The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

The Corner Side Yard’s Top Ten for 2014

It’s been a banner year for the Corner Side Yard.  I’ve had the privilege of writing about a variety of urbanism topics that I’m pretty passionate about, and they’ve received some pretty good exposure.  And I want to take this time to thank the fantastic and rapidly growing number of readers who take in my crazy thoughts.  

August in particular was a very successful month for the blog.  I was featured in a Huffington Post interview as a follow-up to one of the more successful pieces I wrote this year.  But I also received some international exposure with not one but two pieces published in the Guardian out of the U.K. — an urbanist’s guide to Chicago that served as a general tour of the Windy City, and a harder hitting story about the demise of inner-ring American suburbs told through the prism of Ferguson, MO.  As a result, pageviews for the blog have more than doubled over the year, with most of that growth taking place in the last third of 2014.

So in keeping with the convention that all writers seem to do at this time of the year, I’m putting together a list of the top ten pieces posted on this blog, ordered by the number of total pageviews.  For those who are relatively new to the blog, I hope it gives you a sense of the scope and range of the topics I cover.

10.  Revitalization Without Gentrification? (3/13/14)

“If migration is paramount for city or metro growth, then presumably it would be so at the micro level, for neighborhoods and communities.  City neighborhoods — and suburbs — function on “churn” or “flow” just as cities or metros do, and once churn/flow is lost they fall out of favor.”

9.  Playing With Numbers — Rust Belt Millennials Edition (3/28/14)

“(S)even of the top ten Midwest metros are growing that critical demographic at rates higher than the national average, and well above that for the Midwest region.  In fact, Pittsburgh and St. Louis are showing accelerated growth among young adults despite having an overall slow-growth environment, and Minneapolis/St. Paul shows even stronger young adult growth in a relatively strong growth environment.  Cleveland is growing its young adult population despite decreasing overall.  Only Indianapolis, Columbus and Detroit fail to meet the national average, with only Detroit losing young adults faster than it’s losing population overall.”

8.  Black Power and the Pyrrhic Victory (8/10/14)

“A select group of cities elected black mayors during the brief and tumultuous Black Power Era, seeking to implement an activist social justice platform. These cities – notably Cleveland, Gary, Newark and Detroit among large cities — became stigmatized in a way that few have been able to recover from. A negative narrative was developed about most of them that stuck, despite considerable efforts to dispel them. Cities that elected “first black mayors” after the Black Power Era, during a period of relative calm, were able to adapt as the political skill set grew in the African-American community. However, the Black Power Era’s near-toxic combination of heightened white racism, black disenfranchisement and disillusionment – and ill-prepared black political leadership – accelerated the downfall of these select cities.

If the cities that elected black mayors during this tumultuous period are ever to move forward, to achieve their potential, they must be released from the purgatory they inhabit.”

7.  How “Black = Urban” Ends (10/5/14)

“(W)hat lies ahead for the black electorate and black local elected officials?  Changing demographics are necessitating a broadening of the political agenda by the electorate, and a change in tactics by politicians.  Some are ready for the shift, but many are not…

I see black political influence moving from city to suburb, even as the level of influence recedes.

6.  Insulation, Isolation and Ferguson (8/19/14)

“To many, Ferguson is a proud, middle-class community of well-educated middle-age homeowners.  I’m sure if you ask them, they know their neighbors, they love their local businesses and restaurants and they enjoy the comfortable life they live.

They are insulated.

To many more, Ferguson is a community of working-class residents, largely young, living barely above poverty.  They mostly rent, they have lower education levels.  If you ask them, they likely recently moved to Ferguson to escape similar conditions in St. Louis, but are growing increasingly frustrated with their lack of progress in the community.

They are isolated.

One cannot exist without the other.” 

5.  Cities and the Knowledge Gap (9/29/14)

“We have a generation of people today who reside at the intersection of these two trends — city living and technology.  The desire for city living and the application and utilization of technology in our society are truisms to them.  Millennials are certainly a bigger group than my Gen X cohort.  But I wonder sometimes how much they understand about how cities got to where they are, and the forces that made them what they are.” 

4.  Two Chicagos, Defined (3/18/14)

“Chicago may be better understood in thirds — one-third San Francisco, two-thirds Detroit.”

3.  Unresolved (11/30/14)

“While American society “solved” the problem of explicit, race-based laws in the Jim Crow South, it has yet to fully deal with the far more complex and ostensibly “race-neutral” policies that emerged in Rust Belt cities more than 100 years ago, and still define how we interact with each other in Rust Belt cities today.  What was first invented and developed in Rust Belt cities was exported throughout the nation…

Today, whites moving into cities and minorities moving into suburbs represents a fundamental pattern disruption to our de facto urban development policy, and we’re not prepared to deal with its ramifications.” 

2.  The Millennial Housing Shortage Fallacy (4/27/14)

“If young urbanists are serious about moving back to the city, maybe they ought to consider more of the city to live in.  For every highly desirable attractive urban neighborhood, even in the most in-demand metro areas, there are just as many languishing neighborhoods that aren’t even part of the conversation.  For every Lincoln Park or Lakeview in Chicago that lacks affordable housing, there is a Garfield Park or Woodlawn with tons of it.”

1.  Gentrification Has Types — Get To Know Them (8/15/14)

“Nationally, the gentrification debate is defined by the experiences of the OFLB types like New York, San Francisco and Boston.  There, the issues are rapidly growing unaffordability, concerns with displacement and growing inequality.  But the gentrification debate is quite different in OFHB cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta, where seeking ways to more equitably spread the positive benefits of revitalization might lead such discussions. 

In other words, it’s not exactly correct to look at what’s happening in Los Angeles or San Diego, or Baltimore or St. Louis, in the New York-San Francisco-Boston context.  Different forces and different experiences are creating different outcomes in each city, and if we want to understand how to look at gentrification’s impact, we need to understand its foundations.” 

So yes, it’s been a great year for the Corner Side Yard.  I hope to continue building upward on the foundation that’s been established.  


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