government funding, especially for schools because there was no increase in "animal spirits" and tax revenue in response ("Why Sam Brownback's tax cuts failed to make Kansas thrive," Bloomberg View; "The Kansas tax cut experiment," Brookings Institution), many of us worry about the tax cuts because of potential threats to the local economy that are out of the hands of the local government.

The economic winds buffeting DC are not favorable, and this will continue through the entire Trump Administration.  First, local employment and commercial building activity is very much susceptible to the vagaries of federal government policy, which these days is focused on reducing government spending, not increase it--except for the military.  This has a disproportionate effect on the regional economy of Washington ("Uncertainty in Washington is hurting D.C.'s job market, economists say, Post).

For example, a neighbor down the street works for a unit of the Labor Department, where next year's budget proposal calls for the unit to be downsized by 80% and hundreds of people will be fired.  Extend that example across most government agencies and you can see a tremendous negative impact on the local economy.

And the increase in military spending won't impact DC that much, because most of the local beneficiaries would be located outside of DC, in Maryland somewhat and Virginia especially.

Second, the commercial office sector is slowing anyway as federal agencies move out of DC proper,  law firms merge and contract, and as more companies reduce the amount of space per worker, leading to reduced need for commercial office space.

-- "Implications of a Trump/McConnell/Ryan Administration on DC's commercial real estate market," 2016
-- "Why Mayor Bowser is right to be leery of systematic lowering of taxes," 2015

Third, because the city's population is growing there is a greater demand for civic amenities, infrastructure expansions and improvements, and clamoring for various social programs such as an increased amount of services for the homeless and expansion of the amount of affordable housing.

-- "Town-City Management: We are all asset managers now," 2015

But this comes as the city's debt financing cap is close to being exhausted.

Conclusion.  Fortunately the city is in a much different place than Kansas.   The city is much smaller, urban, with fewer economic responsibilities.  But imagine the impact on risk management, predictability, and perception if there is a federal government shutdown, or Congress refuses, if only for awhile, to not raise the debt cap, and long term plans by the Republicans to shrink the federal government with its catastrophic effect on the local economy?

Then it's not out of the question to make the assessment that these tax cuts were foolish, that the city failed to plan for severe exogenous economic shocks that were foreseeable.

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UK Carbuncle Awards

Call attention to the worst of the previous year's architecture, and are "awarded" by a leading architecture publication, Building DesignThis year's "short-list" included an addition to Preston Railway Station by AHR architects that replaced a similar addition that had been done in an appropriate period style decades before.

Preston is notable also for a massive brutalist style bus station that they've had a hard time repurposing ("Love, hate and concrete: The battle for Preston Bus Station," Independent).

civic pride

I guess the Preston bus terminal demonstrates that buildings of all types can grow on you. I wonder how many past Carbuncle nominees are now looked upon more fondly?

New Butler Street entrance to the Preston Railway Station by AHR

Preston Railway Station, before

Shockingly, that addition wasn't the winner, which was the Nova Victoria, London, by PLP Architecture.

Although I'd say that if the Nova Victoria is Britain's worst new building, then the US has many more that are worse, or at least, very dull.

Then again, it is particularly context-insensitive. The red color was used to reference the red in the Roundel logo of the London Underground, and the proximity of Victoria Station.

Nova Victoria building, as seen from Victoria Station

Nova Victoria by PLP Architecture, as seen from Vauxhall Bridge Road

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