The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

Friday Odds and Ends

Proposed perspective of the Barack Obama Presidential Library site in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood.  Credit: Michael Sorkin Studio. Source:

It’s Friday.  The weekend is upon us.  I can’t get too serious or too in-depth about much today, so here’s some odds and ends to whet your appetite.

  • This cool chart from the Washington Post shows the cities and their positions within the top 20 metro areas from 1790 to 2010.  Interesting things pop out: New York has been the nation’s largest metro for a whopping 200 years.  Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia also reached a similar plateau, generally ranking anywhere from 2-5 for the last 100 years.  However, most cities seem to be products of a certain era.  There’s a group that was large prior to the Civil War, but no more (New Haven, Newport, Richmond, Charleston, Portland, ME).  There’s the industrial cities group that was large between the Civil War and the immediate post-World War II (1950-1960), that started its slide then and continues to this day (St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit).  And then there are the recent upstarts that sprouted after WWII and continue to rise today (Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, San Diego).  This kind of tracks with what I’ve written about urban development and life cycles.  I think understanding metro area life cycles will be crucial to maintaining their livability.
  • Last week Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns got himself a writeup in the Atlantic Cities.  Chuck has been writing for a few years now about “stroads”, what he calls the street/road hybrid that tries to combine the speed of a road with the pedestrian scale of a street, and achieves neither.  However, I live near a roadway that causes me to propose a similar but new term — “stressway”.  If anyone is familiar with Route 59 in Naperville and Aurora, IL, you’ll know that it’s a seven-lane behemoth with typical big-box retail on either side, and posted speeds of up to 45 mph.  Right now it’s undergoing an a widening to a consistent three lanes in each direction, and the construction delays are maddening.  And what will we have when it’s done?  More traffic congestion.
  •  My recent piece on demographic changes in Detroit was one of a couple recent stories that got picked up by Business Insider (here and here).  Thanks, Business Insider!  (Note: I don’t make these titles, they do.  Check this blog for the original titles).  Anyway, the little bit of analysis I did for that brought it home to me that similar groupings of cities and metros often have similar demographic profiles, and that the demographic profiles may matter as much as the economic ones do.  For example, when I compared the cities of Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, it was clear that four of the first five (excepting Detroit) shared some demographic traits — nearly equal proportions of white and black populations, and smaller Hispanic populations relative to the national average (OK, Chicago and Milwaukee differ).  Pittsburgh was different to me.  The Steel City has the largest white population of the group, the smallest black population, and an almost negligible Hispanic population.  Then it struck me — Pittsburgh, even though it has an economic profile and legacy similar to the other five cities cited, has a demographic profile much more like Indianapolis, Columbus or Cincinnati.  I don’t know, but something makes me think the city’s demographic profile plays a role in its resurgence that’s not available (yet) to all the other cities.  I’ll look into that.
  • I came across a really interesting column about the Ford Foundation’s commitment to pledge up to $125 million to accelerate the settlement of Detroit’s bankruptcy and preserve the city-owned art works at the Detroit Institute of Arts.  This is combined with a similar pledge ($100 million) from the Kresge Foundation.  This is special because, while Kresge is a local Detroit foundation (Kresge was the predecessor to K-Mart), the Ford Foundation moved from Detroit to New York City long ago and has had little philanthropic connection to the city since the Ford family got out of it in the 1970s.  The story has a weird quote in it from Foundation president Darren Walker: “Detroit is very special in our narrative because it’s where our capital is created.”  Detroit’s not special because it is our home, or even was our home, or where we started.  It’s where our money was made.  I’m glad the Ford Foundation is stepping up in this matter but that quote is telling.
  • Finally, the push to find the site for the Barack Obama Presidential Library is on.  Hawaii has been making its case for the library, and even New York’s Columbia University, where the president received his undergraduate degree, is staking its claim.  But most agree that it’s Chicago’s to lose, as his adopted hometown is where he cut his political teeth and rose to fame.  There are a lot of proposals emerging now, with most trying to find a way to use the library as a revitalization catalyst on the South Side that the president has called his home for decades.  This proposal located in the Woodlawn neighborhood has some immediate conceptual visual appeal.  For those unfamiliar, the struggling Woodlawn neighborhood sits immediately south of the relatively wealthy Hyde Park neighborhood, which is home to the University of Chicago.  The two neighborhoods have long had a rocky relationship; while the University was pioneering urban renewal policies to expand its campus in the 1950s, Saul Alinsky was working to create a new community organizing paradigm on Woodlawn’s ravaged 63rd Street.  There are other Chicago sites under consideration as well and each are trying to get the right people in place to influence the decision.  According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a foundation will be established shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union speech on January 28.  The foundation will lead the formal selection process and the battle will enter the next stage.  Game on.
Have a great weekend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: